Protect Contested Case Hearings at the Texas Legislature

It’s an unfortunate reality of Texas politics that those of us fighting for public health and environmental protection often find ourselves on defense. This year in the Texas Legislature, we are fighting to preserve the Contested Case Hearing (CCH) process. CCHs are one method for community members to get involved in the permitting process for polluting facilities. They offer a trial-like preceding in which protestants can present evidence, call and cross examine witnesses, and obtain a ruling from an administrative law judge. Contested Case Hearings often lead to negotiations and settlements that produce stronger, more health protective permits.

Last Tuesday in Austin, two bad bills on contested case hearings were heard in committee—SB 709 and HB 1865. Now we’re calling on legislators from those committees to vote No on these bills.

Opponents of the CCH process—generally members of industry and their supporters looking to weaken there permitting process—point out that Texas’ system goes above and beyond what either the EPA or most other states require. The argument goes that Texas shouldn’t have a more onerous permitting process than any other state—otherwise businesses might flee to those states.

In fact, there is good reason for Texas to add an extra layer of protection for citizens. We have more polluting facilities in Texas than most other states, more permits and permit applications, and more citizens living next door to polluting facilities. For these reasons and more, we need extra protections in Texas.

As for the argument that businesses will locate elsewhere—it isn’t borne out by the facts in Texas. Air permits are granted in 93 days on average, faster even than in Louisiana. Fewer than one half of one percent of permit applications are referred to the Contested Case Hearing process. Those that are come out with stronger permits that are less likely to be challenged by citizens at a later date. As for whether a company has ever moved due to the threat of a contested case hearing: I no of know such examples and, despite their claims, the CCH opponents testifying on Tuesday didn’t either.

The bills before the Texas Legislature now would limit who has standing to bring a contested case, when and how evidence could be presented, and how long a contested case hearing can take. These are unnecessary restrictions on the process that would limit a citizen’s options for participation.

The Contested Case Hearing process isn’t broken in Texas, and there’s no need to fix it. We’re calling on members of the Senate Natural Resources and House Environmental Regulation committees to vote no on these bad bills. We encourage you to do the same.