Dirty air causes health issues for Texans, including asthma - which is prevalent among children in Texas - and heart attacks and strokes in the elderly. Cleaning up the air save lives and money by reducing emergency room visits and lost productivity due to illness.
Healthy Air for Everyone
Dirty air causes health issues, including asthma – which is prevalent among children in Texas – heart attacks and strokes. Cleaning the air saves lives and money by reducing emergency room visits and lost education and productivity due to illness.
In Texas, some of the most significant sources of air pollution include chemical facilities, heavy vehicles, coal power plants, and concrete batch plants.
Diesel pollution from trucks, buses, trains, ships, and off-road equipment seriously threatens the health of Texans, particularly in urban areas where a substantial portion of toxic particulate matter (PM) and ozone-forming pollution comes from diesel engines.
As of 2014, Texas consumed more diesel fuel than any other state. About 8% of all diesel fuel consumed on the highways, and about 11% of diesel consumed off-road nationally, is consumed in Texas. There are an estimated 6 million off-road vehicles in Texas.
Texans – like those living near the Port of Houston and the ship channel — face worsening levels of toxic particulate matter and ozone. In 2001, we successfully lobbied the Texas legislature to establish the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP), which helps reduce emissions from trucks, buses, trains, and off-road equipment around the state. However, much more work must be done to make the air safe in and around the Port of Houston and other areas of the state that do not comply with federal clean air standards. We continue to work to improve TERP and ensure that the Texas Legislature continues to fund it.
The Texas office of Public Citizen works with the Port of Houston Authority, tenants of the Port, truckers, and other equipment operators to ensure that the TERP programs will effectively clean the air. In 2015, the Healthy Port Communities Coalition, of which Public Citizen is a member, was instrumental in the passage of the City of Houston’s ordinance banning the polluting and wasteful practice of heavy truck idling. A year later, the Houston Independent School District – the largest in the state – passed a similar ban for its fleet of school buses.
Burning coal to generate electricity no longer makes sense. There are cleaner and more affordable ways to power the state of Texas. Worse yet, coal is harming human health. Burning coal, for example, generates harmful particulate matter that can make it deep into a person’s lungs, causing and worsening respiratory illness, heart attacks, and strokes.
Some of the most polluting sources of coal plant pollution in the United States are in Texas.
In San Antonio, Public Citizen was part of the successful effort to convince the city’s energy utility, CPS Energy, to divest from coal. The utility’s remaining coal plant, JK Spruce, will stop burning coal by 2028.
In Austin, Public Citizen continues to work with local partners to rid the city of its reliance on coal. The city’s electric utility is part owner of the coal-burning Fayette Power Project. Though some progress has been made in reducing how much it runs, Austin Energy still uses its portion of the Fayette coal plant. You can learn more about our efforts to get Austin Energy to shut down Fayette at AustinDirtCoal.org.
NRG Energy’s WA Parish Generating Station is infamous. The facility is home to several coal-burning units that Rice University researchers have said are responsible for 178 yearly deaths, making it one of the deadliest coal plants in the country. Public Citizen is working with local partners in Fort Bend County, where Parish is located, to protect the community from dangerous coal pollution.
People need protection from pollution. Chemical facilities can expose their employees and neighbors to dangerous pollution in the air and water, as well as the risk of fires, explosions, and other accidents. Communities like Houston, Corpus Christi, and other industrial hot spots are at risk. The Houston area alone has over 300 facilities that store enough hazardous and flammable chemicals that they must submit risk management plans. We have opposed the rollback of the Chemical Safety Rule, which we see as necessary to prevent disasters like the Arkema explosion after Hurricane Harvey and the ITC Disaster.
At the Texas Legislature, Public Citizen lobbies for greater accountability for corporate polluters. As part of the Sunset review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Public Citizen and its partners asked for a broad range of improvements to the agency. The bill signed into law in 2023 contains modest gains, including increasing the maximum fine for polluters from $25,000 to $40,000 a day per incident.
While we continue to advocate for policies that address the climate crisis, we also recognize that we must adapt to the reality of a changed climate. In the June 2022 report, Under Water and Unaware, Public Citizen detailed how the historic rainfall of Hurricane Harvey caused chemical facility floating roof tanks to fail, triggering the release of millions of pounds of air pollution. The report recommends tank drainage systems be built to withstand rain events that will be more severe due to climate change.
Concrete Batch Plants
If you have ever been around a concrete batch plant, you know why no one would want one near their home. These plants are noisy and smelly and send harmful particulate matter into the air. In addition to the dangerous dust from all concrete batch plants, many burn coal to run their operations, adding another layer of pollution.
As of this writing, Public Citizen is pushing the TCEQ for permitting reform to protect people from batch plant emissions. At the Texas Legislature, Public Citizen will continue to work on legislation to prevent these plants from clustering too close to each other, which only increases the risk to public health and has been known to happen in low-income communities.