Did The TCEQ Violate Houstonians Civil Rights In Concrete Batch Permitting?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for possible civil rights violations in its recently updated permitting process for concrete batch plants, according to the Houston Chronicle. There are at least 188 of these heavily-polluting industrial facilities in Houston and Harris County, most of which are clustered in minority and working class neighborhoods. 

A Houston Chronicle analysis found that “throughout Harris County, when a plant is in a predominantly Black area, it’s more likely the neighborhood will have multiple plants…there are nine predominantly Black areas with plants and 20 total plants in those areas, according to Census tract data.”

The TCEQ amended their permitting process in 2021. The Harris County Attorney’s office and the nonprofit law firm Lone Star Legal Aid challenged the amendment in separate complaints to the EPA under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaints alleged that the TCEQ discriminated against Black and Latino residents by not ensuring protection for vulnerable communities by failing “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.” The complaints further asserted that the TCEQ excluded limited-English speaking residents from the 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,” said Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee in a statement. “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.” 

“State leaders in Austin are supposed to keep communities safe from this toxic pollution,” the statement continues. “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.”

“Every resident in Harris County has the right to breathe clean air, regardless of their zip code.”

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Editorial Cartoonist Nick Anderson has joined the Reform Austin newsroom, where he will employ the artistic skill and political insights that earned a Pulitzer Prize to drive coverage of Texas government. As managing editor, Anderson is responsible for guiding Reform Austin’s efforts to give readers the unfiltered facts they need to hold Texas leaders accountable. Anderson’s original cartoons will be a regular feature on RA News. “Reform Austin readers understand the consequences of electing politicians who use ideological agendas to divide us, when they should be doing the hard work necessary to make our state government work for everyone,” Anderson said. “As a veteran journalist, I’m excited about Reform Austin’s potential to re-focus conversations on the issues that matter to common-sense Texans – like protecting our neighborhoods from increasingly common disasters, healthcare, just to name a few.” Anderson worked for the Houston Chronicle, the largest newspaper in Texas, from 2006 until 2017. In addition to the Pulitzer, Anderson earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Award. He’s also a two-time winner of Columbia College’s Fischetti Award, and the National Press Foundation’s Berryman Award. Anderson’s cartoons have been published in Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and other papers. In 2005, Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning while working for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. The judges complimented his “unusual graphic style that produced extraordinarily thoughtful and powerful messages.”

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