SAN ANTONIO – The clock is running out on Bexar County’s efforts to avoid new regulations when it comes to air quality. Friday marks three years since the EPA declared that the county’s ozone levels are too high.
“We had a marginal classification that’s the lowest of the five classification levels,” said Lyle Hufstetler, natural resources project coordinator with the Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG). “With that classification level, that triggered a three-year clock for us to bring our ozone levels down to attainment. Unfortunately, that deadline is two days from today, and we are not going to be meeting that threshold.”
The move from a marginal to moderate designation brings with it new restrictions. In the coming years, Bexar County drivers will join others in the state in being required to have their vehicles tested for emissions during annual vehicle inspections.
“You have to go in for your annual safety inspections, and that costs $7 and takes maybe 15 minutes depending on how busy it is,” Hufstetler said. “But with the emissions inspection added, on top of that, we’re looking at additional cost to that process. We’re looking at about $18.50 for every inspection now.”
Bexar County would have four years to implement the testing, following a formal designation, which Hufstetler expects will happen early next year. Bexar County would join other large counties in the state, like Dallas and Harris, which have had emissions testing for quite some time.
The region’s air quality had been a net positive, according to AACOG. Officials said it was a factor in Toyota choosing San Antonio for its new facility over cities like Dallas and Houston. Now, companies wishing to relocate or expand to the Alamo City will face stricter scrutiny of plans on how to offset and reduce any new emissions their expansion may bring.
“It’s so important that we really make an effort to get back into attainment so that we can continue attracting these businesses to Bexar County,” Hufstetler said.
The region’s explosive growth has contributed to a recent upswing in ozone levels. Even still, they’re much lower than they were in the 90s, and federal standards have gotten tougher.
In high concentrations, ground-level ozone can cause decreased lung function pain with deep breaths and aggravated asthma symptoms, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
“However, these effects would be rare at the concentrations typically measured in the San Antonio area,” the TCEQ wrote in a statement. “Further, ozone concentrations in San Antonio are not increasing, and in fact the regulatory ozone level decreased by 16% between 2000 and 2020.”
The TCEQ said the state would also have to submit updated plans to the EPA, and additional measures may be required to help the region comply with the Clean Air Act.
Have questions about transportation or traffic? Let us know, and your answer may be our next story. Find past answers on our traffic page.