Texas suspends environmental regulations for Harvey debris cleanup
- The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) filed a request on Aug. 28 to waive environmental regulations around solid waste disposal, including various permitting regulations, transporting standards and pollution control standards, to accelerate the cleanup process in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, according to Bloomberg BNA. Gov. Greg Abbott granted this request soon after.
- The debris headed to Houston's 27 area landfills is to be sorted into five categories — woody debris, C&D debris, household hazardous waste, electronic waste and "white goods" such as refrigerators and air conditioners — however there are concerns that materials will not end up sorted due to the magnitude of waste that needs to be managed.
- Andrew Dobbs, program director with the Texas Campaign for the Environment, told Bloomberg BNA that Houston officials should take this opportunity to prioritize hazardous waste cleanup and develop a disaster debris management plan in case of a similar catastrophic incident in the future.
While the suspension of some environmental regulations can be concerning to industry professionals and residents alike, the process of getting Houstonians back into their homes safely is crucial. City officials must find the right balance between quick disposal and environmental safety — and should depend on guidance from disaster officials in Louisiana who dealt with Hurricane Katrina.
Texas could face years of debris cleanup in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, yet actual estimates for how long the process could take are unknown. After Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, the city — which is only a fraction of the size of Houston — disposed of 55 million cubic yards of waste over the course of a few years, according to Bloomberg BNA. However it was also reported that New Orleans was able to recycle 39% of the debris that was collected after Katrina, which gives some hope on the situation in Houston.
Dobbs's suggestion for Houston officials to develop a plan for similar catastrophic events in the future is reasonable — and one that other city officials and sanitation departments should take to heart. Before the hype around Harvey began to settle, the National Hurricane Center warned the U.S. about Hurricane Irma, another storm that has now intensified to a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic. It is unknown where Irma will make landfall, however its presence confirms coastal cities' need for resilience and debris management plans.
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