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The Sorry State of Environmental Enforcement in Texas

Industry is "routinely violating" clean water laws, but both state and federal regulators seem to be looking the other way.
March 20, 2018, 2pm PDT | Katharine Jose
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Biosolids Treatment Plant
Philip Arno Photography

A new report has found that industrial facilities across the Texas are "routinely violating environmental laws by dumping excess chemicals and human waste into its rivers and bays, often without consequence," writes Naveema Sadasivem at the Texas Observer 

The study is an unsurprising condemnation of the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality—the state's primary regulatory agency—by the same organization that last year released a damning report on air pollution and enforcementBut it also exposes the potentially massive implications of a federal Environmental Protection Agency that has been significantly weakened since the start the Trump Administration. 

"The report notes that there’s been a decrease in federal enforcement under the Trump administration, both in the number of cases the EPA is pursuing, as well as the fine amounts issued. In the first six months of the administration, the agency collected 60 percent less in fines compared with under Obama, Bush and Clinton." 

Texas has never been known as the most environmentally responsible state, and TCEQ has never been known for enthusiastic enforcement of environmental regulation, but it has always had to answer to the EPA; the two agencies have fought each other in a number of battles. 

Under the current president and his industry-oriented EPA administrator, there will be much less to fight about, or at least much less to fight with. 

"The administration has proposed reducing the EPA’s budget for civil enforcement by $30.4 million for 2019. The federal budget that pays for grants assisting states in reducing water pollution has also been slashed by about 20 percent for 2018 and 2019. Those budgets cuts, combined with TCEQ’s history of turning a blind eye to repeat corporate polluters, will worsen water quality in the state." 

In fact, as hundreds of employees flee the agency, the EPA has even hired a TCEQ official who once told the Texas Tribune, " "I haven't seen the data that says lowering ozone will produce a health benefit. In fact, I've seen data that shows it might have a negative health benefit." 

(His nomination inspired a lengthy condemnation from the Union of Concerned Scientists.) 

And the latest Texan to join the EPA is a former TCEQ official who is pretty much on the fence about climate change, and in response to questions about enforcement of environmental regulation told the Observer, “I want to find a way to [say] ‘yes’ in every possible situation where we’ve got the legal justification to do so." 

Sadasivam spoke to Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, about this most recent report on water pollution. He told her, Before, at least TCEQ had to report to EPA and there was that threat of removing delegation from the state hanging out there," and added, "[t]hat doesn’t seem to exist any more.” 

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, March 15, 2018 in The Texas Observer
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