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A Sunset Review of Texas’s environmental agency is underway. Heres why it matters – Houston Public Media

A Sunset Review of Texas’s environmental agency is underway. Heres why it matters – Houston Public Media

Texas environmental agency is undergoing a Sunset Review. Heres why it matters – Houston Public Media
This photo was taken on Thursday, April 30, 2020. It shows downtown Houston as the background.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) is currently undergoing a Sunset Review, a performance evaluation.

It’s a State-mandated processThis only happens once every 12 year. It is necessary to evaluate whether state agencies still need to be used and to devise improvements to make them more efficient.

The Sunset Commission is composed of 10 lawmakers and 2 members of the public, who are appointed by Congress. The Speaker of the House and Lieutenant Governor They evaluate the agency, and make recommendations for legislators to consider in the next legislative session.

In the past, environmental activists and community members have used this process to push the agency for change.

Houston Public Media spoke with Adrian Shelley (Director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office) to learn more about the environmental advocates pressing for these changes.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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What changes has TCEQ made due to past Sunset Reviews and what are the results?

The most important, as seen in the Sunset Review, is the increase in the daily maximum penalty [for polluters]. It was $10,000 per day before it was increased to $25,000.

I’ll give you another example: In Texas, there’s what’s known as STEERS — The state of Texas emissions events reporting system — and it’s (a database of) industry self-reported air pollution events. That was part of the Sunset process. It’s a wealth of data about who is polluting the air in Texas and how that’s happening. We can look at that and we can compare it to ambient air monitoring data, we can compare it to other data we have about communities, and it’s formed the basis of lawsuits.

What key changes would you like to see in the environment and other groups at this time?

There are some common sense things that the agency could do to help the people of Texas — putting permit applications online is an obvious one.

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We are hoping that the Sunset Commission will look at this problem of cumulative impact because it’s something that we think is ignored by current law. Anybody who’s worked in communities that are overburdened by pollution knows a couple of things about those communities. They’re typically low-income communities, they’re typically communities of color, and they’re also communities in which there are numerous facilities. It’s not just one, in many cases — they’re surrounded by petrochemical facilities, or they’re surrounded by concrete plants. It’s that accumulation of pollution from all of these facilities that forms what we call the problem of cumulative impact. This problem is completely ignored by the TCEQ, as we see it now.

So we’re making a pretty clear recommendation to the Sunset Commission and to the legislature, which is: give the TCEQ the authority to deny a permit if considerations of equity and justice just plainly show that the permit shouldn’t be issued. The commissioners ought to be able to use their best judgment to look at the totality of circumstances, whether that’s the people nearby or the facilities nearby, or the history of the community. They ought to be able to look at it and say, ‘Is this fair? Is it just have this facility in this neighborhood?’ And they ought to be able to say ‘no,’ and right now, they don’t have that authority. So that’s a pretty clear example of something that the Sunset Commission could recommend and the legislature could change.

How can the public be involved in this process?

The sunset agency follows its own process. It’s going to have a Public meetingAfter its May report is published, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will hold an open hearing. It is likely that there will be a public hearing in June or July. That’s just one public meeting in Austin.

Public Citizen and other advocates from the state have been trying create other opportunities for people to get involved in order to make their voices heard. In the weeks ahead, there will be public town halls in other cities. We’re going to record them, transcribe them and then turn over that raw information to the Sunset Commission.

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