Houston's Mayor Renews Efforts to Reduce Benzene Released

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

HOUSTON -- The mayor of Houston says the city will continue to oppose chemical industry attempts to receive or renew emissions permits.

Mayor Bill White renewed his criticisms of the city's powerful chemical industry, saying he also wants local plants to set public goals for reducing emissions of the carcinogen benzene.

White also acknowledged that air monitoring sites in the Houston Ship Channel area are showing lower levels of benzene in recent months, but said the levels are still not low enough. He asked Ship Channel plants to continue reducing the amount of toxic pollutants released into the air and criticized the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for not doing enough to address the problem.

White said he will lead city opposition by filing objections when plants apply for emission permits or renewals, and will also take some polluters to court. He is also asking that the largest polluters "set annual goals for benzene for each of the next five years and make those goals known to the public." White said plants should install fence-line monitors "so neighbors will know what crosses the fence."

Donald Empfield, general manager of Houston Operations at Sunoco and chairman of the East Harris County Manufacturer's Association, said he appreciated the mayor pointing out that air quality monitors show that some chemical plants are making progress. The manufacturer's association believes that TCEQ, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the county are the appropriate regulatory agencies - not the city.

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