April 9th, 2009
Today’s Dallas Morning News reports that TXI‘s cement plant in Midlothian, on the south edge of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, can operate for 10 more years. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved by a two-to-one vote TXI’s permit renewal request, and declined to hold public hearings on the matter.
Said TCEQ Commissioner Bryan Shaw (who cast one of the two votes in favor of renewal), as quoted in the DMN:
TXI “seems to be a permit holder who has met the requirements…. They have been responsive as I’ve looked through the compliance history. The statutes seem to require, and certainly strongly suggest, that in that case the renewal be granted without changes.”
He went on to say that economic concerns trump concerns over the Metroplex’s horrible air quality:
But imposing stricter rules in controversial permits for particular companies, such as TXI, would conflict with “our requirement to try to maintain a strong economy in this state, in concert with protecting the environment,” Shaw said.
For those unaware of the Midlothian cement kilns owned by TXI, they are the largest industrial plant in North Texas, as well as the biggest industrial source of air pollution, and – if that’s not enough to raise red flags among TCEQ Commissioners – the only cement plant in Texas allowed to burn hazardous waste as fuel.
So the TCEQ renewed the permit and didn’t allow a public hearing to occur on the questions. Rep. Lon Burnam (Fort Worth) was allowed, as a legislative courtesy, to speak at a TCEQ meeting where he said,
Part of the problem is that the laws of Texas governing this kind of thing aren’t as clear as they need to be. You can see that in Commissioner Shaw’s remarks above: he consistently says the law seems to say or seems to intend or seems to require.
Our leaders in Austin should work to remove the perception of what the law seems to do, and focus on some language that says specifically that when a huge polluter has a permit up for renewal, we can at least hold a public hearing. We can at least get some research to show just how much economic prosperity we may be buying with lower air quality. We can at least raise public awareness and provide opportunities for the public to demand that legislators hold polluters accountable.
Folks like Rep. Lon Burnam stand up every time for issues like this. There are good people in Midlothian and the surrounding areas who stand up to oppose the permit renewal. Those folks have been shut down again and again.
TCEQ needs instruction from the Legislature on how to interpret the laws it is tasked with enforcing, or it needs better laws.
The League is supporting a raft of proposals, developed through our coalition the Alliance for a Clean Texas, making their way through the legislative process right now in Austin that begin to address air quality issues in Texas cities and regions.
Involvement of Texas voters – particularly those impacted by poor air quality caused by the TXI cement kilns – can begin to turn the tide and require that air quality isn’t the last thing considered when it comes to industrial plants. It should be at the top of the list, right behind economic opportunity.