Story at a glance
- The Environmental Defense Fund analyzed state data that revealed millions of extra pollution following winter storm Uri in Texas.
- Many were near the Houston area.
In the weeks following the winter storm that shut down multiple power plants in Texas — prompting mass outages amid a deadly deep freeze — unprepared facilities have released approximately 3.5 million pounds of pollution into the atmosphere, a new report found.
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) published an analysis chronicling the extra pollution released during Texas’s electric grid failure.
Some of the facilities releasing a high volume of pollution over the course of winter storm Uri include oil refineries, petrochemical plants and other facilities that weren’t properly winterized.
Overall, this encompassed nearly 200 facilities across 54 counties. Each facility reported releases of toxic chemicals between Feb. 11 and March 9. Roughly one-fifth of the airborne pollution occurred in the Houston area.
One industrial facility near Beaumont, Texas, reported emitting 262,522 pounds of methane in less than two hours on Feb. 16.
“Texas is not ready for increasingly extreme weather, and the state’s failure to prepare is hurting communities, especially those near high-risk chemical facilities,” said Elena Craft, senior director for climate and health at Environmental Defense Fund. “Air pollution compounds the health and economic harms in a state that already leads the nation in billion-dollar disasters fueled by climate change. We need government at all levels to ensure companies take the necessary steps to guard against these disasters and protect their neighbors.”
The specific numbers come from a separate report by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) documenting emissions to verify if they fall within state limits.
Per Texas law, all facilities are required to report these figures within 24 hours of unpermitted release, or emissions past designated operating hours.
During the icy conditions, the TCEQ reported power failures or associated communications problems at 39 of its air quality monitors, a spokesperson from the EDF confirmed. This included 14 in the Houston area alone, leaving questions abotut the pollutant levels in nearby communities.
What is clear is that a disproportionate amount of the pollution affects Black and Latino households, which are more likely to be established near chemical facilities. Racist and discriminatory urban planning laws often situate communities of color near industrial facilities, exposing these residents to higher levels of dangerous chemicals that result in high rates of illnesses like cancer.
“The health and safety of every Texan matters. Yet corporations repeatedly engage in behaviors that put the most vulnerable communities in harm’s way, and the state rarely holds them accountable, choosing to protect profits over people,” said Bakeyah Nelson, executive director of Air Alliance Houston.
Power plants and facilities located in Houston have experienced problems with excess air pollution during natural disasters.
In the days following the destructive Hurricane Harvey, facilities reported airborne emissions that surpassed state limitations as well.
While officials call for improved government action, corporations also need to ensure safe operating conditions during severe weather events.
“Corporations can do more to prevent these major releases of toxic chemicals into the air we breathe,” said Catherine Fraser, clean air associate at Environment Texas. “It is inexcusable for them to be unprepared, repeatedly, for extreme weather events. We know more storms are coming, and those who fail to prepare should face more severe penalties.”