This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media. Audio will be available shortly.
Houston has its own squad of investigators, chemists and researchers who handle hundreds of complaints a year about pollution. But in Austin, the Texas Supreme Court heard from big industries including oil refiners who said the city pollution cops are illegal under state law.
Evan Young, a lawyer for the industry group that brought the suit, told the justices the state already has — by law — the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality so adding enforcement by Houston’s pollution police is overkill.
“It suggests that we are on the precipice of this age of ever-increasing regulation by every level of government imaginable,” Young said.
But one of the justices, Debra Lehrmann, questioned whether having the locals take the lead on regulation was bad for business.
“It seems like local control would be more efficient not less efficient,” said Justice Lehrmann.
That very notion of local control was challenged earlier this year by Governor Greg Abbott. He’d complained that cities were passing too many onerous regulations on businesses and in this case, told the court in a written brief that Houston’s pollution police were hitting small businesses hardest like dry cleaners.
The City of Houston’s attorney, Robert Higgason, said the governor was wrong.
“That brief I’m sorry to say that brief just misses the whole point of this case,” said Higgason.
The city says its point is that the state isn’t aggressive enough in enforcing pollution laws so Houston has to take up the slack. Whether Houston has that right will be decided by the State Supreme Court justices who are expected to issue a decision by the end of the year.