Dangerous trade-off

Houston Chronicle

The inferno in the Amazon’s rainforests is being blamed in part on Brazil’s president, who has put the economic benefits of clearing the land above protecting one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Here, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been making the same trade-off.

Look at the agency’s decision to grant permits, over community objections, for a $10 billion ethane cracker plant just north of Corpus Christi. Building the plant — a joint venture by Exxon Mobil and SABIC, a Saudi Arabian company — is expected to create 6,000 jobs and generate $22 billion in economic activity. Once built, Exxon Mobil says the plant that will produce chemicals used in plastics will create 600 permanent jobs and provide $50 billion of economic output in its first six years of operation.

Given the commission’s track record, some might wonder if all those dollar signs played a role in the TCEQ decision. The agency denies that, of course. But its decision after a 30-minute hearing in June seemed to ignore concerns raised by residents in Gregory and Portland who fear the nearby facility will endanger their health. ...

The public’s lack of confidence in the agency charged with enforcing the rules ... was earned.

From 2015 through 2017, Texas imposed penalties on violators for just 57 out of 872 unauthorized pollution releases from Houston-area plastic plants, according to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project. ...

Not only is the commission doing a bad job enforcing environmental rules, it is making rules that are bad. Among them a proposed regulation that will expose Texans to higher levels of ethylene oxide, a cancer-causing flammable gas used to sterilize medical equipment and make plastic packaging.

Three years ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency determined ethylene oxide is up to 60 times more carcinogenic than previously thought. You might think that finding would prompt the TCEQ to further limit public exposure to the chemical, but its proposed rule would instead increase the acceptable threshold for long-term exposure to the gas.

If that happens, Texans won’t be the only ones whose health would be put at greater risk. Nearly half the country’s emissions of ethylene oxide come from Texas. ...

Census matters more

Beaumont Enterprise

Every census matters, but next year’s national count will be especially significant to Southeast Texas. While the population in the rest of Texas has soared over the past two decades, our region’s has barely grown. It is vitally important that every single person in Southeast Texas is counted next year — for their sake and everyone else who calls this place home.

Prior to Tropical Storm Harvey, it seemed our population had stabilized and was starting to tick up. Yet thousands of people left after Harvey — particularly from Port Arthur, hardest hit — and many of them have not come back. Nothing can change that now, but those losses place an even greater burden on everyone else to fill out their census forms that come in the mail, complete the process online or over the telephone, or talk with a census worker going door-to-door.

This shouldn’t be a problem for anyone, but we live at a time when distrust of government is high. People are also increasingly reluctant to share personal information, concerned that telemarketers or scammers will take advantage of it. ...

The process requires census workers to find out how many people live in each residence and ask a few questions like their age, race and gender. This national snapshot gives the federal government a basic understanding of our population. It helps Congress determine future needs for children’s programs or Social Security and many things in between. For Southeast Texans, these statistics would be used if we are struck by a hurricane or flood and need support from the Federal Emergency Management Association. Should that happen, we want FEMA coming here with all the resources it needs to help us recover.

Every unit of local government must understand the significance of this effort and support census workers in every way possible. Clubs and organizations should help spread the word and make sure everyone is included. Individuals can help, too. ...

There is no do-over for this. We get a chance once every 10 years to stand up and be counted. We think that every person in Southeast Texas is important, and every single one of them must be part of this census.