Transparency and Litigation

Transparency and Litigation

Protecting Against Chemical Disasters

Lax industry regulations are endangering the health and safety of Houston area communities. Together with our allies, we use the power of law to hold polluters and our governments accountable when they threaten to undermine critical environmental safeguards.

The issue

The Houston area is ground zero for the fossil fuel industry. The region houses over 400 hazardous facilities and the industry is in the midst of multi-billion dollar expansions. While air quality in Houston has generally improved during the last twenty years, it has never been in attainment of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) national ozone standard. 

The magnitude of the polluting petrochemical industry, combined with the historical practice of siting toxic facilities in floodplains and in close proximity to residential neighborhoods, highlights the need for strong environmental laws and vigorous enforcement of those laws. 

It is well known that facilities in Texas operate in a lax regulatory and enforcement environment, which puts community health and safety at risk. For example, an Environment Texas analysis found that between 2011 and 2016, TCEQ failed to penalize 97% of illegal air pollution releases. This lack of protection is compounded by the Trump EPA’s dangerous environmental deregulation push.

What we’re doing

We serve as a check on local industries, monitoring the state and federal environmental agencies’ actions. 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 a variety of legal suits to help keep communities safe. 

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

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 Administration’s 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. After being ordered to pay nearly $20 million in penalties, ExxonMobil has brought the case back to the court. We have responded with another appeal.

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