Dallas Morning News
August 12, 2017 by Garrett Boone

In Texas, your dollar is supposed to count — but who’s counting?

When you buy a set of tires and leave the worn out, scrap tires at the dealer, you may notice a disposal or environmental fee tacked on. The state once used these fees to ensure tires were disposed of properly. Not anymore.

No state official has overseen this fee for decades, leaving bad actor tire dealers free to pocket the money and put it toward their profit instead of toward tire disposal. These bad actors are abandoning untold amounts of scrap tires across the state.

To make matters worse, Gov. Greg Abbott recently vetoed a bill with the goal to better handle the disposal process of scrap tires to prevent illegal dumping. Senate Bill 570, authored by José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and co-authored by Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, was the culmination of years of stakeholder collaboration between industry representatives, public health experts and environmental advocates. With a quick pen stroke, it failed to become law on June 15th.

Illegally dumped, scrapped tires affect nearly everyone, whether you realize it or not. Here in Dallas, I am involved in the development of the 10,000 acres of Trinity River corridor, vice chair of the Trinity Park Conservancy and a supporter of Texans for Clean Water. Creating natural areas and park spaces in this corridor is critical to the future of Dallas. These spaces can lead to a multibillion-dollar economic development opportunity and provide a wonderful quality of life benefit for all Dallasites.

The same development opportunity, in the billions, is true for Houston and other cities in our state, but one of the greatest barriers to realizing this economic development opportunity is the epidemic of illegal dumping and littering. Scrap tires seem the most impactful of all the illegally dumped trash because they are enormously expensive to clean up and just keep coming. Tires are dumped every single day. In 2014 alone, Dallas approved spending more than $3 million to remove thousands of dumped tires from Lake Ray Hubbard.

Texas leads the nation in the number of unauthorized scrap tire piles dumped across the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the agency in charge of enforcement and regulation of the disposal process, has identified around 16 million scrap tires in illegal dump sites that they know of, and estimates that Texas generates 36 million scrap tires annually.

At that rate, even a fraction of those tires that end up illegally dumped in our neighborhoods, lakes, streams, or on private property is a big deal. Tire piles are notoriously dangerous and a risk to public health and safety because abandoned tires bring an increased risk of fire, rats, feral hogs, and disease carrying mosquitoes, such as those carrying the Zika virus.

But if the state knows where these dangerous tire piles are, why haven’t they been cleaned up? Well, that costs money, of course. Money the state no longer collects from those tire dealers, but that those tire dealers still collect from you.

Without action, the state’s scrap tire dump backlog will continue to build, and we — the people — will continue to pay the disposal fee when I, for one, have lost confidence in the disposal system.

Gov. Abbott’s explanation of his veto of Senate Bill 570 highlights a concerning trend in our state government, usurping the power of local governments. If the state won’t pass commonsense, industry-supported policy, and the communities are not allowed to do so, what’s the solution? Fixing broken infrastructure concerns is simply good governance and somebody’s got to do it.

Senate Bill 570 was not a cure-all. It would not have cleaned up the current piles of millions of scrap tires across the state, nor would it have created incentives to utilize or explore other end use markets for these tires. But SB 570 would have shored up the regulatory system and added critical penalties to keep scrap tires in the disposal process and out of your backyards. It would’ve taken a significant step to make sure that your tire disposal fees were properly used, and it would have helped foster economic development opportunities.

It was a good start. If bipartisan, industry supported bills that advance public health, safety and welfare are impossible to pass, what are we left with? Texas cities need all the help they can get in combating this criminal activity, and we have the very basic right to know that our tire disposal fees are doing their job.

Right now, they’re not.

Garrett Boone is a co-founder of The Container Store and a founding member of Texans for Clean Water. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. Email: garrett@gboone.com