Tuesday, May 01, 2007

New rankings on air pollution and boomtowns

A couple new rankings recently came out. Some mixed news. Starting with the good news. On air pollution, we're no longer contending for the #1 worst spot with LA. They won it outright, according to the American Lung Association rankings. We didn't even make the top 10, which is good to hear:
The Pittsburgh area was ranked as the nation's second most polluted metropolitan area followed by Bakersfield, Calif., Birmingham, Ala., Detroit and Cleveland. Visalia, Calif., Cincinnati, Indianapolis and St. Louis rounded out the top 10.
On the downside, we're still not doing so well: a grade of F for ozone, and a C for particulates. If it's any consolation, other Texas cities aren't much better, and Dallas is actually worse for particulates (I think our frequent rain helps).

Flipping back to the positive side, recent HGAC model forecasts I've seen say we should be able to get in compliance with federal air quality standards within the next year, and get further and further underneath their standards in future years. Let's hope the models are right.

Joel Kotkin's annual Inc. rankings of hottest cities for entrepreneurs is also out, and Texas is prominently mentioned in the opening paragraphs of the article:
Boomtowns and Texas have often gone hand in hand. Now, buoyed by high energy prices, a rebounding tech sector, and an influx of educated newcomers from the U.S. and abroad, the Lone Star State’s economy is booming once again.

Just look at the big movers on Inc.’s annual survey of the nation’s boomtowns. Among large cities, Dallas soared 18 spots, to No. 25 among the 65 large cities measured; Houston climbed 14 places, to No. 17; and Austin shot up 10 spots, to No. 16. Among small and midsize cities, McAllen, Midland, and Laredo posted similarly strong gains. “Everything is hitting on all cylinders,” says Bill Gilmer, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Vegas and Phoenix are still #1 and #2 based on sheer growth. Seems that everybody in California wants to sell their house at the peak and move just a bit east for the (relatively) bargain homes.

More on Texas later in the article:
Other regions are slipping. San Diego; Santa Ana-Anaheim, California; and Nassau County, New York, all took tumbles from last year.

There’s no such softening in Texas. Gilmer ascribes the state’s strong showing to several factors, including relatively low business costs, a recovery in technology—and most important, the thriving energy sector, which is attracting a new cadre of highly paid professionals to an increasingly sophisticated high-tech business. Job growth in Austin, hit hard by the dot-com bust, is now more than triple that of rival high-tech centers like Boston (No. 56) and San Jose (No. 60).
Joel always gives great speeches on the history and trends of cities. If you'd like to catch him on his next visit to Houston, he'll be at the HBJ Celebrate Enterprise event later this month (tickets).

UPDATE: A clarification from Karl in the Mayor's office on our air pollution status in the comments.

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7 Comments:

At 12:28 AM, May 02, 2007, Anonymous awp said...

I am glad we have been left off the list, but there seems to be something fishy. How the hell is Birmingham, Alabama more polluted than Houston?

We had some talks on here about how the Men's fitness magazine "fattest city" rankings were tinkered with to up the excitment. Is that the same thing that's going on here? I could have also missed the news about the four million people the birmingham area recently gained or that the Houston area lost, or about the huge petrochemical complex that just went up outside birmingham.

 
At 2:08 AM, May 02, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

We didn't even make the top 25 most polluted cities. How on earth do they calculate these things?

I'm also surprised we aren't ranking higher among boomtowns, given this supposed energy boom we're having. Austin is ahead of us?

 
At 9:27 AM, May 02, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think it's a particulate vs. ozone pollution issue. We're ok on the former (again, because of the rain, I think), but not so good on the latter.

As far as being a tad low in the Inc. rankings, two factors:

1) we're very, very big, so our percentage growth simply can't be as big as smaller metros, even in Inc's "large city" category (450K+ jobs, when Houston has over 2m)

2) they look at a 5-year average growth rate, and the oil boom has only seriously kicked in within the last 1-2 years.

 
At 10:27 AM, May 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very easy to believe that Birmingham, Alabama could be worse. Just the amount of cars and people don't determine particulates and ozone. The weather and geography plays a major role.

Take ozone for instance, our ozone levels would drop the further you slide out metropolitan area to the north. When ozone is worst in Houston is when the weather is hot and the sea breeze from the gulf causes air masses to stagnate over the eastern part of the city. Without the sea breeze, polluting agents that reacts with the sun would be more dissolved into the atmosphere preventing the creation of dense ozone clouds.

As long as this survey of cities follows EPA procedures, there is little chance that is has the problems that the "Fattest City" and "Quality of Life" surveys have.

 
At 1:53 PM, May 02, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Karl Pepple from the Mayor's office emailed me this clarification of our air pollution status:

The SIP (State Implementation Plan) is supposed to bring the air quality in Houston into attainment with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). That current standard is 85 ppb of ozone. The SIP is supposed to produce NOx and VOC (ozone precursors) reductions to reduce the amount of ozone formed, thus bringing the area into attainment with the NAAQS. To do this, the TCEQ estimates we need to reduce current levels of NOx and VOC by another 50%. This equates to hundreds of tons of reductions per day. The current SIP that has been proposed contains only 3.72 tpd (tons per day) of NOx reduction, and an unspecified amount of VOCs. Please take a look at the document - the TCEQ says in there that they do not plan on attainment until 2018.

The data Kari mentioned has to do with Conformity. There are years specified to MPOs that need to be modeled for purposes of Conformity Analyses. 2007, the year you heard Kari refer to, is one of those years. There are on-road emission budgets tied to those years. We can meet the NOx and VOC budgets assigned for the specified years, and still be nonattainment of the NAAQS. This has been the case in Houston for years. If we ever failed to meet the budgets a variety of non-pleasant repercussions would follow, including loss of Federal highway funding.

So, to clarify your point, we will attain the on-road emissions budget established for the region. However, the region will not attain the NAAQS immediately as a result of that. Keep in mind there are on-road, off-road, area, and point sources also emitting.

Feel free to call if you have questions. This is an interesting time. HGAC is conducting a Conformity analysis to the old on-road budgets established in the 1-hour SIP, while the TCEQ is developing an 8-hour SIP to meet requirements of the new 85 ppb ozone standard.

 
At 3:14 AM, May 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I have to take issue with the anonymous post on Wed May 02, 10:27:00.

Any wind would tend disperse the pollutants both horizontally (out of the city, to the rural and suburban areas) and vertically (mixed into the upper atmosphere). It doesn't take much wind to acheive this either. A slight sea breeze (5-10 mph) can help. This is part of the reason why large cities in Florida on the coast (Tampa-St. Pete (2.7 million), Jacksonville (1.3 million), and Miami (5.5 million)) have very, very few days with high ozone levels.

And it's not just the rainfall that clears out the atmosphere. There are easily 60 days in all of these cities in the hottest 5 months of the year that have no rain, yet these cities might see 5 or fewer days with high ozone levels per year combined.

Even Orlando (2 million) benefits from the seabreezes; the seabreeze fronts (which show up as lines of thunderstorms from each coast) frequently collide in the middle of the peninsula near Orlando.

Florida doesn't have any 8-hour non-attainment areas for ozone.

Many, many other places in the Southeast do, even smaller cities.

Wind originating from the sea is probably the "best" as far as lowering local ozone concentrations because:
1. it originates from an area without human sources of pollution (save for a few boats and distant offshore oil platforms-which FL doesn't have)
2. it originates from an area without trees. Pines (alpha-pinene, terpenes) and oaks (isoprene) (see also here) can release large amounts of ozone-forming hydrocarbons. Other trees contribute to this as well. In small- to medium-sized cities, this contribution of hydrocarbons can be quite significant.
3. The cooler air from the sea causes the hot air over the land to rise, leading to good vertical mixing and thus dispersion.


As far as your point about Birmingham, I agree: I could imagine it having high levels of pollutants. It is an ozone non-attainment area (but then again, Houston is a definite non-attainment area). It has traditionally had a large steel and coke industry and still does have some of these companies. It was even named after Birmingham, England, which has/had a large steel industry. It also lies in a valley, with many hills in the area possibly trapping pollutants.

That being said, I don't think it's more polluted than Houston, but I haven't looked at the details of how they arrived at their conclusion.

 
At 11:07 AM, April 04, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The American Lung Association lists Houston as #5 on the smog pollution ranking. So when you say Houston was not even in the top 25, it is deceiving. Houston is not on the list of particulate pollution.

 

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