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Air Quality Blog

Southern US: Fight against poor air quality to increasingly fall to local officials and individuals

By Faith Eherts, AccuWeather meteorologist
5/28/2018, 10:17:02 AM

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Summer in the southern and southwestern United States means vacations, road trips and long periods of calm, hot and sunny weather, creating a perfect storm of poor air quality conditions.

The climate in this part of the country, combined with its sprawling urban areas and wide, busy interstates, mean there is a lot of particulate matter injected into the lower atmosphere and next to nowhere for it to go. Calm, hot and sunny weather contribute to high ozone production during the day as well. Because of this, local governments and other public figures have made efforts to curb the growing air quality threat ahead of summer 2018.

In some cases, this requires fighting the federal government in order to keep legislative progress moving along.

New Mexico’s Attorney General, Hector Balderas, is part of an effort to prevent EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt from re-opening a truck loophole that once allowed companies to replace engines in new 18-wheelers with older, less efficient ones.

EPA rollbacks

David Baake presenting before the Joint Advisory Committee for the Improvement of Air Quality in Ciudad Juarez, El Paso, and Doña Ana County. via KRWG TV/FM


When this loophole was closed in 2016, it was reportedly because "EPA scientists found that these so-called 'glider' trucks produced up to 40 times as much pollution as other new trucks," according to David Baake, an environmental lawyer based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Baake also noted that he was "proud to know that my attorney general is fighting for children with asthma, the elderly, and other vulnerable members of our community," and that others should announce their support and publicly join this fight.

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The EPA is also now seeking to weaken fuel economy standards in place for vehicle manufacturers that specify increasingly efficient average gas mileage requirements of new fleets. Currently, the 2025 standard is set at 54.5 miles per gallon, a goal that Pruitt plans to dismiss by eliminating standards by 2020.

Vehicle manufacturers may very well continue to produce cars and trucks with continuously improving gas mileage for the sake of innovation, efficiency, publicity and/or personal and company ethics. But eliminating these requirements will also make it that much easier for companies without these motivations to produce environmentally harmful vehicles without legal consequences.

Hundreds of thousands of vehicles pass through the border city of Las Cruces area each day on a single highway, according to Baake, and pollution from vehicles idling at the U.S.-Mexico border contribute further to poor local air quality. It is understandable why improving vehicle emissions standards is an important battle for this community to win.

AP image border cars

Vehicles wait for inspection at the Border Patrol's Laredo North vehicle checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. When traffic backs up at Laredo North, agents say they sometimes have to speed up inspections to try to move vehicles through more quickly. (AP Photo/Nomaan Merchant)


In more urban areas, these risks are heightened exponentially.

In New Mexico's neighbor to the east, the Texas Department of Transportation has launched a campaign called "Drive Clean Texas", which highlights the ways people can help to curb their personal contributions to the area's frequently poor air quality.

Three metro areas of Texas are considered to be in "non-attainment" under the Clean Air Act, according to the campaign site, meaning they fell short of the air quality standards in place for 2017. These included the Houston/Galveston, Dallas/Fort Worth, and El Paso regions. Several other regions came dangerously close to non-attainment as well.

TX nonattainment 2017 AQ

A map of Texas counties showing the status of each as it pertains to the Clean Air Act's annual air quality standards for 2017 via drivecleantexas.org


To help Texans and tourists do their part, Drive Clean Texas highlights 18 ways people can limit their emission contribution, ranging from biking to nearby destinations to filling up their tank in cooler weather and replacing dirty air and oil filters in their car. Specific impacts are included, such as how removing an empty car-top cargo container can improve the fuel efficiency of a vehicle by up to 17 percent.

With environmental regulations under fire in Washington, it will continue to be up to vehicle manufacturers, local governments and individuals to curb vehicle emissions and take the health and safety of the community into their own hands.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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