Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Mayor to polluters: Clean up or else

Mayor White has turned his attention once again towards the big polluters in the Houston area with a message to shape up or else.

Mayor Bill White on Monday gave industrial polluters six months to clean up their act.

His warning came after an industry-led task force delivered a report earlier in the day calling for chemical plant operators to act voluntarily to limit their emissions and improve Houston’s air quality.

Endorsed by the Greater Houston Partnership and developed during the last half year, the new plan seeks to stem a controversial effort by the mayor to regulate local polluters. The partnership supported development of the plan to avoid a standoff between the city and the region’s vibrant chemical industry.

White said he was unwilling to wait much longer to see if the voluntary plan works.

“If we have eight meetings about this, but the level of benzene goes up, the community has been defrauded,” the mayor said.

While saying he welcomed the industry plan, White also employed one of Ronald Reagan’s signature phrases, saying the city would “trust but verify” industrial efforts to address air pollution.

The task force’s chairman, Dan Wolterman, said six months was not enough time to determine if the voluntary actions recommended in the report, such as funding efforts to improve pollution monitoring, would help Houston’s air.

“A lot of the industry is just gearing up with the new technology,” said Wolterman, who is president and chief executive of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System. “I think one year is a more reasonable time frame.”


In the new plan there are no carrots for industry to clean up its act, said Matthew Tejada, executive director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention. And the only two agencies with a stick to force change — the Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — have refused to bring it down upon industry, he said.

The effect of the industry plan, with its voluntary actions, public outreach and call for more study, will be to further delay regulatory action against the biggest industrial polluters, Tejada said.

“This is the most vanilla, unimportant thing they could have possibly done to address air pollution,” Tejada said of the task force.

Wolterman said it wasn’t easy to agree upon recommendations with all participants of the task force, which included industry members such as Empfield as well as local professors and quality of life advocates, such as Anne Olson of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership.

The alternative to continuing the dialogue between the industry and city of Houston, Wolterman said, was fighting costly court battles over air pollutants.

Mayor White appeared ready to do just that if the voluntary plan fails to show progress.

If that happens White intends to revive his nuisance ordinance, which would enable the city to cite facilities outside its borders that contribute to risky concentrations of pollution inside Houston. Fines would range from $500 to $2,000 each day the ordinance was violated. White was able to stop an effort in the Texas Legislature this spring to block his proposed ordinance.

Three points:

1. Six months or a year, it doesn’t really much matter to me. What matter is that there’s a firm deadline, and a definitive metric to check. What cannot be allowed to happen is for the goalposts to get moved, either in terms of delays or lowered standards. We’ve had more than enough of each by now.

2. Even if the claim that six months is too short a time frame to know whether the whizzy new technology that the plants plan to implement will have the desired effect, it doesn’t mean you can’t set a checkpoint at six months to see if there is sufficient progress in actually implementing said whizzy technology. I could live with that, and with letting the deadline for actually reducing the pollution by whatever amount be extended to one year.

3. In regard to Matthew Tejada’s statement, I think letting the rules be voluntary and blessed by an industry task force is plenty of carrot. The Mayor has a stick at his disposal, and it’s high time it gets wielded if need be. I’m not sure what further incentive is needed here, or what good it might do.

Can I say again how glad I am that SB1317, which would have taken that stick out of Mayor White’s hand, failed to pass out of the Lege this past spring? And that the guy who tried to ram SB1317 through the Lege is in for the fight of his life next year? These are good things.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

Comments are closed.