Stepping out early in the morning, with the East Texas pines, the air seems as clean as can be. But in the Summer afternoon, that's not the case. Ozone pollution can make it tough for some to breathe and East Texas barely meets federal ozone control guidelines.
Now the Feds are considering making ozone limits much tighter.
"There are a lot of people who are going to have a lot of problems with it, because it's going to cost a lot of money," says Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt, who is part of the multi-agency Northeast Texas Air Care Group.
Proposed is pollution control that would have a huge impact.
"Every time the [Environmental Protection Agency] comes out with more stringent regulations, we are in danger here in East Texas of having our construction projects limited, and of having additional controls put on our cars," says Tyler Mayor Joey Seeber, who along with Stoudt and others are working with industry to control ozone levels in Smith, Gregg, and Harrison Counties.
The current standards of ozone are at 85 parts per billion. A proposal is to drop it to 70.
"It's difficult to see how we can achieve attainment at 70 parts per billion. It's such a drastic reduction. We've already made strides to reduce emissions in East Texas, but if it's reduced to 70, that bar is so high it would be difficult for us to reach that," Seeber said.
Smith, Gregg, and Harrison counties often barely squeak by the current level. Being in "non-attainment" could cause a cut in federal highway dollars, construction vehicles and truck fleets might have to be retrofitted, and personal vehicle emissions controls could be mandated.
Another part of our air quality problem in East Texas is all around us.
"Unfortunately in East Texas, we get punished for our trees," Seeber said.
Many trees put out compounds that actually make ozone worse. And as the economy grows, the pressure is on to become even more friendly to the environment -- before the federal hammer falls.
"[We're working to] be a good partner and a steward of what we're trying to get done here -- for the safety and well-being of everyone," Stoudt added.
If the EPA puts the tougher limits into effect, it could be challenged in court because of the billions of dollars it would cost business. Still, it's asked that everyone help to control pollution during the Summer and Fall months, like filling up your car's gas tank in the early morning or the evening only, and waiting until the same times of day to mow your lawn.