Website aims to make pollution permit information more accessible in Houston

By Dylan Baddour, Inside Climate News reprinted in Texas Tribune, September 15, 2022

Texas’ environmental regulators make it tricky for residents to track, or speak out against, industrial projects proposed near their homes. Advocates in Houston built a high-tech workaround. In theory, Texas’ state pollution regulator keeps a website where residents can track businesses applying for permits to discharge toxins from chemical warehouses, waste dumps, refineries or generator stations down the block. But in practice, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) site is more byzantine than inviting. Now, after more than a decade of manually assembling and sifting that permit data, Air Alliance Houston tapped a data science firm to build a user-friendly platform designed to help community groups push back against the rapid pace of pollution permitting in Houston and surrounding Harris County.

“Countless permits go by without anyone even knowing,” said Anthony D’Souza, research and policy coordinator at Air Alliance Houston. “The massive industrial and petrochemical presence in Houston, coupled with a lack of zoning, means that large polluters can be permitted to operate a stone’s throw away from residential areas. This lack of transparency is an intentional policy decision by the TCEQ made to favor industrial development over community concerns,” D’Souza said at the launch.

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