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The EPA Questions State’s Air Quality Permit for West Dallas Shingle Manufacturer GAF

The controversial GAF shingle factory in West Dallas already faces the possibility of the city forcing it to move, but now the EPA is questioning the company's state air quality permit.
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Kathryn Bazan

Federal environmental officials are questioning an emissions permit the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granted to the GAF shingle factory in West Dallas, which already faces pressure from the surrounding neighborhood to close.

In a letter dated August 5, the Environmental Protection Agency informed the TCEQ that it opposes the shingle factory’s Title V permit, which relates to the quantity and type of emissions GAF is allowed to produce. Title V is a federal program that aims to standardize air quality permits across the country for major polluters, which are defined as facilities that emit 100 tons or more of any air pollutant per year. (That can vary on the type of pollutant, too).

In 2020, members of West Dallas 1, a collective of neighborhood associations and community groups, began monitoring the air quality in the neighborhood. They spearheaded a demand for a hearing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to challenge GAF’s permit renewal. Another community group called SIngleton United/Unidos has produced a 100-page document arguing that the city’s existing zoning makes GAF a “non-conforming use” that should vacate the neighborhood.

While the company’s permit was renewed, the community made enough comments—more than 100— during the process to prompt the state to give the permit more “teeth,” including a requirement that increases the frequency of monitoring from quarterly to weekly. But the concessions the community were able to obtain were apparently not enough to satisfy the EPA.

The federal agency is asking the TCEQ to be more deliberate and exact in its requirements for monitoring, testing, and record keeping, especially in regards to the plant’s thermal oxidizer and waste heat boiler stacks. Those are part of the system the GAF plant uses to process pollutants and hazardous gasses before they are released into the air. Without specifying how the agency and the plant intend to monitor compliance, the state can’t actually say for certain that GAF is complying with the terms of the permit, the letter argues.

“It is unclear what specific monitoring, recordkeeping, or reporting requirements GAF must comply with to assure ongoing compliance with the lb/hr and TPY (tons per year) emission limitations identified in the MAERT (maximum allowable emission rates) for the thermal oxidizer and waste heat boiler,” the letter said.

For its part, GAF says the EPA’s letter is part of the process in getting a Title V air permit renewed. The TCEQ sends the draft permit to the federal agency, who then reviews it to make sure it complies with the Clean Air Act. The company said Tuesday that it supports the EPA recommendation that the TCEQ include the plant’s existing monitoring and reporting protocols as the explicit terms in the air permit.

“We do not expect the EPA objections to affect the ultimate approval of our air permit. GAF will continue to operate in compliance with all existing and new air permit terms,” a company spokesperson said, adding that it would “welcome” another EPA request to perform new stack tests every five years because “they will show the positive effects of many of the pollution control upgrades we have made over the years which have significantly lowered our emissions.

“We expect the results will show GAF continues to operate well below its permitted rights.”

In May, Singleton United/Unidos released a report called the “Case for City Amortization of GAF,” arguing that the 76-year-old shingle factory should vacate the neighborhood because it adversely impacts the quality of life and health of nearby residents. 

By July, GAF announced its intention to leave in the next seven years and began meeting with residents. Later that month, the company met with representatives of the community again to answer questions. At least two people with knowledge of that meeting say that the community is pushing the company to explain why financially it needs seven years to vacate. Those neighbors asked GAF to come up with a better timeline. If talks stall, city amortization will likely be the next step.

“GAF fully intends to leave the neighborhood,” a company spokesperson said. “The terms of when and what that looks like is still being discussed.”

Janie Cisneros, a spokesperson for Singleton United/Unidos, said that the community felt vindicated by the EPA’s objection, because the lack of substantive oversight by the TCEQ was part of the community’s case for amortization from the beginning. 

“We are thrilled with the EPA’s objection to the permit and the demonstrated commitment to environmental justice,” she said. “It solidifies what we have been saying about GAF’s pollution, the lack of appropriate real time monitoring, and the negative impact to our neighborhood. It further serves to validate that GAF should not be operating as it has been in our neighborhood and why it should cease operations as soon as possible. 

“The EPA letter is a form of restorative hope. They’ve heard us, they’ve seen us, and they are taking us seriously.”

With this latest wrinkle regarding the company’s air quality permit, it’s unknown how those negotiations will change. West Dallas 1 President Raul Reyes said he felt the EPA objection “changes some dynamics in favor of the community.” The community’s City Councilman, Omar Narvaez said in July that he will use “every tool” at his disposal and would not take a city-led amortization off the table.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.

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