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.