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EPA to review TCEQ Permit criteria

HARRIS COUNTY ATTORNEY CHRISTIAN MENEFEE at a press conference last week, announcing that the EPA will conduct an investigation of TCEQ permit criteria. Also present were Adrian Garcia, Rodney Ellis, Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez, John Whitmire, and other county leaders.

County Attorney cites excessive Concrete Batch Plants in Minority areas

HOUSTON – (August 9, 2022)— Today Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee announced that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will investigate the Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ)’s concrete batch permitting criteria and processes under federal civil rights laws. The EPA initiated the investigation in response to complaints submitted by the Harris County Attorney’s Office and Lone Star Legal Aid under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The EPA sent a four-page letter to Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee’s office saying it plans to investigate the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) after receiving two complaints – one in April and one in May. The complaints allege the TCEQ has been discriminatory with public participation, based on race, regarding its concrete batch permit process.

“The EPA stepping in and investigating Texas’s environmental agency is a big step in protecting people who live in Harris County from toxic pollution. Harris County is littered with concrete batch plants, and they’re primarily in Black and Brown communities. The people who live by these plants, including children, can face many health risks, including respiratory illness and cancer. We must do all we can to protect them,” said Harris County Attorney Menefee. “State leaders in Austin are supposed to keep communities safe from this toxic pollution. Yet time and again we see the state pass laws that make it easier to put polluting plants in our communities. And the Texas Commission on Environment Quality does nothing to stop it. I’m glad the EPA is stepping in where the state is dropping the ball.

“People in our community know the harms of these plants all too well. We have 140 concrete batch plants throughout Harris County and they are hyper-concentrated in areas that have a disproportionate amount of Black and Latino residents and folks from low-income households,” Menefee said. “Every resident in Harris County has the right to breathe clean air, regardless of their zip code.”

The complaints submitted by the County and Lone Star Legal Aid show that the TCEQ amended its Standard Permit for Concrete Batch Plants in the fall of 2021 yet failed to add a requirement that applicants show that particulate matter and crystalline silica emissions coming out of these plants will not be harmful to human health and the environment. Additionally, the TCEQ excluded limited English proficient people in Harris County (most of whom speak Spanish) when it issued notices and collected community feedback during the public participation process for the standard permit amendment.

“People in our community know the harms of these plants all too well. We have 140 concrete batch plants throughout Harris County and they are hyper-concentrated in areas that have a disproportionate amount of Black and Latino residents and folks from low-income households,” Menefee said.

He added that those communities have been outspoken about those plants being built in their neighborhoods due to the health risk the plants pose.

“Yet time and again, the TCEQ has approved permits for additional plants in these very same neighborhoods and failed to ensure that the pollution that comes out of these plants does not harm human health and the environment,” the county attorney added.

Menefee said his office commissioned an independent air modeling, which was not in line with what the TCEQ told the public.

“Our modeling shows that the air that is emitted in these plants is harmful to the people, to the seniors, to the kids, to the neighbors who breathe it on,” Menefee added. “It’s time for the TCEQ to do its job of keeping its community safe. We fought and fought with them and things aren’t getting better for these communities. I’m glad the community is stepping up for these residents.”

The EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office will now investigate the complaints.

About the Harris County Attorney’s Office

Christian D. Menefee serves as the elected, top civil lawyer for Texas’ largest county. The Harris County Attorney’s Office represents the county in all civil matters including lawsuits. Menefee leads an office of 250 attorneys and staff members. He entered office at 32 years old, making him the youngest person and first African American elected as the Harris County Attorney.