Tag Archive for: Corona Virus

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

Corona Virus Lockdown Expansion Will Not Affect Flood Mitigation

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced a tightening of the lockdown already in place because of the corona virus. For the full text of the County’s 20-page order, click here.

Summary of Key Provisions

Starting tonight at 11:59 P.M. and lasting through April 3, 2020, “this Order requires all individuals anywhere in Harris County, to stay at home – except for certain Essential Activities and work to provide Essential Business and Essential Government services or perform essential infrastructure construction, including housing.”

Rustling Elms Bridge over Taylor Gully during peak of May 7, 2019 flood.

Non-essential and prohibited:

  • All exercise facilities including gyms, swimming pools and martial arts studios must close.
  • A broad range of retail shops must close including barbers, hair salons, tattoo parlors, bowling alleys, game rooms, massage parlors, malls, flea markets, movie theaters, concert halls and more.
  • All public and private gatherings occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited.
  • Nursing homes, retirement, and long-term care facilities must prohibit non-essential visitors except for end-of-life visitation or critical assistance.
  • Restaurants will remain closed except for drive-through and carry-out orders.
  • Churches may only provide services via video or teleconference.

Essential and still exempt:

  • Grocery stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Gas stations
  • Convenience stores
  • Liquor stores
  • Car dealers and repair facilities
  • Professional services, such as legal, accounting, insurance, etc.

Flood Control Not On List

The corona virus prohibited and exempted lists stretch for 20 pages. They are too numerous to summarize here. However, as I read through the list, nowhere did I see “flood control” or “flood mitigation” work. That made me wonder whether we had potentially traded one type of crisis for another.

So I reached out to county officials and asked how today’s corona virus order would affect the activities of the Flood Control District. Said another way, were they considered “essential activities.”

Flood Control Deemed Essential, Will Continue

The answer: Yes, Flood Control is considered essential under the infrastructure and construction provisions of the order. No, Harris County Flood Control District (HCFCD) will not shut down mitigation projects.

Matt Zeve, Deputy Executive Director of HCFCD had this to say. “Everyone who can will work from home. We had already been phasing that in before today. All construction and field work will continue as normal…with appropriate social distancing and hygiene procedures of course.”

Moving Into High-Risk Season for Flooding

As we move into April and May, the rainiest months of Spring, that’s comforting. A reader asked me today, “What would happen if we got a flood on top of the corona virus?” My first inclination was to tell her she needs to write the screenplay and go to Hollywood. But then I said, “That’s actually pretty plausible.”

People mucking out houses in unsanitary conditions and tight, crowded spaces could accelerate the spread of the virus. Crowded rescue boats and choppers would make a first responders nightmare, especially when rescuing people with the corona virus. Thousands of evacuees in churches, schools and convention centers. Evacuating high-risk populations like the elderly from nursing homes. These are not pleasant thoughts.

That’s why I’m glad that the work of flood control will continue as normal. Hurricane season is only nine weeks away.

Posted by Bob Rehak on 3/25/2020

939 Days since Hurricane Harvey and 188 since Imelda