The dumping of pig blood into a creek that feeds the Trinity River is an awkward moment in Dallas history. The Columbia Packing Co. was caught in an act of corporate malfeasance that sounds like a story out of a Third World country or the Dark Ages, except the story took place in Oak Cliff in 2012. A hobbyist drone pilot first captured the images of a reddish creek, sparking the investigation by local and state agencies, which determined that Columbia dumped 925,000 gallons of “fluid” containing swine protein into the creek.
Yet by the next year, Columbia Packing Co. was back in business. The city of Dallas cut a deal with the company, allowing it to continue distribution and packaging operations. And by 2014, then-Dallas County District Attorney’s Craig Watkins dropped more than a dozen felony charges against the company because an investigator trespassed on Columbia's property.
Now, the same company once charged with polluting water wants a permit to authorize "an existing smokehouse" at its Oak Cliff location. Under the permit, Columbia will be able to legally emit some materials into the air, including "organic compounds" and "hazardous air pollutants." What could possibly go wrong?
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has made a preliminary decision to issue the permit, but it's not a done deal. On November 19, the company has its hearing scheduled in Dallas; people can talk at the hearing only if they think they will be affected by the permit in a way "not common to the general public," because the general public doesn't enjoy air or water. Any people who can prove they'll be affected by the proposed smokehouse still have a tough case to make. Around the time that Texas banned banning fracking, Governor Greg Abbott signed another pro-business law into effect. Under Senate Bill 709, it's now easier for companies seeking TCEQ permits to win their contested-case hearings, the exact type of hearing Columbia is facing for the smokehouse.
SB 709, criticized by environmentalists and the EPA, gives TCEQ the sole discretion to decide who is an "affected person" who can speak at the hearings, speeds up the permitting process and puts more burden on the public to prove that the company will be a problem. Before the bill was passed, "it was up to Columbia to prove that it won't harm neighbors," explains Texas Campaign for the Environment's Zac Trahan. Worse, Texas two years ago passed a law limiting when private citizens can use drones to take pictures of private property, which come to think of it, does sound like a really clever way to stop people from capturing blood-spills or poop lagoons.
Messages left for Columbia through their public relations agency and a company email have not yet been returned. Information about the hearing is below: