Reporting from the community forum in Corpus Christi, we’re going to get some answers on the TCEQ tonight! In attendance: Donna Phillips, area TCEQ director, Brian Burke, with the Clean Economy Coalition, Cyrus Reed, Sierra Club Conservation Director, and Ryan Rittenhouse, from Public Citizen.
6:47 Folks are spilling in, and it looks like the line to get in is out the door. W’ll be starting as soon as folks get inside.
7:10 Over 100 people have showed up to the Corpus Christi Community Forum. Hal Suter, Lone Star Chapter, making jokes about the Palins on Dancing with the Stars.
7:11 Hal’s explaining insider politics… and how we need to educate ourselves on the Sunset review process.
7:13 Recognizing the community co-sponsors… LULAC 1, NAACP, South Texas Colonias Initiative, Clean Economy Coalition, Sierra Club Coastal Bend Chapter, Texas ACT.
7:19 Representative Solomon Ortiz talking about how to make your voice heard: vote, participate, tell your legislator what you think! “It’s going to be a huge fight.” Ortiz has a 100% voting record with the Sierra Club.
7:22 Ortiz giving out his office’s information… if you want to call up his office and tell him what you think about the Sunset Review Process, the TCEQ, and Las Brisas, ring him up.
7:26 Donna Phillips explaining TCEQ; “We’re like the EPA for Texas… our mission statement is simple, we aim for clean air, clean water, clean waste… a word really important to us is consistency. A consistent application of the laws and regulations.”
7:31 “We’ve already been implementing the suggestions made in Houston and in Victoria. We want to give as much input to to the Sunset Review Committee as possible.” Donna Phillips, Area Director, TCEQ
7:35 It’s early in the night, and there have already been some kickers. Hal just told the room that Cyrus is so policy oriented, he makes Brian Burke look like a normal human being. Cyrus mentions that the vuvuzela he got in South Africa will be very useful in the Sunset Committee hearing.
7:36 FUN FACT: TCEQ is the second largest environmental agency in the world. First is he EPA… second in the TCEQ.
7:38 “If we don’t believe the TCEQ is doing their job, this is our chance to change that.”
7:42 Cyrus Reed: “Key issues: permitting needs to follow the Clean Air Act. Enforcement: punishment needs to be a deterrent, not a slap on the wrist. Mission: apparently, economic development is part of the mission. Not okay. Conflicts of interest: TCEQ upper management should not take a job with lobbies so soon after working for the agency.” (THIS garnered big applause).
7:48 Breaking down the Texas coal fight- Ryan Rittenhouse from Public Citizen.
7:51 “The problem is not the hundreds of people who work at the TCEQ, it’s the way in which decisions are made. It’s the Texas Commission on ENVIRONMENTAL Quality, not economic Quality. They’re supposed to be protecting us and the environment. And time after time, the commissioners show that they’re not interested in that.”
7:55 We’ve already got questions… a Corpus Christian asking about mercury content in the seafood. There’s an advisory for two types of fish- it’s not a blanket ban… but be careful!
7:56 Abel Herrero: “This is part of the process in trying to identify practices and policies of TCEQ that work, so we can duplicate them, and also find the practices that don’t work, so we can eliminate them or improve them. Senator Hinojosa sits on the Sunset Review Committee- he is following the procedure, but as members, all of us, we have the opportunity, when the bill comes, the TCEQ Sunset Provision, it will come in the form of a bill, we as legislators have the opportunity to make amendments to the bill before it gets passed. So please, your recommendations are important. We will have the chance to work on it. ”
8:02 Brian Burke of the CEC: “There are 400 billion gallons of water discharged into various bodies of water around Corpus Christi. Of the 400 billion gallons of water, there are 20 billion pounds of pollution. And everything stays in the bay, it doesn’t drain to the Gulf. What is the cumulative effect? We don’t know. Nobody knows. I would say 25% of our bays are compromised. We don’t know anything about stormwater, because there are no permits. Valero and another entity want to lower monitoring…”
8:05 “There are folks turning in blank permits. I called the consultant and asked, “how do you do that?” and he said, “easy, just turn in a blank permit”. That complicates by database to say the least.”
8:09 “If we don’t get involved and address these problems, things are going to get worse. We are working to keep people engaged, working to collect data. We want to build a comprehensive database to understand the scope of the pollution.”
8:14 Councilwoman Nelda Martinez in attendance, as well as candidate for Nueces county Judge Clarissa Gonzalez.
8:16 “Come on dowwwwwwwwwwn Danny Lucio…” Hal Suter introduces the first person presenting public comment.
8:16 Daniel Lucio “I’m a South Texas native, I’m from here… Las Brisas really underscores the larger problem accross the state. I really just want to focus on the lack of availability of public participation in these systems. What we’ve seen in the case of Las Brisas is that we have little to no say. We were clumped together into one party, when really we are a diversity of people. The commissioners have ultimate say over what happens with these permits. I think, from a legal perspective, it undermines the idea of democracy in general.”
8:20 Mimosa Thomas, 14 year old high school student: “I have a problem with the health standards that the #tceq uses to measure whether or not a refinery or plant is safe. The health standards apply only to average adults. I would like to see the tceq think about health effects on small children, pregnant women, and the elderly.”
8:29 Representative from South Texas Opposes Pollution discusses uranium mining- which happens in our aquifers and affects the quality of our water, our most precious resource by far.
8:37 Two Texas A & M professors speaking on recommendations for the #tceq. Assistant Professor of Criminology: “Texas may be tough on criminals committing street crime, but we’re not tough on environmental criminals. We talk about deterrence, but you can’t deter people if there is no appropriate fine. We want the TCEQ to come down hard on criminals. It’s the same corporations over and over again. They would rather pay off the fine than change their behavior. TCEQ relies on self-reporting; we don’t ask regular criminals to self-report, why should we do the same with environmental criminals? In this case, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, the TCEQ should take the lead from the Texas Criminal Justice system.”
8:55 Community members talking about their dissatisfaction with the TCEQ permitting process. It’s been a long night but we’ve got to do something about it all!
8:56 “The whole process excludes poor people. Let me tell you something, we matter. We vote. I have no trust in the TCEQ. They ignore the rules made by the federal government. Many South Texans have fought and died for this country.”
9:00 Roland Gaona of LULAC 1 representing his community and is asking people to take action and get interested. “Many of our schools are built on petroleum waste dumps. Look at where these schools are- right next to the refineries.”
9:04 Lionel lopez, of South Texas Colonias Initiative, discusses problems in the colonias: “A small colonia called Green Acres is near a uranium mine, and is having problems with its water- there’s uranium in it, and the people there are drinking it. There are too many people with cancer. We called TCEQ and they said they were working on it. We got in touch with the EPA, and they finally got involved. It took a whole year. Another problem we had with water is arsenic, here in Nueces county. This is common, it’s out our back door, 15 minutes away from here…”