The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office has launched an investigation into whether Texas’ environmental agency violated the civil rights of low-income and non-English-speaking residents living near a concrete batch plant through improper air pollution permitting.
The compliance office said it had decided to pursue complaints filed by the Harris County Attorney and Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit legal aid group, alleging that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality violated federal law by failing to provide information in Spanish for residents with limited English proficiency and by insufficiently protecting communities of color living in areas near the concrete plants.
“You can’t go into a community that has 80% Spanish speakers and folks who are limited in English proficiency and only submit stuff in English,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “We’re looking for a good-faith execution of the TCEQ’s duties and if they’re not willing to do that, then we’re looking for the EPA to make them do that or to cut their federal funding.”
Harris County has more than 140 concrete batch plants, most of which are concentrated in areas with mostly Black and Latino residents. The plants emit particulate matter and crystalline silica, which can cause lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, kidney disease and scarring of the lungs
In 2021, the TCEQ amended air pollution permits to exempt concrete batch plants from some requirements that would limit emissions of both particulate matter and crystalline silica.