© 2023 88.9 KETR
Public Radio for Northeast Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Study Finds Texas Businesses to be the Nation's Biggest Water Polluters

Texas has 1,400 miles of polluted rivers and streams, according to one environmental group.

A new report by Environment Texas and California-based environmental advocacy think tank Frontier Group says Texas is by far the worst offender when it comes to polluting rivers and waterways.

Of the 8,100 incidents of dumping illegal levels of chemicals into U.S. waters between January 2016 and September 2017, Texas businesses accounted for 938. That’s 300 more incidents than the second-worst offender, which was Pennsylvania, which accounted for 633.

The study found that about 40 percent of the nation’s major industrial facilities dumped chemicals in excess of federal clean water regulations over that two-year period. Half of those businesses in Texas (132 in total) did the same

Luke Metzger, the executive director of Austin-based Environment Texas, says Texas’ numbers don’t surprise him even a little.

"We know that Texas has a chronic water pollution problem, about 1400 miles of our rivers and streams are so polluted they’re not safe for swimming or fishing," he says. "The big source of that pollution is illegal dumping by industry."

Metzger says the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state's main enforcement agency on such matters "has a poor track record when it comes to holding these companies accountable." In a statement to KETR, the TCEQ said it does not comment on reports from other entities, but also that "the agency stands behind its enforcement process."

Metzger also said the way forward for Texas waterways is more help from state and federal officials. But that, he said, is being stalled from the top down.

"The technology is available to significantly reduce the amount of pollution going into our waterways," Metzger says. "We just need our state and federal governments to start pushing those industries to reduce their pollution. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing instead is at the federal level, the Trump administration has proposed cutting the budget for EPA enforcements and for clean water grants, and that, unfortunately, is taking us in the absolutely wrong direction. "

Among those businesses cited for repeat violations over the two-year period are petrochemical giants ExxonMobil, Shell, and Chevron Phillips. Texas A&M University is also on that list. The university was cited at least three times for dumping illegal levels of e.coli into the Brazos River, but was only fined once, for a little more than $12,000.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University-Commerce holds KETR’s FCC license and provides partial financial support to the station.

Scott Morgan has been an award-winning journalist since 2001. His work has appeared in several newspapers and magazines as well as online. He has also been an editor, freelancer, speaker, writing teacher, author, and podcaster.