State regulatory agencies that come across as apologists interested in protecting rather than regulating industry are getting torched down in Austin. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is the latest bunch to draw the ire of folks who prefer their regulators to have actual teeth.
Several senators including Fort Worth’s own Wendy Davis are channeling Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman” – they’re ready to take a flamethrower to TCEQ. They accuse the state agency of coziness with industry and they’re demanding a state review of the commission. The most recent example of TCEQ complicity: The committee, without so much as a public hearing, recently renewed TXI’s 10-year permit for some of its cement kilns that keep belching black poison into the sky despite complaints from neighbors and the impact on North Texas air quality.
Davis, new to state politics, is obviously ready to swing with both fists. Power to her.
Of course, longtime Rep. Lon Burnam has been hollering into the wind with similar accusations for years.
“What you have with TCEQ is almost a total indifference to our problem in North Texas,” he said. “TXI has historically been a bad actor. I’m disappointed but not surprised the TCEQ has given them a 10-year permit to continue to pollute without regard to important fundamental issues that continue to be brought up on a regular basis.”
I called TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson and asked about the accusations. Dead silence. “Hello?” I asked, thinking Clawson might have hung up or had a heart attack. Nope, he was still on the phone, just not saying much. “I’ll send you a statement,” he said finally.
His statement lauded Texas’s clean air and water but did little to address accusations of being industry lapdogs.
“We are proud of our permitting and aggressive enforcement programs that are leading to a cleaner environment across Texas,” he wrote. “Air quality is showing improvement all across Texas, from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston and from Beaumont to El Paso.
“Surface water quality was assessed at 3,470 sites in 2008. Overall, water quality in the state remains good, with most water bodies meeting their standards. The continuous water-quality monitoring network continues to expand, with 60 sites remotely monitored every 15 minutes. Public water systems meeting the state’s drinking water standards serve about 96% of Texans. The TCEQ administers the state’s waste disposal facility rules, and also works to reduce the overall amount of waste generated.”
He ended by saying, “And through the Take Care of Texas Program, the TCEQ urges Texans to take simple steps toward improving the environment and keeping the state clean.”
That’s what Burnam, Davis, and others are doing, taking simple steps to improve the environment and keep the state clean by pointing damning fingers in TCEQ’s direction and asking for scrutiny and accountability.