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Posts Tagged ‘Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’

Between legislative sessions, the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House of Representatives appoint Interim Committees to study important issues that help guide the Texas Legislature’s decisions in the future. These interim committees hold hearings and take public testimony. Their findings will affect actions taken during the next regular session.  Public Citizen will be closely following several interim charges during the coming year.  After each charge, we have included a brief explanation about why we consider these important charges about which you should be concerned.  The interim charges include, but are not limited to:

House Committee on Environmental Regulation Interim Charges
# 1.  Study the environmental permitting processes at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), specifically the contested case hearing process at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and the timelines associated with the process. Study the economic impact that the state’s permitting processes have on Texas manufacturing sectors and how neighboring states’ and the federal permitting processes and timelines compare to those in Texas.
(Why are contested case hearings important for Texas citizens?  This is the only opportunity that neighbors of proposed facilities have to contest an air or water quality permit before a license is approved.  Once approved, any contentions must go through the Texas court system, which can cost a citizen or group of citizens thousands of dollars to litigate and the likelihood of getting a license revoked is extremely minimal.  You will note that the only concerns voice about this process has to do with economic impact and the impact on industry – NOT on how it would impact you and your family if you ended up with a facility next door that had to be permitted because it impacts on air and water quality.) 
# 2.  Study the rules, laws, and regulations pertaining to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas. Make specific recommendations on the state and federal actions necessary to permit a high-level radioactive waste disposal or interim storage facility in Texas
(Can you say Yucca Mountain?  Yucca Mountain, a ridge of volcanic rock about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been the leading candidate site for a high-level radioactive repository since the 1980s, but Nevada has fought the project bitterly in court and in Congress. The spent fuel that emerges from nuclear power plants has been accumulating for decades in steel-lined pools or giant steel-and-concrete casks near the reactors.  A final decision to abandon the repository would leave the nation with no solution to a problem it has struggled with for half a century, but some in Texas seem determined to take on the task of making west Texas the new home for this nuclear waste.  While you may not be concerned about all that radioactivity sitting on land near Big Spring, TX, halfway between Midland and Sweetwater, you may want to consider the impact of all that waste being transported across the state on our highways, possibly through your neighborhood.  We will be following this charge and will post when we know about hearings.)

Consider this story that broke as I was writing this post. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an underground radioactive waste disposal site that began operations in 1999 and is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons, was evacuated this morning when an underground salt truck used to haul mining debris caught fire.  Two WIPP rescue teams were activated and an unconfirmed number of WIPP employees were transported to a hospital for potential smoke inhalation. Operations at WIPP have been suspended until further notice.  According to WIPP, none of the nuclear waste was disrupted during the incident, but emergency crews were still battling the fire at this writing.

House Committee on State Affairs Interim Charge

# 3. Study the different financial assurance options used by state agencies to ensure compliance with environmental clean-up or remediation costs. Determine whether the methods utilized by state agencies are appropriate to ensure sufficient funds will be available when called upon.
(An example of how this can affect you – Currently, mines associated with a coal-fired plant can disposed of toxic coal ash waste from the burning of that coal in the depleted mines – click here to read more about coal ash waste .  Federal law requires those facility to post a bond for cleanup and remediation of the land where coal ash waste is disposed of.  In Texas, we allow a financially solvent company to pledge existing assets against future reclamation claims related to mine operations and seem to have no recourse to require changes if the company no longer meets financial health benchmarks. This is a practice that leaves Texas tax payers at risk of having to bail failing companies out from this obligation if those companies are unable to meet it.)

Click here to see all the Texas House Interim Charges.  We will keep you updated as hearings for these charges are announced.  Your input can have significant impact on what our legislature does regarding these issues.

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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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Smith’s Bill – HB1714 – Makes Perry’s Texas Even More of a Paradise for Polluters and is expected to be heard in the Texas House sometime on Thursday

Contact your representative (don’t know who that is . . . click here) and tell them to vote NO on HB 1714

On April 17th, an explosion at the West Fertilizer plant killed 15 people – mostly first responders, and injured hundreds more; that plant had been cited 5 times in 6 years by three enforcement agencies for failing to follow the law. Leaders of Texas’ environmental organizations called on state legislators to protect against the next environmental disaster by rejecting Rep Wayne Smith’s 1714 which would eliminate provision in Texas environmental law requiring more inspections and tougher enforcement for polluters who have poor record with the state or federal environmental agencies.

“Leadership needs to improve regulations, not weaken them further,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.  The Texas Legislature will consider HB 1714 by Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) in the Texas House that would further weaken the permitting and enforcement processes.”

“HB 1714, would eliminate enhanced inspections of companies that have a history of environmental violations at a time when it is clear that the state and its citizens would benefit from having more scrutiny of companies that violate their permits. This bill would also reduce public disclosure of the state’s evaluation of company compliance histories, making it even more difficult to distinguish the bad actors from the good actors.”

“While the facility at West, TX may have been too small to have qualified for the enhanced inspections as the law is currently written,” continued Smith, “it begs the question, should we be weakening this oversight rather than enhancing it in order to prevent these types of tragedies?”

Years of state budget cuts and lax regulations have left communities at risk.

“The West Fertilizer incident shows how badly the TCEQ has failed to protect Texans under Governor Perry’s ‘paradise for polluters’ administration,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.  The TCEQ failed to inspect the plant even after three state and federal agencies found five violations at that plant over the last six years. The plant was operating without the proper permits and failed to properly train their workers, label dangerous products or to develop a worst case accident plan.

“Texas has a program that is supposed to target companies that have poor compliance records with extra inspections. The West Fertilizer plant was “unclassified” – meaning the TCEQ didn’t take the time to look at the plant’s record. Had TCEQ inspected the West Fertilizer facility, we can only hope that they might have found the 270 tons of explosives at the site and 15 people might not have died.”

Budget cuts have real consequences. Over the last 4 years, funding for TCEQ has been cut back 34% and 295 employees have been laid off.

“TCEQ doesn’t have nearly enough inspectors for the number of facilities it is responsible for. Facilities are not routinely inspected and the agency’s response to complaints is far from adequate. In 2006, a nearby resident reported a gas leak at the West Fertilizer facility and it took the TCEQ 11 days to travel the 17 miles from Waco to West to follow up,” pointed out David Weinberg, executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters, and further illustrates TCEQ’s ineffectiveness.” (See westfertilizerinfo.com for TCEQ files)

As the events of the past two months have shown, the push to hasten the permitting process, weaken the regulatory oversight processes, and abandon due diligence and planning for both large and small industrial facilities has real life consequences.

Hadden said, “These disasters serve as a reminder of the necessity for strong and effective land use regulations, as well as proper enforcement systems to ensure public safety and prevent toxic releases into the environment.  Regulations that reduce the likelihood and size of industrial accidents protect workers, nearby neighborhoods and residents, and minimize the potential loss of life when accidents do happen, as they always will.”

“The Texas Legislature must act now to ensure existing and new regulations protect workers, communities and our state’s natural resources on which we all depend,” concluded Smith.

Contact your representative (don’t know who that is . . . click here) and tell them to vote NO on HB 1714.

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Just before Earth Day, the House of Representatives once again demonstrated its commitment to protecting the fossil fuel industries that fund many of the members campaigns instead of protecting the people of our state from the devastating impacts of climate change by passing HB 788. The bill requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to permit greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, but would remove the agency’s authority to limit such emissions.

You might wonder “what’s the point?”  The point is to take control of greenhouse gas permitting for Texas facilities from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and place it in the hands of our state environmental agency – which has a much cozier relationship with industry.  While EPA may ultimately prefer that states take responsibility for such permitting, we hope they wouldn’t support such a ineffective system as is proposed in HB 788.

Adding insult to injury, the author of the bill, Representative Wayne Smith, took advantage of the opportunity to spread misinformation.  Smith stated, “…the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are based on an unfounded science,” claiming this language was struck to remove the politics from the bill.  His remarks epitomizes a legislature that continues to threaten the health and safety of the people it should protect through weakened environmental regulations.

In fact, removing language which has been in Texas’ Health and Safety Code for 22 years which gives TCEQ the authority to limit greenhouse gases put the politics in the bill and took the science out of it.  Governor Rick Perry is an avid climate change denier and may have influenced the drafting of HB 788.

This type of misinformation does a disservice to Texas citizens who must endure the harmful impacts of climate change, such as drought, wildfires, sea-level rise and more volatile weather patterns. These changes have already cost our state billions of dollars and numerous lives.  Climate change is happening now and given the big jump in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year, we’re probably in for more harmful impacts than many predicted just a few years ago.

Image

This graph compares increasing CO2 levels (dark line) to increasing average global temperature over the last century (blue and red bars).

Although our efforts to stop or amend HB 788 in the Texas House were unsuccessful and it was disheartening to hear Representative Smith’s comments, Earth Day brought a refocusing on facts.

The Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs held a hearing on Global Climate Change and Trade.  Attendance was sparse in the audience, but a stellar line-up of scientists, delegates, and business representatives took the witness stand to testify on the fact of climate change.

HB788 was mentioned in anonymous fashion as a bad greenhouse gas bill on several occasions.  But, the most glaring comments were directed at Texas’ lack of policy to address climate change.  Cynthia Connor, the Resource Security Policy Adviser for the British Consulate General in Houston spoke in serious tones.  Her message was that Texas has a responsibility to adopt climate change policies to protect $20 billion in Texas investments by UK-owned business, which are responsible for  70,000 jobs.

Almost all of the witnesses addressed Texas’ policy of climate change denial.  To their credit, most of the Representatives on the committee asked questions to confirm the scientific findings, how climate change affects Texas, and how our climate change policies compare to the rest of the modernized world.  The general consensus is that Texas lags far behind the rest of the world.  Texas fails to acknowledge the potential harms of climate change and ignores its responsibility to lead the nation in ethical energy policies as the top producer of oil and natural gas.

While these weren’t messages of hope, at least they were based in scientific facts and observations.  At least for a brief time, science was recognized in our state capitol.

We must each do what we can to reduce our personal impact and we must convince our elected officials that the time for climate change denial is over.

HB 788 is now being considered in the Texas Senate.

Email your Texas state senator to oppose HB 788 and protect Texas’ climate, economy and people.

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Whooping Cranes - Wikipedia Photo

Whooping Cranes – Wikipedia Photo

A federal judge has ruled that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was responsible for the deaths of 23 rare whooping cranes in the winter of 2008-2009.

Senior U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack in Corpus Christi found that TCEQ’s management of rivers feeding San Antonio and Aransas bays caused their salt levels to rise and says the state must develop a conservation plan to protect the last naturally migrating flock of the endangered birds.

Her order also bars the state from issuing any new water permits on the rivers.

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Late yesterday, in a stunning rebuke of TCEQ’s decision to deny citizens the right to show how dangerous radioactive disposal would be in West Texas, State District Court Judge Lora Livingston ordered TCEQ to reverse their decision denying the Sierra Club the right to a contested case hearing over the license granted to Waste Control Specialists to operate a radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, just east of the New Mexico border. In her order, Judge Livingston remanded the case back to the TCEQ for a contested case hearing on whether this radioactive waste can be safely disposed of in West Texas.

The Sierra Club’s won a battle in its long fight against a radioactive waste dump in West Texas when the Travis CountyJudge reversed a decision made by the TCEQ three years ago that denied Sierra Club its right to a contested case hearing on the license given to Waste Control Specialists (WCS) for the dump. Sierra Club subsequently filed a lawsuit in District Court to win that hearing, but the court date had been delayed for years.  Yesterday was the first opportunity for opponents to argue before an impartial judge about the TCEQ’s conscious decision to ignore key information about potential problems with the site. The Judge agreed that TCEQ should have granted the Sierra Club the right to oppose the license for the waste dump in a contested case hearing before state administrative law judges and now the TCEQ license has been remanded to the agency to grant the contested case hearing.

Low level radioactive waste is so dangerous that it has to be disposed of in specially designed remote and isolated sites to prevent contamination of water and air.  When Waste Control Specialists applied for a license, the staff at TCEQ reviewed the application and recommended its rejection because of their concerns about the possibility of water intrusion and contamination.  The TCEQ’s executive director overruled the recommendation of the staff and recommended issuing the license.

In light of the staff’s concerns, the Sierra Club requested a hearing on the application. That request was denied and the license was issued by two of the three TCEQ commissioners appointed by Governor Perry. Six months later TCEQ’s executive director went to work for WCS.

New information has recently come to light about the WCS site  pertaining to the potential for water to come into contact with radioactive materials. According to data provided by TCEQ., water has been detected in monitoring wells at the facility for the last several months. An expert report authored by geologist George Rice and entitled, Occurrence of Groundwater at the Compact Waste Facility Waste Control Specialists Facility Andrews County, Texas, points out that infiltration of rainwater and movement of groundwater was already occurring within the buffer zone of the “Compact Waste Site” as recently as this March.

Just last week, the TCEQ granted WCS the right to receive radioactive waste at the site and begin operations despite the Sierra Club’s appeal to State District Court.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club said, “This ruling confirms what we have been saying all along. The Sierra Club and its members in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico deserve the opportunity to show that radioactive waste dumped at the WCS site could impact people in the area through airborne radioactive particles and potential groundwater contamination. TCEQ should immediately stop operations at the WCS site and follow the judge’s order and grant the Sierra Club’s request for an expeditious but fair contested case hearing on the license for the dump site.”

Rose Gardner lives within four miles of the WCS radioactive waste facility and was represented in this case by Sierra Club. “I’m very glad about the judge’s decision, since we’ll now have a hearing where we can fully examine radioactive risks to our land and water. We now have more livestock than ever before and having the WCS radioactive waste dump nearby threatens our health and safety. TCEQ blocked this hearing before and needs to be more open with information and opportunities for citizens to participate,” said Gardner.

“This case is of national significance because the dump’s biggest investor is Harold Simmons, one of the largest contributors to Republican political campaigns and attack ads. He helped to fund the “Swift  Boat Veterans for Truth”  and  the “Obama is a Muslim”  attack ads. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Simmons has spent $18 million so far this election cycle and plans to spend a total of $36 million before the end of this cycle. Why would he spend that kind of money?  The amount and types of waste could be vastly expanded by a Republican President or Congress thus increasing the amount of money Simmons can make off of the dump and  increasing the funds he has available to donate to future political campaigns. And if anyone doubts that his political spending will pay off in favorable treatment, all they have to do is look at how successful he’s been in Texas”  said Tom “Smitty”  Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.

“This is a big victory for the citizens of Texas and New Mexico. The TCEQ knew this case was likely to be decided this week, but rushed to sign off on the dump site late last month, allowing radioactive waste to start coming into Texas, showing just how much political pressure Harold Simmons, the chief financial investor of WCS, can exert on Texas politics and agencies. The first shipments of radioactive waste arrived just 10 days ago.  We call on TCEQ to act responsibly and reverse their decision granting that permit,” said Karen Hadden of  the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.

The SEED Coalition and Public Citizen have been actively involved in opposing the recently adopted rule to open up the WCS facility to accepting waste from the rest of the nation and continue to monitor the transparency and accountability around this rule change.

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By Michael Tahmoressi, St. Edwards student and Public Citizen intern

Texas can be characterized as a pay to play environment.  Politicians bend to their districts business interests and gubernatorial appointees seem to be selected based on the amounts they contribute to the governor.

Contributions Equal Access and Appointments

Rick Perry has taken this to a new extreme with the deal he appears to have struck with Harold Simmons, a billionaire chemical industry mogul whose latest project is a radioactive waste repository in Andrews county Texas. Simmons single handedly pushed his project forward, boasting about it in a rare interview in 2006.  Click here to read D Magazine’s article “Harold Simmons is Dallas’ Most Evil Genius.

State engineers and geologists strongly objected to licensing the dump, expressing concern that radioactive material could contaminate groundwater in the region.  Three staff scientists at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality resigned rather than sign off on the licenses. Nevertheless, Rick Perry spearheaded the approval of the waste dump, operated by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and the TCEQ executive director, Glenn Shankle, approved the application, just a few months before he went to work as a lobbyist for WCS.  Click here to read Public Citizen’s report The Repository and the Risk.

The next step of the plan was to open the facility up to allow other states to dump their waste in the site.  That decision lay in the hands of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC), comprised of six Texas commissioners appointed by Perry.  Two additional commissioners appointed by Vermont fill out the Compact Commission.  In 2010, eleven days after Governor Perry was re-elected, the Compact Commission voted 5-2 to approve rules that would make Texas the radioactive waste disposal site for the country.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission flagged this potentially huge liability problem in its report on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality:

“Texas, and not the Compact Commission nor the disposal facility licensee, holds liability for compact waste brought into the state. Low-level radioactive waste can be radioactive for a long time, and potential future contamination could not only have a severe impact to the environment and human health, but to the State, which bears the ultimate financial responsibility for compact waste disposal facility site.”

A Texas observer article goes on to explain that the state would not only be forced to take care of any potential contamination problems but also the closure of the waste dump. This is clearly illustrates the biggest problem in our state the power does not lie in the hands of the people but in the business sector. Click here to read the article from the Texas Observer.

Double Dipping: An Acceptable Practice?

The case of State Represenative Joe Driver, (R-Garland) is another example.  Driver, who was convicted of felony abuse of official power, admitted in an interview in 2006 that he pocketed taxpayer money for travel expenses that his campaign had already paid. Click here to read the Texas Tribune article.  For years he had been double dipping, submitting the same receipts to his campaign and the state for airline tickets, meals, incidentals; collecting thousands of dollars in state mileage reimbursements for travel in vehicles for which his campaign had already spent more than $100,000 since 2000. This resulted in his campaign covering these travel costs, while he pocketed the profit by reimbursing himself with taxpayer money.

The Attorney general has not done enough to stop criminals like Driver.  Abbott’s ethics probes have been terribly inadequate.  Of the 57 probes he has started since his term in office began in 2002 only half of those resulted in convictions and a majority of those were for only minor infractions.

Abbott is a power broker with a political war-chest of over 8 million dollars.  Ninety nine percent of that can be traced back to business interests, more than $1 million from the business sector with the top contributors Houston homebuilder Bob Perry who gave the attorney general $470,265 in addition to Houston’s John Nau, Kenny Troutt, who made a fortune from his Excel phone company and energy and water investor T. Boone Pickens following close behind.

Texans need a justice agency they can trust to stop this hijacking of our democracy politicians that are either being rented by big business lobbies or are trying to get a cut of the action.

It Was A Gift, Not a Contribution

Legislative power broking has become normal practice in Texas.  Lobbyists’ daily activities in the capital involve massaging the backs of legislative members and their staff with gifts of food and activities, and functional bribes, in the form of monetary campaign promises or the problem State Representative Kino Flores (D-Palmview) in the valley encountered.

Flores had been receiving money from local businesses for years and not properly filing required reports on them. He was indicted for accepting gifts and failure to report them to the state. Overall, he failed to disclose $115,000 to $185,000 of income each year from 2004 to 2009.

Blatant corruption taints our democracy, how can citizens believe in their governments officials to manage the state, when the balance of power has gradually shifted to the moneyed elite. The general population is so removed from policy implementation they usually only show interest in issues that directly affect them; making it appear that they are okay with a level corruption when the reality is that they are unaware of the corruption or feel powerless to do anything about it. This is inherent to our economic system that demands efficiency and results at the expense of ethics.

Politicians for Sale or Rent, Rooms to Let – 50 Cents

Politicians aren’t for sale in Texas, they are for rent.  There was a study done by Larry Bartels professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Government about economic inequality and congressional response. Bartels found that senators are more likely to respond to concerns brought forward by members of the top ⅓ of their district’s total constituency. Bartels also found that senators never voted or responded to the concerns of the lower economic ⅓.  Click here to read the report.

If the game is rigged towards the top ⅓ of our population because money buys influence, what are the rest of us supposed to do to get our voices heard? 

Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen and 15 other advocates from legislative watchdog groups had an answer. On April 10th, testifying in front of the Texas Sunset Advisory Committee they urged the committee to make the Texas Ethics Commission (TEC) an enforcement agency and to expand their authority to investigate beyond minor infractions.  In addition, they recommended that a TEC enforcement director be given greater authority to subpoena records, that the legislature expands what is disclosed by candidates each election cycle and that they create a limit on the amount that individuals can contribute.

Public watchdogs speaking out against corruption at the TEC Sunset hearing is tantamount to sustaining what is left of our democracy in Texas. It’s impossible to place personal responsibility on the people for not participating in rooting out corruption because the power is not in their hands and the very folks responsible for representing them are being bought by big business groups.

Public Citizen and other watchdog groups are the vanguard of citizens who are committed to accountability.  We hold those in the government, who believe their positions put them above the law, accountable and demand that there be a reverse in the flow of power back to the people.  Public hearings like the one on April 10th allow us the ability to present our grievances.

The system may be sluggish and cumbersome, but Public Citizen is committed to maintaining and expanding a network of allies who are committed to holding Texas government officials accountable for the misuse and abuses of power.

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On Friday, Governor Perry announced he is appointing Toby Baker, a former policy and budget advisor to Perry on energy, natural resources and agriculture, to replace Garcia who continues to serve in a TCEQ commissioner’s spot that officially expired in August 31, 2011.  Mr. Baker’s term will begin April 16 and will expire Aug. 31, 2017.

At the governor’s office, Baker has also served as a liaison between the office and Texas Legislature, Railroad Commission, TCEQ, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Animal Health Commission. Formerly, he also worked as a natural resources policy advisor to Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) and is a former director and clerk of the Texas Senate Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Coastal Resources.

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Trucks carrying low-level radioactive waste from 38 states could start rolling down Texas highways bound forburial at a dump in Andrews County on the Texas / New Mexico border as early as April,.

The state’s commission (Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission) overseeing disposal of low-level waste in Texas may approve the final rule changes needed this Friday, March 23rd. State lawmakers cleared the way with a new law passed late in the 82nd legislative session and state regulators still need to sign off on the burial site’s construction, but it seems inevitable that Texas is going to become the nation’s radioactive dumping ground.

The Compact Commisson meeting is scheduled to begin at 9am on Friday, March 23rd in the Texas Capitol Extension at  1400 North Congress, Austin, Texas in Hearing Rm. E1.024,  We’ve provided the meeting agenda below and encourage any who are interested to attend the hearing.

Agenda

1. Call to Order

2. Roll Call and Determination of Quorum

3. Introduction of

a. Commissioners

b. Elected Officials

c. Press

4. Public Comment (Note: Pursuant to Article IV, Section Two (c) of the Commission¿s Bylaws, the Commission [subject to such time constraints as may be established by the Chair] also will provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the Commission on each item on the agenda during the Commission¿s discussion or consideration of the item.

5. Discussion and possible action with regard to the final adoption of amendments to Rule 675.23 (Importation of Waste from a Non-Compact Generator for Disposal) (31 TAC 675.23) with changes from the proposed amendments to the rule as published in the Texas Register on January 20, 2012 (37 Tex. Reg. 184).

A) Receive and discuss the report of the Rules Committee (Mr. Lee [Chair], Mr. Salsman, Mr. Saudek, and Mr. Wilson) with respect to its deliberations after the publication of the proposed amendments to Rule 675.23 (31 TAC 675.23) as published in the Texas Register on January 20, 2012 (37 Tex. Reg.184).

B) Receive and act on the recommendations of the Rules Committee with respect to

(i) the final adoption (with changes) of proposed amendments to Rule 675.23 (31 TAC 675.23) as published in the Texas Register on January 20, 2012 (37 Tex. Reg. 184); and

(ii) the filing and publication of Rule 675.23 (31 TAC 675.23) as finally adopted in the Texas Register.

 6. Discussion and possible action on the following petitions for export: A) South Texas Project B) Vermont Yankee C) Luminant

7. Discussion among Commission members about methods of processing and evaluating applications for Agreements for importation of waste for disposal in accord with Compact Commission Rules and with Texas requirements expressed in Chapter 401 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, including quantities and revenue expectations and including possible action to appoint one or more Committees in connection with the processing of applications for Agreements for importation.

8. Discussion on and possible action on Bionomics Request for Import Agreement.

9. Presentation of Site status report and outlook from Waste Control Specialists Inc.

10. Presentation from Advocates for Responsible Disposal in Texas concerning Compact site use plans and issues.

11. Site status report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality including discussion of plans for actions on commingling rule change effort and actions on site licensing and disposal site rate case actions.

12. Receive a report from and possibly take action in response on any recommendations from the Committee on the Commingling Rule (Ms. Morris [Chair], Mr. Saudek and Mr.Wilson)

13. Chairman¿s report on Compact Commission activities including reporting on fiscal matters and on status of filling needs for staffing.

14. Discussion and possible action regarding the provisions of existing Compact Commission Rule 675.21(l) (31 TAC 675.21(l)).

15. Determination of date and location of next meeting.

16 Adjourn.

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The comment period for the proposed new TCEQ Compliance History rules was extended in large part due to Public Citizen making the public aware that the TCEQ had run test scores on their data from the previous year’s posting but were not willing to release that information to us, the Austin American Statesman or the public.  When they did release the data and then subsequently extend the comment period, the data was not in a format that was useful to most folks.

After much wrangling with the agency, they finally released the test scores this afternoon and they can be accessed below:

Proposed Chapter 60 Compliance History Test Scores

The test Compliance History scores for proposed revision to 30 TAC Chapter 60 (Compliance History) rule are available here.

The test Compliance History scores available below are intended to provide approximations of what scores might look like under the Commission’s proposed Chapter 60 (Compliance History) rule.  These scores were generated as part of the agency’s proposed rulemaking process.

These are not official Compliance History scores and therefore, are not subject to the Chapter 60 appeal process. Due to computer programming limitations during rule development , individual scores do not reflect all aspects of the formula as proposed. Rather, the scores represent approximate numbers using a simplified model, as explained below. Limitations include the following:

  • The scores were generated using applicable compliance-history data from September 1, 2006–August 31, 2011, made public on October 1, 2011 and thus to regulated entities so they can make corrections, as necessary, since that date.  Upon rule adoption, new compliance-history scores will be generated using data from September 1, 2007–August 31, 2012.
  • The scores do not accurately reduce points for compliance with administrative orders. Under the proposed rule, two years after the effective date of an order, if an entity is compliant with all ordering provisions and has resolved all violations, the points attributable to that order will be reduced.  The reduction will be 25 percent for year three, 50 percent for year four, and 75 percent for year five.  The simplified model does not take into consideration compliance with the order. Therefore, under the simplified model, all orders receive the total reductions allowed each year under the proposed rule.  Entities that have not yet achieved compliance with an order receive a reduction under the simplified model that is not warranted.
  • Points awarded for “small entities” are not completely reflective of the proposed rule.  Under the proposed rule, points are allocated to small entities.  The simplified model allocates points for small businesses but does not allocate points for small cities and counties.
  • Reductions for voluntary programs are not completely reflective of the proposed rule.  The proposed rule allows for a maximum 25% reduction of compliance history points for implementing voluntary programs, such as an environmental management system.  If an entity has multiple voluntary programs, the simplified model does not accurately apply reductions for all programs.
  • Changes to the proposed formula and associated compliance-history components may be made as part of the rule adoption process.  Any changes to the proposed formula or components as a result of the rulemaking process would change scores that will be calculated on September 1, 2012.

To download test Compliance History scores click the link below:

http://www.tceq.texas.gov/enforcement/history/compliance-history-test-data.html

Please note that these reports are large files and, depending on your connection speed, may take several minutes to download.

These scores will only be available to download for the duration of the Chapter 60 public-comment period, which has been extended and will close on March 23, 2012.

You may comment on this rule via eComments.

We have provided sample comments for you to use in submitting your own.  We have also provided information on where and how to submit your comments below.

Comments of _Your name here_ on 2011-032-060-CE: HB 2694 (4.01 and Article 4): Compliance History Draft Rules.

Polluter-friendly amendments, proposed in the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality’s new regulatory rules, serve to increase the degree of noncompliance a company is permitted with no consequence. More noncompliance means more unauthorized toxins in the air, water, and ground in communities across Texas.

We are unsatisfied with the compliance history proposals because:

  • The TCEQ has jurisdiction over 250,000 entities all around the state. Holding one public hearing at 10 a.m. in Austin does not give citizens enough of an opportunity to give feedback. I would like to have a meeting hosted at the TCEQ office in my region so that I can participate in this process.
  • Increased compliance history leniency will cut the percentage of companies considered unsatisfactory from 5% to a mere 3% without reducing an ounce of pollution.  Compliance standards should be raised the longer a regulation has been in place, not made less effective by changing the unsatisfactory rating cutoff from 45 to 55 noncompliance points.
  • The executive director will be able to pardon polluters at his discretion—instead of adhering to a standard protocol. Why have formal classifications if the director can reclassify an entity or decide that a repeat violator charge should not apply? This is a nontransparent, unstipulated and unacceptable loophole.
  • Polluters will improve their compliance history score by signing up for supplemental environmental programs, regardless of effectiveness. Mere participation in a voluntary pollution reduction points does not warrant a 5% reward. The formula should call for measured returns for measured results.
  • The TCEQ has not presented information that calculates how the new formula will affect entities. Given the denseness of the proposal’s language, I would like to have a way to interpret the new compliance history ratings.
  • The proposed language for repeat violations would make it very difficult for any facility with many “complexity points” to ever be considered a repeat violator. Because so many points are given for different kinds of permits, authorizations and even hazardous waste units, getting to “25” complexity points will be easy for any large industrial facility or major entity, meaning that the only way they would be penalized for being a repeat violator would be to have four or more violations over the last five years.

I urge you to utilize TCEQ’s rulemaking process to implement changes that will benefit the health, communities, and resources of Texas citizens and not the pocketbook interests of businesses.

Comments due by 5pm on March 23, 2012.

Texas Register Team – MC 205 General Law Division Office of Legal Services TCEQ P.O. Box 13087 Austin, TX 78711-3087

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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Comment Period Extended to March  23rd

The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality is the second largest environmental agency in the world—with a budget to match. Help hold TCEQ accountable for taxpayer’s interests and stop them from implementing rules that favor polluting businesses.

TCEQ’s Mission Statement and Agency Philosophy includes a commitment to “ensure meaningful public participation in the decision-making process.”  Frankly, that did not translate into practice last week.  At the public hearing on Tuesday, March 6th, Public Citizen testified about our experience attempting to gain access to an agency analysis of the proposed changes to Chapter 60 (Compliance History) rule on a previous report that is accessible on TCEQ’s website as an ASCII file which can be imported into an excel spreadsheet. (more…)

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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.

Read Full Post »

Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) is seeking several amendments to its Radioactive Material License # R04100 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Five of the amendments request design changes to the Compact Waste Disposal Facility (CWF) and the Federal Waste Facility (FWF) for commercial and federal low-level radiactive waste disposal. The other two amendment applications set forth new Waste Acceptance Criteria that includes rates and contract considerations and new pavement design considerations.

Just as important, TCEQ is considering revising language and definition for waste of international origin, acceptance criteria, reporting of inventory and liability coverage as well as the issued TCEQ waste water permit.

TCEQ is accepting public comments and requests for a public meeting.  These can be submitted by mail to:

the Office of the Chief Clerk
MC 105
TCEQ
P. O. Box 13087

or electronically at www.tceq.state.tx.us/about/comments.html by December 17th.

If you need more information about the license application or the licensing process, please call the TCEQ Office of Public Assistance at 1-800-687-4040.

We will post the link to the amendment applications as soon as we are able to find them.  TCEQ recently migrated its database and the links no longer work.  Makes finding materials to base written comments on a bit more complicated.

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According to the Texas Energy Report, the EPA has issued its first greenhouse gas permit in Texas with the TCEQ refusing to issue permits to LCRA or others

The Lower Colorado River Authority received the first Texas Greenhouse Gas permit as it upgrades a 37-year-old generating unit in Llano County to a more efficient natural gas-powered unit, federal environmental regulators announced Thursday.

LCRA, which is making improvements to its Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant, is the first company in Texas to complete a greenhouse gas permit application and obtain the final permit, a process that took about eight months, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The LCRA plant will use improved environmental controls and install modern high efficiency equipment,” said EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz. “LCRA is leading the way by providing Texans an efficient and reliable source of clean power.”

EPA granted the first Texas greenhouse gas permit and is reviewing 10 others for Texas companies. Under EPA’s final national regulations, projects beginning on Jan. 2, 2011 that “increase greenhouse gas emissions substantially” require the air permits.

While the EPA said it thinks states are “best equipped” to oversee the permitting process, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has refused to do so.

In an Aug. 2, 2010 letter to the EPA, the Texas Attorney General and TCEQ explained, “The State of Texas does not believe that EPA’s suggested approach comports with the rule of law” and that would “preclude TCEQ from declaring itself ready to require permits for greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources as you request.”

Under the LCRA permit, the electric cooperative plans to replace an old 440-megawatt electric generating boiler with a new, 590-megwatt combined cycle gas-fired plant.

“We appreciate EPA’s work on our project,” said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal. “The region will benefit from the latest environmental controls and our customers will benefit from our ability to better manage costs with a plant that will use about 35 to 40 percent less fuel than traditional gas-fired plants.”

The TCEQ released a statement saying it is pleased LCRA’s project is morning forward, but “we see no need for – or any environmental benefit from – EPA’s greenhouse gas permit. The TCEQ authorized the project on Sept. 1, 2011 after careful review that determined the permit was protective of the environment and fully compliant with all state environmental regulations.”

TCEQ’s greenhouse gas letter to the EPA is here.

EPA’s letter to permit holders and the public is here.

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Public Citizen, Sierra Club and SEED Coalition are calling on Luminant to come clean and retire, rather than idle, the old dirty coal plant, Monticello 1 and 2.

After receiving notice that Luminant Generation Company, LLC, has filed a Notification of Suspension of Operations for Monticello Units 1 and 2 with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), these environmental groups called on Luminant to retire the units rather than idle them and be more forthcoming with long-term plans that will affect workers.  While Luminant and Texas have been in the headlines repeatedly for their opposition to the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the rule would effectively help Dallas/Fort Worth meet the minimum public health air quality standards for the first time in years. Yet, if Luminant only idles the plants, then chooses to run them at full capacity next summer, the implications for Dallas/Ft Worth’s air quality remain unclear.

“Luminant has been frightening Texans with claims that power will become scarce if the company is not allowed to continue polluting unabated.  But other Texas utilities are cleaning up their act without difficulty, and this summer’s successful growth of coastal wind demonstrates there are multiple ways to meet Texas’ electricity needs.” said Jen Powis, representative of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.   “Indeed, the Public Utilities Commission and ERCOT both have multiple tools in their arsenal that can be used to ensure grid reliability as Texas moves beyond coal.”

Luminant states that the rule unfairly targets their existing generation, yet a review of the 2009 self-reported emissions inventory maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality demonstrates that the three Luminant coal plants (Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake) are the top 3 industrial polluters in Texas among nearly 2,000 industrial plants. They are exceptionally dirty plants:

  • Combined they emit 25.5% of state industrial air pollution
  • Combined they emit 33.8% of state industrial SO2 air pollution
  • Combined they emit 11.4% of state industrial PM10 air pollution
  • Combined they emit 10% of state industrial NOx air pollution
  • Combined they emit 37.6% of state industrial CO air pollution

Comparing Luminant’s three coal plants only to other coal plants, however, shows an even more problematic tale.  Luminant’s Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake are:

  •  46.8% of all Texas coal plant emissions (19 existing coal plants)
  • 41.5% of all Texas coal plant SO2 emissions
  • 36.0% of all Texas coal plant PM10 emissions
  • 30.6% of all Texas coal plant NOx emissions
  • 71.7% of all Texas coal plant CO emissions

“We call on Luminant to move beyond posturing and sit down at the negotiating table with EPA in good faith to discuss responsible retirement plans for these plants, like CPS Energy in San Antonio is doing. This approach would be good for consumers, our health and the environment,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas office.

“In order to protect the health of Texans, Luminant must plan now to retire these old coal plants. Monticello has often been the worst emitter of toxic mercury pollution in the nation,” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “We don’t believe Luminant’s plans to retrofit these plants are economically feasible given the company’s poor financial health. Their plans rely on multiple expensive changes, any of which could simply fail to materialize. Luminant should commit to retire Monticello Units 1 and 2, and work with ERCOT, EPA, and public interest groups to prioritize clean energy generation.”

Public Citizen, Sierra Club and SEED Coalition call on Luminant to cease the use of scare tactics, and commit to a plan to retire its Monticello Units 1 and 2, paving the way for clean energy in North Texas. All three groups also call on ERCOT and the PUC to move forward by implementing new rules for energy storage, distributed renewable energy like onsite solar, energy efficiency, demand response, and a restructuring of the Emergency Interruptible Load System to assure there are maximum options available next summer.

“The Legislature has already granted broad authority to ERCOT and PUC to expand our use of these tools,” noted Cyrus Reed, with Sierra Club. “Now it’s time for them to step up to the plate, begin implementing these measures, and using their time to create solutions rather than fight clean air protections.”

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