Texas claims a chemical company that is notorious for environmental violations after a dangerous fire was raised in a warehouse on Friday, raising concerns about health and safety.
Despite many years of criticism from lawyers over state history, the trial comes to prioritize industry's interests over human health and the environment, in addition to supporting the Trump administration's efforts to weaken environmental regulations.
Announced on March 22, the case claims that Intercontinental Terminals Co. (ITC) violated the Texas Clean Air Act by releasing massive amounts of contamination during the original fire, which began Sunday and burned for four days, before briefly resuming Friday.
Chemical tank fire occurred in Deer Park, not far from Houston, the nation's petrochemical capital. The fire ̵
But many flareups followed after the first fire was extinguished on Wednesday. Several communities were asked to stay in place after a gasoline crash on Thursday. Elevated levels of the dead chemical have been detected in the air since the initial fire, and many schools have remained excluded for pupils and staff.
"There has hardly been coverage of the on-the-ground effects on everyday people," said Yvette Arellano, senior Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Series (TEJAS) senior organizer on Wednesday shortly after the fire was turned off.
As the events have escalated, the state government has gradually changed its language and came down hard on the ITC. The company is responsible for at least 39 unauthorized releases of air pollution since 2003 and has long been out of line with the Clean Air Act. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) that TCEQ would "explore all legal options" to keep the ITC responsible for the disaster. Minutes later, the governor announced that the state would sue.
In his own statement, the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said the state is working hard to maintain good air quality and will strive to keep the ITC accountable for environmental damage.
"The ITC has a history of environmental breaches, and this recent incident is particularly worrying and scary. No company can be allowed to disturb life and endanger public health and safety," Paxton said.
But environmentalists in the state say that the trial goes against the Texas government's own approach to pollution. In 2015, Abbott signed the legislation with the aim of limiting pollution requirements. This movement was mainly aimed at Harris County, where Houston is located and where major chemical incidents have been known to occur as often as every six weeks.
"Unfortunately, major chemical incidents are too frequent in the Houston area of health and well-being for all of us," said Luke Metzger, CEO of Environment Texas, in an email to ThinkProgress.
Texas has historically declined to rule in polluters, and TCEQ has been accused of punishing businesses for less than 3 percent of unauthorized releases of air pollution between 2011 and 2016. Heads of state have also supported President Donald Trump's environmental regulatory rolls after Paxton repeated has sued the EPA through President Barack Obama's term of office. At least 19 of these lawsuits involved air and water quality.
This story has left the proponents skeptical about the government's obligation to hold the ITC accountable. In addition, there are additional contamination conflicts that have arisen after an enclosure wall around the ITC fire site has exceeded, releasing about 20,000 gallons of water into the Houston Ship Channel. The water is believed to be contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) – toxic chemicals that can cause cancer.
"Deer Park residents will live with health and safety implications of pollution clumps from the fire itself for decades," said Bryan Parras, a Gulf Coast organizer with the Sierra Club in a statement. "What needs to happen before our local elected officials will act appropriately to protect our health, our society, and our clean water?"
Harris County Office of Emergency Management has said it will remain open 24 hours a day until the potential of future ebbs accidents. In the meantime, several townhouses are geared to the consequences associated with the events, including two sales taking place on Saturday.
In addition to the Texas trial, the US Chemical Safety Board has also opened its own investigation into the ITC fire. However, this effort could be short-lived, as Trump has repeatedly tried to remove the chemical monitoring agency.