Railroad Commission Fails To Stop Pipeline Pollution Port Arthur State Sen. D. Roy Harrington, chairman of a senate interim committee on pipeling studies, has taken the Texas Railroad Commission to task for failure to regulate and control pollution by pipeline. He told the Nixon pollution advisory commission that pipelines are covering the rivers, bays and coastal waters with thousands of barrels of thick black crude oil every year and the state declines to control it. According to Railroad Commission reports, more than 23,000 barrels of oil have been dumped by faulty pipelines on Texas waterways in the past five years. .”More than half of this destructive pollution was accompanied by clear violations of the RR Commission’s conservation rules and regulations,” Harrington said in a press release. No action was taken on the violations because penalties are inadequate and because the commission does not have the manpower to enforce the law, the Port Arthur senator said. The RR Commission’s figures on oil leaks and spillage are much too low. Harrington’s researchers found reports of more than 20 serious pipeline breaks in the last five years’ public records of the Parks and Wildlife Department and the Water Quality Board that have gone unreported to the Railroad Commission, the one agency that can punish pipeline polluters. “Surveillance of pipeline pollution has largely been on the basis of company self-reporting each pipeline break, but the record clearly shows that this approach has been woefully inadequate,” Harrington said. “When the state is unable to prove that a pipeline company is at fault there are no funds available to clean up the pollution, and the oil stays on the water until it washes up on the river banks or beaches or out to sea,” the release said. “To avoid bad publicity of oil slicks some companies voluntarily put dispersants on the water. These dispersants are cosmetically good, but they generally kill more fish than the oil they remove. Oil dispersants break up the oil slicks into small droplets that sink to the bottoms of rivers and bays. On the bottoms, the marine life eat these petroleum particles which are extremely toxic.” quality at desirable levels. Although its activities have received more publicity than the water board’s, it has an even smaller budget and staff than the WQB. During the past three years, the TACB has received only $238,717 from the state and $397,122 from the federal government. That is only 4.7 cents a year per capita for the Texas population. The state has authorized 50 employees for the clean air agency this year, as compared to 150 for the water board. Until very recently, both the state air and water boards were reluctant to prosecute polluters. Their policy has been to go very slowly, first setting up anti-pollution standards, waiting for polluters to identify themselves, and then giving them ample time to install anti-pollution equipment. Only within the last few months have the boards begun to get tough with chronic violators of environmental standards. Critics of the boards justifiably have accused them of simply licensing pollution. As of October, the air board had granted 289 variances 185 from smoke and particulate matter regulations, 86 from outdoor burning regulations, and 18 from sulphur compound regulations. \(The variances allow concerns to continue to emit illegal amounts of pollution while 4 The Texas Observer are some 15,000 industrial plants in Texas and only 357 have petitioned for variances, it can be assumed that thousands of others are polluting the air without the TACB’s knowledge. The Air Control Board was won two substantial court suits against corporate polluters. A $17,000 fine against International Minerals is believed to be the highest civil penalty ever levied for air pollution in the United States. The state also won $10,000 from the Hooker Chemical Corporation. But the TACB has asked the attorney general to take legal action against alleged polluters in only 32 cases to date, and the attorney general initiated action in only ten of those cases. A lime company, a sulphur products company, a fertilizer producer, and two lumber companies . have shut down operations because of TACB regulations. The air and water boards’ stated policy is to comply with local governmental decisions on granting variances and permits. Traditionally, county and city officials have been as lenient as the state boards in giving industry ample time to install pollution equipment. But in January, reacting to a new public militancy against polluters, both the Houston City Council and the Harris County Commissioners Court asked the TACB to deny all future variances. In its first meeting of the year, the air board ignored the requests and extended four variances to Houston area companies \(USS Agri-Chemicals, Inc., Intercontinental Steel The action was vehemently criticized by Houston politicians, but the TACB justified the variances on the basis that pollution control installations are virtually complete at the industrial sites. The four variance extentions are each for less than three months. Air board members argued soberly that each variance must be judged on its own merits. At the same meeting, the board denied a six-month variance to Occidental Chemical Co. of Houston. Occidental immediately closed down, putting 55 Houstonians out of work. In a recent interview, Charles Barden, TACB executive secretary, said the board will begin to make extensive use of show-cause hearings, an administrative play in which representatives of a polluting concerns are subpoeaned to show cause why they should not be prosecuted. He said the board also plans a helocopter survey of the Houston area as part of a crash program to identify air polluters in the area. Such an investigation is vitally necessary since an estimated 60% of the TACB’s variances were granted only after the air board or local pollution watchdogs pressured companies to do so. Unfortunately, the TACB’s staff is far too small to police the whole state to apprehend air polluters. All in all, the pollution picture in Texas, especially along the upper Gulf Coast, is exceedingly grim. The multitude of weak pollution abatement agencies was especially disturbing to members of the federal board. It was complimentary of the Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority, which was created by the Legislature last year to allow Harris, Galveston, and Chambers counties to call a joint bond election to obtain funds for regional waste disposal. \(One other county, Montgomery, dropped out of the regional proposal summary statement, the board said authorities which can make regional attacks on pollution are much more effective than a proliferation of water agencies. What it failed to point out, however, is that Governor Smith has yet to name members to the Gulf Coast board, and so it has yet to take’ any action at all. None of the anti-pollution agencies have adequate staffs or funding. Cong. Bob Eckhardt pointed out at the hearing that the state would be better off financially if the Legislature would appropriate funds to match federal pollution control grants. He said the state has ignored the growing ecological crisis because the Legislature still is rurally dominated and insensitive to the problems of Texas’ municipalities. This year, Eckhardt said, Texas will be allocated $40 million in federal aid for construction of sewage treatment plants. Pending applications from Texas, however, total only $22 million, because under the
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