Report: Illegal air pollution in Texas doubled in 2018

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Catherine Fraser

TPC Port Neches Plant ranked 2nd worst for unauthorized releases of carcinogen butadiene

Environment Texas Research and Policy Center

AUSTIN – Texas industrial facilities reported releasing 135 million pounds of illegal air pollution in 2018 — more than double the amount released the previous year — according to a new report by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. The report also found that the TPC facility in Port Neches, site of a recent explosion which hospitalized three and forced the evacuation of neighboring residents, ranked second worst in the state in 2018 for illegal releases of cancer-causing butadiene. 

“Texans are sick and tired of oil refineries and petrochemical plants catching fire, exploding, and pumping out harmful pollution,” said Catherine Fraser, Clean Air Associate with Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. “And the data show the problem is getting worse, not better. “We need our state leaders to crack down on illegal pollution, and stop putting the interests of polluters over the rest of us.”

Key findings of the report:

  • Across Texas, companies reported 4,590 breakdowns, maintenance incidents, and other unauthorized air pollution events in 2018, up from 4,067 events in 2017. 

  • TCEQ and the State of Texas financially penalized companies for just 57, or 1.2% of, unauthorized air pollution events in 2018. 

  • These penalties, totaling nearly $2 million in fines, equate to about one cent per pound of illegal air pollution, and compare to the $297 million in penalties Texas could collect under state law for 2018 violations. In the last eight years, only two percent of unauthorized air pollution events received penalties from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the State of Texas. 

  • The sharp increase in illegal pollutants is in part due to a massive release of carbon dioxide by the Beaumont Gas to Gasoline Plant in Jefferson County. 

  • A recent study found that emissions events in Texas lead to the premature deaths of at least 42 people and $241 million in health-related costs per year.

  • Residents filed thousands of complaints with TCEQ in 2018, alleging a host of human and environmental issues including headaches, breathing difficulties, frequent colds, and even dead trees and birds. 

The report comes ahead of an expected enforcement action by the TCEQ against TPC for violations in 2018. TCEQ staff recommended a penalty of $44,000, an amount Fraser called a “slap on the wrist.” According to the report, TPC illegally emitted 14,881 pounds of butadiene last year. Fraser urged the Commissioners to reject the proposed enforcement action and direct staff to negotiate tougher penalties or take TPC to court.