Texas Campaign for the Environment: News
Dallas Morning News, May 31, 2012 By Randy Lee Loftis
Analysis: Frisco’s do-it-yourself method worked with Exide
In deciding to buy out Exide’s battery plant for $45 million, Frisco showed it had learned a lesson: If you want to get rid of pollution, do it — and pay for it — yourself.
That’s because typical environmental regulations were never likely to end all lead emissions in Frisco. The Environmental Protection Agency wasn’t going to persuade Exide to move. The EPA has some of the world’s toughest rules on airborne lead, but it was working with Exide toward compliance, not relocation.
State regulations weren’t going to do it, either. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality worked up emissions limits for Exide that critics called polluter-friendly. Earlier, the state ignored a city environmental study.
Usually, rules don’t prohibit pollution. They just set maximums, which implies that anything below the maximum is OK. With lead, a metal so toxic that almost immeasurably small grains can harm a child, that’s a problem. Medical science says there’s no safe level in a child’s blood, but rules say a certain amount is safe in the air.
Regulators always say they can’t control local land use. Critics always say Texas just about never denies a permit. As long as Exide operated, some legal lead would get into the air. That left just the people and their local government to do something more permanent.
Frisco is in the good position of having enough economic and community development money to buy out the smelter. Others have used different tactics. In the 1980s, Dallas used a quirk of local zoning rules to keep a closed smelter in West Dallas from reopening.
El Paso residents campaigned for years to prevent a shuttered smelter from reopening, only to have the TCEQ give it the green light in a decision that stirred cries of corruption. In early 2009, the EPA finally stepped in and said the state permit broke federal law. The smelter was destined for demolition.
El Paso was the exception in that federal regulators eventually decreed there would be no smelter. Frisco is also an exception in that it has cash to do the job that the rule makers couldn’t. The lesson for other communities that don’t want a legal level of pollution might be to think creatively — and save up those nickels and dimes.