Testimony to Sunset Commission on Texas Commission on Environmental Quality
I testified before the Sunset Commission today regarding the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Here are my remarks as I delivered them.
Good Afternoon, Chairman, members.
My name is Luke Metzger and I am the Executive Director of Environment Texas. We are a nonprofit advocate for clean air, water, parks, and wildlife. And when people speak out about pollution, it’s not just because it’s a mere nuisance – it’s a matter of life and death.
Last year, Harvard University released a report estimating that more than 17,000 Texans die every year, prematurely because of air pollution. Hundreds of thousands of Texans get sick after swimming in polluted creeks, or lakes, or beaches. Climate change is causing billions of dollars of damage from extreme weather like drought, wildfires, and hurricanes. Much of the pollution fueling these problems is illegal.
For example, emissions events. As the Sunset Commission points out, in fiscal year 21, there were 3,400 illegal emissions events releasing 47 million pounds of pollution, including carcinogens. 97% of these emissions events claim an affirmative defense. This means they don’t get penalized, which means they don’t get entered into compliance history and marked as a repeat offender.
My organization Environment Texas, together with the Sierra Club, sued Exxon Mobile’s Baytown refinery for years and years of violations. A federal judge found that they violated the law thousands of times, and issued a $14 million dollar penalty. Representative Bell mentioned the 11 criteria that companies have to certify that they meet. During the trial, when an Exxon employee testified, they testified that they routinely check those boxes without actually checking to confirm that they meet those criteria. So that is not a strong standard.
We need TCEQ to start holding polluters accountable, to restore the public’s trust in the agency, and to make sure that our air and water are safe to breathe and to swim in again. We support stronger recommendations around mandatory minimum fines, eliminating the affirmative defense loophole, and many other policies. We urge you to support, thank you.
Executive Director, Environment Texas
As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. 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, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.