FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
9 July 2019
Jordan Macha, Executive Director 713-299-4300, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristen Schlemmer, Legal Director 512-619-1583, email@example.com
Bayou City Waterkeeper Urges City Council to Provide Transparency and Meaningful Public Review in City of Houston Consent Decree Approval
Houston, TX – On July 8, 2019, Mayor Turner announced the release of the City of Houston’s proposed consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, and the State of Texas. Bayou City Waterkeeper will be in attendance at the City Hall press conference on July 9th.
It has been nearly a year since Bayou City Waterkeeper sent the City its notice of intent to sue for over 9,300 potential Clean Water Act violations. Since at least 2013, the City failed to comply with its permits by allowing raw or partially treated sewage to be discharged from its wastewater treatment and collection systems into our public waterways throughout the Houston area. These pollution discharges are not unique, as this problem has been in need of a solution for decades. In 2005, the City entered into a Compliance Agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to address some of its longstanding wastewater disposal problems. Under that Agreement, the City reportedly upgraded, cleaned, and renewed some of its sewer pipes and infrastructure. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the City’s continuing violations, the work undertaken under the 2005 Agreement falls far short of resolving the City’s problem.
In September 2018, on the eve of Bayou City Waterkeeper’s lawsuit, the EPA and the State filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston for illegal discharges of pollutants and failure to comply with the terms and conditions of their Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits (TPDES). As a formal intervenor in the EPA and State lawsuit, Bayou City Waterkeeper repeatedly asked to be included in negotiations–only to be denied details and the opportunity to participate by the City of Houston.
Given our inability to participate, Bayou City Waterkeeper has been unable to raise environmental and social justice concerns, which should be core to any consent decree. With this recent announcement, the public is at a disadvantage since the proposed solutions are already “pre-approved” by the DOJ/EPA and State, and is left with a lengthy and complex document to review.
Statement from Jordan Macha, Executive Director & Waterkeeper
Throughout this process, Bayou City Waterkeeper’s goal has been to improve both water quality and quality of life for all communities by forcing the City of Houston to comply with its obligations under the Clean Water Act and finally resolve its long-standing wastewater pollution failures. The City acknowledges they have been negotiating for nearly 10 years, yet prior to our lawsuit, the City made little process to finalize negotiations to resolve their on-going wastewater problem.
With a final settlement imminent, we are at a crossroads. Our hope in this next phase is that City Council makes it clear that public input matters. The City has the ability and opportunity to provide the public with mechanisms to meaningfully participate in this process. Considering the magnitude of this consent decree, it’s critical that the public has the opportunity to review, understand, and provide input on the solutions the City is proposing. As the City explores its own resiliency and what that means for its citizens, we should use this as the moment to engage with communities, and embrace “future-proofed” solutions and world-class infrastructure that improves the lives of all Houstonians.