AP Article Cites Texas A&M Study Showing Pollution Surged 62% Since EPA Enforcement Rollback

An Associated Press article published this afternoon and already being picked up by many news outlets cites a Texas A&M study of air quality monitors in the most heavily industrialized parts of Houston. The A&M study reportedly shows that air pollution has surged 62% in the three weeks since the EPA announced that it would relax enforcement of pollution regulations due to the corona virus.

The new enforcement standard, announced March 26th, also affects water pollution which I reported on April 1.

The EPA claims its new stance represents a reasonable response to the virus crisis. Many plants, they say, have been crippled by worker absences.

I have no problem with that. I’m sure the virus has affected law enforcement agencies around the country.

I do have one problem, however: the public announcement that you will stop enforcing the law.

Can you imagine, for instance, what would happen if:

  • Houston Police Department announced it would pull all officers out of Kingwood?
  • The SEC announced it would no longer prosecute insider trading during the virus crisis?
  • The Defense Department signaled that it would not retaliate against foreign aggression?

While I do believe that the vast majority of people and companies would continue obeying the law, I also believe that some will take advantage of the lack of enforcement. The public announcement gave a green light to people in the latter category.

A 62% increase in three weeks sounds like a big jump.

Had the EPA used its enforcement discretion to quietly relax prosecution of businesses hampered by the virus, it could have shown compassion and reasonableness without harming the regulated community. However, the public announcement of the relaxed policy may have harmed residents living near pollution sources. The AP article cites many examples.

I wonder how the announcement impacted San Jacinto River sand mines and water quality. EPA enforcement in this area has never been aggressive in my opinion.

Confluence of Spring Creek and West Fork showing pollution coming off West Fork at Montgomery County Line. 20 square miles of sand mines lie upstream on the West Fork. Photo taken March 6.

When someone writes the history of this EPA enforcement controversy, the key question will be “Why the public announcement?”

Posted by Bob Rehak on 4/19/2020

964 Days since Hurricane Harvey