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Mayor’s air cleanup plan scaled back and under attack

I suppose this isn’t a surprise.

Mayor Bill White has significantly scaled back a controversial plan to make Houston the first place in Texas with health standards for hazardous air pollutants, according to a draft circulated this week.

The latest version of the proposed nuisance ordinance covers fewer pollutants and facilities, and postpones setting thresholds at concentrations considered safe until 2012.

The changes, according to the mayor’s office, improve the proposal by targeting the pollutants that pose the most risk and giving industry time to achieve the goals.

“The approach we have taken this time is different from where we started and responds to justifiable concerns,” said Elena Marks, the mayor’s health policy director, at a meeting of City Council’s Environmental & Public Health Committee on Wednesday. “Right now, the standard we hope to achieve is impossible. Passing an ordinance nobody can meet from Day One is not a good idea.”

No, obviously not. The question, however, is not whether they can meet this standard, but whether they should be meeting this standard. Let’s not lose sight of that. If there’s a standard for which a large consensus exists, and there’s a chemical plant that can’t meet that standard and stay in business, then maybe they shouldn’t be in business.

The shift comes as White — one of the most aggressive Houston mayors in history on air pollution — has drawn criticism in recent weeks from industry leaders, state regulators and east Harris County politicians concerned he is overstepping his authority.

Neither the federal nor state government has established standards for hazardous air pollutants. If the proposal is passed, it would enable the city to cite facilities outside its borders that contribute to risky concentrations of pollution inside Houston. Fines would range from $500 to $2,000 each day the ordinance was violated.

These facilities already are regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has said that a local ordinance would conflict with state law.

The problem, of course, is that the TCEQ doesn’t do squat, which is why mayors of big cities like Houston and Dallas are seeking alternate solutions. And the mayors of the towns where the plants are actually located aren’t much help, either. So here we are.

And today there’s a new threat to the Mayor’s plan.

[Two] bills, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, and Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, would make it illegal for any municipality to enact an ordinance that could be used beyond its borders. The legislation specifically bars a municipality from using a nuisance ordinance to crack down on air pollution from elsewhere.

“We wouldn’t be doing this … if the city of Houston wasn’t trying to impose its regulations and ordinances on other surrounding cities and counties,” Jackson said.

And again, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if the TCEQ were being responsive to the needs of its constituents. If only Smith and Jackson cared half as much about that.

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3 Comments

  1. Senator Jackson is about as worthless as the TCEQ or whatever the *&^% they call it now.

  2. Dennis says:

    As in other aspects of life, one gets what one pays for. Jackson was paid for.

  3. d says:

    Jackson has to go. He is a paid concubine for polluters.