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Archive for the ‘Sunset’ Category

Ask most people what they think the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is in charge of and most people will reply that it is railroads. Most people would also be surprised to discover that it is in fact, the wrong answer.  The RRC actually oversees the oil, gas and coal production within the state.  Ending this source of confusion by changing the name to something more appropriate seems like a no-brainer. This session, HB 237 attempts once again to change the name – to the Texas Energy Resources Commission, a name more in line with the actual work the commission does. HB 1818 offers a few of the reforms the RRC needs, but does not go nearly far enough.

Email your Texas State Representative to ask that he or she support amendments to HB 1818 that will offer real reform at the Railroad Commission.

Name vs. Mission

The Railroad Commission is 125 years old, making it the oldest regulatory agency in the state. When the commission was formed in 1891 its main job was to regulate the rail industry.  Once the Texas Oil Boom started the commission’s responsibilities were expanded to include regulating oil and gas. Over the years, as oil and gas became more dominant and railroads became less, most of the non-energy functions like the railroads were eliminated.  By 2005, when the RRC lost the last of any responsibility to regulate the railroads, its name became truly obsolete

Archaic Bond Limits and Unplugged Wells

One of the RRC biggest responsibilities is to cover the cost of plugging abandoned wells.  The way the RRC attempts to do this is by requiring companies to buy either individual or blanket bonds as insurance to cover the cost of plugging an abandoned well before they can drill. The cost of plugging a well is about $5-17 per foot for an average well. Unfortunately the bond cost has been stuck at the 1991 figure of $2 per foot. Bond funds usually cover only about 15% of the total cost to plug a well.  So in the end, the commission is only collecting a fraction of what is needed.  Last year the commission collected on average about $2,707 per well but spent about $17, 012.  That is an enormous discrepancy and therefore many of the wells remain unplugged. By the end of 2016, the total number of abandoned wells in Texas passed 10,050.

The environmental impact of unplugged wells is far reaching.  In Texas there are estimates that put over 50,000 improperly or not plugged wells.  These wells are often drilled over 1 mile deep and, if left unplugged there is the potential for salt water (4 times saltier than the sea) which is often full of heavy metals and radioactivity materials to flow up and seep into the surrounding land and into the fresh water aquifers.  Abandoned or improperly maintained wells retain their potential to kill the land and crops around them and taint the water supply for years. To properly close a well, hundreds of feet of cement must to be poured into the well at various levels.  SB 1803 would increase bonding requirements to ensure that unused wells are plugged.

Without a new statute that allows the commission to set realistic bonds based on the actual cost of plugging a well, this problem with continue to grow.  In addition, the oil and gas industry is in a slump right now with oil prices low and production down, which of course means that the revenues it generates is down and since the RRC gets most of their funding from fees, it will definitely make it even more difficult to do their job.

Enforcing Regulations with Meaningful Fines

Weak fines do not provide a strong enough deterrent to keep companies committing the same infraction over and over again. This can be clearly seen in the fact that over the past five years a mere 114 operators, representing only 3 percent of all the wells in Texas, have been responsible for over 22 percent of all the pollution related violations. If the RCC would increase its penalty for infractions that were set in 1983, from $10,000 a day to a relative current value of $25,000 a day, it would do much to discourage companies from repeatedly violating regulations.  SB 567 would bolster inspection enforcement and would increase revenue by increasing fines.

Insufficient Inspectors and Incomplete Inspections

The RRC is also in charge of inspecting all currently active and inactive wells within the state. This is a rather arduous task, considering that there are hundreds of thousands of well. The Texas inspector to well ratio is 2,340 active wells per inspector, one of the worst in the country.  In contrast, Alaska, a state that is also heavily petroleum based, has an inspector to well ratio of 370 to one! Due to insufficient numbers of inspectors, the Texas Sunset Commission reported that in 2015 only about 30% of all wells and only about 42% of active wells can be were inspected. They found that in 2015 more than two thirds of leases had not been inspected for at least two years and each lease can have thousands of wells on it. SB 569 would take the first step in fixing this, requiring the RRC to submit review of its policies on reporting and enforcement in a study by this September 2017. But, in the end, the of only surefire way to reverse this shortcoming is that the RRC must drastically increase the number of inspectors. To help offset the cost of hiring so many additional inspectors, an annual inspection fee should be instituted.

Outdated System Denies Public Needed Knowledge

The Railroad Commission desperately needs to modernize itself when it comes to public access to important information about oil and gas wells. As far back as 2011 the Legislature gave the RRC $16 million to help update their systems and make information easier to access, but, as of today, the RRC still does not have a comprehensive and easily searchable database for the public to look up complaints, violations, or penalties levied against oil and gas companies. Without an adequate system, it is very difficult for Texans to learn information about potential dangers to both their lives and their livelihood. This can impact everyone from a community trying to discover if the wells that operate outside their town are complying with regulations, or for the family moving to a new home who might want to see whether the well that operates just outside of their new property has repeatedly leaked dangerous pollutants. Inspections, complaints, violations, and enforcement actions should be accessible on a public website and searchable by operator, drilling company and or by the well, all year around. While HB 1818 includes nothing about this incredibly necessary function, HB 247 would greatly improve transparency.

Lax Limits Contribute to Corrupt Contributions

Another problem the RRC deals with, is the monetary influence that a company or individual can have on a commissioner who is seeking office.  While the RRC Commissioners were originally appointed by the Texas Governor, this was changed so that each of the three would be elected through public elections. And while greater accountability to the public is an improvement, it does come with its own set of potential issues that the current structure of the RRC fails to take into consideration. According to our own research here at Public Citizen, between 75-90% of all contributions for RRC Commissioner elections come from the very entities that the RRC is supposed to regulate, and much of it comes during non-election periods. In addition, Texas is one of the only states in the country that does not prohibit potential candidates with conflict of interests from running for Commissioner.

To address this situation, HB 464 would ban contributions during non-election years and prevent commissioners from taking any contributions from entities with contested case hearings pending before the RRC. Rules should also be added that officially require candidates to disclose any potential conflict of interests and only allow them to run if they can clearly demonstrate that they have resolved any conflicts.

All of these proposed changes to the way the RRC functions are crucial to make the agency operate in the interest of all Texans. Email your Texas State Representative to ask that he or she support amendments to HB 1818 that will offer real reform at the Railroad Commission.

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Public Citizen Honors Tom “Smitty” Smith

 

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After more than three decades of extraordinary work running Public Citizen’s Texas office, “Smitty,” formally known as Thomas Smith, is hanging up his spurs. Smitty is a Texas institution and a national treasure, and on February 1st, we celebrated him right.

Over 200 people attended a retirement dinner for Smitty at the Barr Mansion in Austin, TX on Wednesday evening.  Friends and colleagues from around the state who had work with Smitty on issues over his career that included clean energy, ethics reform, pollution mitigation, nuclear waste disposal, etc came to pay homage to a man who had dedicated his life to fighting for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.

Mayor Adler and Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchens

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and Smitty

Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel and Smitty

During the evening, Austin Mayor – Steve Adler, Travis County Commissioner – Brigid Shea, and Dallas County Commissioner – Dr. Theresa Daniel presented Smitty with resolutions passed by the City of Austin, Travis County Commissioners Court and Dallas County Commissioners Court all of which acknowledge Smitty’s contributions to their communities and the state of Texas.

 

 

 

Adrian Shelley (front left) and Rob Weissman (front right) at Tom “Smitty” Smith’s retirement event.

Public Citizen’s President, Robert Weissman, thanked Smitty for his service to Public Citizen for the past 31 years and introduced the new director for the Texas office, Adrian Shelley, the current Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Smitty’ impending departure fromPublic Citizen will leave a big hole in advocacy for progressive issues here in Texas, but both Smitty and Robert Weissman expressed confidence that Adrian would lead the Texas office forward into a new era of progressive advocacy.  Adrian is a native Texan from the City of Houston. He has served as the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston since 2013. He first worked with Air Alliance Houston as a legal fellow in 2010, then as a Community Outreach Coordinator in 2012. In that time, Public Citizen has worked closely with Air Alliance Houston through the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), a coalition of nonprofits and community groups which advocates policies to improve public health and safety while encouraging economic growth.

So be assured that Adrian and the Texas staff of Public Citizen are committed to carrying on the battle for justice, for democracy, for air clean and  energy and for clean politics. We can and will protect our children and the generations to come. For this, we can still use your help.  You can make a tax deductible donation to the Texas office of Public Citizen to help us continue his vital work on climate, transportation, civil justice, consumer protection, ethics, campaign finance reform and more

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rrc-who-are-we

UPDATE: By 10 am this morning, the Sunset Commission had already voted on the recommendations they were going to adopt for the report to the legislature. 

All the STAFF good enforcement recommendations were adopted, and the recommendation (proposed by the Public Member on the Commisson, Allen West) on induced seismicity was adopted.

The name change recommendation was dropped as we heard it would be, as were the transfer of contested cases to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).  The new issue proposed by Rep. Raymond, calling for bonding for cleaning up abandoned wells at the last hearing fell by the wayside. Raymond did not even bring up his proposals.

The things we do support on enforcement will be in the bill when it’s introduced during the 85th Legislative session, but we expect that it may be a fight to keep them in.

Thursday, November 10th, the Texas Sunset Commission will meet to vote on recommendations to the 85th Legislature regarding the future of the Texas Railroad Commission.  Three times the Legislature has failed to pass a bill reauthorizing and making changes to this agency. 

We are asking that you contact the Sunset Commissioners and tell them to support staff recommendations plus Raymond and West’s new issues as outlined below.  For Sunset Commissioners’ contact information, click here. or contact your state rep and state senator to urge the Sunset Commission to support these recommendations. Find out who represents you here.

A coalition of environmental groups, including Public Citizen, have been following the Sunset review of the Railroad Commission and they are in agreement about supporting staff recommendations and new issues raised by Texas Sunset Commission Members – Representatives Dan Flynn,  Richard Peña Raymond, and public member LTC (Ret.) Allen B. West – to increase transparency, improve safeguards and protect the public.  It is time for more than a name change on failed agency! 

For a full version of the recommendations click here.

Issue 1 – Continue the Railroad Commission of Texas for 12 Years with a Name That Reflects the Agency’s Important Functions. (Page 11)

Change in Statute

Rec. 1.1 (Page 17) Change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the Texas Energy Resources Commission and continue the agency for 12 years.

We support this change. On the eve of another election where most voters had no idea what the Railroad Commission does, and where industry supplied some 70 percent of the funding to those running, changing the name is a needed first step. We also believe that the Commission should only be continued for 6 years.

Issue 2 – Contested Hearings and Gas Utility Oversight Are Not Core Commission Functions and Should Be Transferred to Other Agencies to Promote Efficiency, Effectiveness, Transparency, and Fairness. (Page 19)

Representative Raymond Proposed Modification

Under this modification to Recommendations 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3, the Commission would contract with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to conduct the Commission’s hearings for contested permit and enforcement cases and Gas Utility Oversight would be transferred to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), with potential to contest the rates at SOAH. In conducting hearings, the PUC and SOAH would consider the Commission’s applicable substantive rules and policies.

We are in full support of Issue 2 and the transfer of these functions from RRC to SOAH and PUC, but do agree that the applicable rules and policies related to these issues should be considered in that transfer, as recommended by Representative Raymond.

Issue 3 – Oil and Gas Monitoring and Enforcement Need Improvements to Effectively Ensure Public Safety and Environmental Protection.

Rep. Flynn Modification: Also direct the agency to provide oil and gas production information on its website in a format that is easier for royalty owners to use and understand.

We Support these Sunset Staff recommendations on Enforcement, as well as Rep. Flynn’s proposed modification.

Issue 4 – Insufficient and Inequitable Statutory Bonding Requirements Contribute to the Large Backlog of Abandoned Wells. (Page 43)

We support this change to assure that oil and gas wells pay their fair share in upfront bonding costs.

Issue 5 – Improved Oversight of Texas’ Pipeline Infrastructure Would Help Further Ensure Public Safety. (Page 51)

We support these proposed statutory and appropriations modifications.

Issue 6 – The Railroad Commission’s Contracting Procedures Are Improving, but Continued Attention Is Needed. (Page 55)

We support these proposed management actions.

Issue 7 – The Railroad Commission’s Statute Does Not Reflect Standard Elements of Sunset Reviews. (Page 59)

We support these proposed changes.

Proposed New Issues

Vice Chair Taylor Proposed New Issue 1

Direct the Railroad Commission to study, develop, and implement ways to clean up and revive old oil fields for secondary and tertiary recovery using either the unitization method or other legal means which the Commission may develop or recommend. As part of this recommendation, the Railroad Commission shall consult with the Bureau of Economic Geology. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We have not taken a position on this recommendation.

Colonel West Proposed New Issue 2

Direct the Railroad Commission to incorporate findings from the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology as they become available into its oil and gas disposal well rules or guidance, as applicable. The rules should seek to prevent any induced seismicity caused by disposal wells. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in full support. Utilizing the information that is being collected to develop more protective rules and procedures makes sense.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 3

Amend RRC’s statute to require the agency to publish comprehensive oil and gas enforcement data (complaints, inspections, violations, enforcement actions taken, and penalties levied/collected) online, in a publicly accessible, searchable, trackable format. Make data available by operator and on a well-by-well basis and by bulk download.

We are in full support of this recommendation. We would note this could also be accomplished as a management action by direction of the Director to publish this information on-line.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 4

Management recommendation to direct RRC to: review all relevant rules on spill reporting and response, and make changes to increase environmental protection and cleanup during flooding, such as specifying time frames for responding to spills; clarify its rules, so that both oil and gas spills and other spills like brine, produced water, or fracking fluid are also reported, tracked, and cleaned up; and report these spills and the results of any cleanup effort in an accessible way, either directly on its website or by sharing the information with TCEQ as part of its joint work on spills. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in full support. This is considerable confusion about reporting and clean-up requirements, particularly in the event of floods.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 5

Amend Chapter 26 of the Texas Water Code to require operators that treat “domestic wastewater” or “mobile drinking water treatment system wastewater” at oil and gas well drill sites to obtain a permit from TCEQ instead of RRC.

We are in support. TCEQ is the appropriate agency to assure water is cleaned up to the appropriate level.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 6

Improve inspection, regulation, and reporting of injection wells by: either removing the specific permit fee amount in Chapter 27, allowing the Commission to set a more reasonable amount, or raising it to $1,000 (Change in statute); requiring RRC to require monthly reporting of liquid injection in all disposal wells and make the information publicly accessible (Change in statute); and directing RRC to conduct a comprehensive review of its rules and programs regarding oil and gas disposal wells, and consider changes related to casing and cementing, aquifer exemptions, notice and public participation, seismic activity, and wastewater reporting and tracking. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in support of both the management and statutory changes. Permit fees for disposal wells are too low and the rules should be reexamined to assure proper notice, and proper safeguards.

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Sunset Commission Logo

Monday, August 22, 2016
House Appropriations Committee Room
Room E1.030, Capitol Extension
1400 Congress Avenue
Starting at 9:00 a.m.

This is not the Railroad Commission’s first rodeo.  It was punted in the 2011, 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions with a temporary re-authorization because the legislature failed to agree and pass a bill that would reauthorize the agency for another 12 years.  So once again this dysfunctional agency is in front of the Sunset Commissioners who must make recommendations about how the RRC should continue (and in case you were wondering – NO – the Railroad Commission does not regulate railroads.  Pipelines, oil and gas wells, and mines are among the things it oversees/rubber stamps.  And it does have some enforcement duties that don’t amount to much  So this is an agency that could use some serious changes, but unless the Texas legislature via the Sunset Commissioners know that the public is paying attention to what they do, they could just re-authorize the RRC for another 12 years with no significant changes.  This is where you come in.  Below is a description of the Sunset Advisory Commission and their process.  You can see the agenda for the August 22nd hearing here.

If you plan to testify, you will need to fill out a witness card upon your arrival at the Capitol in Room E1.030. We will have our internal sessions and refreshments in reserved rooms at the Capitol.  Parking is available in the Capitol Visitors Garage accessible on 12th or 13th Streets between Trinity and San Jacinto on the east side of the Capitol., please fill in the sheet here, so we can plan to accommodate everyone and for you to get information about the rooms we have reserved.  If you cannot come in person, there are other options (see below)

The Sunset Advisory Commission is an agency of the Texas Legislature that makes recommendations to the Legislature on whether to continue various state agencies.

The Commission was created in 1977 under the auspices of the Texas Sunset Act (now codified as Chapter 325 of the Texas Government Code).

The Commission consists of twelve members, ten of whom are legislators and the remaining two are members of the general public (see the current Commissioners below). The leader of each chamber of the Legislature (the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, who presides over the Texas Senate) each appoint five legislators and one public member to serve on the Commission. The chair and vice-chair rotate annually between the two chambers. The Commission appoints a director, who hires staff to carry out agency duties.  (A list of the members is located at the bottom of this post)

Under the Act, every state agency (excluding universities, courts, and agencies mandated under the Texas Constitution) has a specific date on which it will automatically be abolished, unless the Legislature passes specific legislation continuing the agency’s existence. This issue came into play during the 2009 Legislative session, when the session adjourned without the Legislature providing for the continued existence of several agencies, thus requiring the Governor to call a special session.

Prior to the scheduled cessation date of an agency, the agency’s functions are scheduled for review by the Commission. Each agency provides to the Commission a Self-Evaluation Report; the Commission staff prepares its recommendations (coordinating with other state oversight agencies, such as the State Auditor’s Office and the Legislative Budget Board) and takes public comments. A final public hearing is held prior to the Commission making its final recommendations to the Legislature. The final recommendation can be any of the following:

  • Continue the agency as is
  • Continue the agency with modifications (including moving functions from the agency to other agencies, moving functions from other agencies into it, and most commonly, making improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of an agency’s functions.)
  • Merge the agency with another agency
  • Disband the agency and either transfer its functions to other agencies, or abolish them altogether

If the Commission recommends continuation of the agency, it must provide draft legislation to continue the Agency and to make other recommendations. Generally, the legislation will allow the agency to continue for an additional 12 years (six biennial sessions), but may be shortened in order to equalize the number and size of agencies to be reviewed each biennium. Should an agency be abolished, the Act provides for a one-year wind-down period so the agency may conclude its operations. The Legislature must pass specific legislation to continue an agency’s existence and to define its roles and responsibilities, and has complete freedom to amend or reject the Commission’s recommendations (either to continue or abolish the agency).

The Sunset Process:

The Commission generally considers each agency under review during two public meetings.  About a month after release of a Sunset staff report, the Commission discusses the report’s recommendations and takes testimony from the public.   Any person is welcome to attend the public hearing and provide feedback on the staff recommendations or other issues relating to the agency.  For the Railroad Commission this hearing is August 22, 2016 at the capital.  Please note, however, testimony about individual cases or appeals is generally not allowed. The Sunset Commission cannot override an agency’s decisions.

At least a month after the public hearing, the Sunset Commission meets again to vote on its recommendations to the full Legislature about an agency. No additional public testimony is taken at this second meeting.  The Railroad Commission’s second meeting is scheduled for November 10th.  At this point the commissioners will issue their recommendations for any changes at the agency that will be considered in the reauthorizing legislation that needs to pass during the 85th legislative session, should the bill fail the agency is abolished but may continue business for up to one year.  Should no reauthorizing legislation pass, there is an omnibus bill that will allow an agency to undergo the sunset process during the next interim session, but the Railroad Commission’s reauthorizing process was already delayed last session.

Public participation is the cornerstone of the Sunset process.  It is how Sunset staff gains the broad perspective needed to conduct its review of state agencies and programs.  It is how the Sunset Commission receives feedback about the Sunset staff review and hears new ideas and issues beyond what staff has presented.  Ultimately, it is how the public itself can be assured of a say on fundamental matters affecting state agencies.

The public may participate in the Sunset process at this point by:

Giving feedback directly to the Sunset Commission.

After the Sunset staff report has been issued, the Sunset Commission conducts a public hearing to receive feedback on the staff’s work.  Interested persons may provide feedback in writing or by testifying at the hearing.  Because of the public nature of the proceeding, feedback received at this stage is public and will generally be placed on the Sunset Commission’s website for the public to see.  To be most effective, this feedback should be short and to the point and clearly indicate support, opposition, or changes to recommendations.  One may also present any new issues or solutions that were not raised in the Sunset staff report.  Sunset staff compiles this feedback to help the Sunset Commission make decisions about an agency.

If you cannot attend but want to submit written testimony, you can use the Public Input Form and watch a live stream of the hearing. or you can go to Public Citizen’s Action form with pre-written testimony.  Once you take action here  you will both automatically receive an email about the hearing and will be directed to the page to sign up to attend the hearing

If the reason you cannot attend is because they happened to schedule this hearing on the same day school starts in your area, be sure to mention this in your written testimony.

Sunset Commission Members

The Commission has five Senators, five Representatives, and two members of the public, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.  The position of chair rotates between the House and the Senate every two years.

Senate Members House Members
Van Taylor
Vice Chair
2015 to 2019
Plano
Larry Gonzales
Chair
2013 to 2017
Round Rock
Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

2013 to 2017
McAllen

Cindy Burkett

2013 to 2017
Sunnyvale

Robert Nichols

2015 to 2017
Jacksonville

Dan Flynn

2015 to 2019
Van

Charles Schwertner

2013 to 2017
Georgetown

Richard Peña Raymond

2013 to 2017
Laredo

Kirk Watson

2015 to 2019
Austin

Senfronia Thompson

2015 to 2019
Houston

LTC (Ret.) Allen B. West
Public Member
2015 to 2017
William Meadows
Public Member
2015 to 2017

 

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Blog Post PicTwo non-profit and non-partisan investigative journalism organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, have concluded through their joint investigation that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission protect the oil and gas industry instead of the public whom they claim to serve.

Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek were two oil and gas regulators working for the Texas Railroad Commission who received praise from their supervisors, promotions, and merit raises throughout their careers. But they may have done their jobs too well. They were fired in 2013 for what they believe to be their insistence in making sure oil and gas operators followed the rules and regulations in place to protect the public and the environment.

Wright was responsible for determining whether oil and gas wells were up to code to prevent groundwater contamination. He was often encouraged or coerced by his superiors to bend the rules, to say that operators had met compliance standards when they had not. In 2013, his superiors told him that complaints had been filed against him by the operators claiming he was “unreasonable to work with” and “does not attempt to offer solutions to bring them in compliance with commission rules”, citing that Fred’s methods for compliance would be “costly”. Wright’s boss at the time, Charlie Teague, insisted that Write approve oil and gas wells despite the fact that they were in violation of statewide rules.

As the enforcer of proper toxic waste disposal in the oil and gas industry, Kocurek faced very similar problems. He said his bosses made it clear that he was supposed to go easy on the industry. The violation notices Kocurek filed were usually processed very slowly and follow-up inspections were assigned to the more lenient inspectors. Eventually, Kocurek realized the influence that the industry had on its supposed regulators and his reports were all ignored. Violations would disappear after the right phone calls were made.

Documents obtained from the Railroad Commission through the open-records corroborate the stories of Mr. Wright and Mr. Kocurek. Wright has filed a civil lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. He has also filed a federal whistleblower complaint. Kocurek, on the other hand, hasn’t taken any legal action and would rather forget the whole thing.

According to InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, the Railroad Commission is controlled by three elected commissioners who have accepted nearly $3 million combined in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In the case of the Railroad Commission and the TCEQ, money talks and it’s louder than the voice of Texas citizens.

Read their extensive report here: [http://books.insideclimatenews.org/fired]

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Location of the Waste Control Specialists in Andrews Tx for Radioactive Waste Blog post

At Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste disposal pit in Andrews, Tex., space inside goes for $10,000 a cubic foot in some cases. As aging nuclear reactors retire, their most radioactive steel, concrete and other components must be shipped somewhere for burial. Photo by Michael Stravato, The New York Times

Texas is under radioactive waste assault. There is already an existing “low-level” radioactive waste dump owned by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in Andrews County. Weapons waste from Fernald, Ohio is already buried in one of the three pits there. The facility is now taking nuclear reactor waste from around the country and is accepting Department of Energy waste, including nuclear weapons waste. And there is an adjacent hazardous waste pit, which can accept some 2000 chemicals, many of the toxic or corrosive. WCS expects to make some $15 billion off the site, although Texans bear the risks of contamination and financial liability.

All of this is at a site for which Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff originally recommended denial of the license due to concerns about water contamination. There are 2 water bodies are present at the site, the the most significant of which is the southern tip of the massive Ogallala Aquifer.  Although some maps have been drawn to show that the aquifer doesn’t extend as far as the WCS disposal site, water has been present in up to 40% of the monitoring wells on the site, indicating that a hydrological connection could exists.  The site is supposed to be dry for safety reasons, but that hasn’t stopped the TCEQ from granting permits or WCS from burying radioactive waste there.

Now two new threats have emerged, including storage of very hot transuranic waste – which includes plutonium, neptunium, and americium from the failed national repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site.

Carlsbad Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Carlsbad, NM Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Texas is getting the transuranic waste unexpectedly. The Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is a disposal site for transuranic waste that is buried half a mile underground. The site had a fire on February 5th and a major radiation leak 9 days later. At least 21 workers were exposed to radiation. The New Mexico facility has been closed since the accident and the WCS radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas is now taking this same highly radioactive waste and storing it above ground in steel sided buildings, raising concerns about what would happen if there were tornadoes, floods or wildfires.

In addition, now Governor Perry is actively campaigning to bring spent nuclear fuel to Texas for storage. This the hottest, most dangerous of radioactive waste, the kind that was to be sent to the failed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

It is so dangerous that  shielding is required to protect humans from a lethal dose as a result of exposure to spent nuclear fuel. Even 10 years after this waste is removed from a spent fuel pool, the radiation field at one meter away is 20,000 rem/hour. It only takes a quarter of that amount to incapacitate a person immediately and cause the person’s death within one week.

The spent fuel is currently cooled and then kept in dry casks at the sites where it was generated. Storing the waste at the power plant sites raises the risks for people living in those areas, but transporting the waste to a central location increases risks for those living along transportation routes and those near the disposal site. There is simply no safe way to deal with the amount of radioactive waste we are producing in the long term.

The Texas House Environmental Regulation Committee will soon address an interim charge on how to bring this high-level waste to Texas and how much economic benefit there could be. Discussion of the risks isn’t on the agenda. It seems that the committee may be blinded by potential profit for their campaign donors.

Stay tuned and learn more at www.NukeFreeTexas.org (more…)

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Oil drilling site, with pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX  Photo by Al Braden

Oil drilling site, w/ pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX
Photo by Al Braden

The Eagle Ford Shale play in south Texas is the 400-mile-long area that has become home to one of the country’s biggest energy booms in the past six years. The thousands of oil and gas wells producing in the region have brought dangerous air pollution to residents.

The Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel released a new exposé titled, “Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie,” last week. Their eight month investigation reveals the dangers that come with fracking in the form of toxic chemicals released into the air as a result of the complicit culture of the government of Texas. In case you just want to read the highlights of the report, the team was nice enough to summarize their major findings:

  • Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
  • Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX. Photo by Al Braden

    Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX.
    Photo by Al Braden

    Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”

  • Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
  • The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
  • The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
  • Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.

(more…)

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Neighbors for Neighbors (NFN), an organization of residents near Luminant Mining’s Three Oaks Mine, filed late Monday for a contested case hearing on an EFH subsidiary’s request to renew the mining operation in Lee and Bastrop counties.

In its filing, NFN asks the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that administers mining law in Texas, to require Luminant Mining to post cash or an outside bond to cover the estimated  $60 million cost of cleaning up the strip mine. The group points out since EFH, the parent company of Luminant Mining, is expected to file for bankruptcy by the end of this year, there may not be funds to cover the cost of cleanup.  Click here to see a copy of the filing.

“Does a company have to go bankrupt and walk away from its mines in order for regulators to step in?” asked NFN president Travis Brown. “It would be the height of irresponsibility for Texas to allow a company going bankrupt to say, ‘Trust us, we’re good for it.’ We want Luminant Mining to post real bonds to assure that the mining restoration gets done.”

Russel Bostic, a local rancher and NFN member, said “I live next to the mine, and the company has condemned and is planning to use my land. My family wants our land to be restored to its original condition so we can return.”

Lignite coal mined at Three Oaks is used to supply Luminant’s two coal-fired power plants near Rockdale.

Under federal and state law, mining companies are required to restore mined areas to their original condition.  Those companies must also set aside money so resources will be available for the restoration, even if the company abandons the mine.  The law was created because many U.S. mines were abandoned when companies went bankrupt, leading to contamination of surface water and groundwater.

In Texas, Luminant Mining is responsible for the operation and cleanup of eleven active strip mines. If EFH goes bankrupt and sufficient cash has not been set aside for cleanup, taxpayers could end up with the estimated $1.01 billion cost of cleaning up all the mines.

Instead of requiring that $1.01 billion be set aside in cash or a real bond, the Railroad Commission allowed Luminant to “self-bond,” which means the company is relying on a “guarantee” that their own assets will cover the bonds without having real cash bonds set aside that the state can readily access.  In recent years, EFH has shifted to third party guarantee of the bonds, but the third party is another subsidiary of EFH, so still them.

In its current request for a mining permit for Three Oaks, Luminant Mining is again asking to post a self-bond for cleanup.

Brown said, “The company recently said in a community meeting at the mine that they intend to pledge assets for the cleanup bond. They said they need to operate the mines and coal plants to generate revenues to pay the new debt.  But nowhere in their most recent 8K [financial statement to SEC] do they make that commitment.”

Brown added, “This is especially disturbing since the company also says – in the same 8K – that they expect the price of gas to go up and coal to stay low. That’s the same poor business plan that has led to this bankruptcy.”

Michele Gangnes, an NFN member and a bond attorney, said “The law is clear, and Texas regulators should take immediate action to demand a cash bond so taxpayers and the environment are protected.”

Gangnes added, “In many states, Luminant Mining would be required to put up a cash bond before allowing the Tree oaks mine to expand. But EFH has been playing a shell-game, and state regulators have allowed it. We are asking the Railroad Commission to guarantee that EFH has to set cash aside or post a third-party bond specifically for cleanup of the mines in this bankruptcy deal.”

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Instead of taking action to clean Texas air, as requested by the Dallas County Medical Society, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Chairman Bryan Shaw and Commissioner Toby Baker voted today to deny the petition for rulemaking and further postpone needed air quality improvements for East Texas and the Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

The DFW area has struggled with unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone pollution – caused emissions from vehicles and power plants mixing in the sunlight – for decades.  While improvements in air quality have been made, they have lagged behind tightening air quality standards set by EPA to protect public health.  Asthma rates – particularly among children – have continued to rise, as well as hospitalizations due to asthma.

Martin_Lake

In addition to contributing to ozone problems in East Texas & the DFW area, Luminant’s Martin Lake coal plant emits more toxic mercury than any other power plant in the nation, ranks 5th in carbon dioxide emissions & is responsible for $328,565,000 in health impacts from fine particle emissions.

Meanwhile, Luminant continues to operate three coal-fired power plants with a total of eight generating units in East Texas that were build in the 1970’s.  These outdated facilities emit nitrogen oxides (NOx) – which is one of the two ingredients in ozone creation – at twice the rate of new coal plants in Texas.  The rule changes recommended by the Dallas County Medical Society would have required those old coal plants to meet the same standards as new coal plants by 2018 – giving the plant owners more than ample time to make the upgrades or arrange to retire the facilities.

Instead of focusing on whether or not reducing NOx emissions from those old coal plants in East Texas would lead to reductions in ground-level ozone in the DFW area, the Commissioners persisted in questioning the science that shows that exposure to ground-level ozone results in increased and worsened incidents of asthma.  Never mind that the research has been vetted by the EPA and reaffirmed by health organizations including the American Lung Association.  The mindset at TCEQ, as at many of our agencies and with far too many of our elected officials, is that Texas knows best and industry must be protected at all costs.

We appreciate the more than 1,400 Public Citizen supporters who signed our petition in support of reducing emissions and protecting public health.  All of those comments were submitted into the record and I read a few of them allowed at today’s hearing.

We will continue to fight for healthy air as TCEQ moves forward with developing a updated State Implementation Plan (SIP) to bring the DFW area into attainment with ground-level ozone air quality standards.  That process will be ongoing in 2014, so stay tuned.

 

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected] And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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Public Citizen’s positions on the pre-filed amendments to the PUC Sunset bill can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/Guide_to_Amend_PUC_Sunset_bill_HB1600 or in the table below.

Support These Amendments to Improve the PUC Sunset Bill

Bar code # Sponsor Description Comment
830096 Cook clean up cleans up language in bill – no substantial changes
830097 Cook clean up cleans up language in bill – no substantial changes
830077 Davis bans sharing of customer info from advanced meters eliminates the value of smart meter – demand response providers may not be able to operate (NOTE: amendment to the amendment will fix this problem)
830076 Davis requires annual  review of certificate holders
830087 Davis requires written disclosure prior to releasing info from advanced meters protects customer privacy while allowing demand response providers to operate with permission of customer
830088 Davis makes utility liable for damages to advanced meter during installation or removal protects customer from unreasonable charges
830089 Davis bans billing for average use of electricity restricts customer choice (NOTE: amendment to the amendment will fix this problem by allowing customers to choose levelized billing)
830090 Davis reregulates the electric market assures adequate resources to meet the load
830101 King caps transmission congestion costs protects consumers
830104 Phillips prevents Texas generators from exporting electricity from ERCOT during an electricity emergency protects reliability in ERCOT
830084 Phillips bans cost recovery for interstate transmission lines out of state electric generators must finance their own transmission
830086 Rodriguez sets 35%  renewable portfolio standard by 2020 increases generation, local jobs and investment
830082 Strama establishes a peak energy portfolio standard improves reliability and increases local investment and jobs
830106 C Turner requires study by gas utilities on replacing their gas distribution lines improves safety
830072 S Turner requires legislative approval to increase the Universal Service Fund limits costs to consumers
830073 S Turner restricts cease and desist orders for customers to those causing a danger provides reasonable restrictions of PUC power and protects customers
830078 S Turner increases state penalties for market abuses and eliminates double jeopardy restores recommendation of Sunset Advisory Commission staff to increase fines for market abuse
830103 S Turner requires cost-benefit analysis when PUC makes significant market changes helps protect consumers
830102 Vo requires 30 day notice of discretionary changes in electric rates provides some customer protection against unexpected electric rate increases
830098 Walle limits water companies to one rate increase each 3 years and limits the amount of any increase protects consumers

Oppose These Bad Amendments to the PUC Sunset Bill

Bar code # Sponsor Description Comment
830095 Cook changes qualifications for PUC commissioners allows utilities to have too much control over commission
830100 Gonzalez gives PUC citing authority over a new plant in the El Paso area shouldn’t apply to just one company
830085 Krause eliminates the PUC’s ability to issue a cease and desist order jeopardizes reliability
830105 Laubenberg eliminates the PUC’s ability to issue a cease and desist order jeopardizes reliability
830091 Phillips interferes with reliability must run plans could jeopardize reliability and create inefficiencies
830092 Phillips requires CREZ lines to be buried in a specific municipality significantly increases electric consumers’ costs
830093 Stanford eliminates cease and desist orders for retail customers prevents the PUC from stopping abusive behavior and protecting reliability of the electric grid
830094 Sheets creates a 5 member Public Utility Commission two commissioners could meet without following open meeting requirements
830079 Simpson eliminates the PUC’s ability to issue a cease and desist order jeopardizes reliability
830080 Simpson eliminates cease and desist orders for retail customers prevents the PUC from preventing abusive behavior and protecting reliability of the electric grid
830081 Simpson shifts cost of opting out of advanced metering to other customers puts unfair cost burden on customers
830074 S Turner changes to single elected commissioner opens door to even more industry influence over regulators through campaign contributions

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Get tough on environmental crimes

Texas law requires that the our state environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), consider a facility’s past compliance when making decisions regarding permits or inspections.  In fact, a facility’s Compliance History score affects every bit of its business with the TCEQ.

New rules currently proposed by the TCEQ to the Compliance History program would possibly bump up thousands of previously categorized “poor” performers to an “average” classification without having removed an ounce of pollution from our air and water.  The TCEQ has introduced even more limitations which will only further serve to keep every facility average.  These changes include increasing the score by which a performer falls into the poor category, separating repeat violations by media (i.e. administrative violations vs specific emissions violations), giving the TCEQ Executive Director extraordinary authority to change a facility’s classification, and handing out bonus points for ill-defined and unregulated voluntary measures that a facility can implement.

If the Compliance History program reforms go forward as currently written, we will be missing out on two major opportunities by continuing to pretend that all facilities in this state are average.

  • First, we miss a chance to implement the type of regulation that a lot of people in our state prefer.
  • Second, and most importantly, we miss a huge opportunity to try to clean up the air and water around our state in a business friendly manner.

At a time when the challenge of grappling with an increasing array of environmental and health threats to our state and its population gets harder every day, we cannot afford to let such opportunities pass us by.  We urge the TCEQ to reconsider its Compliance History rules, and deliver a program that works to the people of the state of Texas.

The public has a chance to weigh in on these rules and we ask you to consider coming to the public hearing on March 6th or sending comments to the TCEQ by March 12th.  Tell them:

  • Don’t pardon the polluters by increasing the threshold for being declared a poor performer
  • Don’t give the executive director the right to pardon polluters
  • Don’t give polluters a get out of jail free card for signing up for “defensive polluting” classes

As we know from our criminal justice system, swift sure and certain punishment deters crime.  We should apply these lessons to environmental crime too

Public Hearing : TCEQ will hold a public hearing on this proposal in Austin on March 6, 2012 at 10:00 a.m. in Building E, Room 201S, at the commission’s central office located at 12100 Park 35 Circle.

Comments can be submitted  by March 12, 2012.

Tips on Commenting Effectively

You will be providing comments for the rulemaking – 2011-032-060-CE: HB 2694 (4.01 and Article 4): Compliance History

  • Identify who you are and why the regulation affects you;
  • Explain why you agree or disagree with the proposed rulemaking;
  • Be direct in your comment; and
  • Offer alternatives, compromise solutions, and specific language for your suggested changes.

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Chronic violators of Texas Railroad Commission safety rules may be looking at steeper fines if they don’t clean up their acts.

In response to the agency’s Sunset review last session, the commissioners who regulate the state’s booming oil and gas industry are expected to approve penalty hikes in six major categories, taking special aim at repeat offenders. The proposed penalty hikes – the first since 2004– will then undergo a 30-day public comment period before new rules are finalized. Repeat offenders will see their penalties enhanced.

If approved, penalties will increase for an array of safety violations in six major divisions: 1) oil and gas 2) pipeline safety 3) propane safety 4) compressed natural gas 5) liquid natural gas and 6) underground pipeline damage prevention (rules requiring such things as calling before digging).

No estimate has been made available on how much extra revenue the tougher penalties will raise, but all proceeds will be funneled into the state budget’s General Revenue Fund.

While details are not yet available on exact increases across the board, according to the Texas Energy Report, a few examples make clear that the commission means business. Take the current $2,000 penalty for failing to plug a well in a timely fashion. Once the new fees kick in, violators will pay that amount plus $1 per foot of the well’s depth. So a driller of a 6,000-foot well who fails to plug the well will pay four times as much – $8,000.

Violators of safety rules for waste pits at oil and gas sites will see their fines increasing more than double under the proposed rules. If they use the pit for the wrong type of fluid, fail to get a permit for the pit or run amok of other rules, fines are set to more than double – from $1,000 now to $2,500.

Until now, penalties at the commission have always been in the form of staff guidelines, but the new penalty guidelines will be plaed into rules. State law caps all penalties at a maximum of $10,000 per day, and commissioners will retain their power to adjust fines.

While the Railroad Commission is going above and beyond the recommendations of the Sunset Commission, environmental groups believe penalties should be above the economic benefit to the company to be effective in detering repeat offenders.

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According to the Texas Energy Report, state environmental regulators appointed by Gov. Rick Perry issued a permit in January for a Houston-area industrial waste injection well to a company whose top investors include some of Perry’s close friends and campaign contributors.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) approved the permit over the objections of the Texas Railroad Commission (whose commissioners are elected) and every state and local official representing Montgomery County, and in spite of an administrative law judge’s recommendation to deny the permit because the well might pollute groundwater.

Perry’s presidential campaign opponents have criticized him for “crony capitalism,” the appearance of a pay-to-play culture that gets favorable state government treatment for his campaign donors. Perry also has been criticized for state environmental regulation that appears to put business ahead of environmental quality and safety.

All those issues are raised in the environmental commission’s actions on the permit sought by TexCom  Inc. of Houston and its investors with close ties to Perry.

Major investors in the injection well include Texas A&M University System Regent Phil Adams and Barry Switzer, a former football coach for the University of Oklahoma and the Dallas Cowboys.

Adams is a friend of Perry’s from their days as students at A&M. He has donated almost $300,000 to Perry’s state campaign fund, and at one time or another he has employed both of Perry’s children in his Bryan insurance agency. Another Adams investment became controversial in Perry’s gubernatorial re-election campaign last year when it was revealed that the company received a $2.75 million grant from the state’s Emerging Technology Fund.

Switzer raised more than $57,000 for Perry’s 2010 re-election and attended Perry’s primary election victory party. This August, Switzer hosted a fundraiser for Perry’s presidential campaign that took in $273,500.

Adams and Switzer are investors in a subsidiary of TexCom Inc. The company fought for five years to obtain the permit for a Montgomery County site for an injection well for industrial waste, mostly generated by the oil and gas industry. TexCom has reported that the site has the potential to generate $20 million a year in revenue.

Switzer became involved with TexCom in 2006 when he led investors to put $6 million into the company. Then in 2007, Switzer and two other Oklahoma investors founded Foxborough Energy Co. LLC and Montgomery County Environmental Solutions, which together bought at least a 60 percent share of the TexCom subsidiary that was seeking the Montgomery County well permit.

Adams’ state financial disclosure reports have shown him as an investor in the two Oklahoma companies since 2008.

Texas Ethics Commission undergoing Sunset Process

The Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) has responsibility for civilly enforcing our state’s campaign finance laws. In the agency’s Self-Evaluation, they reported that in in 2009 they received 274 complaints from the public and there were zero initiated by the agency.  In 2010, they received 374 complaints from the public and again, zero initiated by the agency.  If the TEC is to be an effective enforcement agency, it must be restructured so that it operates like all other civil state law enforcement agencies.

Those concerned about the appearance of pay-to-play politics should ask the Sunset Commission to recommend the legislature make changes to the Texas Ethics Commission that:

  • Prohibit any contributor of more than $100 from being appointed to any board commission or office or contracting with the state  for 2 years after the contribution is made
  • Prohibit state agencies from contracting or giving grants to contributors of the Governor, Lt Governor or Speaker of the House.

Any community could fall victim to “crony capitalism” and Texans have an opportunity to ask their representatives to make it stop!

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TCEQ will soon be making some big decisions on how to implement reforms passed during the last legislative session, especially on its penalty policy–and your input is needed quickly:

  • Comments are due on August 30th

Last session, Public Citizen worked with a partnership, The Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT), and thanks to the efforts of thousands of citizens who joined forces with ACT, the Texas Legislature made some very important improvements to TCEQ’s laws regarding enforcement policies and penalties for polluters.

Lawmakers raised penalties to $25,000 per violation and told TCEQ to minimize the economic benefit to polluters of breaking the law. Now, to make these new policies work, TCEQ commissioners must adopt rules that address:

  • The economic impact of decisions to pollute (The state auditor has previously found that fines are 1/8 of the economic value gained by violating the law.)
  • How to assess fines for repeat violators.
  • Whether to assess a separate fine to each permit violation or just one per overall incident, called speciation. (This can make a huge difference in the size of the fines and the incentive for companies to not pollute.)
  • Whether to put TCEQ’s enforcement policies into the rules or just adopt them as general guidelines. (Putting the policies into rule makes them stronger and harder for the TCEQ to let polluters off with inadequate penalties.)

Comments are due August 30th on these rules. To sign on to ACT’s draft comments, go here. You may also use them to develop for your own comments. You can find tips about writing comments here. Go here for the TCEQ Sunset Process hub on the ACT website.

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