This post is part of CPR's From Surviving to Thriving: Equity in Disaster Planning and Recovery report. Click here to read previously posted chapters.
On August 23, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Harvey approached the Texas Coast. That state of emergency was ultimately expanded to 60 counties in Texas. Emergency declarations in Texas (as in many states and for the federal government) allow the governor to unilaterally suspend specific rules and regulations if they are expected to hinder disaster recovery. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) asked Governor Abbott to suspend dozens of environmental rules on August 28, 2017, as Harvey was continuing to pummel Houston and the Texas Gulf Coast area.
The waiver request specified air quality rules related to emission “upset” events as well as monitoring and releases of unpermitted Volatile Organic Compounds. Predictably, the request indicated that it was necessary because of immediate Harvey impacts and hurricane recovery efforts. Specifically, the TCEQ’s request noted that compliance with air and water pollution laws:
may not be possible as a result of hurricane effects, such as lightning, floods, fires, wind or wind-blown damage, and power outages[;] and suspending these requirements would remove a potential impediment to disaster response.
However, these waivers were still in place months after the direct effects of the hurricane (lightning, floods, fires, wind, or wind-blown damage) had passed and ...