Public Testimony on TCEQ’s Sunset
The State’s Sunset Advisory Commission is hearing public testimony on nine state agencies Wednesday and Thursday.
The Commission’s mission is to identify waste and inefficiencies and to make recommendations to the full Legislature. One of Wednesday’s hearings is for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the world’s second-largest environmental agency.
The TCEQ has gotten the green light for another 12 years, but with some changes. The report calls for giving the commission authority to enforce drought management plans and asks the agency to concentrate on better serving the public.
Some environmentalists say the Sunset Commission’s staff flinched, when it came to addressing air permitting.
“Their functional process, interpretation sort of things, and that’s the meat and potatoes of the Sunset review process, but they didn’t take them up because of this political fight that is going on over all these other EPA and TCEQ issues,” said Mathew Tejada. He heads up Air Alliance Houston.
That aside, Tejada says he’s pleased with the recommendation to raise the cap on air emissions fees. The TECQ can’t charge companies for emitting more than four thousand tons of pollution, which Tejada says creates an unfair fee for small companies. The program is also $4 million in the hole.
“The big boys that pollute more should pay more. The little guys that pollute less should pay less. And hopefully that will also drive an incentive in there for everybody to try to pay less,” said Tejada.
The Sunset staff also recommended raising the penalty cap, the amount the TCEQ fines serious violators. It’s capped at $10,000 dollars per violation, per day. The Texas Attorney General’s cap on environmental violation fines is $25,000.
Executive Director David Weinberg of the Texas League of Conservation Voters hopes the large state budget gap will persuade legislators.
“This is a logical place for new revenue to be found that is an incentive for big companies to cut back on pollution but then funds a very good program,” said Weinberg.
The Sunset report estimates increasing the penalty cap would have generated $1.4 million last year and perhaps some additional savings from not having to send some of those cases to the AG’s office. But TCEQ spokesman Andy Saenz says this isn’t the first time the issue has been raised at the Lege, “Will that be a deterrent to businesses? Will that be an extra burden to businesses? Those are big decisions and that’s why those are left up to the Legislature to make.”
The Legislature will also decide whether TCEQ will develop a new way to rank companies it regulates. About 80 percent of them are ranked “average” by default because they don’t have any compliance history. The Sunset report said that method didn’t properly reflect actual performance.