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Posts Tagged ‘Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’

The States Attorney general is leaping into the environmental fray once again with a filing with the federal appeals court to review the new EPA regulations while the Texas house state affairs hold hearings today, but Governors Perry’s attorney and chief is taking it one step farther filing against  four different rules according to the AGs web site:

“Specifically, Texas petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to stay the EPA’s greenhouse gas Endangerment Finding, the Light-Duty Vehicle Rule, the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Interpretive Rule, and the Tailoring Rule.”

After a record-breaking heat wave it seems that its turning out to be better to litigate than try to find a solution (problem what problem), with all the state agencies now following lock step on message. It was back in Pres Bush’s administration that some of the rules were proposed and many of Texas’s and the rest of the countries industries have been gearing up and cleaning up to meet the new rules. After the White House caved on the ozone rules one can guess that they are expecting to get away with anything they want.

Reported shortages of different inhalers for the treatment of breathing difficulties by pharmacies,along with studies showing that Texas can meet the new cross state pollution rule and clean up the air don’t seem to carry any weight with this administration. Recent press releases on the loss of 500 jobs by Luminant (take a look at their stock market filings if you think this is just about federal intervention) and our previous post ,after the state just got done axing over 6000 jobs with its heavy-handed budget process, are making headlines. “Jobs for coal, but not for kids” might be a more appropriate  tag-line.

Its time to turn on the scrubbers, have the PUC come out with a strong energy efficiency rule to cut the load (a proven and cost-effective method) get a move on with the 500Mw non-wind renewable rule  that keeps getting tabled (and not paying companies to try to un-mothball old generation units). Just maybe we can get a little more fresh air and some non polluting peaking energy when we need it.

Leadership not lawyership is more of what we need.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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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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Seems like everyone is jumping onto the “Fracking” bandwagon. 

In an earlier blog we talked about the US Department of Energy’s entrance into the “Fracking” fray with Secretary Steven Chu appointing an Energy Advisory Board subcommittee on natural gas, led by former CIA director John Deutch, who plan to have recommendations on the table in the next few weeks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the other federal agency looking at the environmental impact of drilling for huge volumes of shale gas, but EPA doesn’t plan to release its initial findings until 2012 at the earliest. Nevertheless, this week they unveiled proposals to regulate air pollution from oil and gas operations, taking aim for the first time at the fast-growing practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Environmental activists say the regulations would mark the first significant steps taken by the EPA since 1985 to control harmful emissions released during production and transport of oil and gas, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association is already characterizing the proposed rules as an “overreach.”

The EPA’s suggested regulations fit into four categories, including new emissions standards for (1) volatile organic compounds (VOCs), (2) sulfur dioxide, (3) air toxics during oil and gas production, and (4) air toxics for natural gas transmission and storage.

The EPA expects the following emissions reductions would result if the new standards were fully implemented:

  • VOCs: 540,000 tons, or industry-wide reduction of 25 percent
  • Methane: 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or a reduction of about 26 percent
  • Air Toxics: 38,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.

Now Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter has put together the Eagle Ford Task Force, whose top concerns include:

  • Protecting water resources while tapping into millions of gallons to help shake oil and gas out of tight shale formations
  • Waging good community relations via public education of how the oil and gas industry will operate in the area
  • Listening and working with concerns of locals citizens concerning noise levels and wear and tear on county roads and state highways
  • Developing a well-trained, technical workforce to fill thousands of entry-level jobs with starting pay of $60,000
  • Exercising stewardship over the area’s natural resources while balancing environmental concerns with cost-effective regulatory practices

Individuals named to the task force include:

  • Stephen Ingram, Halliburton Technology Manager
  • Brian Frederick, southern unit vice president of for the east division, Houston, of DCP Midstream, a gatherer and processor of natural gas
  • Trey Scott, founder of Trinity Minerals Management of San Antonio
  • Leodoro Martinez, executive director of the Middle Rio Grande Development Council, Cotulla.
  • Webb County Commissioner Jaime Canales, Precinct 4, Laredo.
  • Teresa Carrillo, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club executive member and Eagle Ford landowner.
  • James E. Craddock, senior vice president of drilling and production operations, Rosetta Resources, Houston.
  • Erasmo Yarrito, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Rio Grande Water Master, Harlingen.
  • Steve Ellis, senior division counsel, EOG Resources, Corpus Christi.
  • Dewitt County Judge Daryl Fowler, Cuero.
  • Anna Galo, vice president, ANB Cattle Company, Laredo.
  • Mike Mahoney, Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District, general manager, Pleasanton.
  • James Max Moudy, senior client service manager, MWH Global, Inc., Houston.
  • Mary Beth Simmons, senior staff reservoir engineer, Shell Exploration and Production Co., Houston.
  • Terry Retzloff, founder, TR Measurement Witnessing, Campbellton.
  • Greg Brazaitis, vice president government affairs, Energy Transfer, Houston.
  • Glynis Strause, dean of institutional advancement, Coast Bend College, Beeville.
  • Susan Spratlen, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs, Pioneer Natural Resources, Dallas.
  • Chris Winland, Good Company Associates; University of Texas at San Antonio, interim director, San Antonio Clean Energy Incubator, Austin/San Antonio.
  • Paul Woodard, president, J&M Premier Services, Palestine.

 It will be interesting to see what kind of a production this cast of thousands puts on.

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Statewide organizations support youth as they appeal TCEQ decision
denying petition to reduce carbon emissions and prevent climate catastrophe

Three Texas youth and one young adult filed for judicial review today of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) denial of their petition to force action on climate change. Specifically, the rulemaking petition requests TCEQ to require reductions in statewide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels consistent with what current scientific analysis deems necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“TCEQ and the Texas government have failed to live up to their responsibility to protect my future and take the urgent action needed to halt climate change,” said 15 year-old plaintiff, Eamon Umphress. “My generation will be hurt the most by climate change, but instead of taking action, Texas is putting short-term profits for corporations above a livable planet for me and future generations.”

As part of the iMatter Campaign, a petition was filed on May 5th in conjunction with legal actions in 47 other states, the District of Columbia, and against the federal government on behalf of youth to compel reductions of CO2 emissions in an effort to counter the negative impacts of climate change that these youth expect to manifest in their lifetime.

The petition relies upon the long established legal principle of the Public Trust Doctrine that requires all branches of the government to protect and maintain certain shared resources fundamental for human health and survival. Science, not politics, defines the fiduciary obligation that the government, as the trustee, must fulfill on behalf of the beneficiary—the public.

“Dr. James Hansen, a prominent and widely respected climate scientist, has warned that our window of opportunity is quickly closing to take serious action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “Since 1991, TCEQ has had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases but has lacked the political and moral will to do so. The moral failure of the leadership of Texas, particularly Governor Perry and TCEQ Commissioner Shaw, is shameful and betrays future generations. We urge the courts and TCEQ to follow the science and take action to protect the climate and future generations by reducing CO2 emissions now.”

“The Public Trust Doctrine requires TCEQ, as a trustee, to protect and preserve vital natural resources, including the atmosphere, for both present and future generations of Texans,” said Adam Abrams, an attorney with the Texas Environmental Law Center. “TCEQ’s fiduciary duties as trustee of the public trust cannot be disclaimed.”

TCEQ’s decision states that any reduction in CO2 emissions will not impact the global distribution of these gases in the atmosphere. “But as the largest emitter in the United States, reductions in Texas can make a difference in overall reductions,” said Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Every ton of carbon contributes to global warming, and fewer emissions means less heating in the pipeline and a better chance of reversing Earth’s current energy imbalance.”

“Texas is not only the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the U.S., the state is also reeling from severe impacts of climate change right now—namely heat waves, droughts, and wildfires,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “The U.S. Global Change Research Program states in its 2009 report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, that with rising high temperatures, droughts and heat waves will become more frequent and severe, and water supplies are projected to become increasingly scarce. Just last month, the federal Department of Agriculture declared 213 counties in Texas disaster areas, due to ‘one of the worst droughts in more than a century.’” Texas has “sustained excessive heat, high winds and wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres,” and many farmers and ranchers “have lost their crops due to the devastation caused by the drought and wildfires,” USDA stated in its press release. “We call on Texas government officials to take these impacts seriously and act now to reduce CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels,” stated Metzger.

To protect Earth’s natural systems, the best available science shows that average global surface heating must not exceed 1° C and concentrations of atmospheric CO2 must decline to less than 350 ppm this century. We are currently at around 390 ppm. To accomplish this reduction, Dr. Hansen and other renowned scientists conclude that global CO2 emissions need to peak in 2012 and decline by 6% per year starting in 2013. The rulemaking petition seeks a rule that would require a reduction of statewide CO2 emissions at these levels. Click here to read Dr. Hansen’s recent paper.

“The Texas government continually claims that any kind of regulation on CO2 is a regulation that would hurt business and the economy. This does not have to be the case,” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “The shift to an economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels is not only technically but economically feasible, and with the right policies in place, our economy could flourish in new green jobs from this shift. Wind energy is comparable in price to coal and the cost of solar is falling, as San Antonio’s recent investment in a 400-megawatt solar project demonstrates. While touting the possible negative impacts on the economy that reductions in CO2 emissions could have, Texas consistently fails to consider the negative economic impacts of climate change—such as the increased weather extremes of heat waves, drought, and hurricanes—already felt by many Texans.”

“We have a moral duty to provide our children and our children’s children with a livable planet,” said Brigid Shea, mother of 15 year-old plaintiff, Eamon Umphress, and former Austin City Council member. “The Texas government must live up to its responsibility to protect and preserve our planet and our atmosphere. We need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and live as if our children’s future matters.”

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

Our Children’s Trust is a nonprofit focused on protecting earth’s natural systems for current and future generations. We are here to empower and support youth as they stand up for their lawful inheritance: a healthy planet. We are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers. We are adults, part of the ruling generation, and we care about the future of our childrenand their children’s children. www.ourchildrenstrust.org/

iMatter is a youth-led campaign of the nonprofit group, Kids vs Global Warming, that is focused on mobilizing and empowering youth to lead the way to a sustainable and just world. We are teens and moms and young activists committed to raising the voices of the youngest generation to issue a wake-up call to live, lead and govern as if our future matters. www.imattermarch.org/

 

 

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that all `flexible permit’ companies in Texas have agreed to apply for approved air permits, helping to achieve clean air in the state and providing for regulatory certainty.

Under the Texas flexible permit rule, certain industries were allowed an exemption from having to disclose pollution for each individual smokestack at a facility which enabled them to aggregate all emissions from the plant together in spite of the fact that the EPA under President George W. Bush had warned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that the processes did not meet federal standards and should be reformed.

The Clean Air Act ensures that businesses across the country operate efficiently and cleanly to safeguard public health from harmful levels of air pollution.  Under the act, the EPA had authorized the TCEQ as the Clean Air Act permitting authority in Texas.   TCEQ operates the largest air permitting program for major and minor sources in the U.S.  with over 1500 major air permit holders in Texas.  Less than 150 companies had applied for and received non-EPA-approved flexible permits from the TCEQ creating uncertainty about their compliance status with the Clean Air Act.   Starting in 2007, EPA wrote to all flexible permit holders telling them of their need to ensure compliance with federal requirements.

On May 25, 2010, the EPA barred the TCEQ from issuing a permit to a refinery in Corpus Christi. EPA said that the process used to justify that permit violated the Clean Air Act.  EPA’s Region 6 Administrator, Al Armendariz, also stated that the EPA would block future permits and force polluters to comply with EPA standards if the TCEQ did not change its rules.  TCEQ and Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, filed lawsuits against the EPA defending Texas’ flexible permit program.  In September 2010,  EPA notified all of the 136 `flexible permit’ companies that they needed to seek Clean Air Act compliant permits from the state.

This move by industry to come into compliance with federal standards flies in the face of Texas’ position that the state’s flexible permitting rules met those standards and probably doesn’t help their lawsuit much either.

More about activities in EPA Region 6 is available at http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/region6.html

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The 2009 record drought left the lower Colorado river basin stricken, but rains following the drought had made major inroads to recovery.  Now as Texas sees more than half the state in an “exceptional” drought with no end in sight, the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) could decide on Wednesday to sell at least 8.3 billion gallons of water a year to the proposed White Stallion coal-fired power plant near the Gulf coast in one of its first major water contracts since the last drought.

As I look out at the crisp brown vegetation baking in the easement outside my window, and the relentlessly hot air shimmering and dancing before me, I am concerned that there isn’t enough water right now for current stakeholders — cities, farmers, the environment and all the businesses that currently depend upon Lake Travis and Lake Buchanan for their existence.

Manufacturing and electric generation required 184,329 acre-feet of water in 2010 , according to estimates by the Lower Colorado Regional Water Planning Group, which provides statistics for the state water plan. By 2060, that number is expected to rise to 356,430.

Despite active opposition to the plant in Matagorda, the LCRA is likely to award the 40-year contract.  It has long held that it is OBLIGATED to sell water as long as it has water to sell and the use is a beneficial one.

John Dickerson, the LCRA board member who represents Matagorda, wants more time to review the contract saying, people in his district are against the plant and this is played out in a public outcry.  The LCRA board has received 2,260 letters and emails opposed to the project and only one letter in support.  In addition to local opposition to this plant, the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) recommended against granting the permit.  But true to their nature, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted the permit.  Sierra Club sued in district court and we are currently awaiting the final judgment that will remanded the permit application back to TCEQ to start all over again.

TAKE ACTION

It is important that Texans show up at the LCRA board meeting to speak out against this disastrous water contract.  This is no need to hurry this process and no need to tie up precious Central and South Texas water for an unwanted project.

When:              15 Jun, 9:00 AM

Where:             LCRA Headquarters
3700 Lake Travis Blvd.
Austin, TX 78703 (Map)

Host:               Josh Nelson

Status:             Public, open for RSVP, 10 Guests (Max 100)

To RSVP click here and sign up through CREDO Action

If you can’t attend the meeting, email or call and tell them that you oppose the Lower Colorado River Authority approving the White Stallion coal plant’s requested water contract.

Main Switch Board number is 1-800-776-5272, tell them you want to leave a comment on a board agenda item for Wednesday and they should direct you to the right person.

Or you can submit (their online form says question and they don’t seem to have an option to submit comments, but you can use this) by clicking here.   Be sure to reference the board member if you live in their service area county.

  • Timothy Timmerman, chair, Travis County
  • Rebecca A. Klein, vice chair , Bexar County
  • Kathleen Hartnett White,  secretary, Bastrop County
  • J. Scott Arbuckle, Wharton County
  • Steve K. Balas, Colorado County
  • Lori A. Berger, Fayette County
  • John C. Dickerson III, Matagorda County
  • John M. Franklin, Burnet County
  • Jett J. Johnson, Mills County
  • Sandra Wright Kibby, Comal County
  • Thomas Michael Martine, Blanco County
  • W.F. “Woody” McCasland, Llano County
  • Michael G. McHenry, San Saba County
  • Vernon E. “Buddy” Schrader, Llano County
  • Franklin Scott Spears, Jr., Travis County

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Today, several Texas environmental organizations spoke up on the recent Texas legislative session and their failure to protect public health or achieve clean energy jobs potential for the state.  Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, Public Citizen, and SEED Coalition hold Texas State Legislators accountable for missed opportunities to both protect public health from big energy polluters and create jobs in the growing, global clean energy economy.  

A full year before the session started, environmental groups, business, health, and community leaders from across the state were calling on the Texas Legislature to protect Texans’ health, air, water, and land from pollution, to implement serious protections and build the clean energy economy and create new long term jobs in the state.  The Texas Legislature took some steps but missed a big opportunity to move beyond a fossil fuel economy in this state. 

FAILURE TO IMPLEMENT SERIOUS OIL AND GAS PROTECTIONS

The Texas State Legislature passed the nation’s first state statute to require the disclosure of water volumes and names of chemicals and additives used in the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in the production of natural gas.  Unfortunately due to last minute lobbying by some industry players on the Senate side, the rules for that list are not required until July of 2013.   Also problematically, the provision that allows operators, suppliers and service companies to ask that certain chemicals or additives not be disclosed by declaring them trade secrets is too favorable to industrial polluters and hard for the public to challenge.

Beside weakening the gas fracking disclosure bill, the Texas Legislature:

  • Failed to pass a “sunset” bill making changes in the Railroad Commission of Texas (the state agency that regulates oil and gas activity);
  • Failed to pass a “sunset” bill making changes at the Public Utility Commission to reform the governing structure of ERCOT and open up the market for renewable energy;
  • Failed to pass a Texas Energy Planning Council to look at a transition toward clean energy and away from dirty coal plants.
  • Failed to find a better funding mechanism for the agency other than continued reliance on general revenue.
  • Passed SB 1134, which delays the implementation of new TCEQ rules on air emissions from oil & gas operations including fracking in the rapidly developing Eagle Ford and other shales beyond the already much-abused Barnett Shale;  and,
  • Failed to pass any additional protective measures related to oil and gas regulation such as pipeline safety, saltwater disposal regulations and green completions of wells; and,
  • Protected private industry from local governments recovering damages from global warming emissions.

ENERGY EFFICIENCY & RENEWABLES

The Legislature passed a dozen, ‘small’ electricity energy bills this session that will help the state reduce the amount of energy we burn, lower customer’s energy bills, further eliminate the need to build new power plants and reduce the amount of pollution that’s produced as a result. 

Click here for a full list of the good energy bills that passed this Session http://texasgreenreport.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/a_bakers_dozen_good_energy_bills_in_82nd_texas_legislature.doc

Among the good bills passed this session were:

  • SB 1125, which modernizes the energy efficiency goals and programs that investor-owned utilities must run;
  • HB 51, which will require the State Energy Conservation Office to adopt high-performance buildings standards for state agency and university buildings,
  • HB 362, which will require Homeowner Associations to set up the rules to allow homeowners to add solar or other cool roof technologies, and,
  • SB 981, which will clarify that third-party ownership of on-site solar is allowed in Texas, allowing both residential and commercial building owners to lease their roof-space and buy back the energy from solar companies.

While small steps, taken together, these dozen bills should help create jobs in Texas and open up opportunities for energy efficiency and on-site solar.

However, the Legislature failed to move more significant solar power bills — a state solar incentive program, guaranteeing a fair buyback rate for homeowners who generate excess electricity from their solar panels, or an expansion of the state’s goal for solar and other non-wind renewable energy, which has languished at the PUC since it was first passed in 2005 resulting in Texas shuffling towards the 21st century energy economy while other states are in an all out sprint to attract the growth and jobs that innovators and new industry will bring.  In a state known for big ideas and big things, small steps are not enough to attract new businesses and it’s disappointing to see Texas stand on the sidelines.

OTHER ENERGY-RELATED ISSUES:

The Legislature passed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Sunset bill re-authorizing the agency charged with protecting Texas environment.  The Sunset bill passed with penalties for air pollution increased from $10,000 per violation to $25,000.  However, the Legislature made it harder for citizens and attorneys to produce discovery in contested case hearings.

In an act of utter disgrace to Texas, the legislature opened up the state to become the nation’s radioactive waste dump by allowing 36 additional states to send their radioactive waste to the Andrews County Waste Control Specialists site that was originally intended only for Texas and Vermont ‘compact’ waste showing a complete disregard for Texas’ health and safety and pandering to a Dallas billionaire and his waste empire.  Even basic amendments such as studying transportation risks on our highways and whether emergency responders are trained and equipped to deal with an accident involving radioactive waste were struck down.

Some legislators deserve huge credit for trying to improve bills that passed this session, but overall, money ruled the day instead of common sense and decency.

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Back in November we blogged about a story that KHOU broke in Houston about radioactive contaminants in the Houston area drinking water. Revelations that came to light showed hundreds of water providers around the Gulf Coast region were providing their customers with drinking water that contains radioactive contaminants that raise health risks.  State tests by the Texas Department of State Health Services that were reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality showed utilities provided water that exceeded the EPA legal limit for exposure to alpha radiation.  But the kicker was that for more than 20 years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under-reported the amount of radiation found in drinking water provided by communities all across Texas by subtracting off the margin of error for all radiation readings it would receive (which was not in compliance with EPA rules that have been in place since Dec.  7, 2000).  Click here to see that post.  

It appears that TCEQ was using this method to help water systems escape formally violating federal limits for radiation in drinking water, maintaining their calculation procedure eliminated approximately 35 violations.  Without a formal violation, the water systems did not have to inform their residents of the increased health risk.

In this recent report by KHOU, newly-released e-mails from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show the agency’s top commissioners directed staff to continue lowering radiation test results, in defiance of federal EPA rules.  It goes on to revisit a Texas Water Advisory Council (comprised of some of the highest ranking public officials in Texas) meeting in June of 2004 where they reviewed and discussed TCEQ testimony regarding this issue, yet nothing seems to have changed in how TCEQ handled the under reporting, and they continued their policy of subtracting the margin of error from the result of each water-radiation test until an EPA audit caught them doing so in 2008.   The state has since complied with the EPA regulation.     So if you didn’t drink tap water in the Houston area before 2008, you’re probably good.  Click here to to see this most recent KHOU story.

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Senate Bill 1504 (by Seliger: R-Amarillo and Hinojosa: D-McAllen) the riskiest bill for the environment this session will be heard on the Texas house floor on Tuesday, May 17th.  If passed in its current form, the risks include:

  • Risk that we won’t have enough space for our own waste
  • Risk of an unfunded taxpayer liability
  • Risk from a radioactive rollover
  • Risk that we might contaminate the nation’s largest aquifer, which is nearby

This bill divorces the risk from the profit in the Texas radioactive waste industry putting the liability for a private radioactive waste disposal site on the taxpayers of Texas while putting billions into the pockets of a Texas billionaire.

It’s time to call our legislators- Click here to find out who represents you in the Texas House of Representatives (make sure you select” House” as your District Type”) and give your state legislator a callTell them NO on SB 1504.

A report released April 28th by Public Citizen’s Texas office finds that we could expect a substantial increase in radioactive transportation accidents.  According to WCS’s own transportation study, Texas can expect to have 4,500 trucks rumbling across the state on I-10, I-20, I-30, I-40 and I-27 each year.  That works out to 1,000 trucks per highway, or 3 per day.  The state is simply not prepared to deal with the possibility of a radioactive roll over at an emergency response level or at a financial liability level.  In the event of a transportation accident involving radioactive waste, Texas would have only $500,000 available to cover emergency response, health care and property damage costs, that amount is far too little.

Concern about taxpayer liability is also spelled out in the report which claims that the dump site being constructed in Andrews County does not have adequate capacity to receive waste from outside the state.  It cites a 2000 study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (see http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/assets/public/permitting/llrw/entire.pdf for a copy of the study) and an estimate produced by the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, both showing the site to be short on capacity for just the Texas and Vermont waste it was originally intended to handle.

We are recommending to members of the Texas Legislature that they vote against SB 1504 and not allow importation until the risks have been addressed and capacity at the site exists.  It has taken 30 years to start construction on a site for our own waste. SB 1504 would likely send us back to the drawing board if we don’t have space for our own waste.

The people of Texas are at risk from a leak at the site, which is located dangerously close to the Ogallala Aquifer and is only 150 feet from groundwater.  If the dump site located in the west Texas county of Andrews were to leak, the cleanup cost could be anywhere from three to 50 times the amount set aside by the site operator, Waste Control Specialists (WCS). Two examples of radioactive leaks – include one in South Texas that garnered a $384 million cleanup bill, and another in New York that is estimated at $5 billion.

You can help!

Call your legislator and tell them to not put the cart before the horseTell them NO on SB 1504.When the legislature voted to let a private facility run our Compact Facility, they told us that this would help prevent it from becoming a national dumping ground, and we believed you.  Now SB 1504 is doing just the opposite.  The legislature should first look at taking our Texas waste and study the capacity of the site before turning us into the national dumping ground. Vote No on SB 1504.

Click here to read a copy of the report. (more…)

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says if an amendment to HB 2694 remains on the TCEQ Sunset bill, undermining federal regulations at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ could risk losing its permitting authority and EPA might have to intervene directly in Texas permitting cases.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), whose sunset legislation for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality won unanimous Senate approval Thursday, said she stripped out all House amendments, including one that prompted a letter from the EPA.

The most controversial House amendment, added by Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), would shift the burden of proof in a contested case from the company applying for a permit to a citizen challenging the permit.

In an April 29 letter from EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Lawrence E. Starfield to the Sunset Advisory Committee Chairman Sen. Glenn Hegar,  the EPA said House changes could affect how federal requirements apply to federal permits issued by TCEQ and that “jeopardizes EPA’s approval and/or authorization” for Texas permitting programs.  The letter also specifically addressed the shifting of burdens to a person contesting a permit, saying that affects “Texas’ public participation process.”

While contested case hearings are not required by federal law, Chisum’s change would warrant federal review to make sure the legislation doesn’t conflict with federal law.

The EPA letter to Senator Glenn Hegar can be found here.

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The Texas Senate just unanimously approved House Bill 2694, the sunset bill for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Senate sponsors Huffman and Hegar fought to pass a clean TCEQ sunset bill and Senators Watson and Huffman clarified the intent of Senators to keep this bill clean in an anticipated House-Senate conference committee.

In the months leading up to the 82nd Texas legislative session, Public Citizen and numerous other organizations who are members of a coalition, the Alliance for Clean Texas (ACT) worked to alert the public to their opportunity to participate in the Texas Sunset process, turning out thousands of Texans at local town hall meetings to ask the Sunset Commission to make the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality do its job better — to more strongly protect our environment and communities from pollution.

The Sunset Commission heard the public and recommended that TCEQ be continued and that its powers to enforce pollution control laws be strengthened.   House Bill 2694 as introduced in this session reflected those sunset recommendations.   Although the bill was not perfect, it was a decent bill that would further environmental protection.  The partner groups in the Alliance for a Clean Texas have supported it on that basis.

Unfortunately, the bill was hijacked on in the House floor by pro-polluter interests and amended to limit the rights of Texans to challenge permits to polluters for air emissions, wastewater discharges, hazardous waste disposal, and other pollution and to weaken the enforcement improvements in the original bill. 

Fortunately the Texas Senate came to the rescue and jettisoned those pro-polluter amendments before passing the bill on the Senate floor today. Texans should express their thanks to the Senators and support the position of the Senate in conference committee.

 We will update this blog with the names of the conference committee members as soon as they are named and encourage all who are concerned to call the conference committee members and ask them to pass out the senate version of the bill.

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Tuesday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule allowing it to take over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting authority in Texas .

The agency said that EPA’s permitting authority to process Texas’ permit applications for GHGs was effective on May 1.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has indicated that 167 GHG-emitting sources will require PSD permits during 2011.

EPA said its final rulemaking is intended to assure that large GHG-emitting sources in Texas, which became subject to GHG permitting requirements on January 2, will continue to be able to obtain pre-construction permits under the CAA’s New Source Review program after the April 30, 2011, expiration date of the Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) that EPA put in place in December under an interim rule.  The GHG program would apply to large stationary emission sources of CO2, including power plants and refineries.

In December, the EPA told TCEQ that it was planning a temporary takeover of GHG permitting authority from the state after Texas officials made clear that they did not intend to enforce that part of the federal air permitting program.

EPA said its 1992 approval of a State Implementation Plan for the TCEQ was in error because the Texas did not address how its permitting program would apply to any and all pollutants subject to future federal regulation.  EPA said it has changed the approval to a “partial approval and partial disapproval,” with the GHG FIP covering the “gap” in the state’s plan.

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Contribution by the Alliance for Clean Texas.

When the 82nd Legislature convened in January, we knew we were in for a fight. We knew that industry would try to weaken the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and make it easier to get permits and skirt enforcement. We knew that the odds were stacked in favor of businesses that threatened the loss of jobs over regular folks who could count days lost to illness, add up the doctors bills, calculate the lawyers fees.

But when they decided to attack our ability to protect our families and our land, they went a step too far.

Today, Texans’ right to protest the permits issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is under attack. Our state senators can put a stop to this. Please contact your state senator and tell him or her to maintain your right to protect your family and community!

The Texas Senate will soon debate HB 2694–the TCEQ Sunset bill. This bill, as introduced, made much-needed changes to TCEQ that would strengthen its ability to enforce environmental laws. It was the result of the 18-month TCEQ Sunset review that involved thousands of Texans from across the state. But the Texas House amended HB 2694 on the House floor to limit our rights as citizens to contest permits for most categories of pollution including air emissions, wastewater discharges and hazardous waste. The Texas House took a balanced bill and turned it into a vehicle for pro-pollution interests. Now, it’s up to the Texas Senate to put things right and restore our right to protect our families and our land.

Tell your senator to strip off the House amendments and vote for for a “clean” TCEQ Sunset bill. If you’re not sure who represents you, you can look it up here.  A directory of all the state representatives is available online and includes all Capitol office phone numbers.

Texans from around the state need to call their senators. Please forward this email to your friends around the state. Even if your senator “knows better’ than to support amendments that would take away our right to defend our communities from pollution, give him or her a call. It’s essential that each senator hear from their constituents.

Thanks for taking the time to call.

Alliance for a Clean Texas
www.acttexas.org

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HB 2694, the sunset bill for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will be heard on the house floor tomorrow and several dozen amendments have be prefiled.  Of concern to any of you who have opposed a permit being granted is Representative Warren Chisum’s (R-Pampa) proposed floor amendment to HB 2694 which would completely undercut the Contested Case Hearing rules for TCEQ.

This session Rep. Chisum introduced House Bill 3037 to try to give polluters advantages in the contested case process, including placing the ‘burden of proof’ on the persons contesting a pollution control permit to prove that the permit should not be issued.

Currently the burden of proof is where it should be – on polluters to demonstrate that their discharges into the water or emissions into the air will be within legal limits and not produce adverse impacts. Our air and our water are shared resources. If a person or a company wants to introduce pollutants into our air and water, than they need to prove that it will not be harmful – the burden should not be on those potentially affected by the pollution.

House Bill 3037 received a hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee a couple of weeks ago, and it received overwhelming bipartisan opposition from citizens around Texas – from El Paso to Central Texas to Conroe and many other areas – and from local governments enforcing pollution control laws. The only supporters of the bill were those industries who want to eliminate any meaningful opposition to the pollution control permits they seek. The Committee has not acted on the bill, so Rep. Chisum has taken the HB 3037 language and fashioned it into a proposed amendment to House Bill 2694, the legislation that will continue the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), set for House floor debate tomorrow.

Most of the “affected persons” that participate in contested case hearings are rural farmers and ranchers or families wanting to
protect their quality of life.  They don’t have the resources to “prove” a permit should not be issued.  Most cannot even afford legal representation for the contested case hearing — much less water quality studies or air pollution modeling necessary to prove potential pollution impacts.

Citizens merely want proof that the additional pollution will not harm their children, livestock and property.   Citizens that ask the probing questions that often times reveal problems or even novel solutions that improve the overall outcome. 

Also, contested case hearings often bring to light problems with the proposed permit that TCEQ never considered.  For example, independent State Office of Administrative Hearings Law Judges have decided based on contested case hearing evidence cross-examination of application witnesses that more stringent permit conditions are required to protect the public. 

And, Rep. Chisum’s amendment goes even further in undermining meaningful public participation.  Proposed Sec. 5.316 would actually
violate the federal Clean Air Act, and would jeopardize Texas’ ability to issue federal air permits.  Another proposed section would also require the agency to spend more of our limited tax dollars on defending the issuance of a private company’s profit making permit (i.e., the provision regarding executive director’s participation in the contested case hearing).  That is simply absurd in this economy and state budget constraints!

You can make a difference, call your State Representative and tell them to vote AGAINST Warren Chisum’s proposed floor amendment to HB 2694.  A simple phone call makes a HUGE difference.  If you don’t know who your representative is, go to http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/find-your-representative/

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SB 655 by Hegar, or the Texas Railroad Commission Sunset Bill, suffered a setback in the Senate today. (more…)

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