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2011-01-06

Sunset report - more changes needed at TCEQ says alliance

Courtesy of www.hillcountryalliance.org/

Is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) - the state's environmental agency - doing a good enough job protecting the health of Texans?
The recently issued Sunset Advisory Commission Staff Report on TCEQ is a first step in answering that question. The report contains a number of positive recommendations that, if adopted by the Sunset Advisory Commission and ultimately enacted by the Texas Legislature, will help strengthen the TCEQ in carrying out its responsibilities to protect the environment and public health for all Texans.
However, the report failed to make recommendations to resolve a number of chronic problems plaguing the agency.
"We are pleased that the Sunset staff found merit in the issues and recommendations we presented relating to enforcement effectiveness and transparency, compliance history, public participation and other important areas within the agency," commented former TCEQ Commissioner Larry Soward, who has been working with Air Alliance Houston on their Sunset recommendations.
"We commend the Sunset Staff for their thorough research and very insightful findings and recommendations on these issues and look forward to working with the Sunset Commission members as the process progresses."
"The Sunset staff has made some excellent recommendations about increasing penalties for pollution and raising the rates that polluters pay," said Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen. "The big ticket item that the staff report avoids is Texas' flawed permitting program. We hope that the TCEQ and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continue to work together to fix our state's permitting flaws and that this vital issue will not be further complicated by needless politics and grandstanding."
"This is a great start to make the TCEQ a better agency, but we regret that the Sunset Staff did not recommend other changes that would have helped address the issues and problems that citizens face regularly when dealing with the TCEQ, such as the agency's regulation of toxic hot spots around the state," commented Air Alliance Houston's Matthew Tejada. "We will continue to work to get these other very significant issues addressed either by the Sunset Advisory Commission or by the Legislature."
Bee Moorhead, executive director of the interfaith group Texas Impact, said TCEQ reform legislation should start with the basics. "Lawmakers need to adopt a statutory mission statement that says TCEQ's job is to protect human health and the environment. Period. Texans deserve an agency that is there to protect their health, not the bottom lines of polluters," she said.
Eric Allmon with the Texas Center for Policy Studies noted, "We appreciate the recognition by the Sunset Commission Staff that an open and inclusive process for decision making at the TCEQ is important." He continued, "Many of the staff's recommendations are a step in the right direction, but further steps to give the public an independent voice in TCEQ's decisions, along with a close examination of TCEQ's decision-making procedures, would help ensure that the agency is acting with the full benefit of the public\'s input."
"We are pleased that the sunset staff report agreed that water and gas rate cases should be moved to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC), and said the Office of Public Interest Counsel should be strengthened," said Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Sierra Club. "However, we are disappointed in their recommendation regarding water quality regulation between the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) and the TCEQ. We also believe TCEQ is better suited to handle uranium mining and coal combustion wastes and are sorry that the staff report did not address this."
The staff report also took up the controversial issue of low-level radioactive waste. "The Sunset Commission should recommend the legislature immediately put a stop to the proposed rule to import additional radioactive waste from 36 states, and analyze the health and financial risks to the state of Texas," said Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED Coalition. "Adequate funding is essential to assure this commission has the ability to hire staff and experts to do its job."
The Sunset Advisory Commission held a public hearing in mid-December to hear testimony on TCEQ. They will vote on reforms on Jan. 12. These recommendations will be then reviewed and voted on by the entire Texas Legislature this coming session.
The Alliance for Clean Texas (ACT), a statewide coalition of environmental, public interest and faith organizations, developed a reform platform with detailed plans to tighten permitting, strengthen enforcement and allow the public more input into critical regulatory processes. Over the past two months, hundreds of Texans have voiced their recommendations for improvements to TCEQ at town hall meetings throughout the state. From El Paso to Beaumont, Texans have described how TCEQ failed to protect their health and property. Citizen after citizen shared tales of how the agency
• ignored clear evidence that a proposed plant would affect their health or livelihood
• ignored the cumulative impacts of combined emissions from dozens of proposed coal plants, or thousands of oil and gas wells
• failed to act when a polluter emitted far more that it was permitted
• assessed fines that were meaningless
• failed to look at the combined impact of air and water emissions
• ignored federal laws
• overruled the recommendations of their staff and administrative law judges in permitting matter
More information on these town hall meetings plus the coalition\'s detailed permitting and enforcement recommendations can be found on

http://www.acttexas.org