Report shows 97 percent of illegal air pollution not penalized in Texas

HOUSTON-- Throughout the vast Texas terrain lies a stretch of oil refineries and chemical plants that has become the backbone of the Lone Star State's economy.

A new analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project and Environment Texas shows the state has imposed penalties on less than 3 percent of illegal air pollution released over the past five years.

State records show only 588 out of nearly 24,839 malfunction and maintenance events were fined, even though the report shows more than 500-million pounds of pollutants were emitted during that time.

Buddy Riggs is one of thousands of people who live just a few miles away from the refineries. He said dealing with the pollution is just a way of life around here.

“It's not bad. We haven't had any scares in the longest time. I don’t see anything bad about it. And the air quality is great compared to what it was back when I was in my 30s. I'm a healthy 72-year-old right now,” Riggs said.

Despite the numbers, Rigs said he'll never move.

“It’s a beautiful place, why would you want to go anywhere else?” said Riggs.

Gabriel Clark-Leach, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, believes less industrial accidents would happen if companies felt a financial incentive to improve.

“To protect public health from dangerous air pollution, Texas needs to start more vigorously and consistently penalizing industry for illegal emissions. The truth is, many of these industrial ‘accidents’ can be avoided,” said Clark-Leach.

But with an average fine of just three cents per pound of air pollutants, looks like the road to cleaner air is gonna be a long one.