Texas Should Reinstate Public Health, Environmental Protections Suspended in Response to Hurricane Harvey
Groups Call on Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to End Rule Suspensions, ‘Return to Normalcy’
UPDATE: We want to thank Governor Abbott and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for their quick action. The public spoke up about their concerns and the state responded. Environmental rules are there to protect the public and it’s important that they stay in place and are enforced.
We are happy with the announced outcome today, and we thank Governor Greg Abbott and the TCEQ for taking this step to protect the people of Texas.
Generally, we don’t think that rule suspensions are appropriate. The TCEQ always can choose not to fine facilities that pollute during a disaster. But with 46 environmental rules having been suspended across 60 counties for six months, there could be consequences to public health. If TCEQ chose to enforce against any violations that occurred during that time, companies might use the rule suspension as a defense against enforcement. This could limit the TCEQ’s ability to hold polluters accountable. When the next disaster happens, Public Citizen believes the governor should leave our public health and environmental protections in place.
AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) should reinstate public health and environmental protections suspended in response to Hurricane Harvey, nine groups said in a letter (PDF) sent to the agency today.
Public Citizen’s Texas office and its allies warned that the public health and environmental harms outweigh any justification for the continued suspension of 46 TCEQ rules ranging from air pollution limits to vehicle fuel standards to wastewater standards. The letter was signed by representatives from Bayou City Waterkeeper, the Coalition of Community Organizations, Environment Texas, Gulf Restoration Network, the One Breath Partnership, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and Turtle Island Restoration Network. Accompanying the letter was a spreadsheet (PDF) listing the 46 rules and explaining why they should be reinstated.
“We believe that many of the rule suspensions were never appropriate. We also believe that, more than six months after the hurricane, there is no justification for continued suspension of these forty-six rules,” the letter reads.
“There may be serious public health consequences to leaving these suspensions in place. If they aren’t needed any more, they should be ended now,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, who spoke about the rules suspension at a TCEQ public meeting today.
One rule that should be reinstated limits visible emissions from flares to five minutes in any two-hour period. Pollutants from these flares have been linked to nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, coughing, difficulty breathing and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. A suspension of this rule carries grave consequences for public health, Shelley said.
“We are not aware of any companies that are experiencing continued operational difficulties as a result of Hurricane Harvey that would necessitate suspension of this rule,” the letter said.
The groups made three recommendations. First, the TCEQ must weigh the costs to public health and the environment against the value of continuing to suspend the rules. Second, the TCEQ needs to provide more information to the public about the continued rule suspensions. And third, if companies are not taking advantage of rule suspensions, those rules should be reinstated.