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State Panel Seeks Input on Smog

September 4, 2007

AUSTIN — A legislative mandate to reduce vehicle emissions in the Houston area will be discussed at Texas Commission on Environmental Quality public hearings this month, according to

Senate Bill 12, passed last legislative session, made changes to Texas Emissions Reduction Program guidelines, said Steve Dayton, team leader for grant contract development with the TCEQ in Austin. Although officially a law Sept. 1, HB12 won’t be in effect until at least two public comment periods are passed, likely by the end of the year, Dayton said.

Brazoria County is part of the Houston-Galveston region on the non-attainment list because of high levels of ozone from the burning of fossil fuels.

Replacing older vehicles will help lower emissions, Dayton said. There are currently no penalties for individuals who drive high-emission vehicles, said commission spokeswoman Andrea Morrow.

Even though Southern Brazoria County is included in the Houston-area non-attainment zone, Dow Chemical Co.’s monitor in Lake Jackson hasn’t recorded a day of non-attainment in two years, said Dow spokeswoman Tracie Copeland.

Dow maintains a large fleet of vehicles and welcomes new emissions laws, she said.

“Mobile sources are widely known to be the largest contributor of emissions which result in non-attainment, so I’m pleased to see this being addressed,” Copeland said. “As Dow’s fleet vehicles are replaced, we’ll look at all our options to bring in those with excellent environmental performance.”

There are three changes open for comment Sept. 11.

The first would allow TCEQ to pay $15,000 per ton instead of $13,000 per ton of nitrogen oxide emissions removed from the environment by retiring or repairing a piece of equipment 10 years or older. State funding would go to operators of fleets or heavy equipment either for replacement of equipment taken out of service or retrofitted with more efficient emissions control, Dayton said.

“This allows us to pay more per ton of emissions,” he said. “It determines how much we will pay for a particular project, whether we do replacement or retrofitting, and determines how much we can do.”

Vehicles retrofitted or funded through the program must be used 75 percent of the time in a non-attainment county.

The second proposed change would allow travel in counties adjacent to the affected area to go toward that 75 percent threshold, Morrow said.

The third calls for the destruction of vehicles purchased under Texas Emission Reduction Program rules.

“In the past we allowed the option of allowing them to be permanently removed from Texas,” Dayton said. “Now they must be scrapped.”

Also up for public comment Sept. 11 is the Aircheck Texas Drive A Clean Machine Vehicle Exchange Program. The plan provides down payments of up to $3,000 for automobiles 2004 or newer if vehicles 1996 or older are surrendered to the state, said program spokeswoman Maree Flores in Houston.

If someone buys a hybrid vehicle, they could received up to $3,500. Money for the program comes from Texas vehicle inspection fees, with $6 per inspection going to a statewide account.

Vehicles must be registered in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Harris, Galveston or Montgomery Counties, Brazoria County.

To qualify, a car or truck must be 10 years or older and passed a Texas Department of Public Safety inspection but failed an emissions test. The owner must have title to the car. If a vehicle is not driveable and has failed an emissions test, it also qualifies, Flores said.

The program isn’t a low-income project, but is designed to get older cars off the road, Flores said. A household of one must have an income of $20,420 with a family of four as much as $41,300. Add $6,960 for each household member.

The buyback program will not take effect until Dec. 10.

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