Texas Environmental Protection Agencies are in line for a formal sunset review – Low Calorie Diets Tips

The way state environmental agencies solicit public input at permitting meetings contributes to a “worrying” level of public distrust in their work, according to an official review by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

This finding was highlighted in the Sunset Advisory Commission’s most recent staff report. The 12-member commission usually reviews the state bodies every 12 years and makes recommendations to the legislature for improvement or abolition.

Commission officials released the 101-page document ahead of a hearing scheduled for June 22, when busloads of Houstonians plan to travel to Austin to add feedback. In their view, the staff report contained proposals that fell short of the large-scale reform that was needed.

“Key issues have been identified, and then proposals that don’t go far enough,” said Adrian Shelley, Public Citizen’s Texas director, who has regularly met with a coalition of advocates to discuss the process.

Do you want to testify on June 22nd? Here are the buses that run from Houston:

6:00 am bus sponsored by Senator Borris Miles – Reserve your seat at http://bit.ly/tceqbus

6:30 am bus sponsored by Harris County Precinct 2 – Register this week at hcp2.com

7am bus sponsored by the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience – email Andy Escobar at andy@ceerhouston.org

Government environmental agencies are tasked with protecting public health and natural resources, and balancing this with economic development. Among other things, the agency approves permits for industrial facilities that plan to release chemicals into the air, monitors regional air quality for compliance with federal regulations, and regulates waste disposal.

But many advocates have little faith in the agency to do what’s needed to protect people — particularly in lower-income communities of color, which face more problems than most. Their perspectives contribute to a “worrying level of public distrust” that the report acknowledges.

“Some stakeholders and environmentalists see TCEQ as just an extension of the industry that approves new and expanded facilities and appears to ignore potential health impacts or public concerns,” the report said.

Frustration with the permitting process emerged as a major issue in the results, along with issues with the agency’s water regulation and deficiencies in the regulation of industrial sites.

The agency does not invite the public early enough when reviewing a permit, the report said. Residents typically provide feedback at community meetings after draft permits are released — by which time regulators have already been working to ensure requirements are met.

Houston residents have packed into rooms for these gatherings a number of times this year. They filled a community building in Aldine to protest a concrete batching plant. They filled a theater room in Fifth Ward to call for better efforts to clean up a contaminated rail yard.

Sunset staff recommended holding permit meetings before and after the permit issuance. They also suggested that the agency be more transparent about what policy decisions guide those processes and make it clear who can even challenge an approval.

Commissioners, including 10 lawmakers and two members of the public, almost all of whom are white males, will vote on what changes to the legislature to recommend.

TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker, in response to a meeting’s recommendation, wrote that the agency would defer the Legislature’s decision. Staff may not be willing to answer questions early, he warned. And an earlier public session would extend the length of time it takes to approve a permit.

Sunset employees attributed some of the frustration with the agency to a misunderstanding of TCEQ’s authority. But lawyers took offense at their characterization as people upset because they couldn’t see the situation clearly.

Those on the ground in Texas understood very well how the agency let them down, they said. Shelley pointed out specific recommendations: Use good science for pollution standards. Consider neighboring facilities when issuing air emissions permits. Imposing significant fines on facilities that pollute too much.

Bridgette Murray, who lives in Pleasantville and leads community efforts to reduce pollution there and throughout Houston, said she wasn’t very hopeful that this process would go far enough to address her real concerns.

“It’s just unfortunate,” Murray said. “This is a ‘check box’ moment.”

She lamented that it would be another 12 years before they could try again.


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