Corpus Christi citizens meet to begin the process of fixing TCEQ

TCEQ is broken. It’s not working in the public’s interest, and there are direct costs that all of us in the state of Texas are paying as a result.  But there is an opportunity for us to fix some of the problems with this broken state agency by participating in the Texas Sunset process.

The Alliance for a Clean Texas kicked off a series of town hall meetings across the state on the sunset review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on September 15 th.  Last night in Corpus Christi, residents criticized the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, saying it holds too much power and ignores public concerns in the interest of business.

Nearly 250 people, participated in the meeting, about the agency’s upcoming review by the state’s Sunset Commission, which is required by state law and seeks to identify and reduce waste, duplication of efforts and inefficiency.

Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Ryan Rittenhouse with Public Citizen and Donna Phillips, area director for the agency’s Coastal Bend and East Texas Region all gave brief presentations during the meeting held at Del Mar College’s Center for Economic Development.  Their comments centered on Corpus Christi’s recent experiences with the TCEQ over the proposed Las Brisas Energy Center, a $3 billion petroleum coke-fired electricity plant whose permit application is under review by the state environmental agency. If approved, the plant will be built near the Port of Corpus Christi.

  • Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that the agency’s role in the Las Brisas permitting process is at the center of a national debate on energy resources and the environment.  He said that coal plants, including Las Brisas, pose an ongoing threat to the state’s environment and went on to say Sierra Club would like to see the agency increase fines and fees and follow the federal Clean Air Act.
  • Ryan Rittenhouse with Public Citizen said that the decision to allow coal plants should not rest with the agency’s three commissioners. “The commissioners are completely ignoring their mission, which is to guard the state’s environment, not its economy,” he said.  Coal-fired plants add toxins such as mercury into the environment. He added that the Gulf Coast and 13 Texas lakes and reservoirs and three rivers are under mercury contamination advisories for two species of fish.
  • Donna Phillips, area director for the agency’s Coastal Bend and East Texas Region, told the crowd that the agency’s primary goal is a clean environment and the agency creates and enforces regulations to that end.

Twenty residents spoke during the meeting and none had any praise for the agency.

  • Tom Thomas, a teacher, said that he is distrustful of the commissioners of the agency.  “When three people can ignore the warnings of doctors, judges and even their own public interest council and make decisions, that is messed up,” he said.
  • “The system is totally broken,” said John Kelly, a local environmental activist. “And I’m not sure TCEQ shouldn’t be totally abolished and we shouldn’t start from scratch.”
  • Daniel Lucio, a Corpus Christi resident, said the Las Brisas permit process has not involved the public. He said that the commissioners, who decide which permits are approved, hold too much power.

The state agency, second only to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency in size and jurisdiction, is one of 29 under commission scrutiny this year, including the state’s Public Utility Commission, Railroad Commission and Department of Transportation.

The Sunset Commission is composed of five appointees from each state legislative body and two private citizens. Legislative members serve four-year terms and private citizens serve two-year terms on the commission.  All are appointed by the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House.

The Sunset Advisory Commission will hear testimony from the agency, commission staff members and the public at hearings Dec. 15 and 16 in Austin and the commission will submit its recommendations to the Legislature when it convenes next year.

The town hall meetings being coordinated by ACT are not part of the Sunset input process but we encourage people around the state to attend those meetings when they are held in your area.  For information about when and were the town hall meetings are being held, click here.

Citizens wishing to speak to the commission will only have that opportunity at the December hearing.  However,  there are other opportunities for members of the public who wish to participate in the review process to do so. It is important for citizens to realize that they can provide valuable information to the Sunset Commission about how well or poorly an agency performs its functions. Your input can help identify potential issues for study and proposed changes to the agency. You can participate in the review of an agency by:

  • Providing Input to Sunset Staff. You can submit your comments on an input form or mail them to:.

    Sunset Advisory Commission

    PO Box 13066

    Austin, TX 78711

  • Commenting on Sunset Reports. Sunset reports are made available to the public before Sunset Commission hearings to provide an opportunity for public comment on the staff’s findings and recommendations and on the agencies themselves. You may submit comments to the Sunset Commission by letter (at the above address) or by email.
  • Testifying at Public Hearings. The Commission holds public hearings on each agency under review. These hearings offer the public an opportunity to testify about an agency and comment on the Sunset staff’s recommendations. If you would like to testify before the Commission, witness affirmation forms are available at the meeting. Public hearings are webcast and archives are available.
  • Taking Part in the Legislative Session. Generally, if an agency is to be continued, a bill must be passed by the Legislature. Members of the public can participate in the legislative process as you would with any other legislation.  You can follow the TCEQ Sunset process by visiting our website regularly or Follow us on Twitter- @PublicCitizenTX.

If you have special needs or wish to request an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation, contact the Sunset ADA Coordinator at sunset@sunset.state.tx.us or call (512) 463-1300.

This is your process and your participation is vital if any changes to TCEQ are going to happen.  Let your voice be heard.

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