Community Members and Advocates Tell Lawmakers: The TCEQ’s Reluctance Is Damaging Our Communities
Everyday Texans demand bold people-focused reforms to the state’s environmental agency
AUSTIN, Texas – Community members and advocates from across the state told a state House committee today that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is ineffective, leaving their neighborhoods unprotected and at the mercy of corporate polluters.
The Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation hearing was to consider House Bill 1505 by state Rep. Keith Bell, R-Forney, also commonly called the TCEQ Sunset bill.
Sunset is the state’s process for auditing its agencies and provides an opportunity for reforms.
“Too much pollution is something we live with every day in my neighborhood,” said Delores McGruder, a resident of Houston’s Fifth Ward who traveled to the Capitol today. “People feel like they are being left to fend for themselves against these big facilities that put toxic pollutants into our air, land, and water. The TCEQ is supposed to protect people, but we don’t see it happening. All we are asking for from the legislature is a much better TCEQ that sides with us first.”
While the bill’s current iteration contains some favorable provisions – such as increasing maximum fines for polluters – it needs to do more. At today’s hearing, advocates and community members asked lawmakers for improvements.
Public Citizen and Air Alliance Houston support the current version of the bill but are requesting improvements that include:
- Directing the TCEQ to consider the cumulative effects on health of approving multiple air permits in the same neighborhoods
- Clarifying that permit application virtual public meetings will supplement, not replace, existing in-person meetings
- Removing “economic development” from the agency’s mission statement, which has led the agency to protect industry interests over public health
- Requiring the agency to consider environmental justice in permitting and enforcement
As part of the Sunset review, the state issued a report last year which called the TCEQ a “reluctant regulator,” echoing community concerns that the agency too often sides with polluters and their profits rather than local neighborhoods and public health.
“The TCEQ needs to go from reluctant to responsive and effective,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas director of Public Citizen. “Too many Texans in some of the most vulnerable communities live with a polluting facility not far from their front door. Lawmakers must take this opportunity to pass a bill that makes bold changes to an agency that needs it. A healthier Texas is possible when we protect people, not polluters.”
“We appreciate the efforts of the Committee to improve the effectiveness of the TCEQ. Unfortunately, HB1505 misses the opportunity to make truly transformative change that would finally prioritize people over polluters,” said Genesis Granados, Environmental Justice Programs Manager at Air Alliance Houston. “Without such fundamental changes as a permitting process that considers all pollution sources in a community and the removal of economic development from its mission, TCEQ will continue protecting industry interests when it should be protecting public health.”
The bill is considered must-pass legislation that will reauthorize the agency’s function until its next Sunset review cycle in about 12 years. An identical bill in the Senate, SB 1397, has been filed but has yet to receive a hearing.