Texas Lets Polluters Off the Hook During Coronavirus Outbreak

Statement of Adrian Shelley, Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

Note: The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) announced Wednesday that it will allow companies to ask for exemptions from environmental regulations due to the coronavirus. If these exemptions lead to more air pollution, then the respiratory health of vulnerable populations will suffer, potentially exacerbating the coronavirus-related public health crisis.

Imagine if Texas responded to a shortage of food service workers by exempting restaurants from state health codes. That is exactly what the commission is doing – offering polluters another free pass at the expense of public health.

People living next door to polluters already suffer, and their vulnerabilities – poor respiratory health, less access to health care – make them more susceptible to the coronavirus. Why put them at greater risk during a public health emergency? The commission needs to deliver clean air for everyone, no excuses or exemptions.

The commission has always had enforcement discretion – it can forgive unavoidable violations without announcing an opportunity for polluters to circumvent the law. If dirty energy companies can’t staff their operations without breaking environmental laws, then they should do what the rest of us are doing right now: stay home.