Harris County commissioners approve $11 million environmental protection measure

Measure comes after series of fires at oil facilities

HARRIS COUNTY – Harris County is the nation’s epicenter for oil, gas and petrochemical production.

But in the last year, several large industrial facilities have gone up in flames, causing a major concern for air quality.

The string of incidents started March 16 with a fire in Exxon Mobil’s Baytown Complex. 

The next day, there was a massive fire at ITC in Deer Park, followed by an April 2 fire at KMCO.

The latest fire was Exxon Mobil’s Olefins Unit in the Baytown Complex last month.

On Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioners Court voted to spend $11.6 million to ramp up environmental protection and response if and when an accident occurs.

The funds will help the county protect the environment and responses to any potential threats. 

The Commissioners Court said the funding approval is the most significant expansion in at least 30 years. 

It will include expand monitoring, response and enforcement capacity across all levels and county departments. 

The money will be divided up in this way:

  • There will be $5.9 million going towards pollution control services, where there will be 29 new positions, including emergency response workers, chemists, and field investigators. A new mobile air monitoring lab will also be created.
  • There will be $4.6 million that will go toward staffing and geographic coverage, as well as for equipment for the fire marshal’s office. 

Finally, $1.1 million will go toward public positions, which includes physicians, a chemical response planner and a public health hygienist.

County judge Lina Hidalgo believes the expansion will help the county be proactive or reactive when it comes to protecting local communities.