Policy and Legal Efforts

Policy and Legal Efforts

Healthy Communities

The Houston area’s high concentration of industry combined with the historical practice of building toxic facilities in floodplains and near residential areas highlight the need for robust environmental rules. Facilities in Texas operate in a lax regulatory and enforcement environment, putting community health and safety at risk. This situation is worsened by state and federal policymakers that cater to corporate special interests by engaging in coordinated efforts to encourage fossil fuel expansion and permit minimal accountability for polluters. Together with our allies, we advocate for stronger policies and use the power of law to hold polluters and our governments accountable when they threaten to undermine critical environmental safeguards.

What we’re doing

We serve as a check on local industries, monitoring the state and federal environmental agencies’ actions. By working in partnership with communities, we advocate for more robust policies and regulations to decrease air pollution from toxic facilities and prevent new ones from being placed near people. 

When our air quality or chemical safety laws are being threatened or too weak to protect public health, we engage in litigation serving as plaintiffs in various lawsuits. 

Here are some of our priority community health concerns:

CONCRETE BATCH PLANTS

The absence of zoning laws in Houston and lack of state regulation means concrete batch plants can open almost anywhere in the city. This leaves Houston with the highest concentration of concrete batch plants in Texas. The over-concentration of concrete batch plants in Houston’s communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods disrupts the health and peace of residents. These plants emit cement dust and other particulates into the air, which can cause respiratory issues. In addition, they create significant noise pollution and generate truck traffic on residential streets. It’s time for this to change.

ETHYLENE OXIDE (EtO)

Texas accounts for nearly half of the entire country’s EtO output, with at least 27 facilities emitting more than 48 tons of the health-harming chemical every year. Twelve facilities are located right on the Ship Channel, including in Pasadena, La Porte, and Channelview. These facilities inflict a disproportionate burden on communities of color and with lower income. Breathing air contaminated with this chemical can increase your risk of breast cancer and various lymphoid cancers. In their most recent published study from 2016, the EPA concluded that EtO is, in fact, 30 times more carcinogenic than they had previously thought.

UN-CHECKED POLLUTING FACILITIES

There has been a pattern of inaction across state and federal agencies meant to protect communities from health-harming pollution. Facilities that violate air pollution laws get rubber-stamped by these agencies and face little to no repercussions for illegally polluting environments. A recent investigation by the Environmental Integrity Project found that the TCEQ issued penalties for less than 3 percent of unauthorized air pollution releases from 2011 to 2016. These failures make already vulnerable communities more at risk for health-harming pollution and chemical incidents in their backyards.

Legal interventions:

We’ve listed below some of the cases we’re involved in. 

Victories

3746 – Bad Neighbor Rule
D.C. Cir. 19-1019

In October 2019, we achieved a victory for clean air and public health as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the EPA in the “Bad Neighbor Rule” case. This decision will require upwind states to place tighter limits on air pollution that contributes to harmful ozone levels in downwind states, such as Texas. 

Open cases

EPA Flare Standards Complaint

We joined the Environmental Integrity Project and eight other organizations in suing the EPA over its failure to reduce toxic air pollution from the flares on petrochemical plants, gas processing facilities, and other industrial sites.

3648 – Texas Substitute Redesignations
5th Cir. 18-60290

This case is a challenge to three EPA actions that illegally allowed Texas to use the so-called  “redesignation substitute” regulatory mechanism to downgrade smog protections in the Houston and Dallas areas. 

3202 Chemical Disaster Rule
D.C. Cir. 17-1155, 17-1085 

In August 2018, we successfully challenged the Trump EPAs attempt to delay the implementation of the “Chemical Disaster Rule”, which requires facilities to strengthen their risk management and safety measures. The rule came into full effect in September 2018 but was rolled back in November 2019. We will continue to fight the rollback of this rule. 

3065 – Refineries Air Toxics Rule
D.C. Cir. 19-1015, 16-1033; DDC 12-1607

With this case, we are challenging the EPA’s national air toxics standards for oil refineries as unlawfully weak, while opposing any industry efforts to remove, delay, or further weaken these standards. 

2939 – Exxon Baytown Citizen Suit Amicus
5th Cir. 17-20545

We are supporting an environmental citizen suit seeking a remedy for thousands of violations of the federal Clean Air Act by the ExxonMobil Corporation at its Baytown refinery and chemical plant. In February 2021, a federal judge ordered Exxon Mobil to pay a $14.25 million civil penalty Tuesday in this long-running environmental enforcement case. 

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