No Response

In the spring of 1995, a legal notice of a permit application, asking for public comment, was published in Houston. McDonough Marine was planning a Houston Ship Channel facility to sand-blast and spray-paint barges used in the refining, chemical, and petrochemical industries. Houston is a federal non-attainment area for ozone, requiring rigorous permitting standards, and the Legislature had recently instructed the TNRCC to pay closer attention to hearing requests. During the appropriate period, I sent a request to the TNRCC for a public hearing, and requested a copy of the file on McDonough Marine. The company's permit application had been filed properly, the TNRCC permit engineers had done a thorough review and issued a draft permit, and the permit fee had been paid.

In August, 1995, Barry McBee took over as chairman of the TNRCC, and things began to change. The level of respect for citizens seemed to drop off sharply. I received no response to my request for a public hearing. When I called, I was referred to the legal department, and a senior legal staffer hung up on me rather than answer the question, "Why didn't you respond to my request for a public hearing?"

I never got a reply -- I later discovered that the legal department had apparently been instructed to "grandfather" the McDonough Marine facility. In September, 1995, the TNRCC had notified McDonough that since its facility had been in business since 1968, the entire facility would be officially "grandfathered." TNRCC voided its own draft permit, and pretended the new application did not exist.

The TNRCC took this action despite the fact that this was new construction -- an $80,000 addition to McDonough's existing facility -- and McDonough's own permit application had described its construction as a "new grass-roots facility." The products the company planned to use (and is indeed now using) included methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, xylene, oxides, silicon, resins, volatile organic chemicals, and particulate matter -- much of which will end up in the air Houstonians breathe, and in the water of the ship channel.

At a bare minimum, it would seem that the granting of such a permit should require a public hearing to address the inevitable consequences -- but the McBee TNRCC chose to avoid public discussion altogether.

LaNell Anderson
Grandmother, Citizen, Activist, Channelview

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