• Clean Air Enforcement Focus in Houston
  • February 5, 2005 | Authors: George O. Wilkinson; Christopher B. Amandes; John A. Riley
  • Law Firms: Vinson & Elkins LLP - Houston Office ; Vinson & Elkins LLP - Austin Office
  • On Monday, January 31, 2005, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) announced enforcement initiatives addressed to sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and highly reactive VOCs (HRVOCs) in the Houston area. TCEQ announced that it is dedicating additional enforcement resources to perform in-depth, on-site inspections of industrial facilities that have been reviewed for unauthorized emissions of significant amounts of HRVOCs in the past year or which in the past year reported unauthorized releases of HRVOCs of 1,200 pounds or more.

    TCEQ also announced a diesel engine initiative. Under the diesel engine initiative, TCEQ will be investigating the regulatory compliance of stationary diesel engines at facilities along the Houston Ship Channel. According to TCEQ, its focus will be on large diesel engines used for emergency electrical power generation. TCEQ states that it plans to begin these enforcement initiatives in early February and that they will continue for four to six months.

    TCEQ's enforcement initiative follows closely on the heels of a parallel effort by the City of Houston. On December 29, TCEQ and the City of Houston amended a contract that the City has with TCEQ to conduct inspections and investigations of industrial facilities. Prior to the amendment, the City did not have the authority under the contract to initiate enforcement actions. The December 29, 2004 amendment allows the City of Houston to initiate enforcement actions rather than referring its investigation results to TCEQ for action.

    On January 24, 2005, Houston's Mayor White announced in his State of the City speech several initiatives focused on industrial emissions in the city. White identified clean air as a moral and ethical issue "because no one should have the right to make risky chemical alteration to air which they don't own and others must breath." Mayor White further stated "we have made great progress on the state implementation plan to decrease ozone, but we cannot ignore air toxins. And we must create a level playing field for those responsible firms investing billions to reduce emissions, so an entire industry will not be tarnished by those who cut corners."

    Mayor White announced a plan to place air quality monitors at the fence line of facilities considered to be the most likely source of the city's most dangerous emissions. Mayor White asked leaders of Houston's medical institutions to contribute medical researchers to analyze and report to the public the likely risks posed by air toxics identified through the monitoring. Finally, Mayor White stated that he was asking the City Attorney along with the county and other local governments to bring legal action if industrial facilities have "no realistic plans to reduce emissions of air toxics to levels found acceptable by objective public health standards."