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The QueQue: TPWD burro killings roiling West Texas, Preservation fights continue to percolate River Road

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EPA can’t champion environmental justice alone, he said, adding, “We just don’t have the ability, the authority, and the resources.” So EPA has to engage local communities, as well as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and state politicos, even as they rave against EPA in public.

At the start of Friday’s summit, Armendariz read through a list of headlines and comments from those in the anti-EPA wing (propagators of “radical, extremist regulations” that destroy jobs). “Maybe it has a place in an election season, but I should hope that we keep that kind of language to the side,” he told the crowd. Big oil and gas have enjoyed years of record profits, he noted, saying it’s time they step up and help fund community solutions to the problems they helped create. EPA’s Region Six, which includes Texas, he said, ranks number one in poverty among all other EPA regions.

The comment drew quiet grumblings of “wealth redistribution” from industry reps, most of whom remained mum during Friday’s summit.

Can all play nice, even as the state sues to block new greenhouse gas regs and tightened air-quality standards? Confidence in voluntary industry steps toward environmental justice is clearly lacking, considering the state regulatory climate that permits the new petroleum-coke burning Las Brisas power plant, which the TCEQ green-lighted early this year in clear defiance of the EPA and against the advice of two administrative law judges, as well as the Nueces County Medical Society. It’s difficult to see what steps TCEQ and EPA can jointly take when both appear to be working from different playbooks — even in Corpus. An internal EPA “watch list” obtained by the Center for Public Integrity earlier this month shows the agency has flagged five out of the area’s six major refineries here for serious or repeat Clean Air Act violations.

Billy Placker, who lives along Refinery Row where residents for years have been clamoring for attention from the TCEQ, EPA, and industry to help explain the high number of birth defects and elevated cancer rates that mar the neighborhood, said he worried industry and state regulators would walk away from Friday’s summit smiling, having engaged with neighbors but committing to nothing. “After all this, to me, this still looks like a system designed to fail. It’s system designed to fail us,” said Placker. •

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