UPDATE: Pet crematoriums considered by Texas lawmakers

An old veterinarian joke: “What do you call a vet that treats one species?”

Answer: A physician.

Gary Gosney, a Temple veterinarian, cracked that one during testimony before the House Environmental Regulation Committee as it took up a proposal, pushed by Gosney’s animal crematorium operation, to regulate animal crematoriums the same way as human crematoriums.

The deregulation proposed “is consistent with the free market economic system and values that Texas champions,” explained bill author Molly White, a Republican state Representative from Belton.

According to testimony before the committee, animal crematoriums are currently regulated as “incinerators,” limiting the hours they can operate and their ability to expand their facilities.

Gosney told the committee the more stringent regulations involving an incinerator mean higher costs.

That, in turns, means dead pets are more likely to be buried in the landfill than sent to a crematorium.

“You want to have your animal to have the same care after it dies as a human does,” Gosney told the committee.

UPDATE: The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality patiently explained to me why animal and human cremation are treated differently. The short answer is the different rules developed because of the difference between what’s being incinerated, human remains versus animal remains:

Regulations that apply to combustion units burning animal carcasses are regulated differently from human crematory units, because of the material that is being burned.  Human remains are not defined or classified as “waste”; whereas, dead animal carcasses are defined as a “special waste.” A combustion unit that is used in the process of burning wastes is called an incinerator. Since human remains are not considered wastes, the units that burn human remains are called crematory units.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has historically minimized its regulation of human crematories, other than to insure that emissions from the crematory units would not create a nuisance, because the primary authority to regulate human crematories was granted to other state agencies and because these sources tended to be very small sources of emissions.  The Texas Department of State Health Services is given statutory authority in the Health and Safety Code to regulate the disposal of human remains. The Texas Funeral Services Commission is given statutory authority to regulate the cremation of human remains under Section 716 of the Health and Safety Code. The regulation of animal carcass incinerators is not granted to another state agency and therefore resides with the TCEQ. The TCEQ regulates different industries that utilize incinerators that burn waste. Rules associated with incineration are generally written to insure the incinerator is properly operated, so as not to create a nuisance, and to minimize emissions to protect human health and the environment. The United States Environmental Protection Agency also has developed extensive rules related to the regulations of incinerators.  Although current EPA rules do not regulate human crematory units or animal carcass incinerators, EPA’s other incineration rules also differ based upon the type of material or waste being burned. So, identical incinerators could have entirely different requirements, if they were burning two different materials.

The claim that there are more requirements under existing rules to expand or increase the hours of operation for  animal carcass incinerators compared to human crematories is correct, due primarily to the difference in the classification of what is being burned.  Existing environmental requirements for human crematories are contained in a permit by rule which contains minimal requirements for the reasons identified above. The existing standard permit for commercial animal carcass incinerators includes limitations on expansion based upon an evaluation of resulting off-property concentrations, but the standard permit also offers some opportunities for expansion. 

Author: Asher Price

Asher Price has covered energy and the environment for the American-Statesman since 2006. Twice the Society of Environmental Journalists has named him a finalist for its beat reporter of the year award. He spent part of the spring of 2011 as an environmental science journalism fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and during the 2011-12 academic year was stationed at Columbia’s business and journalism schools as a Knight-Bagehot fellow. He is the co-author of the book The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil and Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power. (UT Press.) His new book, Year of the Dunk, comes out in May 2015. He lives in the South Congress neighborhood with his wife and dog.

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