The Texas Environmental Protection Agency says the Sunset Review’s recommendations put a strain on the agency — Houston Public Media – Low Calorie Diets Tips

The Texas Environmental Quality Commission challenged policy recommendations from the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission during a public hearing Wednesday.

The Sunset Commission has made several recommendations regarding public perceptions of TCEQ and its perceived lack of transparency as part of a federally mandated review process that occurs every 12 years. The aim is to evaluate whether government agencies are still needed and to develop improvements to make them more efficient and effective.

At Wednesday’s hearing, TCEQ chairman Jon Niermann said accepting each recommendation would place a significant burden on the agency, which Niermann said is already grappling with more than 400 job openings.

“My own assessment of these recommendations is not entirely clear to me,” said Niermann. “The costs are a bit clearer.”

The Sunset Report acknowledged a growing public distrust of the Environment Agency and its public perception of being “a mere extension of the industry that approves new and expanded facilities and appears to ignore potential health effects or public concerns.”

The Sunset Commission recommended improvements to the agency’s “rulemaking process, website and use of advisory committees” to strengthen TCEQ’s relationship with the public.

But community members and advocates who spoke during Wednesday’s hearing said the proposed recommendations didn’t go far enough.

Shirley Ronquillo joined hundreds of Houston area residents who traveled to Austin early Wednesday morning to attend the public filing process. Targeting the agency’s permitting process, Ronquillo urged officials to consider the cumulative impact of chemical and industrial facilities in close proximity to each other.

“Our experience with eight batch plants in our community within a five-mile radius shows that TCEQ’s commissioners are reluctant regulators,” Ronquillo said. “This puts economic development ahead of public health.”

There are about 150 concrete batching plants in Harris County, according to Harris County Pollution Control Services. Many of these facilities are located in residential areas.

Earlier this year, TCEQ first approved a permit to build a concrete batching plant in northeast Harris County adjacent to a new park built to accommodate children and adults with disabilities. Additionally, a contaminated rail yard in Fifth Ward owned by Union Pacific is now being forced to implement a clean-up plan after TCEQ stepped in after several years of public outcry.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Borris Miles, D-Houston, slammed TCEQ, accusing the agency of enabling environmental racism by issuing permits without considering the disproportionate impact on underserved communities.

“Communities of color across the state are plagued by toxic, hazardous environmental waste,” he said. “That’s the definition of environmental racism.”

In response, TCEQ chairman Jon Niermann said the agency does not have the authority to choose the location of the proposed facilities.

“I recognize that there is a history of discrimination,” Niermann said. “Environmental racism – I’m not sure what to make of that term, Senator. This authority has no building authority. We don’t choose the locations.”

The report also recommended changes to the agency’s way of enforcing compliance, which currently “treats certain industry participants unfairly, excludes important information, and fails to adequately inform future approval and enforcement decisions,” according to the report.

In addition, despite the plethora of recommendations, the report recognized the state’s “continued need” for TCEQ and recommended that the agency continue to operate for the next 12 years.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Midlothian’s Jane Voiceart said the agency needs to fundamentally overhaul its permitting process and the way the agency interacts with the public.

“I’m just urging you to take action, you have a major public trust issue,” she said. “If you don’t respond appropriately, our suspicions will only increase.”

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