Hays County to help partially fund local air quality initiatives

News Reporter

Hays County will have a greater chance of meeting federal ozone regulations following a recent decision by county officials to fund local air quality initiatives.

Through the county’s partnership with the Capital Area Council of Governments, $3,400 will be used for the local implementation of the Ozone Advance Plan. Hays County and the City of San Marcos participate in the Ozone Advance Plan with CAPCOG through the Capital Clean Air Coalition.

The Ozone Advance Plan will build on resource conservation and renewable energy programs that are already in place, according to CAPCOG’s Ozone Advance Action Plan. The plan states it will introduce transportation emission reduction measures such as paving dirt and gravel roads, as well as energy efficiency programs such as water usage reduction and recycling programs.

Hays County has come close to violating federal ozone standards in recent years. The Environmental Protection Agency does not allow ozone levels to exceed 75 parts per billion when averaged over a three-year period.

City Councilman Shane Scott, Place 6, attributes the region’s high levels of ozone in part to outside factors such as the county’s proximity to neighboring cities.

“As far as San Marcos, we’re right between the two problem children, San Antonio and Austin,” Scott said. “Their pollution blows right into our area.”

Andrew Hoekzema, CAPCOG Air Quality Program manager, said violating the EPA’s ozone standard would place limits on the growth allowed for the city’s industrial facilities and impose requirements mandating that transportation plans be consistent with air quality procedures.

“Air quality is the kind of thing that needs to be addressed locally, just by its nature,” Hoekzema said.

Hoekzema said the EPA is currently reviewing its ozone standards. The review will most likely result in the standard being lowered to between 60-70 parts per billion, making it increasingly important for the region to implement measures to lower emissions, Hoekzema said.

Commissioner Ray Whisenant, Precinct 4, supported the approval of the funding during the Jan. 21 commissioner’s court meeting, emphasizing the positive impact the Ozone Advance Plan will have on Hays County.

“This support is a relevant consideration, given the amount of money we’re spending compared to what benefit we could receive from it,” Whisenant said.

Whisenant said while Hays County will continue to take measures to reduce ozone, the precautions being taken are already making a difference.

 “The better we are able to have control locally, the better chance we have at addressing our air quality.”

A combined total of $60,200 was requested from the 14 jurisdictions participating in the Ozone Advance Action Plan due to a shortage in grant funding as a result of cuts by the Texas Legislature, Hoekzema said.

“Our primary source of funding is a grant from the state,” Hoekzema said. “Over five years we’d averaged $410,000 a year, but the Texas Legislature cut it to $260,000 per year in 2011.”       

The amount requested by each jurisdiction for the 2014 fiscal year was based on their percent of combined population according to 2010 census bureau numbers, Hoekzema said.