Lone Smog State
WASHINGTON - A new computer investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), using data generated by Texas and other state governments, shows Texas Gov. George Bush has the worst anti-smog record in the country. The findings show Texas regulators have avoided cracking down on large industrial plants that are violating the Clean Air Act and that are located in areas with unsafe levels of smog.
Texas alone accounts for 40 percent of the major lawbreaking smog producers that continue to pollute in communities with poor air quality. Texas currently has two-and-one-half times as many (93 as of Oct. 16, 2000) smog offenders as the next closest state, Illinois, which has 38 offending factories. And, despite the governor's claim in the presidential campaign debates, Texas does not have the worst pollution simply because it is a "large industrial state." California has more smog producing factories -- 611 compared to Texas' 556. However, the larger state has only 4 plants breaking smog standards in dirty air zones.
"Despite his denials, we found that Governor Bush's own numbers suggest his environmental enforcement philosophy is largely to blame for Houston overtaking Los Angeles as the nation's smoggiest city," said Richard Wiles, EWG's vice president for research and a co-author of the report, Fuzzy Air: Why Texas is the Smoggiest State. "The big polluters ought to be the first target of enforcement in areas where the air is already unhealthy. California has cracked down on this health problem while Texas has let the polluters off the hook."
EWG has conducted a series of investigations into states' environmental law enforcement efforts. In Fuzzy Air, EWG reviewed almost a quarter million state Clean Air Act enforcement records, including those from all states with smog problems and industrial plants violating rules controlling "volatile organic compounds" (VOCs), a key smog ingredient. EWG then refined its analysis to focus on VOC violators in cities with bad smog problems.
EWG's review of state-submitted, EPA-compiled, enforcement records in the 21 states with smog problems found 231 polluting factories located in high-smog counties currently violating their Clean Air Act permit for VOCs. After Texas and Illinois, Pennsylvania had the most law-breaking factories with 19, New Jersey with 15, and New York with 12.
Smog itself is a nasty blend of VOCs and chemicals from factories, chemical plants, refineries, and cars that fouls the air of hundreds of U.S. cities. Smog chemically sunburns the lungs, and it is considered a major factor in the rapidly rising incidence of childhood asthma. It also poses long term risks of cancer and respiratory diseases.
"Texas has more kids going to hospital emergency rooms with asthma attacks than any other state," said Wiles.