By Damiana De La Paz
The House Committee on Environmental Regulation will have a hearing this week for the TCEQ Sunset Review Bill (HB 1505). The bill offers changes to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state’s environmental regulatory agency.
An evaluation by the state is done about every 12 years to ensure that its agencies are still needed and, if they are, to potentially reform their tasks. Known as a Sunset review, the TCEQ has been under that process for over a year. Now, legislation that follows some recommendations made during the review is being considered by the Texas Legislature.
The evaluation by the state highlighted some issues with the TCEQ. Most of the problems were that the TCEQ needed more transparency, did little to hold polluters accountable, and required improvements to make it more effective overall.
As the current bill stands, some of its proposals are beneficial. Those include enforcing a higher maximum daily fine for polluters and expanding the agency’s communication with the public to enhance transparency. Despite these provisions, more still needs to be done to get us to a better TCEQ that prioritizes the health of Texans and the environment.
Community members and organizations – including Public Citizen – will attend the hearing to encourage lawmakers to make the following changes.
- 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
Damiana De La Paz is a student at the University of Texas majoring in journalism. Damiana is the Spring 2023 communication intern for the Texas office of Public Citizen in Austin.