Texas environmental agency investigated for civil rights violations
The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) over potentially discriminatory tactics related to concrete batch plant permitting.
What's happening: The investigation centers around a 2021 rule change to how concrete batch plants are permitted. Local officials say the change wasn't communicated to non-English-speaking communities.
- The EPA will also look at whether TCEQ's standards for concrete batch plants are too lax, allowing plants to emit cancer-causing crystalline silica in mostly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
Why it matters: Harris County has the largest share of concrete batch plants in the state.
- A majority of those plants are in communities where people of color make up at least 80% of the population.
- There are virtually no concrete batch plants inside the largely white and affluent Houston Arrow.
Flashback: In 2021, TCEQ changed its permitting rules to exclude crystalline silica reporting from the permitting process.
- The changes also removed reporting requirements for emissions of certain cancer-causing materials.
- State law mandates that TCEQ alert Texans to such proposed changes, but the agency published the notices only in English.
Driving the news: In April, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee and Lone Star Legal Aid filed separate, but similar, complaints to the EPA, which prompted the investigation.
- In the complaint, Harris County attorneys argue that those in "linguistically isolated communities" were left out of the conversation.
- The attorneys also say the pollution at concrete batch plants in Harris County "exceed[s] health-based standards."
What they're saying: More than a dozen dignitaries, including Democratic U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, praised the EPA for opening the investigation.
- "It's a rubber stamp," Jackson Lee said of TCEQ's concrete batch plant permitting process. "No questions asked. Set up right next to the elementary school."
The other side: TCEQ declined to comment on the investigation.
What's next: The EPA will issue its preliminary findings within 180 days.
- Harris County is asking the EPA to withdraw TCEQ's authority to issue concrete plant permits until the investigation is resolved.
More Houston stories
No stories could be found
Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Houston.