TX Legislature to Take up Chemical Storage Tank Safety

Interim charge asks House environment panel to study issue

By Stephanie Thomas

During the 86th Texas Legislature (Spring 2019), a rash of chemical fires near Houston prompted the Senate to conduct a hearing on above ground storage tank safety regulations.

Incredibly, these tanks, which can hold thousands or even millions of gallons of dangerous chemicals, are not regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the Environmental Protection Agency.

Despite the fire that raged for days along the Houston Ship Channel and numerous tank failures (like this one) during heavy rainfall events like Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda, the tank bill did not make it out of the Senate committee. That means the Texas Legislature did nothing during the session to protect communities from petrochemical storage tanks.

After the session, the Texas House and Senate created a list of interim charges, which are issues the legislature has deemed worthy of additional study and recommendations. During a legislative hearing last spring, the House Environmental Regulations Committee agreed to take a closer look at above ground storage tanks though an interim charge. Although Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate did not include above ground storage tank regulations in their list of interim charges, the Texas House did.

So we expect that the House Environmental Regulations Committee will take this issue on. We hope to see them hold a hearing in Houston on this issue so people who were directly impacted by chemical fires and air pollution from tank failures have an opportunity to speak to the lawmakers.

While this interim charge isn’t a comprehensive approach to addressing chemical safety, aging infrastructure and the threat of climate change on chemical facilities, it could lead to some important legislation during the next session.

Other legislative changes can reduce risks for the community. When chemical disasters occur, many residents do not receive adequate notification. A toxic alert system could operate like an “Amber Alert” and notify residents when they need to evacuate or shelter in place. Also, the Legislature needs to allocate adequate funding for inspectors through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure plants are operating safely.

The all-too-frequent fires, explosions, leaks and spills remind us that we are at risk. Communities deserve to be kept out of harm’s way.