In response to the outrage that the EPA is turning a blind eye to Texas industries’ pollution missteps, environmental groups have banded together to sue the EPA. The Environmental Integrity Project and Environment Texas has filed against the EPA stating that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is failing to enforce air pollution regulations in five plants and refineries near Houston and Dallas. Furthermore, the groups suggest that the industries’ permits are not clear, which means that often TCEQ employees don’t know when a plant has violated its permit. Because of this, many plants get away with excessively high emissions without paying any consequences.
“EPA knows that Texas issues unenforceable permits with illegal loopholes that render useless some of the most basic pollution control requirements of federal and state law,” Gabriel Clark-Leach, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, the Environmental Integrity Project, said in a statement. “EPA’s unwillingness to object to faulty state permits deprives the public of health protections guaranteed by the law.”
But how bad are we talking here? The two environmental groups released a report on July 7th alleging that the TCEQ only fined 3% of 24,839 unauthorized air pollution incidents from 2011 to 2016. In 2016 alone, the report noted that there were 3,720 unauthorized pollution events, only 20 of which have had any sort of penalty. The Guardian elaborated, saying that during that five year period more than 500 million pounds of air pollution was released during industrial malfunctions and maintenance, totaling to $13.5 million in fines.
The TCEQ denies that it is in the wrong, saying in a statement that it “complies with all of the requirements of both the State and Federal Clean Air Act.” But the specific wording of Texas pollution rules gives industries a loophole to avoid paying pollution heavy fines or upgrade their equipment. And the effects from these industries’ shortcuts have a clear impact on Texan residents’ health.
“Houston-area residents suffer preventable asthma attacks and heart attacks associated with the illegal air pollution from these refineries and plants. It is long overdue for both EPA and the state of Texas to get more serious about protecting public health,” voiced executive director of Air Alliance Houston, Bakeyah Nelson.