The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating the Texas Department of Environmental Quality for potential civil rights violations.
The investigation stems from the TCEQ’s permitting process for concrete batch plants after complaints from both Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee and a group of Houston residents represented by the non-profit Lone Star Legal Aid.
“I want to be clear that the EPA stepping in here today is an important step in ensuring that our communities are protected from pollution and that the TCEQ is held accountable,” Menefee said at a Tuesday morning press conference. “People in our county know the harms of these plants all too well. We have more than 140 concrete batch plants throughout Harris County, and they are hyper-concentrated in areas that have disproportionate amounts of black and Latino residents.”
One of those residents is Kathy Gunter. She loves her two acres in Houston Gardens. She does not love the 20 concrete batch plants within a 10-mile radius of her home. She is hopeful now that the feds are involved.
“Once they get to digging, hopefully, they find some jewels,” Gunter told reporters. “I am elated. It’s time. It’s time. We have been begging for help.”
Investigators contacted the TCEQ. The agency declined an interview, and a spokesperson told us they have no comment.
The EPA tells reporters that an investigation does not mean there was any wrongdoing, but they are looking into two issues: Does TCEQ’s permitting process have the effect of discrimination based on their race? Does the agency violate non-English speakers’ civil rights by not properly communicating their process?
“We are hopeful that the EPA’s investigation will lead TCEQ to reevaluate its standard permitting process for these facilities to ensure a full evaluation of health impacts,” Amy Dinn of Lone Star Legal Aid said.
The EPA says it will work quickly but gave no timeline for resolution.