Off the Books

The Clean Air Act requires large industrial plants to report their total annual emissions of pollutants like sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and smog forming chemicals to state environmental agencies. But a review of Texas data suggests that some companies omit more than eighty percent of their actual emissions in these annual reports. For example, twenty facilities failed to report nearly 16,000 tons of regulated pollutants they released in 2003 in their annual submissions for that year.

According to nearly 800 notifications to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 2003, the twenty plants released a combined total of 19,200 tons of pollutants in 2003 as a result of upsets, maintenance, and startup and shutdown activity, including 7,894 tons of sulfur dioxide, 6,311 tons of carbon monoxide, and 4,947 tons of volatile organic compounds. But when submitting their total annual inventory of emissions to the state for that same year, the facilities admitted releasing only 3,430 tons of pollution. TCEQ currently assesses a fee of $30.90 per ton of emissions reported to the inventory, which means the facilities in question owe the state nearly $500,000 in fees for the unreported pollution.