Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: Out goes the good air, in goes the bad .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Out goes the good air, in goes the bad

City loses contract to inspect plants for bad air

Does it seem just a bit odd that now that Houston has a Mayor that is serious about protecting its citizens from industrial pollution, that the state agency that regulates air quality would yank the city's pollution enforcement abilities?

The Texas Legislature recently passed a law that requires district attorneys to obtain permission from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) before prosecuting environmental crimes.

And just this week the TCEQ declined to renew a decades-old contract with the City of Houston to monitor emissions at Houston refineries and chemical plants.

This doesn't ban the city from monitoring the sites, but it removes the funding to do so, which effectively kills the program.

Just as the momentum was building to finally address air quality issues that have long plagued the Bayou City, and evidence was being collected that points to the major violators, the rug gets pulled out from underneath the initiative.

We had a monitoring system in place, and we were just learning who the bad guys were. Now we go back to square one, and the polluters can continue to spew carcinogens into the environment without fear of prosecution.

Welcome to Corporate America. Whenever something threatens economic stability, it gets quashed, regardless of the consequences. Houston is currently ranked second in the country for poor air quality, yet now that we have a chance to reverse this trend, the industry-friendly TCEQ, who we're supporting with our taxes, slaps us in the face and says "too bad, economic health is more important than your physical health".

There's been a lot of optimism in the enviromental community here lately, with the additional monitoring sites, infrared detection in the ship channel, and other intiatives that are identifying polluters in record numbers. To have this process come to a grinding halt announces to the public that the TCEQ will not allow us to undermine their hold on the air quality racket in Texas.

It wouldn't hurt so bad if we hadn't been given hope. We had a chance to do something good, something right. And now we start over.

The TCEQ isn't elected, they're appointed and hired. Maybe if we elected someone who would hold these people accountable, hope might be restored.

I know I'll be looking over the ballot closely next November, and Googling everyone who's running. I encourage you to do the same.


  • Wow, you are terribly misinformed. The City wasn't doing their job correctly. They weren't enforcing violations in many cases. Their haphazard approach to compliance is exactly why the state opted to end the contract and hire more employees in the Houston office to do inspections. You should be GLAD the state pulled the contract.

    People like you need perspective. Houston's air quality is remarkably good considering it is home to one of the world's largest petrochemical complexes. Without the ship channel, Houston wouldn't have an economy. Who would want to live there?

    By the way, the monitoring program was initiated by industry and the state. The City had nothing to do with it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:22 PM  

  • Maybe you can help educate me. Everywhere I looked, it was the city monitoring where the state wasn't, or local environmental groups pushing for accountability when the petrochemical industry pshawed our concerns. Sure, this industry provides a major economic benefit, but at what cost?

    But I'm interested in the truth, wherever it can be found. Steer me towards some data that counteracts my perceptions...

    By Blogger Wyld Card, at 3:55 PM  

  • I agree that the truth isn't always transparent.

    I am not in a position to provide a lot of information, but I do have some advice to impart that hopefully you can share with your peers. Imagine making $32-45K a year and having to work 55+ hours per week (and often, weekends) to improve the environment. This is the case of the average TCEQ employee working on air issues. These employees are spread thin and mistreated - not by their management, but by incredibly rude and hostile environmentalists and their attorneys. It may be hard to imagine, but the enviros are far more difficult to deal with than the industry executives! It all boils down to professional courtesy. Who wants to go to work only to be screamed at by lunatics who make unfounded accusations regarding employee ethics?

    The root of the problem is really #1 the federal government and #2 the state legislature. They are constantly cutting TCEQ funds, while the one-size-fits-all federal programs the state has to carry out, are growing exponentially.

    My advice is for activists to refocus their energies on federal officials and state legislators. Calm and civilized conversations and letters garner far more attention than the style of ranting and raving 99% of the enviros opt to use. I strongly suggest promoting the idea that it isn't acceptable to berate the state employees - planners, investigators, and enforcement coordinators, who, for the most part, are trying very hard to find ways to improve the air we all breathe.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:41 PM  

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