Environmental Advocates Push for More Regulations Against Concrete Batch Plants in Texas

After Dallas approved tighter restrictions on new batch plants in the city, the state is looking into them too.
After Dallas approved tighter restrictions on new batch plants in the city, the state is looking into them too. Jacob Vaughn
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is working on amendments to the air quality standard permit for concrete batch plants in the state. The first public meeting for this amendment process took place Wednesday in Austin, where attendees asked the agency how and if it planned to provide more protections for the environment and communities living near these batch plants.

According to Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining, an environmental group pushing for changes in the process, the regulations provided now don’t offer much protection from air pollution, specifically particulate matter. This can have harmful effects on the health of neighboring communities, the organization says, and they’re disproportionately communities of color.

The proposed TCEQ permit amendment will include an updated air quality analysis, a report intended to show that emissions at these batch plants do not violate federal air quality standards. The analysis will also look into whether emission levels produced by these batch plants are adversely affecting human health and the environment.

Kathryn Bazan, chair of Dallas' environmental commission, told the Observer that the state last conducted this analysis, also called a protective review, about 10 years ago.

"They use it to assume that all plants operating in compliance will generate the same emissions," Bazan said. "That model includes background concentrations and then adds the emissions of a plant. They use that to determine impact at the property line."

"It's your policies, your current permitting processes that are creating these disparities in Black and Brown communities." – Kathryn Bazan, Dallas Environmental Commission

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But she said the review is skewed because it assumes these plants operate in a vacuum, and it doesn't consider the added effects of other sources of pollution in the same area. "It fails to account for cumulative impacts from co-location of facilities, other emissions sources or areas where background concentrations of pollution are higher, like D/FW, Houston and others," she said.

That's why environmental groups and advocates are hoping for a few other measures to make it into the permit process. They want the process to account for other sources of pollution and include some recognition of the heightened vulnerability of children, seniors and people with respiratory conditions who may live near these batch plants.

Bazan pointed some of this out to the agency during the public meeting Wednesday, as well as the need for more community engagement during the permit process for concrete batch plants. Bazan and the environmental commission helped pass an ordinance in Dallas this year requiring public hearings for new batch plants, and there are ongoing discussions about additional rules for such plants in the future.

"A number of communities we work with here in the city of Dallas make comments about environmental justice implications of these batch plants in minority communities and the response to comments from the agency are always along the lines of 'The agency reviews without reference to socioeconomic or racial status, and that the TCEQ is committed to addressing environmental equity,'" Bazan said at the meeting.

She added, "It's your policies, your current permitting processes that are creating these disparities in Black and Brown communities. So, I would like to know whether this permit would address some of those policies that the agency had lacked before and whether or not there will be new processes to engage those communities."

The TCEQ said it's implementing policies to provide notices in other languages and provide translation when necessary. However, as far as the permit process is concerned, the TCEQ said it was limited in what it could do on this front. "Our review under state law is limited to determining whether a proposed facility would use the best available control technology and whether it would be protective for human health and the environment," the agency told Bazan.

She essentially told the TCEQ that its protective review won't mean much unless it's conducted differently and more factors are taken into account. "The protectiveness review assumes that a plant is operating within a vacuum with some background concentration levels of emissions, and that is not what is in practice and in reality what is happening in these communities, so I think the agency has to come up with a better way to address that," Bazan said.

The amendment process comes as the Environmental Protection Agency investigates the TCEQ for civil rights complaints over the state’s issuance of concrete batch plant permits.

According to The Texas Tribune, the Harris County attorney and the nonprofit Lone Star Legal Aid claimed the TCEQ didn’t provide information in Spanish during the permit process and didn’t sufficiently protect communities of color living where these plants are usually located.

Next week, the TCEQ will hold two more public meetings on changes to the permit process: on Monday in Houston and on Tuesday in the Arlington City Council Chambers.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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