Austin – More environmental civil rights complaints have been filed against Texas than any other state, according to documents released today by Texas Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (TexasPEER). A dozen complaints charge that policies adopted under Governor George W. Bush exacerbate the disproportionate exposure in poor and minority communities to unhealthy air and toxic chemicals.
One lawsuit filed by an African American citizens group in Beaumont, Texas, highlights the pattern of concentrating heavy industrial polluters in poor communities. The Beaumont suit targets a huge Mobil refinery, one of the state’s largest, which spews out nearly 40,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and other air pollutants into the atmosphere of a community which is 95% African American and largely poor.
Residents, suffering for years from the effects of the plant’s fumes –headaches, nausea, nose and eye irritation — cannot get state officials to take action. The Beaumont complaint charges that the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), the state’s environmental agency, has put the local community’s health at risk by:
*permitting the expansion of polluting operations in areas already heavily impacted by noxious gases from the facility;
*shutting the community out of the decision-making process, making it almost impossible for affected citizens to effectively register their concerns; and
*routinely failing to enforce anti-pollution laws. Despite a slew of health complaints and significant violations of emission standards, TNRCC has not taken any enforcement action against the refinery since 1993.
“When it comes to environmental civil rights, Governor Bush does not seem to get it,” commented TexasPEER Coordinator Erin Rogers. “If a society is judged by how its treats its least powerful members, Texas stands condemned.”