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Toxic Air: Who's Unreasonable Now?

August 3rd, 2007

Texas Legislature Fails to Address Toxic Pollution

For years, industry has cried for “sound science” and tried to paint environmentalists as unreasonable. Yet despite the scientific community’s agreement that Houston’s toxic pollution is harmful to public health, industry stopped all attempts to address the problem at the Texas Legislature. Who’s being unreasonable?

Scientific experts, including those at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, University of Texas Medical Branch, and Texas Southern University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, agree that levels of toxic pollutants in some Houston neighborhoods are high enough to cause adverse health effects, including increased risk of cancer.

We can do better. Refineries operating in other states (including Louisiana) emit significantly less cancer-causing pollution per barrel of refined oil than their counterparts in Texas. Texas has 30% of national refining capacity, but Texas’ refineries emit almost 50% of national cancer-causing emissions.

Fifteen bills were introduced in the Texas Legislature to address this problem. None of them passed. The Chairman of the Environmental Regulation Committee – Dennis Bonnen – refused to give any of the bills introduced by House members a hearing. Two Senate bills – by Senator Gallegos – were heard in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. One of these made it out of committee and passed the Senate, only to die in the House.

Were these bills unreasonable? Clearly no. One of the bills required the state environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), to designate “hotspots” where toxic pollution exceeds safe levels and to clean up that pollution within seven years. TCEQ would have decided how toxic levels should be reduced and who should make the reductions. The second bill didn’t even require pollution reductions. It required TCEQ list on its website those areas where toxic pollution was unsafe, and to explain what the agency was doing to reduce that pollution. Seems reasonable, no?

Lots of people thought so. The bills’ supporters included: the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Parent Teacher Association, Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, the City of Houston Mayor’s Office, the Christian Life Coalition, and the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, as well as local and statewide environmental groups.

So who opposed the bills? Five industry associations: the Texas Chemical Council, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, the Texas Association of Business, the American Electronics Association, and the Association of Electrical Companies of Texas.

Written by the Texas League of Conservation Voters, GHASP, and Environmental Defense.