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Public Citizen Presses for Answers on EPA/TCEQ Harvey Controversy

By Michael Coleman

In the week since we learned from news reports that state and federal regulators inexplicably rejected NASA’s offer to monitor air quality in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Public Citizen Texas has asked the Texas Legislature to investigate this “willful negligence.”

“Both EPA and TCEQ officials must be held accountable for this inexplicable decision in the face of a grave public health threat,” Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office said in a statement.

Public Citizen continues to discuss this with state lawmakers to ensure that they are aware of the issue and responding accordingly. Of course, we weren’t the only ones appalled that the EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decided to rebuff NASA’s offer to help in those environmentally hazardous days after Harvey.

Harris County (Houston) Judge Lina Hidalgo took to Twitter to voice her dismay.

“This is disturbing,” Hidaldo tweeted about the news. “By rejecting NASA’s plan to measure pollution post-Harvey, EPA & TCEQ missed a critical opportunity. Air quality is vital to the health of Harris County residents. We need more assessments not less of potential environmental hazards.”

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board published an editorial asking “Why would Texas officials refuse NASA’s help?”

“Harvey knocked down smokestacks, damaged pipelines, broke chemical storage tanks, and flooded hazardous waste sites, causing poisonous runoff to spill into nearby streams,” the newspaper noted. “All hands were needed to assess the 2017 storm’s environmental impact and figure out what immediate steps should be taken to protect the public. Yet when NASA extended its hand, it was refused.”

Congress also wants answers. The U.S. House Science Committee last week wrote letters to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Michael Honeycutt, chief toxicologist at TCEQ, demanding an explanation. The letter called the decision to reject NASA’s help “deeply troubling.”

This story isn’t over. We’re joining others in a call to Reps. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, and J.M. Lozano of Austin, who chairs the House Environmental Regulation Committee, to investigate the matter.

Advocates have also requested that Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, open an inquiry.

We hope you’ll click the links on their names above for telephone numbers and join us in calling their offices and asking them to hold TCEQ accountable. The public deserves more information about why TCEQ rejected some of the world’s most sophisticated air quality monitoring equipment in the midst of an epic natural disaster.