AUSTIN, Texas — The state's environmental agency approved an aggressive clean-air plan for the smoggy Houston metropolitan area Wednesday that includes a 55 mph speed limit and unprecedented reductions in emissions from industrial plants.
"If it isn't the most aggressive, it's got to be up there with the top few," said Robert Huston, chairman of the three-member Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, which approved the plan unanimously.
Houston, with its refineries and petrochemical plants, is the nation's smoggiest city.
The plan--designed to bring the area into compliance with federal clean-air standards by 2007--is subject to approval by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Gov. George W. Bush must submit the plan to the EPA by the end of the year. Without a plan, the state risks the loss of federal highway money.
The largest pollution cut requires Houston-area industrial plants to reduce smog-causing nitrogen-oxide releases by an average of 90%.
A coalition of 120 companies has argued that cutting industrial emissions more than 75% is not technically or economically feasible.
"If you are overhauling a plant that was built in the '70s, the best you can do . . . is a 50% reduction," said Jim Royner, chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership, which had asked Texas regulators for a reduction target of 80%.
Also under the plan, speed limits would be reduced to 55 mph in the eight-county area. The speed limit on interstate highways in the Houston area is as high as 70 mph, though drivers often go more than 80 mph or 90 mph.
Other provisions call for stricter tailpipe tests for cars and trucks, a morning ban on the use of diesel construction equipment during part of the year, the sale of cleaner diesel fuel, and the retirement or replacement of off-highway diesel equipment.
The restrictions would be phased in through 2007.
The EPA has until October to approve the plan or implement a federal plan.