That's according to a new report titled "Gasping for Breath," which was released Tuesday by the environmental groups Earthworks and the Clean Air Task Force. The report predicts that nine years from now, smog from oil and gas fields will cause nearly 144,500 asthma attacks in Texas children, resulting in nearly 106,000 lost school days. That's 100,000 more asthma attacks than what the report authors predict will be the second most-effected state, Oklahoma. And San Antonio, which is near the Eagle Ford Shale, lands ninth on the study's list of 25 U.S. cities where health impacts will be the worst, with nearly 15,500 children suffering gas-and-oil related asthma attacks by 2025.
You might think that an increase of thousands upon thousands of asthma attacks in less than ten years would be eye-opening for officials at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Not likely. TCEQ has a long history of bucking against the growing scientific consensus that links oil and gas production to air pollution and subsequent health problems. We reached out to TCEQ for comment on the the new report, but haven't yet heard back. Yesterday, however, TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow told the Texas Tribune that the agency had no comment because it didn't have time to review the study. That's the same line they gave us when we asked about a New York University study that linked air pollution to 52 deaths a year in the San Antonio-New Braunfels metro area.
The TCEQ actually has quite an interesting history when it comes to smog and research showing its adverse health effects. In 2013, the agency spent $1.65 million to hire a private company called the Gradient Corporation to create what many experts called junk science that said the EPA's tightened air quality rules won't benefit public health, as the Texas Tribune has reported. The Gradient Corporation has a long history of "disproving" EPA science. As the Center for Public Integrity explained in a February article that describes the company as "rented white coats," Gradient, on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute, the International Carbon Black Association and the trucking company Navistar, published 37 articles attempting to cast doubt on the EPA's finding that air pollution does indeed cause health problems.
Consider that when the Alamo Area Council of Governments published a study linking drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale to increased levels of air pollution in San Antonio, TCEQ was there to dispute the findings. At one point, TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw told the Tribune that smog does not cause health problems and that focusing on pollution as the cause means "we're missing out on the opportunity to figure out what's really causing those respiratory issues." Shaw further blamed any health problems on "some other emissions that we have that's in the ambient environment or, more likely, what I think is something that's either in our indoor environments — our workplace, our home. People spend 95 percent of their time indoors." Talk about a scientific conclusion.
Texas' top scientific department isn't alone in denying the link between air pollution and health problems, either. Texas' embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the EPA in 2015 over tightened air quality standards, which have placed San Antonio in violation of federal smog standards for the first time. “The EPA’s new ozone rule is not supported by scientific data,” Paxton said at the time. “Areas of the country that fail to comply with these impossible standards will be subject to costly new regulations that will harm our economy and kill jobs. Texas has proven that we can reduce ambient ozone concentrations without stifling growth, and my office will continue to defend our state from the EPA’s harmful and overreaching regulations.”