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Lawmakers Opt for Marginal Improvements, Not Meaningful Reform, of the TCEQ

The state had criticized its environmental agency, labeling it a ‘reluctant regulator’

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Legislature today gave preliminary approval to the Sunset legislation for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, an agency criticized for its light touch with corporate polluters at the expense of vulnerable people.

Senate Bill 1397 renews the TCEQ for another 12 years. The bill, which already cleared the state Senate, received initial approval from the Texas House today. Adrian Shelley, Texas director of Public Citizen, issued the following statement:

“Communities across Texas live with polluted air and water and the threat of chemical spills – or worse. During the past year, members of these communities pleaded with their elected officials to overhaul the TCEQ and finally protect their health. Lawmakers ignored the pleas, preferring the status quo in Texas — protection of polluters over people. Legislators passed on a once-in-a-decade opportunity to address a wide range of issues with a TCEQ that many say is not merely a reluctant regulator but a broken agency.

“Though the Legislature could have done more, the bright spots of the legislation that people in fenceline communities pushed for will now offer a little more protection to all Texans.”

A Public Citizen analysis identified the following favorable provisions in SB 1397:

  • An increase in the maximum daily fine from $25,000 to $40,000
  • Permit applications are posted online, and the comment period following a public meeting increased to 36 hours
  • Compliance history review or permit suspension of a facility based on exigent circumstances.

Favorable improvements that the Legislature chose not to adopt include:

  • Directing the TCEQ to consider the cumulative effects on health of approving multiple air permits in the same neighborhoods
  • 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.