TCEQ Sunset: Texas needs a stronger cop on the environmental beat

Terri Blackwood | Used by permission

Texas continues to suffer from unsafe levels of pollution to our air, water and land. This pollution causes thousands of deaths each year, renders many of our rivers and lakes unsafe for swimming and fishing, and is a major contributor to the warming of the planet. 

Much of this pollution is illegal. For example, industrial facilities reported over 2000 “emissions events” in FY22, releasing 41.9 million pounds of health threatening pollution to our air without authorization. 

Unfortunately, the state’s main environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), has a poor track record in reducing pollution. The US Environmental Protection Agency recently announced it’s investigating TCEQ over alleged failure to properly implement the federally delegated clean water program. Called a “reluctant regulator” by the Sunset Commission, TCEQ routinely rubber stamps pollution permits and often lets violators of environmental laws off the hook with few if any consequences. 

For example, the TCEQ granted a permit to Sempra to build an LNG terminal in Port Arthur, ignoring the recommendation of an Administrative Law Judge to require stronger pollution controls in the permit. Since 2020, ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery and chemical plant complex has released 2.5 million pounds of unauthorized air pollution, but in that time, the wealthy oil giant has only had to pay $99,405 in penalties for air violations.  

We support HB 1505 (Bell) to reauthorize TCEQ, including provisions to:

  • Raise maximum daily fines from $25,000 to $40,000 a day
  • Ensure that proposed water and air permits are online and that comments and hearing requests can be made up to 72-hours after a public meeting 

We also urge the Legislature to strengthen the TCEQ Sunset bill by:

  • Making sure Texans challenging pollution permits don’t have an unfair burden of proof or standing requirements
  • Assessing cumulative impacts on major air quality permits 
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Authors

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air and water, parks and wildlife, and a livable climate. Luke recently led the successful campaign to get the Texas Legislature and voters to invest $1 billion to buy land for new state parks. He also helped win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; helped compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at four Texas refineries and chemical plants; and got the Austin and Houston school districts to install filters on water fountains to protect children from lead in drinking water. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks. He is a board member of the Clean Air Force of Central Texas and an advisory board member of the Texas Tech University Masters of Public Administration program. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.

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