Clean Air Challenges

If you have not been paying attention to Clean Air issues — you better start!  As an industry, offset lithography has been a target for good reasons.  We use volatile organic compounds, which are precursors to low level ozone which can create health issues, and print producers tend to do business in heavily populated areas.  These areas are continuously having the EPA crank down on the restrictions.  This summer the EPA will set new ozone standards which will adversely affect many cities such as Austin, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Tulsa, and East Texas within the next few years.  Although some digital technologies may remove the target from the industry’s back, that reality is many years into the future, and the regulations are impacting today’s industry in the midst of the most sever economic downturn in its history.

The basis of the clean air regulations is to produce less ozone; thus, there will be less health problems.  The challenge is that no one really knows what the safe levels might be — thus, EPA keeps cranking down the limits.  Case in point.  The EPA is proposing that the new limit could be set as low as 60 parts per million (down from 80 parts per million set in 1997).  Per modeling created by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, that is the “background” level in the Houston/Beaumont area.  Background being emissions from natural sources — trees!  Thus, if all the petrochemical companies (major emission generators) were to magically go away, the probability of that region of Texas being in compliance is zilch!

Then you look at the DFW area.  60% of the pollution in those areas are generated by mobile sources (EPA speak for cars/trucks).  Yet, the Clean Air Regulation of 1990 do not let the states regulate mobile sources.  And when it was attempted in the 90’s the political backlash was dramatic.  “The day you take my car away from me, is the day you pry my car keys from my cold, dead hands,” or something to that affect.

So, where am I going with this conversation?  Congress has recently proposed to mandate regulations on trucks and off-road vehicles, which per the environmental groups generate 20% of pollution — and from my experience of nearly 20 years serving on the Dallas Small Business Assistance Committee with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — it’s true.  Yet, that industry’s lobby is saying that small business will be affected, which I feel is disingenuous.  Yes, business will be affected indirectly — but everyone will be affected as costs are passed through.  I assure you.  NO, I guarantee you, if small business does not take as stand on this issue, it will be directly regulated by the environmental agencies.  Why?

In DFW and Kansas City,metropolitan areas, the majority of emissions are being created by mobile sources — and trucks and off-road vehicles (construction vehicles/cranes/etc.) can not be regulated by the states.  Yet, the states are responsible for setting up SIPS (State Implementation Plans) to reduce emissions and meet the EPA’s targets.  IF the states can not regulate mobile sources, who do you think is going to feel the blade of the regulator’s ax?  Yup, small business.  Don’t believe me?  It’s already started.  Just ask the printing community in Dallas/Fort Worth which up to now was seen as a minor source of ozone emissions (thanks to the Association’s efforts over the past 15 years).  The state is looking for every possible way to meet the EPA’s thresholds (the old ones!) and its net is being spread further and further.

It is not a pretty picture, and we as a small business community need to become more vocal than in the past and let our representatives know that here’s a case where more regulations could be good for us.  Did I say that out loud?

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