State Auditor Report On TCEQ Released Today

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Statement by TexPIRG Advocate Luke Metzger

The state auditor’s report on TCEQ is just the latest indictment in a string of evidence that shows TCEQ is regularly giving sweetheart deals to law-breaking polluters. The agency is failing to collect the full amount of penalties due to the state. This practice is depriving the state of millions of dollars in critical revenue and encouraging polluters to break the law over and over again. It’s time for TCEQ to get its act together and appropriately punish those who are poisoning our air, land and water and literally making Texans sick.

The report shows clearly shows that illegal polluters, when they get punished at all, are paying fines less than what they save by breaking the law in the first place. This is creating a perverse incentive to break the law. The auditor found that in the cases they examined, “total economic benefit gained by violators during the period of non-compliance” was $8,647,005, while the fines amounted to only $1,683,635, reducing “their incentive to comply.”

The report also calls on the agency to “better promote public participation for some citizens” in the permitting process. This comes at a time when industry and their allies in the Legislature are moving in the opposite direction by seeking to further shut the public out of permitting decisions. The audit clearly shows that plans to weaken public involement in permitting should be dropped immediately.

The report also highlights a glaring problem in the law that allows big polluters to pay disproportionately less in fees than smaller polluters, a practice known as the “volume discount.” The report calculates that if this discount were removed, revenue to the state could increase by approximately $25 million a year. State legislators should act immediately to end the volume discount, collect this money, and make sure it doesn’t pay to pollute.

Last week, TCEQ announced it would conduct a comprehensive review of its enforcement policies and program. TexPIRG called on Gov. Perry to direct his appointees to start cracking down on illegal polluters by:

1) Requiring penalties that at least collect the economic benefit of non-compliance;
2) Requiring mandatory minimum penalties for serious violators of environmental laws; and
3) Suspending or revoking permits of chronic violators.