For immediate release
Contact: Riikka Pohjankoski, [email protected], 713.589.7079
November 10, 2022 – Today, the Sunset Advisory Commission presented its assessment (known as Sunset Review) of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas’s main environmental regulatory agency.
Such an assessment is held every 12 years, and its conclusions significantly impact the health of millions of Texans. The Legislature will discuss and update environmental legislation based on the Sunset Review.
Local community organizations issued the following statements in response to the meeting:
Jennifer Hadayia, Executive Director, Air Alliance Houston:
Air Alliance Houston appreciates the efforts of the Sunset staff and Commissioners to improve the effectiveness of the TCEQ and its lack of transparency that has led to public distrust. Unfortunately, they missed the opportunity to make transformative change that would prioritize people over polluters. We are especially concerned about the following:
- AAH requested TCEQ to include environmental justice considerations in the air permitting process, including a commitment to consider cumulative impacts of permit decisions; however, there is no recommendation in the report at all related to either environmental justice or cumulative impact.
- AAH requested that public meetings be held before a draft air permit is issued for a facility to allow earlier community input and that final permits include meaningful consideration of public comments rather than checking off a public engagement box. We are disappointed that the Commission did not recommend either of these changes.
- AAH requested that information on the TCEQ website be provided in all languages spoken in affected communities and at an appropriate literacy level; however, we found no recommendations regarding language translation on the website, other than one modest change: to consider making complaint forms available in Spanish.
We now look to the 2023 Legislative Session to continue our advocacy for strong protections against pollution for our communities. We will continue to advocate for the above issues as part of our legislative agenda. We will also continue our own efforts to increase transparency and access for the public to the TCEQ’s air permitting processes through our new public notification system AirMail and email action alerts.
Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter:
“Today’s decisions represent a modest improvement in transparency, public access and enforcement, but fell well short of the fundamental reform needed for an agency that is captured by industry and fails to protect public health” said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club. “We do recognize the good decisions made that would require that permit documents and notice be electronically available, in increasing the amount of time to comment on proposed permits, and especially the decision to increase maximum fines from $25,000 to $40,000 per violation per day. Even to get these modest improvements will require consistent pressure on our legislators to do the right thing.”
Becky Smith, Texas Director, Clean Water Action (CWA):
“On behalf of our 20,000 members in Texas, Clean Water Action (CWA) leadership is disappointed to have been denied calls for the establishment of a well-funded Office of Environmental Justice within the agency which we believe necessary to truly take into account cumulative pollution impacts on communities of color when making permit decisions,” said CWA’s Texas Director, Becky Smith. “Additionally, no recommended action guarantees that TCEQ will work to regulate resources and pollution in a manner which recognizes climate change science and will work to protect human health and environmental quality as symptoms of climate change increase.”
Air Alliance Houston will hold a Twitter Space conversation on Friday, November 18, together with speakers from Texas Sierra Club and the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience (CEER) to discuss the Sunset Commission’s recommendations and opportunities for the public to engage during the upcoming Legislative Session. We will share more details in the coming days on our Twitter account @AirAllianceHOU.