Last month, I posted about a study done by the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention (GHASP), which contended that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) did a poor job of enforcement when chemical plants and refineries violate air pollution regulations. That study was finally reported in the news, albeit in the Brazosport Facts and not the Chron, despite their recent editorializing against the TCEQ and its enabling local legislators. Still better than nothing, however.
One thing to highlight from the story:
GHASP contends the biggest problem is lax enforcement of leak monitoring at plants, often classifying leak violations as record-keeping violations, which carry lighter penalties.
"They just treated that as if it were a trivial matter," said John Wilson, GHASP’s executive director. "I think for a number of years the TCEQ was sending the message that it didn’t matter."
John Sadlier said the agency has to prove violations before it can assess a fine.
He said the record-keeping violations are a perfect example of that.
"Often the only evidence that we really have is that you keep really poor records," Sadlier said. "Us making the allegation is one thing. Us successfully proving the allegation is another. Nine times out of 10, as we talk to the respondent, they’re not going to give us the case."
Unfortunately, during the last Legislature, 20 of 34 state representatives in the eight-county region rejected five anti-pollution amendments. Those measures would have boosted TCEQ health screening levels, forced companies to provide continuous monitoring of emissions and fined violators who made repeated chemical releases near vulnerable communities. The legislators' votes split on party lines; all Republicans voted no. The five amendments went down in defeat.
Democrats blamed pressure from the chemical industry. One of the amendment sponsors, Toby Goodman, R-Arlington, seconded that assertion. He also blamed legislators' stereotypical view that anyone who votes for cleaner air and water is "some sort of liberal activist."
Some legislators who voted no claim they support higher air quality standards but that the amendments were poorly researched and unfair to industry. If those lawmakers were really concerned about clean air, they would have researched and drafted amendments that they could have supported.
Those who must breathe the polluted air in our communities should remember such statements when they vote in the March primaries and the general election in November. A clean environment shouldn't be a partisan issue, but the Toxic 20 are doing their best to make it one.