Mayor White: Not so fast on that plant permit

Mayor Bill White takes his fight against nearby chemical plants over the pollution they send our way to the next level.

In an unusual request by the city, White asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which is responsible for the state’s air quality, to grant a hearing before a judge on the latest permit application for Lyondell Chemical Co.’s refinery along the Houston Ship Channel.

The refinery is in the city’s cross hairs because it’s one of the nation’s largest emitters of benzene, according to the most recent industry-provided estimates. What’s more, it yields more emissions of the toxic chemical per barrel of product than other refineries across the nation and thus poses an unreasonable risk to Houstonians, city officials said.

“If the company believes that it’s just fine to put tons and tons of benzene in the air,” White said in an interview, “then we would like to hear what scientific evidence they have that benzene is good for you.”


The hearing, if granted, would allow the city and the refinery’s operators to submit evidence and question officials and experts before a state-appointed judge. Afterward the judge would propose a decision to the TCEQ, which has the final word over permits.

White said he is hopeful that the hearing would lead state regulators to establish an acceptable limit for benzene. Texas doesn’t have one, but other states have set such standards.

Fine by me. Let’s either establish that there is a standard worthy of being enforced by a state agency, or admit that the whole thing is a sham and nothing we do matters. Either way, it’s an outcome we can work with. What say you, TCEQ?

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