HOUSTON – Sulfur dioxide released from a refinery complex in Galena Park last July forced the closure of the Houston Ship Channel, and people living nearby were forced to shelter in place.
Harris County and Environment Texas are suing the facility, but state efforts to enforce air pollution regulations are falling short, according to a new report.
“Our main concern is the public health impact that communities are facing as a result of being exposed to air pollution,” Bakeyah Nelson, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston, said.
The Environmental Integrity Project and Environment Texas reviewed five years of pollution releases and the resulting enforcement actions.
“There are several facilities that have a history of these violations and there's a lack of enforcement on the state side,” Nelson said.
The groups found companies responsible for illegal releases were fined by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality only 3 percent of the time.
The groups want TCEQ to require repeat violators to replace faulty equipment, and want it to impose more severe fines. They also want more monitoring.
“To have companies implement the actual air pollution control technologies that are available to them to prevent these types of emission events,” Nelson said.
The report includes the amount of illegal pollution releases in the Houston area each year.
TCEQ isued the following statement:
"The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality complies with all of the requirements of both the State and Federal Clean Air Act. The agency did not receive, or have an opportunity to review, this report until today, Friday, July 7. As such, the agency has only preliminarily reviewed the report and is in process of reviewing assertions made in the report.
"As we have stated many times previously, Texas does not allow industries to release excess amounts of air pollution when equipment breaks down and when facilities undergo maintenance work. Rather, TCEQ is required by law to evaluate emissions events that exceed a reportable quantity and requires facilities to minimize emissions from maintenance activities and upset events (malfunctions). TCEQ consistently pursues administrative, as well as civil enforcement, against non-compliant regulated industries in accordance with a vigorous, clearly articulated regulatory framework."