Most of San Antonio's air pollution comes from other cities, countries, AACOG says

EPA to soon decide if SA exceeds federal standards, experts want flexibility

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SAN ANTONIO – Prices at the pump, traffic congestion, a hit to the economy are all possible if the Environmental Protection Agency decides San Antonio is violating federal air quality standards.

That decision is less than three weeks away.

San Antonio's air quality situation is complicated and unique from other cities nationwide.

"We're the only area of the country that currently does not have an ozone designation," said Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) Executive Director Diane Rath.

 AACOG monitors air pollution levels that are collected in three main areas of the region. Two are slightly over the federal limits.

Rath said there is a reason for that; the pollution is coming from elsewhere.

A graph representing AACOG data collected breaks down percentages of where San Antonio's pollution comes from:

- Only 20.5 percent comes from the city itself.
- About 16.1 percent comes from the rest of the U.S.
- 25 percent from the rest of North America
- 38.4 percent from around the world

"From South America, from Egypt, from China, from all over, the wind current will carry it in here," Rath explained.

That's the reason Rath expects some flexibility from the EPA. She said even with massive population growth, San Antonio has lowered emissions by 20 percent since 2003.

"CPS is closing down the Deely plant this year, which will have a profound impact on us. They had a program to have 20 percent of their power that's renewable," Rath said.

VIA recently rolled out a fleet of new, compressed natural gas buses, also lowering emissions.

With an EPA "non-attainment" designation, new, costly regulations for local companies could cost our economy billions of dollars.

"The most profound way that most of us would see it would be the traffic congestion. In order to build a new road that has federal funds, they have to pass a conformity refute on average that delays every construction by two years," Rath said.

That's why Rath spent last week in Washington, D.C., testifying before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology explaining San Antonio's unique situation and hoping for a ruling in our favor.

Ways you can help:

   - Check your tire pressure once a month.

   - Avoid putting heavy things in your vehicle. An extra 100 pounds can reduce fuel economy by up to 2 percent.

   - Avoid idling at long lines at drive-thrus.

   - Stop at the click when fueling up. Don't top off your tank. This will help keep fumes from escaping and being absorbed into the air.

  -  Avoid aggressive driving, such as accelerating quickly and braking hard, which can increase emissions and lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent around town.

   - Get your gas in the late afternoon or evening. High temperatures heat gas fumes, turning them into ground-level ozone that's bad for the air.

   - Fixing a vehicle that's failed an emissions test or is out of tune will decrease emissions and improve gas mileage an average of 4 percent.

   - Look for motor oil labeled "energy-conserving" that contains friction-reducing additives.

   - Combine errands. Several short trips, each beginning with a cold start, can use twice as much fuel as one longer trip that covers the same distance.

  -  Carpool, walk, bike or take public transportation.

   - When it's time for you to buy a vehicle, check out cleaner, low-emission options. Electric and hybrid cars are great alternatives.

   - Drive less on Ozone Action Days, which are determined when ozone conditions could be at unhealthy levels.

About the Author:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.