Illegal Air Pollution in Texas Decreased 54% in 2020

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There have actually been positive effects resulting from the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One positive thing was a 54% decrease in illegal air pollution in Texas from 2019, according to a report released by the Environmental Integrity Project and the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. Data analyzed by the two entities revealed that 46 million pounds of illegal air pollution have been released due to industrial accidents, shutdowns and other “disruptive” events, up from 72 million pounds on average annually over the course of the year. of the previous five years.

But officials from both entities predict the decline will be short-lived.


“I have no doubts that it will be a ray of light in the short term,” Gabriel Clark-Leach, attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, told Reporter-Telegram in a telephone interview. He predicted that rates would rise as economic activity rebounded.

Which will help state regulators become more stringent as activity increases, Clark-Leach said. The Texas Commission Environmental Quality has made some changes to the application, but it remains skeptical unless emissions tend to go down over a long period of time. “The proof is in the pudding.”

The TCEQ declined to respond to the report.

The report found that the Midland region reported the highest amount of unauthorized emissions at 30.7 million pounds – nearly six times the second highest region, Houston at 5.5 million pounds. Four of the top five polluters in the state’s database of emissions incidents reported last year were in West Texas, led by the Sand Hills gas plant in Crane County, which said it released 2.3 million pounds of total pollutants.

The Big Spring carbon black plant in Howard County was in the top 10 for particulate pollution, while the EnLink Lobo gas plant in Loving County and the Wildcat gas plant in Targa Resources in Winkler County were among the top 10 polluters of benzene, according to the report.

“Overall, we don’t think the report is accurate and it does not represent the performance of EnLink’s Lobo plant today,” said Jill McMillan, vice president of strategic relations and public affairs , to Reporter-Telegram by email. “We proactively resolved previous thermal oxidant repairs and added secondary control at the plant, which eliminated the release of benzene at Lobo. “

Neither Tokai Carbon, owner of the Big Spring carbon black plant, nor Targa Resources responded to requests for comment.

Clark-Leach said the Environmental Protection Agency was doing a good job monitoring the Permian Basin, conducting overflights for flares and leaks, imposing stiffer fines and requiring third-party audits.

Eliminating illegal air pollution requires the participation of all stakeholders, from industry to regulators.

“We need the industry to do its part and not wait for crippling fines,” he said. Improvements in one area can be used elsewhere, he said.

“Many emergencies could be avoided if companies planned better and factories were better maintained and better supervised,” he said.

Clark-Leach recognized that “disruptive” events will never be completely avoided: processing facilities are complicated and parts fail.

But, he said, issuing enforcement orders for less than 3% of illegal air pollution occurrences over the past nine years “is not a good sign.”

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