Texas governor lifts post-Harvey suspension of environmental protections

Public Citizen draws attention to suspension’s threat to public health and the environment.

  • 46 number of public health and environmental rules suspended
  • 60 number of Texas counties affected
  • 7 number of months rules were suspended

On Aug. 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey struck the south of Texas, resulting in one of the costliest and most destructive natural disasters in U.S. history.

On Aug. 28, five days after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) Executive Director Richard Hyde sto help aid recovery efforts within the state. The targeted rules regarded air pollution reporting, controls on vehicle fuel standards and regulations on solid waste and wastewater.

Public Citizen disputed the necessity of these rule suspensions; the TCEQ could have simply chosen not to fine facilities that pollute during a disaster, for instance. Rolling back 46 rules across 60 counties  threatened the health of the public and the environment.

For example, one of the suspended rules limited visible emissions from flares, which release pollutants that have been linked to nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, coughing, difficulty breathing and premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

Seven months passed, and the rules remained suspended.

On April 4, 2018, in a   to the TCEQ, Public Citizen’s Texas office and its allies warned that the public health and environmental harms outweighed any justification for the continued suspension of the rules so long after the storm had passed. The letter urging the commission to reinstate the rules was signed by representatives from Bayou City Waterkeeper, the Coalition of Community Organizations, Environment Texas, Gulf Restoration Network, the One Breath Partnership, Public Citizen, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

“There may be serious public health consequences to leaving these suspensions in place. If they aren’t needed any more, they should be ended now,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, said at a TCEQ public meeting.

The state responded quickly. On April 6, 2018, Gov. Abbott reinstated the health and environmental protections, seven months after Hurricane Harvey hit the state.

Environmental rules are there to protect the public and it’s important that they stay in place and are enforced. Adrian Shelley, director, Public Citizen’s Texas office

Highlights

  • Three days after Hurricane Harvey hit southern Texas in August 2017, the state suspended 46 public health and environmental protections.
  • These protections regulated everything from air pollution to wastewater.
  • Public Citizen and eight other groups called for the rules to be reinstated. Two days later, the governor did so.