This commentary originally appeared in Forbes on July 7, 2015.
Listening to the environmental left and its criticism of all things Texas, a non-Texan could be forgiven for thinking that the skies above the Lone Star State were a perpetual shade of smoggy-brown. But, none other than the American Lung Association, using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, rank orders U.S. metro areas air for ozone pollution as well as for year-round and short-term particle pollution.
The table below displays the worst five metro areas in each category from the American Lung Association’s 2015 report.
California has the lock on the five dirtiest metros in all three categories of unhealthful air. You’ll rarely hear about this though, as California is given a pass—after all, the intentions of its liberal, regulation-loving politicians are pure.
Rounding out the rest of the worst 25 in each category shows California with another six metro areas and Texas with five, for a total of 21 California appearances in the three top 25 categories as compared to five in Texas.
As for the cleanest metro areas in the three categories for ozone and year-round and short-term particle pollution, five of them are in Texas vs. two in California (the town of Salinas appears twice on the clean list, for ozone and year-round particle pollution—four miles from the Pacific, Salinas benefits from a constant onshore ocean breeze much of the year).
So California, not Texas, has the worst air pollution with the greatest link to human health complications. Perhaps this is why Texas’ liberal critics are so shrill in their charges, with groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) making the claim that Texas had the 10th-worst air quality in the nation in a “Toxic 20” list that conspicuously excluded California—the state with consistently the most unhealthful air for decades. The NRDC created the list by ranking trace amounts of chemicals, such as mercury and hydrochloric acid, emitted by coal-burning power plants, rather than focus on the far more plentiful pollutants cited by the American Lung Association.
Interestingly, it was the EPA’s mercury rule that the U.S. Supreme Court recently tossed out, determining that the EPA did not consider the $9.6 billion in costs in making the rule in balance with the $4 to $6 million in quantifiable benefits the rule would bring—a cost-to-benefit ratio of up to 2,400 to 1. Spending $2,400 to get a dollar in benefits sounds like something a government bureaucrat or environmentalist might propose without batting an eye, but, of course, many of us would quickly be shivering in the dark if this return on investment was pursued for too long.
Chuck DeVore is Vice President of National Initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He was a California Assemblyman and is a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army Retired Reserve.