Friday, March 18, 2005

House votes out HB 86

On February 4, 2004, the Houston Chronicle reported that 12 major petroleum and petrochemical companies accounted for 80 percent of all unpermitted pollution released into Houston’s air the previous year. These facilities released 5.5 million pounds of pollution during air emission events over the period of 11 months, and these unpermitted emissions not only endanger the health of nearby residents but can travel for hundreds of miles.

The Legislature acted on this: Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) authored HB 86. This bill relaxes restrictions on the compliance history - a company's record of environmental violations. Specifically,

  • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) would only have to develop standards for using compliance histories – rather than evaluating them – and the bill is a little fuzzy on how compliance histories would be developed.
  • TCEQ could no longer use compliance histories in determining whether to conduct announced inspections on a facility.
  • The classification of a "repeat violator" would be more narrowly defined from all violations that a company commits to simply the violations of "the same nature in the same environmental media." This means that TCEQ would look more narrowly at the same violation committed repeatedly instead of looking for a pattern of violations.
  • HB 86 grants TCEQ to allow "reg. flex." (regulatory flexibility) to a company as far as pollution controls go. Specifically, it deletes requirements that an alternative pollution control is only as protective of the environment and public health rather than more protective.

    HB 86 is good in that gets rid of a complicated mathematical formula for determining compliance histories and that it allows penalities to be levied for a specific facility and not all facilities of a given company - if a company has facilities in Gavleston and Odessa, and the Odessa facility is the only one with environmental violations, then that one would be the one that TCEQ reprimands.

    HB 86 was improved by around 100 votes, with around 45 dissenting votes.


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