Re: Smog in Dallas

by Steven F. Hayward

Maybe I can step in for Ramesh here. I don’t have my air quality databases handy (Joel Schwartz and I have built the most detailed database of long-term air quality trends ever done–we even uncovered large errors in the EPA database–down to the monitor-by-monitor level for every city in the nation), but I’d be very very surprised (stunned in fact) if ozone and particulate levels in Dallas aren’t way way lower than they were 10 or 20 years ago. Nationally, 2004 was the lowest ozone year ever; 2005 will be third lowest (hot summer), and 2003 was second lowest. Moreover, ozone and particulate levels are going to keep going down over the next 20 years. It is a common misperception that air pollution is growing worse; it is a function, I think, of the same raised consciousness that smells a cigarette at 100 yards outdoors, when 20 years ago we all walked into smoky restaurants with nary a word.

As for asthma, it is correct to say that air pollution triggers asthma attacks in people who already have asthma, but it is quite wrong to attribute the sharply rising asthma rate to air pollution. One again Joel Schwartz has done detailed work on this, showing, for example, the total lack of correlation between asthma rates and air pollution in California counties where we have very detailed data. Here’s a surprise: the third highest asthma rate in California is in marvelous crunchy Marin County, which hasn’t had an exceedence of any air quality standard in more than 25 years. It has a higher asthma rate than Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, which have the nation’s worst air quality.

As Rod knows, I share his general inclination that conservatives and Republicans are tone deaf about the environment, but we should resist signing up for the baseless sensationalism of the orthodox environmentalists. We do no one–especially asthma sufferers–no favors by doing this.

P.S. I don’t know about the Dallas area cement plants, but I suspect that they may hide behind the bureaucratic New Source Review rules that Bush’s Clear Skies Plan would actually fix. Environmentalists oppose Clear Skies because it cuts them out of the action (literally depriving them of litigation money).