(July 27, 2020)
Regulators have allowed oil and chemical companies in Texas to suspend certain monitoring requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic. Responding to statements by companies that staff shortages would prevent them from fulfilling normal obligations, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted over 100 exemptions between mid-March and the end of May.
According to TCEQ data, some energy companies received approval to suspend monitoring their facilities for volatile organic compounds, which can pose health hazards and cause environmental damage. Others obtained extensions to filing deadlines for environmental reports, allowing them to postpone submitting these documents until workers return to the office.
The TECQ noted that it rejected 10 of the 140 requests it received for a relaxation of requirements. The agency also stressed that its inspectors are still responding to environmental complaints, and that it is not allowing increased air pollution or water contamination.
However, critics worry that the loosening of controls could have detrimental consequences. As well as increasing the risk of dangerous chemical leaks, Public Citizen expressed the fear that the lack of data being collected could hamper responses to emergencies in the future.
“You never get that data back,” said Adrian Shelley, the director of the Texas Office of Public Citizen. “If you end up with a locally toxic situation that isn’t discovered, you’re putting the neighborhood at risk.”