Executive Director, Environment Texas
Executive Director, Environment Texas
Environment Texas Calls on Governor Perry to Get Tough on Environmental Crime
AUSTIN–Toxic releases into the air and waterways of Texas increased by 6% between 2003 and 2004, according to Environment Texas’ analysis of Toxics Release Inventory data released today by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Polluters in Texas are dumping increasing amounts of dangerous chemicals into the air we breathe and the water we drink and swim in,” said Luke Metzger, Advocate for Environment Texas. “We need Governor Perry to stop this disturbing trend and appoint a new environmental commissioner who will aggressively enforce existing laws.”
According to a recent Environment Texas report, much of these emissions are in excess of what industries are permitted to release. The Troubled Waters report showed that more than 58% of Texas facilities discharged more pollution into waterways than their Clean Water Act permits allow.
In December 2003, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) launched an internal review of its enforcement program and practices. The review came in response to criticisms by non-profit organizations, academics, legislators and most notably the State Auditor, who concluded that the enforcement process by the Commission “does not consistently ensure that violators are held accountable.” According to 80 cases reviewed by the Auditor, TCEQ staff estimated that violators enjoyed an economic benefit of $8,647,005 through noncompliance. However, because of a bizarre penalty policy that lets polluters keep most of their illegally gained profits, the fines assessed by TCEQ amounted to only $1,683,635, approximately 19% of the violators’ economic benefit. This bad policy is creating a competitive disadvantage for law-abiding businesses, depriving the state of critical revenue and creating a perverse incentive to pollute.http://environmenttexas.org/reports/clean-water/clean-water-program-repo…
In July 2003, EPA recommended TCEQ change its penalty policy to “collect at least the economic benefit of non-compliance and the gravity portion for the actual time period of non-compliance. This practice would serve to “level the playing field” and make it economically impractical to violate the permit requirements.” TCEQ Executive Director Glenn Shankle has endorsed this policy change, but a final decision remains with the Commissioners.
With the recent resignation of Commissioner Ralph Marquez, there is an opening on the three member Commission. Whomever Governor Perry appoints will have to break a tie between Chairman Kathleen Hartnett White, who opposes changing the policy, and Commissioner Larry Soward who supports a new policy that stops rewarding lawbreakers.
“Governor Perry has a unique opportunity to get tough on crime and clean up our environment through his next appointment to the TCEQ,” said Metzger. “We hope he appoints a Commissioner who will stand up for the people, not polluters.”
Environment Texas noted that this may be one of the last years when the public gets a complete picture of toxic pollution. “If EPA’s proposal to gut the program moves forward, the public won’t receive this kind of detailed local information in the future,” said Metzger.
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson proposed changes to the Toxics Release Inventory Program (TRI) in October 2005 that will significantly decrease the information that the public and state and local officials have about harmful chemicals released into water, air, and land. These changes to the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) would be three-fold:
- A rule to propose that companies be allowed to release ten times as much pollution before they are required to report their releases;
- A rule that would allow companies to withhold information about some of the most dangerous chemicals, such as lead and mercury;
- A notification to Congress that Administrator Johnson intends to release a rule next fall to change the frequency of reporting to the program from every year to every other year.
EPA received more than 100,000 public comments on its proposed rule, and initial analysis shows that the vast majority oppose the changes.
The TRI program is a pollution disclosure program. Since 1987, companies have been required to report toxic releases to air, land, and water, as well as toxic waste that is treated, burned, recycled, or disposed of. Approximately 26,000 industrial facilities report information about any of the 650 chemicals in the program.
The Toxics Release Inventory has been credited with a wide range of successes. Since the TRI program began, disposals or releases of the original 299 chemicals tracked have dropped 57% percent. An Environment Texas Research and Policy Center analysis showed that releases of chemicals linked to health effects have decreased as well. Between 1995 and 2000, releases to air and water of chemicals known to cause cancer declined by 41 percent.
More than 230 organizations, including environmental groups, public health groups, religious organizations, investment groups, and professors have opposed these changes. In addition, twelve Attorneys General (not including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott), state legislators and state regulators from across the country have weighed in to oppose these changes.
“Environment Texas calls on Congress to defend this right-to-know program,” said Metzger. “EPA is on the wrong track, and Congress must redirect their attention toward reducing pollution and protecting public health.”