Texas DEQ tardy over Hurricane Harvey pollution incidents

While tropical storm Gordon threatens to become a hurricane along the Gulf Coast, residents in Texas are learning their state has just started enforcement against over pollution from last years’s Hurricane Harvey.

Reports indicate a handful of companies are targeted for causing some of the biggest air and water pollution incidents during and after the storm. The largest involved two Magellan petroleum tanks along the Buffalo Bayou in Galena Park southeast of downtown Houston. They began leaking after the tanks shifted on their foundations.

The tanks spilled gasoline over a 12-day period and created more than 2 million pounds of air pollution. The Houston Chronicle reports it took another 295 days before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality sent a first notice of enforcement to Magellan Terminal Holdings LP.

The Houston Chronicle and The Associated Press teamed up in March to describe the impact of 100 major releases and hazardous waste spills that socked Houston alone — most of which were underreported and went without investigation for months as state and federal agencies scrambled to react to the environmental damage that accompanied Harvey’s floods.

Harris County pollution control officials so far have cited eight of the biggest Harvey-related polluters, including the Magellan terminal. They sent out most notices only days after the series was published, records show.

State environmental proceeded more slowly. This week, TCEQ spokesman Brian McGovern said the agency has issued notices of enforcement to 68 Harvey polluters.

About 14 of those notices went to refineries and chemical plants, according to a list provided by McGovern. At least five of those industrial polluters were specifically cited for Harvey-related violations, but others received notices for pollution problems that predated or followed the storm, records show.

Most of the state’s Harvey-related enforcement actions came after April 6, when Gov. Greg Abbott lifted a 7-month-long emergency order that had suspended most of the state’s environmental reporting rules, according to lists provided by the state.


During a hearing in April, members of the state House’s environmental enforcement committee asked TCEQ Commissioner Bryan Shaw to review Harvey-related pollution, identify its major contributors and suggest ways to prevent failing tanks, overflowing wastewater ponds and other potential pollution problems before future hurricanes and floods. That report is due in October.

Abbott’s emergency order, which suspended most of the state’s environmental rules, was meant to give companies flexibility and leeway. Harvey was, after all, a nearly