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Why should anyone trust the TCEQ?

Rick Perry wants the EPA to back off. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Gov. Rick Perry, citing improvements in Texas air quality, asked President Barack Obama on Friday to get regional Environmental Protection Agency administrators to back off efforts to take over the state’s air quality permitting process for refineries and power plants.

Perry told Obama the state process has improved air quality while ensuring economic growth.

“EPA’s unwarranted actions will kill good American jobs, reduce our economic output and undermine critical domestic energy and petrochemical supplies for all 50 states,” Perry said in a letter to the president. “Worse still, EPA’s actions are unwarranted given the tremendous air quality improvements that have been made in Texas.”

Neil Carman, Clean Air Program director for the Sierra Club said improvements in Texas’ air quality stand out only because of how polluted the state was.

“The problem with the comparison of Texas to the rest of the nation is Texas has so much pollution,” Carman said. “You can have a significant reduction and still be the most polluted.”

Perry’s letter said Texas has achieved a 22 percent reduction in ozone and a 46 percent decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions in the past decade.

“Houston is second only to Atlanta in the total percent decrease in ozone for metropolitan areas since 2000, even with a 20 percent increase in population,” Perry said.

However, records from the EPA website show Houston still far exceeds Atlanta for ozone pollution.

That’s the thing about being the worst at something: You can improve a lot, and still be the worst at it. The state is getting exactly what it deserves from the EPA, which by the way first picked this fight over the Clean Air Act back in 2006. The fault lies entirely with the TCEQ and its industry-friendly “flex permits”. Any protests by TCEQ or the Perry administration that things are getting better are belied by the fact that we’re still lagging behind the rest of the country in compliance, and by the fact that the TCEQ’s own record of performance is so bad that even some Republicans are calling them out.

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess had some strong words for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality today following news that it presented inaccurate results to the Fort Worth City Council and failed to notify the city or the public for weeks after it realized the error.

The Lewisville Republican wants an investigation into why the agency didn’t make immediately clear that its testing of air quality in Fort Worth related to gas drilling had some problems as soon as they became aware of it.

“Those responsible should be held fully accountable, and I believe that a robust investigation by the Texas Attorney General’s office would be appropriate,” Burgess said in a statement.

Burgess said he was recently briefed by TCEQ on air quality issues related to gas drilling and he’s not happy to find out now that he wasn’t presented with all of the data.

“I relied on the information I was given, as did many others in North Texas,” Burgess said. “I find it personally offensive to find out that what I have been told may not be the full story on the air quality issues in the area that affect millions of North Texans. There are a lot of questions that TCEQ needs to answer, and the public is right to demand accountability.”

As BOR notes, Rep. Burgess is anything but an environmentalist. If he doesn’t trust TCEQ, why should anyone else? This matter isn’t directly related to the EPA issue, but it’s all of a piece. TCEQ is broken. It’s not working in the public’s interest, and there are direct costs that all of us in the state of Texas are paying as a result. And the problems with the TCEQ are the same as the problems with TxDOT and with the Division of Workers Compensation and with HHSC and with the TYC and with every other failing, dysfunctional agency in the state: They’re all Rick Perry’s responsibility. The people at these agencies are Rick Perry’s people, carrying out Rick Perry’s policies. Every last problem at every state agency is ultimately owned by Rick Perry. The only way to fix this is to put someone else in charge.

Here’s a press release from State Sen. Wendy Davis on the Fort Worth issue. Press releases from State Sen. Rodney Ellis and State Rep. Ellen Cohen about the EPA issue are beneath the fold. Finally, while we have to wait till November to do something about the Governor, there’s a Sunset review going on for the TCEQ. The Alliance for a Clean Texas will be hosting a call on Thursday, June 10, to kick off their TCEQ sunset campaign. Details if you want to dial in are at that link.

Rep. Ellen Cohen Offers Statement on EPA Action

HOUSTON — Representative Ellen Cohen, in a press conference called by Senator Rodney Ellis today addressed the recent actions of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relating to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Joined by fellow legislators Rep. Carol Alvarado, Rep. Garnet Coleman, and Rep. Sylvester Turner, as well as Jen Powis with the Sierra Club and Elena Craft with Environmental Defense Fund, Rep. Cohen echoed Sen. Ellis’ urging for the two entities to work together. She issued the following statement:

“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must work together for the health of all Texans. While the problems are complex, facts and figures rather than finger-pointing will lead us to viable solutions.

“The people of District 134 have made it clear to me that air quality is one of their biggest issues. The ramifications are many including our quality of life, our children’s health, and our ability to attract businesses.

“Ask the parents of a child with asthma what they expect. They expect us to do better than we’ve been doing because their child’s life depends on it. They don’t expect us to ‘stay the course’ because the status quo is failing our children. It’s failing our communities, and it’s failing our state.

“Ask the leaders of the many Texas Medical Center institutions who are trying to attract the most talented and innovative researchers to Texas what they expect. They expect to draw those leading researchers to Texas because of the Medical Center’s focus on cutting edge research. They don’t expect to lose researchers to other cities and states because the air quality in Houston is poor and because they are concerned about their children’s health.

“We can work together to tackle our air quality issues but leadership needs to acknowledge that we have a problem that must be addressed now and not years from now. Texans deserve action. Texans deserve solutions. We expect no less.”

Local Legislators and Environmental Groups Urge TCEQ to Work with EPA

(Houston, TX)// Senator Rodney Ellis was joined by Representative Carol Alvarado, Representative Ellen Cohen, Representative Garnet Coleman, Representative Sylvester Turner, Environmental Defense Fund Health Scientist, Elena Craft, Sierra Club Clean Air Program Director, Neil Carman, and Sierra Club Senior Regional Representative, Jennifer Powis at a press conference in Houston to urge the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure TCEQ’s air permitting program is in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

“I urge the TCEQ to continue working with the EPA to bridge the gap that exists between Texas’ current air permitting process and what is legally required by the Clean Air Act. Since breathing clean air is not a partisan issue, all of us have the same goal: cleaner air that protects Texas families from the health impacts of the worst air pollutants,” said Senator Ellis.

This past Tuesday, the EPA took an important step to address deficiencies in Texas’ air permitting program by directing a Texas plant with a deficient air quality permit to seek a federally authorized permit directly from the EPA. The EPA also made clear that they could do so for other permits if deficiencies in Texas’ program are not corrected.

“But the bottom line is that the onus is on TCEQ to adopt an air permitting program that ensures Texans have the clean air they deserve and that complies with the Clean Air Act. Until the agency complies with the law, an unacceptable level of uncertainty regarding permitted releases of air toxics exists for some of our state’s largest and most successful industries,” Senator Ellis added.

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4 Comments

  1. Truth says:

    I wish one reporter or blogger would cast aside his or her political leanings and dig a little deeper. The TCEQ has approximately 3000 employees. Do you think these employees come to work each day to collect a below-average paycheck simply to screw the people of Texas? I get it – to a point. You have a politically selected commission presiding over significant issues. However, you have real scientists, lawyers, investigators and project managers who have managed to do a great deal of good for the people of Texas. Texas is an enormous state with a lot opportunities for real, adverse environmental impacts. There are over 2900 employees who work very hard (in many cases, racking up significant overtime to ensure the job is done right) to protect Texas citizens. This is just on a day-to-day basis. Imagine what would happen if the TCEQ didn’t respond to each and every hurricane! When all of you (Forrest included – excellent research aside) bloggers and reporters write about the TCEQ, imagine what the state would be like with no one to provide these services. If you think it’s EPA, then I pity you. TCEQ often moves forward with policies (some wildly unpopular) due to a non-responsive EPA. Dr. Armendariz seems to want to change that, which is a positive. However, EPA region 6 lacks the technical talent TCEQ has. This isn’t a slight, it’s the truth. If EPA was known for it’s cutting edge scientific initiatives, there would be a mass exodus from Austin to Dallas. This hasn’t happened, but you are welcome to you know– dig a little deeper for the truth. It’s unfair to judge the entire agency on it’s leadership. It’s a shame that’s all we read about in the news and the blogs.

  2. Brown Bess says:

    Dear Truth,

    And what the hell good is all that sincere expertise when it just gets trumped by Rick Perry’s campaign? When any good decisions in the lower ranks only get overruled by the politicos like Zac Covar running the thing for Perry?

    The disease affecting TCEQ has been there a very long time – all the way back to the bad ol’ days of the Air Control Board (specifically established by the Seven Sisters oil companies to avoid EPA regulation). The agency is rife with good ol boys and feckless Perry minions carrying out his ideological whims. Anyone with a bit of intelligence figures this out in pretty short order. How does it feel to have all the hard work circle the drain because of the leadership at the top?

    The difference is that what was done under the table before is now done unashamedly above the table. Perry is making it 10 times worse by being the George Wallace of environmental protection.

    This can only stop with the dismemberment of the TCEQ and its culture. If it takes the EPA transferring the state’s responsibilities to itself for a couple of years – until we get a new Guv for example, I’m all for that. Sorry if that means you don’t have a job anymore, but you know what, you can’t really do that job now.

  3. FBW says:

    Truth, I feel for you – I really do. But Bess speaks the truth, as well. From the public’s perspective, TCEQ is a politically-driven agency run by political appointees whose main goal is to reward big business and push Perry’s politics. And that’s the perspective from inside the Capitol – not just via blogs and papers, which you referred to in your post.

    The WCS fiasco epitomizes this approach. Hard working staff (just like you apparently) are overruled by an executive director intent on pushing WCS’s permit regardless of concerns about the science. Permit is rewarded by the Commission. Staff quits in frustration. Executive director leaves the agency and is then lobbying for WCS less than a year later.

    I’m sure that’s frustrating for y’all because stories like that end up painting the entire agency in a bad light. But what’s the alternative – that those stories aren’t told?

  4. [...] thing is that “Incredibly” there. “As expected” would be more accurate. As I’ve said, this whole mess, like every other mess in state government, is on Rick Perry. Self-righteous [...]

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