Right-to-Know / Water Quality

In Harvey’s wake, critics see big money behind lax petrochemical reporting

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, an exploding chemical plant and spikes in cancer-causing emissions are highlighting how little the public knows about potential dangers from the oil and chemical industries. Critics say one reason for the darkness: tons of campaign money.

HOUSTON, TX — “Unlike any past storm — natural or man-made — Hurricane Harvey has exposed the fault lines between the politically powerful Texas petrochemical industry and the public’s right to know what dangers lie within their facilities.

In Crosby, on the outskirts of Houston, French-owned Arkema refused to providethe public an inventory of the  substances inside its chemical plant even as they were burning and causing mandatory evacuations. Along flood-stricken petrochemical row near the Houston ship channel, meanwhile, city officials detected a huge spike in cancer-causing benzene outside a refinery this week — while the state’s environmental protection agency temporarily suspended certain spill and emission reporting rules in Harvey’s wake.

Critics point to a common thread in the light-handed regulations from state government: campaign money from oil and chemical companies flowing like floodwaters into the coffers of top Texas leaders. Those leaders have said in the past that campaign money has no role in their decision-making process.

The top recipient of industry money in Texas is Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who in 2014 ruled that Texas health officials no longer have to provide citizens with plants’ chemical inventories under state transparency laws. It was also Abbott who granted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s request to temporarily suspend certain emission reporting requirements for permitted facilities. ”

— Jay Root, The Texas Tribune

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