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The Texas Environmental Quality Commission is the subject of an Environmental Protection Agency investigation after complaints emerged that the state agency violated civil rights laws in permitting cement mixing plants.
The Harris County Attorney and Lone Star Legal Aid, a non-profit advocacy group, alleged that the state environmental agency discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities and those with limited English skills through a revised permitting process to build new concrete batching plants.
Their complaints, filed with the EPA earlier this year, said TCEQ failed to provide information in Spanish and underprotected communities of color living in areas where mostly concrete plants are located.
The concrete plants are subject to permits aimed at limiting pollution in the form of particulate matter and crystalline silica – linked to respiratory diseases and cancer. However, independent tests of the concrete facilities by the complainants show pollution levels exceeding health-related limits.
Last year, TCEQ approved an amendment that included exemptions from emissions controls for concrete batching plants in response to an application by a Fort Worth concrete company to build a plant. Local residents had opposed the company’s application, which was denied on the grounds that it had not adequately researched the effects of pollutants. TCEQ later passed the amendment, approving the company’s request after what it called a “clerical error.”
EPA’s Civil Rights Division announced the investigation last Wednesday. The investigation will focus on whether the adoption of the amendment – and the approval process – is discriminatory and whether the state authority failed to obtain meaningful public comment.
Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee told The Texas Tribune that the state has made consistent efforts, passed legislation and cut funding to weaken TCEQ, the state’s main environmental regulator. Menefee said the agency is responsible for soliciting public comments from affected residents during the batch plant permitting process.
“You can’t go into a community that’s 80% Spanish speakers and people with limited English skills and only submits stuff in English,” Menefee said. “We’re looking for bona fide execution of TCEQ’s duties, and if they won’t, we look to EPA to coerce them or cut their federal funding.”
TCEQ declined to comment on the investigation.
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