Environmental groups say the state is letting polluters off the hook. A new report ranks the worst illegal air pollution events from oil refineries, chemical plans and other industrial facilities across Texas. But several environmental groups say the fault doesn’t lie with the state’s environmental regulatory agency. They place the blame on state leadership.
The groups analyzed state records that reveal that Texas imposed penalties on only 588 of more than 21,000 malfunction events self-reported by companies from 2011 through 2016. The total fines for these violations were $13.5 million, but more than 97 percent of incidents did not lead to fines. Ilan Levin with the Environmental Integrity Project says that’s not the fault of the TCEQ.
“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has the smartest people working in state government, so I’m not here to criticize the staff,” Levin says. “This is a leadership problem. And it starts at the top with the governor (and) the state legislature, because they are the ones beholden to the industry lobbyists.”
Luke Metzger with Environment Texas also blames state leadership.
“Governor Abbott signed the law which caps penalties on pollution lawsuits brought by local authorities,” Metzger says. “Then just last month Governor Abbott signed a law forcing city and county officials to notify the state before filing a pollution case.”
Hydrocarbons released into the air interact with oxygen and sunlight to produce ozone. The Houston area had the largest number of incidents — more than 3,800 — that released 5.2 million pounds of pollution into the air.
The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment.