Texans must advocate for water protection bills

Albert Zhao

Texas lawmakers have filed approximately a dozen gun bills for the 2017 legislative session, most concerned with protecting a Texan’s right to carry, yet zero bills have been filed protecting Texans from the more immediate threat of water pollution. 

According to a 2014 Environment Texas report, Texas ranks second in the nation for total pounds of toxic release in its waterways, right behind Indiana. In terms of toxicity, Texas pollutes more than twice the output of the rest of the United States, heightening risks of cancer, fetal death, birth defects and other maladies in affected areas.

Industrial practices are the primary cause, and Texas has done little to protect its waterways from them. Current state institutions — such as the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — have failed in their roles to curb such damage and even document them. 

Earlier this August after an oil spill in Lake Houston, the TRC could not identify the company responsible for the leaking tank battery. Even more dangerously, the Commission did nothing about potential downstream leaks to houses nearby Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport. 

In the same month, when a state senator from El Paso sent a request to the TRC for its documentation of oil spills since 2014, the data the Commission sent back was found to be insufficient and only extended back to 2015. 

In 2014, Ramona Nye, spokeswoman for the TRC, told the Associated Press that state regulators have not confirmed any cases of water-well contamination caused by the oil and gas industry in the past 10 years despite consistent complaints.

And state incompetency applies to agribusiness practices too.  In 2014, Pilgrim’s Pride, Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms released millions of pounds of toxic discharge into Texas waterways, not including conventional pollutants. Though the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has the power to pursue “administrative, civil and criminal penalties” for such violations, they have failed to exercise this and these industrial practices continue unabated.

And thus, when a state like ours fails to adequately protect its citizens and waterways, federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency must provide crucial services, such as clean-up operations. But after the Clean Water Act broadened its water protections, Texas and two other states sued the EPA, claiming federal overreach and infringement upon property owners’ rights. Texas now traps itself in an untenable position: Incapable of addressing its severe water pollution yet intolerant of aid if it comes from the federal government.

Should Texans endure the state’s desperation in fighting the EPA, then pressure must be mounted on the upcoming legislature to pass water pollution bills. Important measures would be forcing industrial plants to pay for their pollution and adopt safer chemicals, closing loopholes that allow them to avoid reporting toxic releases and providing public access to information of each plant’s output. Otherwise, we may drink arsenic-tainted water as we display our holsters. 

Zhao is a history and corporate communications junior from Shanghai, China. Follow him on Twitter @_AlbertZhao.