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Report: Illegal air pollution threatens El Paso air quality

El Paso Skyline

A brand-new report from Environment Texas Research shows that U.S. air pollution in the Lone Star State is growing at an alarming rate.

El Paso-area industrial facilities released 23,288 pounds of pollution into the air in 2017 without authorization, according to the report.

It identified the Western Refining and the Newman Power Station in El Paso County and the Capitan Compressor Station in Culberson as violators.

“Air pollution is making people sick, especially children, senior citizens and people with respiratory problems,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas. “The data show that polluters routinely violate the law, but TCEQ too often lets them off the hook. We need to crack down on illegal pollution and make our air safe to breathe.”

Texas industrial facilities reported releasing more than 63 million pounds of air pollution without authorization in 2017, a 27 percent increase over the previous year, according to a new report by Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. While the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) could issue fines as high as $2.3 billion for 2017 violations, the report found the agency only levied a total of $1.2 million in fines in 2017 or 2 cents per pound of pollution.

Over the last seven years, the total number of enforcement orders filed by TCEQ is less than 3 percent of the total number of emissions events recorded by the agency in that time. The trend since 2011 is that enforcement actions are declining.

Environment Texas called on the Legislature to close a loophole known as an “affirmative defense” that polluters use to escape penalties. The Environmental Protection Agency directed TCEQ to eliminate the loophole, but TCEQ refused, and the issue is now in the courts.

"The report highlights that large volumes of illegal air pollution are being ignored by the TCEQ by failing to enforce the law at hundreds of Texas industrial plants,” said Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The illegal emissions are a public health concern because it involves toxic chemicals like cancer-causing benzene and hundreds of harmful substances. Plus the TCEQ needs to use its authority to enforce the permits where emissions events were preventable as it occurs in many cases, and TCEQ can require permit amendments to order the plants fix problems to reduce the numbers and volume of emissions events."

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