In an era where many of the nation’s richest cities have forged their wealth in big banks and stock market trading, Houston has maintained its standing as an industrial town. A large part of the metropolitan economy centers around production and shipping. One third of America’s plastics, and one fourth of all gasoline production is done in or very near the city limits.
With all of that heavy industry comes the burden of heavy pollution. Its no surprise that practically every night’s newscast features a major chemical spill, localized air quality alert or concerns from a community trying to discover the truth of a recent pollution event. These realities are a fact of life for residents of Southeast Texas.
It’s also why Houston works so hard to protect its residents from such hazards. The City of Houston’s Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention (BPCP) has an extraordinary task of maintaining balance between the region’s economic growth and environmental safety. The roots of the Houston BPCP go back to the 1960s.
But some Big Oil companies want to weaken the BPCP’s abilities to protect Houstonians. Here’s the story from Dave Fehling of Houston Public Media…
In a case scheduled to be heard later this year before the Texas Supreme Court, a group of big energy companies will argue that the City of Houston is breaking Texas law.
The big companies – which include ExxonMobil and Conoco Phillips – say only the state can legally enforce Texas environmental laws. Lawyers for the industry did not make themselves available for an interview. But in briefs filed with the court, they argue that Houston is going rogue, enforcing state pollution laws because: “Houston disagrees with the TCEQ’s enforcement actions.” TCEQ is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
It’s no secret that Houston and Harris County officials have for years complained that the TCEQ isn’t nearly aggressive enough in monitoring plants and pursuing polluters. In briefs submitted by environmental groups, they call the TCEQ “severely underfunded” and say that’s why it’s critical the city help out by having its own pollution police.
Which, according to the city’s pollution control bureau, is exactly what the state’s TCEQ has been asking Houston to do for years.
“We receive complaints from TCEQ weekly, “said Daisy James, acting chief of the Houston Pollution Bureau. “We used to have a contract with TCEQ.”
Even with the TCEQ often in cooperation with the local agency, some Big Oil companies have chosen to try and snatch local control away from the city, even if it means exposing Houstonians to more dangerous pollutants. Keep in mind that the lawsuit isn’t actually about whether the companies themselves are violating state regulations, but rather who catches them in the act. They know that state monitors, by nature are both less capable of being a local watchdog and less familiar with the violations in place.
This is a story that needs more awareness across the state. Houston residents deserve to have the best environmental protections available to them. Not to be bullied by companies that don’t want to meet the highest standards in the first place.
It’s time for Big Oil to clean up its act. Then they won’t have to worry about who’s watching.
(photo credit: wikipedia)