The Austin Chronicle

Pushing Back Against Ozone

By Lee Nichols, August 18, 2009, 5:58pm, Newsdesk

Push harder, Austin. That's the message from the city of Austin and the Clean Air Force of Central Texas.

Last month, the CAF announced "The Big Push," an outreach effort asking citizens to cut back on air-polluting activities so that Austin doesn't fall into "non-attainment" (violation) of the EPA's air quality standards. The CAF's Deanna Altenhoff and Mayor Lee Leffingwell renewed that call today as we head into summer (and the ozone season's) home stretch.

If Austin registers three more days this year at 78 parts per billion or higher for ozone, the EPA could rule that we are in violation. CAF warns that non-attainment could bring burdensome federal requirements onto Austin, especially regarding transportation projects – and that non-attainment status, once designated, is very hard to get rescinded.

The EPA formula for determining non-attainment is based on an average of a city's fourth-highest readings for each of three consecutive years; the average must not top 75ppb (rounded down). Our fourth-highest reading for 2007 was 76, for 2008 was 74, and thus far in 2009, it is 76, giving an average of 75.3. We've also had readings of 80, 77, and 77 this year. If that fourth-highest rises to 78, the average would be an even 76ppb.

"It is a literally a matter of one or two parts per billion whether we violate the federal health standard on ozone," said CAF board chair Jim Marston at a press conference this morning at City Hall. Recommendations for citizen action include driving less, idling your car less, fueling vehicles in the evening, and using manual or electric lawn care equipment; for a more complete list, go to

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