HOUSTON, TX – On June 16, 2015, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott signed legislation that would make it tougher for local governments to sue big-time polluters. House Bill 1794, which becomes effective on September 1, 2015, is being touted as a major win for large corporations. The timing of the bill coincides with a new study which finds that finds elevated rates of cancer among residents in East Harris County, Texas.
House Bill 1794 sets a five-year statute of limitations from the date of the violation and caps damages recoverable by the county at approximately $2.1 million. It is feared that these limitations will severely hamper counties such as Harris County from effectively prosecuting large-scale polluters. The Bill was authored by Representative Charlie Geren, a Republican businessman from Fort Worth.
Terry O’Rourke, special counsel with the Harris County attorney’s office was quoted by the Texas Tribune as saying, “It is a terrible bill, and it is designed to protect polluters – That’s all it is: It is a polluter protection bill.”
A recent article in the Houston Chronicle questioned a decade long relationship between Representative Geren, the sponsor of House Bill 1794, and a lobbyist who was paid by a group that helped craft House Bill 1794. According to the article, the couple bought a condominium together in Austin last fall.
While the necessity for the changes to existing law remain a mystery, the timing of the bill coincides with a new study that found higher than normal childhood cancer rates in communities located in East Harris County. Among the communities affected are Cloverleaf (near Northshore), Channelview and Highlands. According to local news sources, unacceptably rates of cancer among children in those areas may be related to an EPA Superfund Site known as the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the San Jacinto River Waste Pits are a series of waste ponds, approximately 14 acres in size, that were built in the mid-1960s for disposal of paper mill wastes. The EPA reports that in 1965 and 1966, pulp and paper mill wastes (both solid and liquid) were transported by barge from the Champion Paper Inc. paper mill in Pasadena, Texas and unloaded at these wastes north of I-10, west of the main river channel of the San Jacinto River, and east of the City of Houston between Channelview and Highlands.
This study is not the first to find an elevated incidence of cancer among residents living along the Houston Ship Channel. An epidemiological study initiated by the City of Houston Health Department and conducted by the University of Texas School of Public Health, found a 56% increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia among children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel.
To view the references referred to above, click on the following links:
- Texas House Bill 1794;
- New study finds high cancer rates in East Harris County (KHOU 6-22-2015);
- San Jacinto River Waste Pits (EPA);
- Lawmaker says there’s no conflict with environmental bill (Houston Chronicle, 4-13-2105)
- An investigation of the association between hazardous air pollutants and
lymphohematopoietic cancer risk among residents of Harris County, Texas.