Hurricane Harvey

‘Unacceptable’: Lawmakers Question Decision Not To Monitor Harvey Pollution With NASA Jet

Lawmakers called the decision “deeply troubling.”

After Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast in August 2017, the storm stalled over Houston and dumped as much as 60 inches of rain on some parts of the region.

Lawmakers on the U.S. House science committee have questions for federal and Texas officials about a decision not to fly a NASA jet that would have provided more comprehensive data on air pollution after Hurricane Harvey.

Committee members Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) have requested documents relating to the decision from the Environmental Protection Agency, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and NASA.

The request comes after an L.A. Times article revealed NASA officials offered up a high-tech air-sampling jet to help with pollution monitoring after Hurricane Harvey. The EPA and TCEQ reportedly pushed back on the offer, saying data from the state-of-the-art airplane would not be helpful. Their response informed NASA officials’ decision not to fly.

“This is deeply troubling,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to officials. “If this is true, it is not only an embarrassment, it is unacceptable.”

Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, whose home district in Houston was hit particularly hard by Harvey, told Houston Matters the decision concerned her because the NASA plane had more capabilities than EPA or TCEQ equipment.

“I think that’s a disservice to the public and I think it puts us potentially at greater risk,” Fletcher said.

In a statement to News 88.7, TCEQ said the offer was made two weeks after the storm and the mission would not have flown until an even later date. The agency said it had started ground-level sampling a week prior and reiterated its position that data from NASA’s flying altitude would not have been useful in determining impacts to public health.  

In a separate statement, the EPA disputed parts of the L.A. Times article, saying the agency did not decline NASA’s offer.

The committee members have asked the agencies to deliver documents by March 20.

Listen to Fletcher’s full conversation with Houston Matters in the audio below:

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Davis Land

Senior Producer

Davis Land is a senior producer at Houston Public Media. He cut his teeth at Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, MA and at WBUR in Boston. His work has appeared on various public radio programs and podcasts including Texas Standard, Here and Now, and Marketplace. Davis is a graduate...

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