Tag Archives: Sunset Advisory Commission

Thousands say, It’s the law. TCEQ, follow it.

Some things haven’t changed since the elections.
Texans still want clean air and water. We still want polluters to be held accountable for their actions. And…
We want the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to protect us and our communities by enforcing environmental laws in our state.

Together with local residents’ groups and our partners in the Alliance for a Clean Texas, Sierra Club is co-hosting a series of almost a dozen TCEQ Sunset Town Hall meetings across the state. So far, almost a thousand Texans have organized or shown up to speak at five Sunset Town Hall meetings in Houston, Victoria, Corpus Christi, El Paso, and Beaumont. There are six more Town Hall meetings – starting tonight with Arlington and San Antonio (Nov. 8). Next week there will be Town Halls in Austin (Nov. 17), Abilene (Nov. 18), and Lubbock (Nov. 19), and a final Town Hall in Nacogdoches (Nov. 30).

State Senators and Representatives, including Senator Hegar, the Chair of the Sunset Review Commission (report) and Representative Allan Ritter, the Chair of the House Naural Resources Committee (video) attended the meetings in their districts. They’ve heard hundreds of Texans describe the problems that lax or no regulation by TCEQ and the Rail Road Commission (also under Sunset review) have meant in their communities — heavy air pollution from coal plants, new coal plants being permitted despite the wisdom of state judges, ground and surface water contamination and air pollution from oil, gas, and chemical industry activity.

There’s been a message echoed in these Town Hall meetings — TCEQ is allowing environmental degradation and threats to public health, and our state environmental agency can do better. At the Corpus Christi Town Hall meeting Melissa Jarrell an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Texas A & M University said that in Texas we allow the offender to self-report data, inspections are rare, fines are minimal…there’s no deterrent effect.’ And in Beaumont, the Town Hall moderator Criminal District Court Judge John Stevens Jr. quipped after hearing some of the stories “No wonder they wanted a criminal judge to do this!”

At the Beaumont meeting, Representative Ritter brought up another underlying concern – global warming.

Ken Kramer, Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club –

Texas families and individuals deserve clean air and water. It’s the law. And we want TCEQ to enforce the law vigorously. These Town Hall meetings demonstrate that Texans want the Sunset Commission to prepare a blueprint for making significant reforms at TCEQ.

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LIVE Corpus Christi Community Forum

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…”

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Senator Hegar Hears Citizen Concerns about TCEQ Sunset

Senator Glen Hegar, Chair of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission

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 plantsWhite 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.  

Alison Sliva of Matagorda County No Coal Coalition asks Senator Hegar to close loopholes that permit coal plant pollution.

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.

Adam Friedman of Blackburn & Carter law firm shows Uranium Energy Corporation map of proposed uranium mining operations.

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.

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