Harris County Attorney Ryan opposes EPA emissions “loophole”

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan today filed a formal letter of opposition to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule that would allow companies in Texas to avoid civil penalties for polluting the air during so-called Startup Shutdown, or Maintenance (SSM) activities.

Ryan is objecting to an EPA proposal to withdraw a 2015 finding that Texas’s plan did not comply with the federal Clean Air Act because of state rules that provide companies with an affirmative defense for excess air emissions that occur during SSM events.

“Texas's regulations have a loophole through which facilities can exceed permit emissions limits during upsets and unplanned SSM events without fear of being held fully accountable under the law,” said County Attorney Ryan.

“This loophole not only harms nearby communities but also endangers first responders, including County employees, who respond to SSM events,” he said.

In his letter to the EPA, County Attorney Ryan laid out facts that led to his opposition:

• Houston has some of the worst air in the nation and the eight county nonattainment area consistently fails to meet federal health based ozone standards.

• Communities around facilities with SSM events in Harris County are primarily low income, low resource, linguistically isolated communities of color and are especially impacted by these events.

• The EPA is legally required by the Clean Air Act to close this loophole and correctly required Texas to do so in 2015.

Ryan also points out that the community impact of these SSM events continues to linger, as residents impacted by these pollutants released into the air often have to shoulder the cost of medical care, compounded by the strain of missed days at work and school. Instead of affirmative defenses, Ryan believes polluters should face full enforcement under the environmental laws.

“I urge EPA not to finalize its proposed rule and instead withdraw the proposal,” said County Attorney Ryan. “SSM events have real adverse health impacts on communities around industrial facilities and allowing them to occur without penalty will only prolong and exacerbate those impacts.”

To read the opposition letter click here.