More than a hundred Texas Coastal Bend residents gathered Monday at Victoria City College to talk about serious concerns with TCEQ. The standing room only meeting was hosted by the Goliad area Crossroads Town Hall committee.
Richard Gill was the lead organizer of the event:
My priorities as organizer were two-fold: to provide a venue for area citizens to learn about the Sunset Review process and how they can have an impact on that process, and second, to give the public the kind of face-to-face dialogue with the decision makers which we rarely have.
Gill served in Iraq as a remote duty medic until returning to Texas to care for a family member with recurrent cancer. As a former emergency room nurse Richard’s concerned with public health issues. This concern led to his opposing the expansion of the Coleto Creek coal plant within view of his home between Victoria and Goliad.
Moderated by Goliad County realtor and historian Raulie Irwin, panelists at the Crossroads Town Hall were: Senator Glen Hegar, Chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission; Larry Soward, a former, Perry-appointed Commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ); Donna Phillips, TCEQ Area Director for Coastal and East Texas; and Adam Friedman of the Houston law firm Blackburn & Carter.
Senator Hegar described how the Sunset process works with its December 15 public meeting in Austin. “The sunset review process as we do it here in Texas is unique because it provides so many opportunities for the public to be involved.”
Among other issues, citizens from across the Coastal Bend region raised concerns in verbal and written comments. They addressed loopholes in the TCEQ process that appear to allow:
- Air and water pollution from proposed new coal plants — White Stallion in Matagorda County, Las Brisas in Corpus Christi, and the expansion of the Coleto Creek coal plant between Goliad and Victoria;
- Existing and potential groundwater contamination from uranium mining activities north of Goliad and south of Kingsville;
- Threat of groundwater contamination from increasing gas fracking in the Eagle Ford shale;
- Financially punitive regulation of water systems in small, rural churches.
Many of the environmental issues raised last night transcend county lines.
Pollution from Coal Plants
Ground level ozone smog from coal plant emissions is a growing concern. With Coleto Creek coal plant recently permitted by TCEQ for expansion (though it will likely be appealed), and two other, Coastal Bend area coal plant applications under consideration by TCEQ for permitting – White Stallion in Matagorda County and Las Brisas in Corpus Christi, the region is threatened by significant new sources of air pollution and resultant health impacts.
Gill says he’s concerned about his town’s ozone compliance, “What happens in one county doesn’t stay there. Pollutants travel, so we have to be concerned in Victoria about what happens all along the coast, too.”
Several members of the Matagorda County-based No Coal Coalition spoke of their opposition to the White Stallion coal plant. TCEQ will vote Wednesday, September to permit or deny White Stallion at the TCEQ Commissioner’s meeting in Austin.
At the Town Hall meeting, one Matagorda County resident, Bill Key asked the panelists if White Stallion would lead to increased health problems from asthma. Senator Hegar and Attorney Adam Friedman concurred with Soward’s response that White Stallion will cause increased health impacts. TCEQ’s Donna Phillips said that she didn’t know.
Matagorda County physician W. Barton Griffiths, MD then stood and cited figures for potential health impacts from White Stallion if built. MSB Energy Associates used EPA valuation methodologies to calculate that over a 60 year span of operation, White Stallion would result in:
- Deaths of over 600 Matagorda County residents
- 1,070 people could suffer from heart attacks.
- Chronic bronchitis, costing victims $229 million
- An estimated 93,720 days of lost work
- 552,730 days of reduced activity and productivity, accounting for a total of $42.9 million.
Uranium Mining Concerns
Kleberg County is currently challenging one company Uranium Resources Inc. in court for failure to restore groundwater quality after ‘in situ leech’ uranium mining in the historic Garcia Hill area near Ricardo south of Kingsville.
“My family was directly affected by uranium mining.” says Ann Ewing, president of South Texas Opposed to Pollution, “In 1996, EPA sent us a letter stating that our water, which was sourced from a water well, was no longer fit for human consumption and that was a direct effect of uranium mining in the area.”
Ewing pointed to TCEQ’s practice of amending the agreed-upon water quality restoration requirements which are part of the companies’ permits to mine uranium. She pointed to a study concluding that few to no uranium mining operations in Texas have restored ground water quality after uranium mining contamination.
“If you use water, you’re involved,” says Robin Sherwood, a resident of Goliad County, “the uranium mining in Goliad County isn’t just about Goliad. Ground water doesn’t stop on the county line.”
Sherwood says she’s concerned about the contamination of her ground water from proposed uranium mining and thinks everyone should take interest in this matter. TCEQ is currently considering whether or not to allow another uranium mining company Uranium Energy Corporation to mine in the drinking water aquifer just north of Goliad.
Sunset Review Opportunities
Organizers of last night’s Crossroads Town Hall, pointed to the Legislature’s decennial Sunset Review of TCEQ as a rare opportunity for significant improvements in Texas’ environmental and health regulations. The groups said they support reforms and regulations to keep communities healthy.
Panelist Larry Soward observed, “This Town Hall Meeting afforded the citizens of this area a good opportunity to express a lot of the deep frustration and lack of confidence they, and other citizens all across Texas, have with the way TCEQ carries out its responsibilities, and to have that heard by both Senator Hegar and the TCEQ.”
Charlie Faupel, Chair of Citizens for a Clean Environment voiced a note of doubt. Faupel’s Reaser Ranches is directly across Coleto Creek reservoir from the coal plant. “I’m not sure this organization (TCEQ) can be saved, at least under the current administration,” says Charlie Faupel, “TCEQ needs a serious house cleaning.”
The third in a series of Town Hall meetings – the first was in Houston, will take place in Corpus Christi on October 7.
Residents of Senator Hegar’s district will have another opportunity along with residents from across the State to ask for specific changes to TCEQ at the Sunset Advisory Commission public hearing on December 15 in Austin.
Participants in the Alliance of Texans for Uranium Research and Action attended the event from Goliad, Corpus Christi, and Kingsville.