Lawsuit Claims Texas Loopholes Allow Illegal Air Emissions

Lawsuit Claims Texas Loopholes Allow Illegal Air Emissions

An environmental group is trying to tighten Texas air pollution control permits.

An environmental group is trying to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten Texas air pollution control permits. It says the current policies have loopholes that allow for illegal emissions, according to five federal lawsuits filed against the agency last week.

The suits are brought by a coalition led by Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project. They target Texas-issued permits for the ExxonMobil Baytown Olefins plant and refinery, Petrobras' Pasadena refinery, the Saudi-owned Motiva Port Arthur refinery, and SWEPCO's Welsh coal-fired power plant east of Dallas.

The group claims power plant and refinery operations have polluted almost without penalty because of a loophole in Texas permits that allows for excessive emissions when machinery malfunctions or undergoes maintenance.

"EPA knows that Texas issues unenforceable permits with illegal loopholes that render useless some of the most basic pollution control requirements of federal and state law," Gabriel Clark-Leach, one of the group's attorneys, said in a statement.

As a result, Texas' environmental regulatory agency imposed financial penalties in less than 3 percent of nearly 25,000 illegal air pollution incidents from 2011 to 2016, according to the nonprofit's analysis of state records released earlier this month. The fines totaled $13.5 million.

The report concluded that the paucity of state fines, averaging about 3 cents per pound of pollution, meant that owners of aging facilities were less likely to invest in upgrades and repair known problems.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality called the analysis "misleading."

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