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Media: Press Clips

Four groups criticize pollution exemptions:
Environmentalists ask Bush to close loophole

January 20, 1999

By Bill Dawson, Houston Chronicle

About 90,000 Harris County children may face health risks because they attend schools near grandfathered industries exempt from state air pollution permits, four environmental groups asserted in a report issued Wednesday.

The environmentalists called on Gov. George W. Bush to back a mandatory end to the exemption, instead of the voluntary plan he has supported, which would try to persuade these industries to get permits and upgrade pollution controls.

"If Governor Bush is unwilling to close this loophole, we must wonder whether his compassion lies with the children of Texas whose health may be at risk from grandfathered pollution," said Peter Altman, director of the Sustainable Energy & Environmental Development Coalition, the lead group preparing the environmentalists' report.

Bush "wants cleaner air for children and all Texans" and favors a voluntary approach to reducing grandfathered plants' emissions, the governor's spokeswoman Linda Edwards said in response.

Fifty-seven companies, representing 112 industrial facilities, already have offered to reduce their grandfathered emissions under the voluntary effort that the governor first endorsed two years ago, Edwards said.

Bush's voluntary program, designed but not yet implemented by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, will require statutory action by the Legislature to be enacted.

The Senate Interim Committee on Natural Resources, which studied the issue last year, has recommended that lawmakers authorize such a voluntary permit program this year, then review its effectiveness before they next convene in 2001.

At Bush's urging, lawmakers in 1997 instructed the TNRCC to devise a voluntary permit plan after it was revealed that much of the state's industrial air pollution still comes from plants without state permits, which generally require stricter emission controls.

Bush alone could not end the exemption, which was included in the state's Clean Air Act in 1971. Lawmakers at that time said emission permits were not required at plants in existence or under construction. Industry leaders have predicted that grandfathered air pollution would disappear as those plants went out of business or had to get permits because of major modifications.

The TNRCC calculated last year, however, that about 36 percent of industrial air pollution still came from plant units without permits in 1997 -- a decrease from 1994 figures.

The environmentalists' report issued Wednesday was the latest in a long string of publicity efforts to generate support for a mandatory end to the permit exemption. It said 224,945 children attend schools within two miles of at least one grandfathered plant in seven Texas counties that violate, or are nearly violating, the national health standard for ground-level ozone smog -- Harris, Galveston, Bexar, Dallas, Jefferson, Nueces and Tarrant.

"Children are especially vulnerable to grandfathered emissions because they are more sensitive to air pollution than adults are," the report asserted. "Children tend to exercise more, are outside more often and breathe lower to the ground where pollution tends to settle, while their bodies and biological defense systems are still developing and vulnerable."

Jeff Saitas, the TNRCC's executive director, said while no one can be assured pollution-free air in a modern industrial society, the agency's top priority "is to ensure that children, the elderly and healthy individuals are not exposed to harmful concentrations of air emissions."

The TNRCC, using an extensive network of air monitors, takes action to reduce air pollution when it appears that "contaminants could cause adverse health effects to the public," Saitas said.


Report says students could face air pollution risk:
Schools in seven Texas counties are near old industrial plants not needing permits

01/21/99

By Randy Lee Loftis, The Dallas Morning News

Environmentalists trying to change a Texas air pollution law are now citing concerns about children's health in their fight. Nearly 230,000 children in seven urban counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, could be at risk because their schools are within two miles of older industrial plants that aren't required to have state air pollution permits, the environmentalists say.

State environmental officials did not directly dispute the report that three environmental groups will release Thursday. "In a modern, industrialized society, no one can guarantee that individuals will be free from exposure to any air contaminants," Jeff Saitas, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission executive director, said in a statement.

The state strives to limit exposure to harmful pollution levels and monitors the air to make sure people are protected, Mr. Saitas said.

But the three groups - the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, the Texas Campaign for the Environment and the Sierra Club - said older plants in Texas have never gone through state reviews meant to limit health risks from pollution.

That means no one knows how great or small their risks might be, the groups say.

The groups compared locations of schools and older, unpermitted industrial plants in Bexar, Dallas, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, Nueces and Tarrant counties. They plotted the locations on maps.

In Dallas County, the report identified 47 schools with a total of 33,833 students that are within two miles of a grandfathered facility - either a factory or a power plant. The largest concentration of local schools was near two factories in Garland.

In Tarrant County, the report listed 19 schools with a total of 13,583 students within two miles of a grandfathered industrial plant or power plant.

"There is a tremendous amount of pollution near many of these schools," said Dr. Neil Carmen, clean-air program director for the Sierra Club in Texas and an author of the report. "I don't know that there is an emergency at these schools, but the state can't say there's no risk."

The report used emissions records from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and school location records from the Texas Education Agency.

The report does not account for the directions of prevailing winds that could carry pollution toward schools or away from them. "It's a huge factor" in determining health risks, Dr. Carmen said.

The report also does not measure the actual amount of pollution to which students at any school might be exposed. But Dr. Carmen, a former Texas state air pollution inspector, said nearness to schools can be a key factor in a facility's health review.

The report is part of an effort by Texas environmentalists to end a decades-old exemption from state air pollution permit requirements for older industrial plants. The Legislature is considering whether to extend Gov. George W. Bush's program that encourages companies to get permits voluntarily.

"Unless people speak up, they may just endorse the governor's program, which doesn't require any changes," said Peter Altman, director of the SEED Coalition, one of the report's sponsors.

Mr. Saitas said the voluntary program is protecting public health.

© 1999 The Dallas Morning News


Report: Pollution loophole puts 17,962 students at risk

Thursday, Jan. 21, 1999

By Dan Parker, Staff Writer

Thousands of Corpus Christi children are at risk of health problems from air pollution because they attend schools near refineries that enjoy a loophole in environmental laws, according to a report issued Wednesday by an environmental coalition. The Texas Clean Air Act, passed in 1971, sets limits on the how much air pollution new industrial plants are allowed to emit. However, because of a grandfather clause, many older plants are exempt from requirements and are allowed to emit far more pollution than newer industries, members of the coalition said.

The coalition, including members of Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, released the report during a news conference held next to a playground at Oak Park Elementary School. Local members of People Against Contaminated Environments also attended.

Chuck Cazalas, a spokesman for CITGO, said his plant doesn't harm children's health.

"Ninety-seven percent of our facility is permitted," Cazalas said. "There's only 3 percent - actually, less than 3 percent - that's considered to be grandfathered."

CITGO asserts responsibility

CITGO announced last year that the firm will make changes to cut the amount of pollution emitted by the grandfathered portion of the plant, Cazalas said.

"I can't speak for all of industry," Cazalas said, "but I think the port industries are environmentally responsible and are committed toward improvement. They want to be good environmental stewards."

Members of the coalition called on the state Legislature and the governor's office to pass laws that would close the loophole, requiring refineries to reduce emissions.

"Last fall, politicians from both political parties spent a lot of time telling us how they were going to watch out for their children's future," said Todd Main, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. "Here is an opportunity where they can not only talk the talk but walk the walk."

The report said 17,962 children at 25 Nueces County schools are at risk of health problems because of pollution. Many of the schools are relatively near industrial plants.

Residents express concern

Elementary schools listed in the report are: Allen, Annaville, Calallen East, Central Catholic, Coles, Crossley, Evans, Gibson, Lamar, Lozano, Magee, Oak Park, Tuloso-Midway and Zavala elementary schools.

Other schools in the report are: Flour Bluff Primary School; Calallen, Driscoll and Tuloso-Midway middle schools; Flour Bluff Junior High School, Tuloso-Midway and Flour Bluff intermediate schools; and Calallen, Flour Bluff, Miller and Tuloso-Midway high schools.

The report said 291 Texas schools are within two miles of at least one grandfathered facility. The 55-page report, which was written by the coalition groups at the news conference, listed at least eight local plants that have higher emissions limits because of the grandfather clause.

Several residents and former residents of neighborhoods near Corpus Christi's refineries attended the news conference. Some said unusually large numbers of children living near refineries suffer respiratory problems. Some children are absent from school often because of breathing problems, said Zelma Champion, who lives in the Donna Park neighborhood near the refineries.

"All the educational tools that are available to us are no good if the kids are not healthy enough to be in school," Champion said.

Joseph Lopez, executive director for instructional support at the Corpus Christi Independent School District, said he would not comment on the report until he sees it.

Lopez, to whom the district's health services office reports, said he has seen no evidence that air pollution has caused in health problems in an unusually large number of children at CCISD.

The environmental coalition's news conference in Corpus Christi was the first stop on a two-day, four-city press tour by the coalition. Coalition members also planned news conferences in Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth.

Staff writer Dan Parker can be reached at 886-3758 or by e-mail at parkerd@scripps.com

© 1999 Corpus Christi Caller Times, a Scripps Howard newspaper. All rights reserved.


Study questions proximity of schools to industrial facilities

Thursday January 21, 1999

By Renae Merle, Associated Press Writer

AUSTIN (AP) — At least 200,000 Texas children may be exposed to tons of air pollution each year because they go to school near industrial facilities that aren't required to abide by clean air laws, according to a study released Wednesday.

In seven counties studied, 59 such facilities were located within two miles of public schools, according to the study released by the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition, and two other environmental groups.

"Children are much more vulnerable than adults to these things," said Richard Fawal, spokesman of the SEED coalition.

The facilities targeted by the study are not obligated to meet Texas Clean Air Act requirements that the "best available control technologies" be used if they were built or being built before 1971. They were excluded, or "grandfathered" from stricter new laws.

&If the governor and the state legislators really are as concerned about protecting children as they say, then one of the first things they should do is close this loophole," Fawal said.

But power industry officials point to the voluntary program being supported by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and Gov. George W. Bush to remove the grandfather protection.

"Gov. Bush wants cleaner air for children and all Texans," said Bush's spokeswoman Linda Edwards. "That's why Gov. Bush has taken the lead and done what no other Texas governor has done by calling upon grandfathered facilities to reduce emissions."

So far, 57 companies involving 112 plants have pledged to reduce emissions, she said.

``Emissions from industrial sources have declined 12 percent while Gov. Bush has been in office,'' she said.

Many of the schools are exposed to pollution from more than one facility, Fawal said. Of those studied, 106 schools with an enrollment of 84,284 children were within two miles of multiple facilities, according to the study.

The study recommends that the grandfathered facilities be required to get state permits and abide by clean air regulations, but comes to no conclusions about whether the students attending the 291 schools have actually been affected by the air pollution, which can cause smog and haze.

"In a modern, industrialized society, no one can guarantee that individuals will be free from exposure to any air contaminant," said Jeff Saitas, executive director of the TNRCC.

"The agency's top priority is to ensure that children, the elderly and healthy individuals are not exposed to harmful concentrations of air emissions."

The amount of grandfathered emissions decreased 44 percent from 1986 to 1997, Saitas said.

The seven counties included in the study-Bexar, Dallas, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, Nueces and Tarrant -were picked because they either have or nearly have more pollution than what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe, Fawal said. Facilities in those counties emit nearly 294,904 tons of pollution each year, according to the study.

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