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In the News: News from November 2014

EPA announces proposed air quality standards

Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Source: The Environmental Protection Agency

WASHINGTON – Based on extensive recent scientific evidence about the harmful effects of ground-level ozone, or smog, the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to strengthen air quality standards within a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion (ppb) to better protect Americans’ health and the environment, while taking comment on a level as low as 60 ppb. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to review the standards every five years by following a set of open, transparent steps and considering the advice of a panel of independent experts. EPA last updated these standards in 2008, setting them at 75 ppb.

"Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk. It empowers the American people with updated air quality information to protect our loved ones - because whether we work or play outdoors – we deserve to know the air we breathe is safe,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Fulfilling the promise of the Clean Air Act has always been EPA’s responsibility. Our health protections have endured because they’re engineered to evolve, so that’s why we’re using the latest science to update air quality standards – to fulfill the law’s promise, and defend each and every person’s right to clean air.”

EPA scientists examined numerous scientific studies in its most recent review of the ozone standards, including more than 1,000 new studies published since the last update. Studies indicate that exposure to ozone at levels below 75 ppb – the level of the current standard – can pose serious threats to public health, harm the respiratory system, cause or aggravate asthma and other lung diseases, and is linked to premature death from respiratory and cardiovascular causes.

Ground-level ozone forms in the atmosphere when emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds “cook” in the sun from sources like cars, trucks, buses, industries, power plants and certain fumes from fuels, solvents and paints. People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, older adults, and those who are active or work outside. Stronger ozone standards also will provide an added measure of protection for low income and minority families who are more likely to suffer from asthma or to live in communities overburdened by pollution. Nationally, 1 in 10 children has been diagnosed with asthma.

According to EPA’s analysis, strengthening the standard to a range of 65 to 70 ppb will provide significantly better protection for children, preventing from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. The new standard also could prevent more than 750 to 4,300 premature deaths; 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits; and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

EPA estimates the benefits of meeting the proposed standards will significantly outweigh the costs.  If the standards are finalized, every dollar we invest to meet them will return up to three dollars in health benefits. These large health benefits will be gained from avoiding asthma attacks, heart attacks, missed school days and premature deaths, among other health effects valued at $6.4 to $13 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $19 to $38 billion annually in 2025 for a standard of 65 ppb.  Annual costs are estimated at $3.9 billion in 2025 for a standard of 70 ppb, and $15 billion for a standard at 65 ppb.

A combination of recently finalized or proposed air pollution rules – including “Tier 3” clean vehicle and fuels standards – will significantly cut smog-forming emissions from industry and transportation, helping states meet the proposed standards. EPA’s analysis of federal programs that reduce air pollution from fuels, vehicles and engines of all sizes, power plants and other industries shows the vast majority of U.S. counties with monitors would meet the more protective standards by 2025 just with the rules and programs now in place or underway. Local communities, states, and the federal government have made substantial progress in reducing ground-level ozone. Nationally, from 1980 to 2013, average ozone levels have fallen 33 percent. EPA projects this progress will continue.
The Clean Air Act provides states with time to meet the standards. Depending on the severity of their ozone problem, areas would have between 2020 and 2037 to meet the standards. To ensure people are alerted when ozone reaches unhealthy levels, EPA is proposing to extend the ozone monitoring season for 33 states. This is particularly important for at-risk groups, including children and people with asthma because it will provide information so families can take steps to protect their health on smoggy days.

The agency is also proposing to strengthen the “secondary” ozone standard to a level within 65 to 70 ppb to protect plants, trees and ecosystems from damaging levels of ground-level ozone. New studies add to the evidence showing that repeated exposure to ozone stunts the growth of trees, damages plants, and reduces crop yield. The proposed level corresponds to levels of seasonal ozone exposure scientists have determined would be more protective.

EPA will seek public comment on the proposal for 90 days following publication in the Federal Register, and the agency plans to hold three public hearings. EPA will issue final ozone standards by October 1, 2015.

> View EPA’s proposal.
> Read more about EPA air quality standards.
> Discover CAPCOG’s Air Quality Program.
> Read the CAPCOG Air Quality Program's EPA Ozone Standard Fact Sheet.

Environmental summit to take place in Bastrop

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and Texas Senator Kirk Watson will conduct the 2014 Central Texas Environmental Summit “Collaboration Along the Corridor,” so community stakeholders can learn about and discuss solutions to environmental challenges facing the area.

The summit will take place from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 8, at the Bastrop Convention and Exhibit Center, 1408 Chestnut St. in Bastrop.
Keynote speakers will address two topics: Texas Water Update: Drought, Water Conservation, and State’s Role; and Central Texas Air Quality Update.

Key state and regional government staff will man outreach and education booths to provide one-on-one discussion opportunities and answer questions for attendees. The Capital Area Council of Governments Solid Waste and Air Quality programs will present exhibits in their areas of expertise. 

Attendance is free, but registration is required. 

> Learn more about and register for the Central Texas Environmental Summit.
> Discover CAPCOG’s Air Quality Program.
> Find out about CAPCOG’s Solid Waste Program.

Schreck delivers economic expertise to region

Friday, November 21, 2014

Chris Schreck, the Capital Area Council of Governments’ Economic Development Manager, wants to bring economic growth expertise to every jurisdiction in the region. He is eager to lend expertise but also is seeking to learn more from the region’s communities.

“I’m a big believer in development initiatives that begin with the community,” Schreck said. “People have their priorities and places have their unique assets. Economic development that begins by taking an inventory of those items can reveal really unique opportunities to create growth and jobs while preserving or creating a distinct sense of place.”

Schreck already is meeting with jurisdictions throughout the region, such as Eanes Independent School District, to present on economic development opportunities.

Before coming to CAPCOG in October, Schreck provided economic and technology policy consulting for SRI International, where he focused on technology-based economic development, higher education, and economic data analysis.

Schreck also is developing the next Capital Area Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy with the CAEDD, which creates and supports goals and objectives the region should seek to continue economic prosperity. 

> Contact Chris Schreck, CAPCOG's Economic Development Manager.
> Learn more about the Community and Economic Development Program.

CAPCOG seeks projects for Homeland Security Grant

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) is accepting requests from counties and cities in the CAPCOG region for projects to be funded through the FY 2015 Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP).

As in previous years, it is anticipated that Fiscal Year 2015 HSGP funding will continue to be limited and will focus on sustaining capabilities developed during prior funding cycles. CAPCOG is awaiting additional guidance about specific federal and state priorities and will make this information available on the CAPCOG website as it becomes available.

This grant is being administered in accordance with the “Capital Area Council of Governments FY 2015 Homeland Security Program Regional Grant Process,” as approved by the CAPCOG Executive Committee Sept. 10, 2014.

> Read the FY 2015 Homeland Security Program Regional Grant Process.

To apply, each jurisdiction must submit a project worksheet form for each project no later than 5 p.m., Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. Instructions for completion of this form are contained in it. Late or incomplete submissions cannot be accepted.

In addition, jurisdictions planning to apply for this funding must complete a survey regarding their implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). Failure to complete this survey by the deadline, Dec. 4, 2015, will disqualify jurisdictions from consideration for Fiscal Year 2015 HSGP funding. Jurisdictions are encouraged to complete this survey even if they do not plan to apply for HSGP funding.

> Take the survey.

For any questions or request for additional information, please contact Ed Schaefer, CAPCOG’s Homeland Security director.

> Download the FY 2015 project worksheet form.
> Read the grant announcement.

AAACAP accepts medication screenings by mail

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Area Agency on Aging of the Capital Area is expanding its free medication screening capabilities so more seniors and caregivers can access the service and prevent possible negative effects of combining medicines.

Screening applications are now available online. Elderly caregivers and people who are 60 or older can download the form and mail it to 6800 Burleson Road, Building 310, Suite 165, Austin, Texas, 78744.

> Download the applications here.

Allowing digital access to the free medication screenings will let people across the 10-county region receive the benefit of their prescriptions and other medicines being reviewed for negative reactions, cost savings and effectiveness.

Since St. David’s Foundation and Department of Aging and Disability Services awarded the grant, AAACAP has provided 417 medication screenings.

> Discover more services provided by AAACAP.
> Learn more about medication screens and download the forms to mail.

RETF cameras catch illegal dumpers in the act

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Using a camera purchased by the Capital Area Council of Government’s Regional Environmental Task Force, Williamson County Deputy Constable Eric Thomas is on the verge of closing four illegal dumpsite cases in two months. He has issued two warrants, made one arrest, and one case is still outstanding.

CAPCOG purchased 10 SpyPoint cameras to assist with illegal dumping surveillance in earlier 2014, and an additional 10 cameras are on order. The current cameras, which have already spent almost 1,000 hours in the field, have helped apprehend illegal dumpers and cleaning up dumpsites.

> Learn more about the RETF.

Because the cameras have worked so well for Thomas, Williamson County Constable Kevin Stofle purchased two additional cameras to assist the deputy’s efforts.

“They have been very effective in showing what was going on at these dumpsites,” Thomas said.

In some cases, the use of surveillance in the area has led the Constable’s office to create deterrents for people using an illegal dumpsite, such as where to post signage or showing how and why people access the site. In other instances, the equipment captured video of non-environmental criminal activity which helped the Williamson County Sheriff’s office make arrests.

One of the most important parts of having access to the cameras is they become a force multiplier, said Sgt. Douglas MacDougall, an investigator for the Travis County Attorney’s office.A SpyPoint camera, which is being used by the RETF to help catch illegal dumpers, is hung in a tree as a demonstration.

Twenty-four hour surveillance on an illegal dumpsite at minimum would require three officers, but it should have six, said MacDougall. That costs law enforcement agencies time and money.  A camera however can drastically decrease the personnel resources and time spent at a scene.

One officer can spend three hours or less getting the information from a camera and reviewing it in a sped up manner, MacDougall said.

“With the case load I carry, I can set it up in the area and come back in a week’s time to check the activity,” Thomas said. He normally replaces batteries and gets the footage at the same time. “It definitely gives us a tool to better utilize our time.”

Being the only person, who works environmental crimes for Williamson County precincts 2 and 3, time is important. Thomas currently has 75 active cases spanning on issues of nuisance to illegal dumping to hazardous waste complaints.

> Help stop illegal dumping by reporting incidents.

MacDougall, who serves a third of Travis County and assists with cases in the nine other CAPCOG counties, visits and works investigations on about 20 illegal dumpsites a week.

“There is not a ton of us that do environmental crime work,” MacDougall said. “But now we have 10 camera systems that are expandable that we can give to people in the 10 counties. It is to their benefit and ultimately to the region’s benefit, because ultimately solid waste dumping affects the whole region and enters the water system.”

RETF members can reserve a camera and schedule a pickup or drop-off time for the equipment.

> Contact Ken May, CAPCOG Regional Services Director.
> Contact Matt Holderread, CAPCOG Solid Waste Program Planner.

Workshops set for strategic criminal justice plan revisions

Thursday, November 06, 2014

The Capital Area Council of Governments and its Criminal Justice Advisory Committee (CJAC) are coordinating two meetings for input on Regional Strategic Criminal Justice Plan revisions.

The plan identifies gaps and prioritizes needs related to direct victim assistance, juvenile justice, mental health, and criminal justice services. Regional criminal justice stakeholders developed the plan last year.

> Read the current Regional Strategic Criminal Justice Plan.

Agendas for the meetings will include a presentation and review of the 2014 plan, an analysis of data on past state funding to the region, and small group discussions to identify needs and suggest plan priority revisions. Topics will include training; direct services; education and outreach; housing, sheltering, or other facility needs; investigation and/or prosecution; support technology and equipment; and personnel support.

Criminal justice planners can attend the meetings at the following times and locations:

  • 9 to 11 a.m., Nov.  14, at J.B. Hallie Jester Building, 1801 Old Settlers Blvd., Round Rock, Texas.
  • 9 to 11 a.m., Nov. 19, in the CAPCOG Pecan Room, 6800 Burleson Road, Building 310, Suite 165, Austin, Texas.

A complete analysis of regional input and data from the meetings will be provided to CJAC in December to develop plan revisions.

> Contact Chad Coburn, CAPCOG manager of community development planning.
> Read more about the CAPCOG Criminal Justice Advisory Committee.

EPA offers technical assistance workshop for sustainable economic growth

Monday, November 03, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is soliciting letters of interest from local governments, so it can provide technical assistance for up to 25 communities about ways to promote sustainable economic growth.

The Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Program helps increase a community’s capacity to implement smart growth and sustainable approaches by demonstrating to local communities how to use various tools. The growth techniques in the program strive to protect the environment, improve public health, create jobs, expand economic opportunity, prepare for the effects of climate change, and improve overall quality of life.

The program will provide technical assistance through a 1- to 2-day workshop on a specific smart growth development topics to include:

  • Bikeshare Planning
  • Equitable Development
  • Infill Development for Distressed Cities
  • Sustainable Strategies for Small Cities and Rural Areas
  • Flood Resilience for Riverine and Coastal Communities

The deadline to apply to participate in the program is Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.

> Learn more about and apply for the program.
> Read about CAPCOG’s Economic Development Program.
> Discover CAPCOG’s Solid Waste Planning Program.

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