Groups sue top Texas environmental regulator over air pollution permits

KXAN News Austin
By David Barer

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several environmental advocacy groups have sued the state’s top environmental regulation agency for alleged inadequate handling of several air pollution permits, including one for a large coal power plant near Waco, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Travis County district court.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a duty to take action on the permits within 18 months of receiving them. According to the lawsuit, the agency missed the deadline on eight facilities. By failing to act on the permits, the people of Texas are denied the protection of the permits and the right to challenge them, the groups state in the suit.


“These companies all filed their applications on time,” said Gabriel Clark-Leach, with Environmental Integrity Project, in a statement. “The state environmental regulators have been sitting on these applications for years.”

Those coal power plants, oil refineries and petrochemical plants create significant amounts of smog-forming pollution and ozone problems, said Neil Carman with the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, in a news release.

“We should not have to file a lawsuit simply to force the state environmental agency to do its job,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the environment, in a prepared statement. “By failing to act on these expired air pollution permits, The TCEQ is denying Texans our right to know how much air pollution industries are allowed to release into the air we breathe.”

A TCEQ spokesperson told KXAN the agency has no comment at this time.

Major sources of air pollution, such as a coal power plant, are required to get a “Title V” permit meant to “improve compliance” with the Clean Air Act’s pollution control requirements. Title V permit requires a company to consolidate emission limits and regulations on a single document and establish procedures for monitoring, recording and reporting emissions that comply with the law, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges TCEQ did not take action on permits for these locations in a timely manner:

  • Sandy Creek coal power plant, near Waco
  • American Electric Power Company’s Welsh coal power plant in Titus County
  • BP’s Texas City oil refinery near Houston
  • Motiva’s Port Arthur oil refinery
  • ExxonMobil’s Baytown oil refinery near Houston
  • Koch Industries’ Flint Hills East oil refinery in Corpus Christi
  • BP Amoco’s Texas City chemical plant near Houston
  • Luminant’s (formerly TXU) Oak Grove coal power plant in Robertson County

Approval or denial of several of the permits noted in the lawsuit has been delayed for months or years, according to the environmental groups. The TCEQ executive director placed the Waco coal plant’s permit application on management delay in November of 2009 and has yet to approve or deny it, according to the suit. In other cases, Environmental Integrity Project submitted comments identifying problems in draft permits approved by TCEQ, but the agency has not responded to the comments or taken action on the permits, the lawsuit states.

Groups involved in the lawsuit include Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Air Alliance Houston and Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Council approves new recycling standards for construction material

The Austin Monitor
By Jack Craver

In a victory for environmentalists, City Council voted Thursday to approve an ordinance that sets limits on the amount of material from a construction or demolition site that can go to waste.

The ordinance, which passed 8-3, with Council members Sheri Gallo, Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman in opposition, requires those involved in a construction or demolition project to meet one of two standards aimed at minimizing waste. They must either dispose of less than 2.5 pounds of material per square foot of the project or divert at least 50 percent of the project material to a “beneficial use.”


The new requirements will go into effect on Oct. 1, 2016, for projects exceeding 5,000 square feet of new, added or remodeled floor area. The law will go into effect for any commercial project requiring a demolition permit on Oct. 1, 2019.

An amendment to the ordinance from Council Member Greg Casar also put in place goals to tighten the restrictions on waste in the future. The stated goals would reduce the allowable amount of waste per square foot to 1.5 pounds in 2020 and 0.5 pounds in 2030, as well as raise the required percentage of diverted material to 75 percent in 2020 and 95 percent in 2030. For the time being, they remain just goals; they will be implemented only if they are approved by Council in the future.

Andrew Dobbs, program director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, said the ordinance was a crucial step toward meeting the Zero Waste Strategic Plan adopted by the city in 2009 and that it would create economic opportunities in the recycling industry.

“This is about 10 percent of the material that we’re generating in this city,” Dobbs said. “This is stuff that we can now start to capture, create a lot of value, create a lot of opportunities for jobs and for businesses and for wealth creation here in the city of Austin.”

A previous incarnation of the ordinance had included automatic increases in the recycling thresholds for 2020 and 2030. While the Zero Waste Advisory Commission recommended the benchmarks, the Planning Commission urged their removal from the ordinance.

Dobbs advocated for reinstating the automatic threshold increases, which he called “visionary.” He suggested that a future Council will be able to reduce the standards if it becomes clear in the coming years that they are infeasible. But if the city is serious about accomplishing its zero waste vision, he argued, it should set ambitious goals.

“(The standards) anticipate cultural and economic and technological advances that if we don’t have by then, we’re going to be in some trouble anyways,” Dobbs said.

But Ross Rathgeber, vice president of Southwest Destructors, said that while he supported the 50 percent recycling requirements, the goals for 2020 and 2030 were unrealistic.

“It was explained to me that it’s aspirational,” Rathgeber said. “I can tell you, you can aspire all you want to, but you’re not going to get there.” The city should do some “serious studies” before it raises recycling thresholds again, he said.

Casar’s amendment sought to reconcile the feasibility concerns raised by Rathgeber with the ambitious environmental goals. “What I’m trying to get at is some sort of meeting between the two,” Casar said. “We still maintain the baseline expectation that we’re trying as aggressively as possible to get to those stair steps, but we don’t implement them without affirmative vote.”

Gallo said she would support the ordinance but not if it included Casar’s amendment, saying that the unamended version had been unanimously supported by the Planning Commission as well as OK’d by the Open Spaces Committee.

“I’m uncomfortable supporting changes to something that went through those two entities already,” she said.

The only other opposition expressed came from Council’s two most conservative members, Troxclair and Zimmerman. The latter characteristically denounced the proposal as a government overreach.

“It’s going to be unaffordable, it’s going to provide virtually no benefit, provide a surprisingly high cost, it’s going to contribute to our unaffordability,” said Zimmerman. “It takes our city in exactly the wrong direction, and it’s really frustrating for me to sit here and watch this happen.”

Protesters target Pier 1 over flame retardants in furniture

Steve Kaskovich
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Did you know your couch could be toxic?Protest at Pier 1 startelegram

Apparently so, according to the Texas Campaign for the Environment, which has been pressuring retailers including Pier 1 Imports to stop selling furniture treated with flame retardant chemicals it claims do more harm than good.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen protesters demonstrated (with a couch) outside Pier 1’s Fort Worth headquarters, calling on the retailer to stop selling furniture with flame retardants. They also delivered more than 300 letters from consumers solicited in a door-to-door campaign.

Flame retardant chemicals have been used on furniture for decades since they were first required in California, the group says. But in recent years, scientific evidence has suggested that the chemicals not only fail to effectively protect against fires, but also release chemicals into dust. So advocacy groups have been pushing retailers including Macy’s, Ikea and others to respond.

“Toxic flame retardants threaten our reproductive and nervous systems,” said Corey Troiani, a member of the advocacy group.

Troiani said that just a couple of hours after the lunchtime demonstration, the environmental group’s executive director received a call from an executive at Pier 1, who told them that the company had already contacted suppliers and would phase out flame retardant chemicals from its furniture by Jan. 1.

Protest at Pier 1 letters startelegram“We see this as a victory and a direct result of the grassroots organizing and public pressure on the company to stop selling flame retardant chemicals.” he said.

Pier 1 contends that it began phasing out flame retardants in newly manufactured furniture about a year ago.

“Since early 2015, Pier 1 customers have been able to order flame retardant free upholstered furniture,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Engstrand. “For all upholstered furniture manufactured after January 1, 2015, Pier 1 Imports requires that the labeling indicates that the product contains no added flame retardants.”

Despite that, Troiani said the company’s response this week marked the first time his group had received a commitment. And he urged consumers to check furniture labels. “TCE has verified that Pier 1 Imports still sells products containing flame retardant chemicals,” he said.

Victory: Pier 1 Eliminates Toxic Flame Retardants

TCE Blog
Zac Trahan, Statewide Program Director

We are celebrating another victory as Pier 1 Imports has publicly announced its decision to phase out toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture for sale on its shelves. This will benefit all Texans – and people across North America – by helping to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals that can affect human health.

Together with a national campaign for safer chemicals called Mind the Store, we have been pressuring Pier 1 (based in Fort Worth!) with a letter-writing campaign and an online petition directed at CEO Alex Smith. Then we delivered letters and petitions during a demonstration at the company’s downtown headquarters – and Pier 1 executives responded within hours, saying they no longer allow their suppliers to make furniture with flame retardant chemicals. The company revised its website and posted its stated policy against flame retardants for the first time.


To be clear, this is a big victory. Pier 1 has absolutely done the right thing by committing to sell safer furniture – which shouldn’t be riddled with chemicals that escape into household dust and then enter our bodies. We’re glad this Texas-based company is taking action immediately.

And they’re not alone: Pier 1 is just the latest major retailer to go public with a change to its chemicals policy. Activists have secured similar commitments from companies such as Macy’s, Ashley Furniture and IKEA. The Mind the Store campaign is pressing other retailers to follow suit. Here’s what Mike Schade, Mind the Store campaign director for Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families had to say:

“Thank you to Pier 1 Imports for taking a stand against toxic flame retardants in furniture.” The company should take the next step and evaluate how they can tackle other toxic chemicals in products they carry. We hope other big retailers such as Berkshire Hathaway’s furniture stores will join Pier 1 Imports in getting toxic flame retardants out of furniture once and for all.”

For nearly four decades, controversial flame retardants were required in furniture in the state of California to prevent fires. As pressure mounted on tobacco companies to create fire-safe cigarettes, they responded by aggressively lobbying for this furniture chemicals requirement instead. As a result, many national furniture companies added these chemicals to their products in every state. But recent evidence suggests that the chemicals do not effectively protect against fires – and they can actually cause more harm than good, contributing to more toxic soot and smoke during fires and releasing chemicals into dust during everyday use. (Read more about this in our prior blog post, here!)

California changed its law so toxic flame retardants are not required, but they still allowed. Federal law doesn’t prohit these chemicals either. (In 2011, TCE helped defeat state legislation that would have required toxic flame retardants in furniture here.) In response, the furniture industry as a whole seems to be phasing them out, but there is still furniture for sale with the fire retardants.

That’s why safer chemical advocates, including our organization, have been urging top retailers to accelerate the change by using their market power effectively. By telling their suppliers to remove these chemicals, retailers can help “slam the door” on the use of flame retardants in all furniture in the future.

However, in the meantime, many retailers – including Pier 1 – have older furniture for sale that have toxic flame retardants. So check labels and ask questions if you’re in the market for upholstered furniture. More info is available here and here.

We think of our homes, our living rooms and bedrooms as places for us to relax. Safe havens. But we can’t count on outdated, inadequate federal chemical safety laws to make that a reality. We can’t count on corporate leaders to take protective action out of the blue. Sometimes they need a little push. We’re glad that Pier 1 has taken this step, and we plan to continue with this strategy with other retailers.

Take Action

Want to take action now? Send a message to Best Buy urging company officials to phase out toxic flame retardants in all the electronics they sell. Add your little push! Together we will succeed.


Zac Trahan
Statewide Program Director

Media Release: Pier 1 Faces Demonstration Over Chemicals in Furniture

For more information:

Corey Troiani, Texas Campaign for the Environment
214-599-7840 or 972-658-3617,

Zac Trahan, Texas Campaign for the Environment
214-599-7840 or 214-497-6050,

Pier 1 Faces Demonstration Over Chemicals in Furniture
Protestors visit Fort Worth HQ urging retailer to shelve toxic flame retardants


FORT WORTH— A Texas environmental group is drawing attention to locally headquartered Pier 1 Imports and pressuring the company to sell furniture without flame retardant chemicals they say pose a threat to public health. Protesters brought a large sofa and stood just outside the company’s downtown headquarters, displaying a large banner, “Pier 1 Imports Toxics, Make All Sofas Safe,” and a speech bubble, “Ask me about my toxic chemicals.”

Today’s demonstration coincides with a national effort to pressure Pier 1 to change its chemical policy and phase out the use of toxic flame retardants. Several other leading furniture retailers such as IKEA and Ashley Furniture have already responded to similar pressure – they will not be selling furniture with such chemicals.

Advocacy organizations and consumers have become concerned with the flame retardant chemicals in their clothing, furniture, and electronics as it is becoming clear that they pose more harm than good.

“We think of our living rooms and bedrooms as places for us to relax,” said Corey Troiani with Texas Campaign for the Environment a local nonprofit advocacy organization, “Our furniture shouldn’t be riddled with chemicals that escape into household dust and then enter our bodies. Toxic flame retardants threaten our reproductive and nervous systems.”

For nearly four decades, controversial flame retardant chemicals were required in furniture in the state of California to prevent fires. Many national furniture companies added these chemicals to furniture products in every state to meet minimum standards in California. Recent scientific evidence suggests that the chemicals do not effectively protect against fires, but actually cause more harm than good, contributing to more toxic soot and smoke during fires and releasing chemicals into dust during everyday use. (California no longer requires them.)

Pier one meme - Make all sofas safe no MTS logoIn 2003, Texas Campaign for the Environment participated in a national study which found that toxic flame retardants were detected in 100% of mother’s milk samples from women who were tested for dangerous compounds. These chemicals are linked to cancer, obesity, reduced IQ, infertility, and other reproductive disorders.

“We shouldn’t have to check labels for toxic chemicals,” said Zac Trahan, who attended the demonstration. “Big retailers like IKEA and Ashley Furniture are already doing this, why can’t Pier 1 Imports?”

The Fort Worth protest was coordinated with other consumer advocacy groups across the nation pressuring Pier 1 Imports to change their chemical policy. Just last month, Macy’s responded to the same coalition of advocacy groups by removing these chemicals from their furniture.

Organizers with Texas Campaign for the Environment delivered consumers’ letters of concern to corporate officials, intended to be read by the company CEO, Alexander Smith. “Sometimes corporate leaders don’t chose to do the right thing, they need a little push, and it’s best when that push comes from the people they care about most, their shoppers,” said Laura Trevisani.


Phasing out toxic flame retardants

TCE Blog
Zac Trahan, Statewide Program Director

Q: Why are there toxic flame retardants in my sofa?
A: Big tobacco!

The use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in everyday products throughout our homes is a cautionary tale, a perfect example of what happens when industry and corporate lobbyists get to decide our public policy. The current movement to eliminate these chemicals from consumer products is an inspirational case study in persistent, effective advocacy for the public good. That’s why we say: Don’t get mad – get organized.

Toxic flame retardants are a class of chemicals that have been added to products all around us, such as furniture, carpets, insulation, fabrics and electronics. As the name suggests, they are supposed to protect us from fire. Here’s the thing – they don’t work. The evidence shows they provide no significant protection from fire, and they make fires even more deadly by making smoke more hazardous. Worse still, these chemicals are escaping into household dust and accumulating in our bodies, and they have been linked to cancer, reduced IQ, infertility and other reproductive disorders.


So why do we even use them? Well…. because big tobacco lobbied for this “solution” for furniture instead of making fire-safe cigarettes. That’s right, when public pressure was mounting to have tobacco companies create self-extinguishing cigarettes to reduce the risk of fire, they responded by convincing elected officials to require furniture companies to start using flame retardant chemicals instead. They used made-up testimony and lied about how well these chemicals work. They even tricked fire marshals and fire department leaders into supporting their solution. Leave it to politicians to trust the tobacco industry with our health and safety!

So what’s a concerned citizen to do? This is where the story is starting to get better. There are hundreds of public health and environmental organizations working to snuff out toxic flame retardants once and for all – and we’re winning. The law that required furniture companies to use these chemicals has been reversed. Major retailers like IKEA, Ashley Furniture and Macy’s have vowed to eliminate toxic flame retardants. Activists are turning the tide, and all we need to phase these chemicals out completely is more public pressure.


Our current target for that pressure is Pier 1 Imports, based in Fort Worth, Texas! Pier 1 needs to join other furniture retailers in phasing out toxic flame retardants in its products. But so far, company officials have dismissed this concern and refused to make a commitment. You can send a message to Pier 1 today. Go ahead.

Now that we know these chemicals don’t keep us safe from fire – just the opposite actually – we need we need to end this toxic mistake. Public pressure and grassroots organizing works; the entire industry is responding to this effort. You can add your voice today by telling Pier 1 Imports to work with its suppliers and manufacturers to eliminate toxic flame retardants in its products. If smart shopping is also on your to-do list, you can learn how to choose flame-retardant free furniture here.

[UPDATE: After we held a demonstration at their Fort Worth headquarters and delivered hundreds of letters to CEO Alex Smith, Pier 1 has agreed to phase out toxic flame retardants by Jan. 1, 2016! Read more about our victory here.]

Thanks to your support and thousands of other voices across Texas and the country, we are helping win the fight to have retailers phase toxic chemicals out of the products they sell. Let’s keep going.


Zac Trahan
Statewide Program Director