Long after the floodwaters receded, the people of Houston and surrounding areas are still facing a years-long struggle in the shadow of Harvey. One of the longest-lasting impacts? Environmental damage from industrial facilities damaged in the storm. However, the problem could be worse than that.
This month, more than seven months after Harvey made landfall, the governor of Texas officially reinstated environmental protection rules for industrial companies in Houston. On August 28 of last year, Governor Abbott suspended regulations for air pollution, wastewater, and fuel standards to streamline disaster response.
The suspension freed refineries, factories, and other industrial facilities from having to report or even keep records of their environmental impact while the Houston area was under a disaster declaration, which was renewed two weeks ago. The state's environmental agency said that the suspension only applied when rules would inhibit disaster response.
The Suspension Could Backfire in the Future
The issue is that the suspension may inadvertently protect "bad actors" who purposefully broke the law with regard to environmental pollution over the last 7 months. While most industries submitted reports voluntarily, should law-breaking come to light in the future, the suspension will make prosecution tricky.
"The state basically shot itself in the foot," Environmental Attorney Ilan Levin said. "It will be hard for the state to collect penalties from companies that may have egregiously violated the laws because the first thing their lawyers will do is hold up governor's order as their shield."
The Long-Term Impact of Toxic Waste
Our firm is more concerned about the long-term safety issues presented by toxic industrial practices. The Houston Chronicle recently reported on over 100 toxic releases that were caused by Hurricane Harvey—none of which were enforced or publicized by the city. We will be putting out a blog about the toxic releases in a few weeks. Ultimately, the industries of Houston report to the people of Houston. If your neighbor poisons your well, it doesn't matter if it's legal or not—they need to be held accountable for the damage they did. Our job is to make sure corporations answer for the private property they destroy.