Texas lawmakers raised pollution fines for the first time in more than a decade. But regulatory concerns remain
Reporting for Public Health Watch, David Leffler writes that Texas state lawmakers have voted to increase the maximum daily pollution violation fines for the first time since 2011. But the legislation also gives environmental regulators more power to avoid investigating citizen pollution complaints.
In a nutshell:
The pollution penalties, which are determined by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), can now be as high as $40,000 per day for some offenses — up from the previous maximum of $25,000 per day. But environmental justice advocates denounced a related bill passed by the legislature making it easier to ignore citizen complaints about pollution and other environmental problems. The latter bill allows the TCEQ leeway to avoid investigating environmental complaints without a "reasonable probability" that the commission can substantiate them. The agency can also decline to act if it determines that citizens’ concerns repeats complaints about a site that TCEQ investigated within the previous 12 months and concluded were unsubstantiated.
“This could cast a shadow over the things we’ve accomplished this session for Texans and our environment,” said state Rep. Penny Morales Shaw, a Houston Democrat who sponsored the bill to increase pollution fines, in response to the bill weakening the TCEQ's investigation of environmental complaints.
Previous investigations by Public Health Watch have found that the TCEQ repeatedly ignores Clean Air Act violations by the oil, gas and chemical industries and rarely assesses penalties. That's despite the fact that some of the communities most heavily burdened by pollution experience frequent illegal releases of toxic substances from the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries and suffer disproportionate health problems in comparison with whiter, more affluent areas.
It's worth noting that the oil, gas and petrochemical industries contribute significantly to the Texas economy and are major political donors in the state.
Read the full story by Public Health Watchhere.
For more on how the petrochemical industry buildout is affecting public health, follow EHN.org's ongoing coverage from western Pennsylvania and the Gulf Coast.