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The Texas Environmental Quality Commission is being investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency following complaints that the state agency violated civil rights laws by licensing the plants to concrete.
The Harris County prosecutor and Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit legal group, alleged that the state environmental agency discriminated against racial and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. limited proficiency in English through a revised permit process for the construction of new concrete plants.
Their complaints, filed with the EPA earlier this year, said TCEQ failed to provide information in Spanish and insufficiently protected communities of color who live in areas where concrete facilities are primarily located.
Concrete plants are subject to permits aimed at limiting pollution in the form of particulate matter and crystalline silica – which have been linked to respiratory diseases and cancer – but independent testing of concrete plants by the authors of the complaint indicates that pollution levels exceed health limit levels.
Last year, TCEQ approved an amendment that included exemptions for emissions limits for concrete plants, in response to a request to build a plant by a Fort Worth concrete company. Locals had fought the company’s application, which was rejected on the grounds that it had not sufficiently studied the impacts of pollutants. TCEQ later passed the amendment and approved the company’s request after what it called a “clerical error.”
The EPA’s civil rights compliance arm announced the investigation last Wednesday. The investigation will focus on whether the passage of the amendment — and the clearance process — is discriminatory and whether the state agency failed to seek meaningful public comment.
Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee told the Texas Tribune that the state has consistently made efforts, passed laws and cut funding to weaken TCEQ, the state’s primary environmental regulatory agency. Menefee said the agency has a responsibility to seek public input during the concrete plant licensing process from affected residents.
“You can’t enter a community that is 80% Spanish-speaking and people with limited English proficiency who only submit items in English,” Menefee said. “We seek good faith performance of TCEQ duties and if they are unwilling to do so, we expect the EPA to do so or cut their federal funding.”
TCEQ declined to comment on the investigation.
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