The Environmental Protection Agency gave tentative approval last week for the Houston-Galveston area to adopt “one of the most far-reaching air pollution plans ever devised," according to one EPA official.

One Houston newspaper called it "a surprise move" when EPA said yes to pollution-cutting measures that would, among other things, limit idling time for heavy-duty vehicles, create a boutique diesel fuel in Texas and reduce speed limits to 55 mph.
The plan is designed to reduce air pollutants that form ozone, smog's chief ingredient. Under the plan, the area won't meet a federal clean air deadline in 2007. Nevertheless, the measure calls for a reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions in the Houston area by 90 percent, which will help North Texas resolve its clean air problems as well. Under a court order, EPA must approve the state plan by Oct. 15, or propose its own pollution-reduction plan.
If the proposed smog plan passes, a low-emission diesel fuel must be formulated for sale in Texas by 2005 and idling restrictions will be in effect from April through October, when weather conditions are most conducive to ozone formation.
A before-noon ban on the use of diesel construction equipment was removed from the plan by the state legislature. Instead, lawmakers substituted a program to provide financial incentives for retrofitting or replacing dirty diesel engines.
State officials are pleased by EPA's positive reaction to the smog plan, Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, told the Associated Press.
But the Texas Motor Transportation Association is not pleased. The group has filed written comments with TNRCC reiterating opposition to the diesel fuel requirement. TMTA believes TNRCC continues to rely on invalid and inadequate analysis to estimate the effects of the regulations.
The proposal does not mean the federal agency already has reached a decision about whether it will approve the overall plan. Once the agency's proposal to approve is printed in the Federal Register, a 30-day public comment period commences.