Gulf of Mexico
Mark Mulligan / Houston Chronicle

TX - Opinion: Port Wants to Become an Environmental Leader but Ship Channel Dredging Is Heading the Wrong Way

The families who live near the Houston Ship Channel are exposed to too much air pollution.

Tugboats burning dirty diesel fuel, heavy trucks coming and going at all hours of the day and dozens of oil refineries and other chemical facilities contribute to serious health problems like asthma, heart disease and cancer that change lives forever.

Now, Port Houston is moving full steam ahead to make it worse. The port is sponsoring a nearly $1 billion project to dredge the Ship Channel to make it easier and safer to navigate. But the project plans to use old, cheap dredges that will burn even more dirty diesel, dumping thousands of tons of extra toxic pollution on these families. How much pollution? It’s comparable to adding another refinery or power plant in their neighborhood — except that would have at least required an impact review and the best available pollution control technologies.

No one’s controlling this pollution. Tasked with protecting Texas’ air quality, the state environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, approved the port-sponsored project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, acting as the contractor, is weeks away from doing the same.

How did we get here? A year ago, as letters posted online show, TCEQ told the port all this new pollution would put it out of compliance for maximum allowable emissions. One way around that, however, was to require the port authority to buy what we estimate would have totaled $16 million in emissions reductions credits.

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