Ozone, Coal, and Efficiency in San Antonio: EDF’s Elena Craft Elaborates

elena craftI haven’t had time to follow up with Elena Craft (right), health scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Austin office, who served to keep a recent air-quality panel at San Antonio’s Rackspace on point about certain local and state-level policy failings responsible for fouling our shared respirable resource.

I had intended to reach out to her to discuss some of the points she raised but hadn’t been able to elaborate on. Thankfully, she just unpacked her key discussion points at the EDF website.

I quoted her on the first point about CPS Energy’s heavy coal reliance and have pointed out in the past how the promise to close J.T. Deely‘s offending units in 2018 was originally announced as a promise to close them “by” 2018. They could and should be shuttered sooner than five years from now — particularly if the utility’s board accepts its CEO’s many honest statements about the harm coal does to the public’s health.

I also covered the third point fairly deeply, hanging my news peg entirely on the potential of the Eagle Ford’s fracking activity to raise ozone levels in San Antonio by a full 7 parts per billion

But her second point about efficiency standards is one I suspect we’ll be hearing more about as local leaders begin wrestling with all available options to bring city and county emissions down as rapidly as possible.

Craft writes:

Some of the recommendations I mentioned at the forum include:

1.  Harness more clean energy:

Currently CPS Energy states that 47 percent of its energy generation comes from coal – that’s higher than the Texas average, which for the first quarter of 2013 was 37 percent, and even higher than the U.S. average of 42 percent. Other Texas cities, such as Austin and Houston, have been more aggressive in the purchase of wind and solar energy, and this commitment to clean energy will enable a healthier environment and better air quality for all.

2.  Raise the minimum energy efficiency standards for new buildings:

San Antonio was the first city in Texas to adopt the 2009 model building codes, established by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), but now the city is falling behind. Twenty-two other Texas cities have adopted, or are about to adopt, the 2012 codes, which will reduce new residential energy use by about 15 percent. The 2012 codes would save the average homeowner in San Antonio $21 per month on his or her electric bill, according to an analysis by the Building Codes Assistance Project. Additionally, the energy efficiency standards reduced nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 879 tons in 2009 (equal to the emissions from 46,000 cars – according to the Energy Systems Laboratory at Texas A&M).

3.  Limit emissions from oil and gas activities:

Air pollution from oil and gas development is one of the environmental risks associated with a booming natural gas industry. For San Antonio, the aggressive development of the Eagle Ford, as well as the high volatile organic compounds (VOC) content of the gas in the area, means controlling emissions from Eagle Ford will be a critical element of the region’s clean air strategy plan. In fact, it was stated during the panel that these emissions could bring an additional 2-7 parts per billion worth of ozone to the region.

Change won’t happen overnight, but it does happen with a strong commitment and a plan to succeed. We encourage San Antonio to continue its strong leadership in air quality improvement by adopting a clean air campaign that looks at new challenges ahead.