free webpage hit counter

Groups ask the FBI for a consistent review of Texas’ best environmental agency

Groups ask the FBI for a consistent review of Texas’ best environmental agency

A group of advocates in Dallas and 12 other organizations is requesting a federal review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, claiming that the agency violates civil rights and environmental laws by failing to evaluate how minority and low-income areas are affected by industrial air pollution. websites.

The 61 page request filed with the Environmental Protection Agency also claims that TCEQ limits residents’ input during the permit process. The groups are seeking a compliance review of the state’s air permit program and an order for TCEQ to renew the regulations. TCEQ is the state’s most important environmental regulator.

“Many of the groups involved have been addressing these issues with TCEQ for years through individual permits, and it was important to go this route because we did not see any changes made in response,” said Erin Gaines, a senior lawyer with environmental law nonprofit Earthjustice , who is co-principal attorney for the plaintiffs, Wednesday. “We believe these are systemic issues, and without the EPA stepping in, TCEQ will not change their practice.”

Stella Wieser, a spokeswoman for TCEQ, said the agency declined to comment. The EPA did not respond to requests for comment on the next step in the petition process.

The local group involved, West Dallas 1, has for several years tried to get concrete batch plants and an asphalt shingles plant out of the area. They say that the majority of Latino neighborhoods in West Dallas receive little or no public notification from the TCEQ when an industrial area seeks permission to operate in the area, and that it is up to residents and community activists to draw attention to how close these areas are to homes, schools and other places where people gather.

The groups also include national environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Environmental Integrity Project as well as other non-profit organizations and coalitions based in Houston, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Port Arthur and the Rio Grande Valley. The petition was submitted to the EPA on June 28.

Raúl Reyes, president of West Dallas 1, said in a statement that his neighborhood is like many underserved communities across Texas where the burden of proving environmental damage falls on residents.

See also  InvestorPlace Select Reviews (Investor Place Select Weekly Updates)

“It’s time for TCEQ to protect our communities and not the polluters,” he said.

Industrial production and its environmental impact have deep roots in West Dallas, including a large lead smelter based there from the 1930s to the 1980s that produced high levels of lead found in children who lived near the plants. Pollution was also found in the soil at schools, parks and homes.

According to data from the census for 2020, around 28,000 inhabitants live in the postcode 75212 and 62% are Latin American. The median household income is around $ 40,000. Nearly 24% of the population lives below the poverty line, higher than 11% for the Dallas metro area.

A 2020 report by researchers at Paul Quinn College found air pollution in a zip code in West Dallas, 75212, among the worst in the city.

Late last year, Dallas reported that 38 concrete plants had active permits in the city, and TCEQ records showed that at least five concrete producers were allowed in zip code 75212. Residents have cited batch plants as sources of dust and other particles that they say affect their breathing.

“Texas’ failure to comply with basic requirements of the Clean Air Act has led to densely populated urban areas in the state, such as the Houston, Galveston and Brazoria areas, in a state of perpetual failure to achieve health and welfare-based federal standards,” the petition reads. . “And the evidence is clear that people of color, communities of people living near or below the poverty line and other marginalized populations are disproportionately affected by this industrial pollution.”

TCEQ announced last year that they were launching an environmental justice initiative to increase public participation and access in more languages ​​to TCEQ decision-making processes. The announcement from April 2021 mentioned the creation of goals and an action plan to do this.

These plans are listed on the state regulator’s website under “Title VI Compliance,” a reference to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits programs that receive federal money from discriminating based on race, color, or national origin.

Under the public participation plan, the agency says it will work in a transparent manner “with awareness of and sensitivity to the changing demographics of Texas.” It also lays out strategies such as how to help the public better understand how TCEQ works, how officials plan to reach underserved communities and who is responsible for coordinating language interpretation and translations at TCEQ events.

See also  Senate MPs review your drug pricing plan - POLITICO

However, a state legislative report released in May that reviewed the TCEQ found that the agency is not open and transparent enough about what it does and how decisions are made, leading to erosion of public trust.

The report from the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission said that allowing meetings “rarely results in meaningful public input”, and that publicly available data on TCEQ’s website is missing and difficult to find, among other things.

“While TCEQ conducts research into pollution and develops scientific standards to protect public health, the public rarely knows whether, much less participates in, these processes,” the report said. “This lack of transparency and public participation discourages those who try to provide input on how such research and standards affect their daily lives.”

The Sunset Advisory Commission made several recommendations, including that TCEQ improve the site and public announcements, and provide more opportunities for public input on permit applications before they are considered for approval.

The petition also accuses TCEQ of violating Title VI.

Residents and groups from across the state have asked TCEQ to evaluate the environmental impact of individual air permits before approving them, but TCEQ has refused to do anything, according to the petition.

State law allows persons recognized as “affected persons” to seek an administrative hearing to challenge a proposal to approve an application for an air permit. According to the petition, TCEQ usually defines this term as persons who own property or live within one kilometer of a proposed industrial area.

The groups applying for the EPA review say that it excludes residents who live outside this zone, but who are still affected, and it does not take into account the cumulative effect of having several industrial areas in one area.

The petition also claims that the state agency allows air permit applicants to withhold public information such as emission data under the guise that it will reveal trade secrets and sensitive business information.

See also  Theater review: Park's sparse set lets plenty of talent shine in "The Tempest"

It is unclear how long it will take for the EPA to make a decision. Gaines pointed to a similar petition sent last fall by several environmental groups asking the EPA to take over a government program to control surface water pollution, arguing that the TCEQ did not properly review permits and their potential consequences. She said the federal agency is still considering the petition.

Wendi Hammond, a lawyer from Legal Aid of Northwest Texas who represents West Dallas 1, said she hopes the wait is not as long.

“In the petition, we pointed out to the EPA that they are required to respond within a reasonable time frame, but what is considered ‘reasonable’ is variable,” Hammond said. “We do not know exactly how long it will take for the EPA to address this issue, but hopefully it will be sooner rather than later because society has waited long enough.”

Problems with the state’s process have led to several local groups putting pressure on city officials to address air quality issues. A petition from West Dallas 1 recently led to two batch plants operating illegally in their area being ordered by the city to close.

In May, the Dallas City Council approved amended regulatory rules to require all concrete batch plants to receive approval for a specific use permit from the City and Town Planning Commission in order to operate legally.

Both processes have public hearings before the groups vote on an operator’s application.

Previously, properties regulated by Dallas for industrial production allowed permanent batch plants not to require a specific use permit, thus avoiding a public consultation process. Plants that wanted to run temporarily did not need a permit either.

The city is also considering other regulations such as a change in the zone code that requires minimum distances that facilities can operate from homes, schools, parks and other public spaces.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.