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Pollution prosecution

Not really sure what to make of County Commissioner Steve Radack’s proposal to create a new pollution control department that will more aggressively pursue violators.

“We have people out there violating the law and they’re polluting,” Radack said. “They’ve been getting away with it for a long, long time while it’s been under the health department, and it’s time to change that.”

Last March, Commissioners Court approved a recommendation to study how to strengthen pollution control, but no report has been issued. Radack said he has waited long enough.

“We study, we study and we study, but eventually, we have to take the test,” he said.

Radack proposes the new department at a time when the county is grappling with potentially tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts.

The six-term Precinct 3 commissioner said he believes the department can be created without additional cost by simply moving the pollution control specialists out of the Public Health and Environmental Services office and setting them up in their own shop.

Both the county attorney and Radack support a separate department, as prosecutions of polluters have declined in recent years.

County Attorney Vince Ryan has been gung ho about chasing polluters, so I’m not surprised he supports this. I certainly favor the philosophy behind this plan, but it’s not clear to me how this reshuffling of personnel will make a difference. So for now, I agree with this:

“I don’t know what to make of this,” said Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, when asked about the proposal. He said he had hoped there would have been some sort of public debate in advance of a vote at Commissioners Court because the new agency will have such an impact on everyone in the Houston area.

“I really hope that whoever’s pulling the trigger on this is doing it in the best interests of Harris County,” Tejada said. “I hope this isn’t being done for the purpose of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering.”

On the one hand, I don’t have a lot of faith in Steve Radack. On the other hand, if Vince Ryan is on board I’m willing to believe there’s something to it. Commissioners Court has delayed action on this until next month, so at least we’ll have some time to figure it out. What do you think?

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