http://www.courthousenews.com/2015/06/17/texas-caps-penalties-for-environmental-polluters.htmHOUSTON (CN) - Big industry got a big win in Texas on Tuesday as Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill that limits the civil penalties counties can recover from polluters.
House Bill 1794
will become law on Sept. 1. It caps the amount local governments can
recover from companies or individuals that violate the state's Water
Code and Health and Safety Code to $2.15 million, and narrows the time
counties can bring such lawsuits to five years after the Texas
Commission on Environmental Quality gives notice of an alleged
Critics say the bill guts counties' ability to hold
accountable those who have fouled the environment and endangered public
health, and that the TCEQ doesn't have the resources to litigate the
typically complex cases.
"It is a terrible bill, and it is
designed to protect polluters. That's all it is: It is a polluter
protection bill," Terry O'Rourke, prosecutor with the Harris County
attorney's office, told The Texas Tribune.
five of the bill's authors are Republican, including Rep. Charlie Geren
of Fort Worth. Geren told the Tribune that Harris County prosecutors
have been "abusing" the authority Texas gave counties nearly 50 years
ago to sue companies for violating environmental laws.
Harris County encompasses the Port of Houston, which according to the Port's website "is home to a $15 billion petrochemical complex, the largest in the nation and second largest in the world."
County has filed about 10 pollution lawsuits every year for the past
five years, netting an average of $61,000 in penalties, the Tribune
reported. The county employs four attorneys in its environmental
enforcement division and they are kept busy with around 1,500 citizen
complaints a year, the newspaper said.
lawsuit brought in Texas must include the TCEQ as a "necessary and
indispensable party." Harris County and state prosecutors recently
negotiated a $29.2 million settlement with Waste Management Inc., of
Houston, and McGinnes Industrial Maintenance Corp. for polluting the San
Jacinto River with dioxin-laced wastewater. Dioxin is a known
Bringing this kind of case may be off limits for
Texas counties after Sept. 1 since the dioxin pollution dates back to
the 1960s and the new law sets the statute of limitations at five years.
the new law, the first $4.3 million in penalties will be split evenly
between the county and state, and anything above $4.3 million will go to
Supporters of the bill said it helps Texas' sales pitch
as an industry-friendly state, as it removes excessive penalties that
could scare away companies.
They also claim civil penalties
don't help the victims of pollution since they go into state and county
coffers, and because they can be assessed in addition to clean-up costs,
they detract from remediation efforts.
the new civil penalty limits could lead polluting companies to
strategically eat those costs, rather than paying cleanup tabs that can
escalate into the hundreds of millions of dollars.