TCEQ in an uphill battle to regain lost credibility

Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to “impose federal control over Texas” and is interested in a “blatant power grab.”

In fact, the EPA is simply making good on its warning that it would be required to intervene in Texas’ air permitting program if the TCEQ doesn’t comply with the federal Clean Air Act.  What’s more, those warnings date well back into the administration of President George W. Bush.

Still, it must have seemed to the TCEQ like they were suddenly getting it from all sides.

TCEQ’s two-weeks-from-hell in review:

  • May 25:  EPA announces it will begin issuing air permits in Texas until the TCEQ's Air Quality Program can become federally compliant and issue permits consistent with the Clean Air Act.
  • May 26:  Texas Observer breaks story that there was an allegation of fraud against the TCEQ regarding their Fort Worth mobile air monitoring study and an internal investigation that uncovered four instances of elevated benzene levels in Fort Worth that went undisclosed to the public or city.
  • May 28:  Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis files a 30-part open records request, leading to the revelation of an additional three instances of elevated benzene levels that had not been disclosed to the public or Fort Worth officials.
  • June 1:  Denton Record Chronicle reports that Republican U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess calls on Texas Attorney General to investigate state's environmental agency. (This request was later withdrawn to allow the Sunset review process to do its job, but not before the agency's credibility was drawn into question.)
  • June 7:  A massive gas explosion in Cleburne kills one and injures seven.
  • June 7:  The city of Flower Mound becomes the third Barnett Shale municipality to successfully enact an oil and gas drilling moratorium amid lingering questions regarding environmental and public health. (The gas explosion didn’t help.)

The series of articles alleging that TCEQ withheld findings of elevated benzene levels in Tarrant County provoked growing skepticism about the results of last year’s Barnett Shale air quality sampling. The timeline below describes events leading up to TCEQ’s admission:

December: TCEQ conducts air sampling across the Barnett Shale area.

January 12: TCEQ Deputy Director Sadle tells Fort Worth City Council and media that test results show there is “no cause for concern.”

January 22 & February 3: TCEQ tests the same air samples using more sensitive instruments in lab and detects benzene above long-term ESLs at four locations and another toxic substance above short-term at one location. This new information was withheld from the public.

January 26: TCEQ publishes air quality report with disclaimer.

February 3: Fraud complaint filed alleging that TCEQ leadership knew early on that the testing equipment was not sensitive enough to detect many toxic compounds.

April: Another inspection in Fort Worth where half of “the downwind samples taken found elevated levels of benzene, from 1.9 parts per billion to 6.3 ppb.”

April 26: TCEQ toxicology report written with new information but withheld from public.

May 21: Toxicology report posted on TCEQ website.

June 1: Release of April's inspection results.

All in all, not a great six months for the embattled agency….

EPA is moving ahead to provide protection for Texans that the state could not.

EPA is taking comments on new proposed greenhouse gas reporting rules for petroleum and natural gas systems.  Greenhouse gases – Methane (CH4), Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Nitrous oxide (N2O) are air pollutants that cause global warming.   Good reporting rules are the first step in a two-part regulatory effort to address emissions from poorly regulated oil and gas production.    These new reporting rules are important because they require precisely what TCEQ refused to provide the citizens of Texas:  DISCLOSURE.

Full disclosure of the global warming pollution emitted by oil and gas facilities would:

  • Give our policymakers and elected officials the critical information needed to fight pollution that erodes the health of our communities and environment;
  • Guarantee transparency – letting you, your family and friends know the largest emitters in your neighborhood and across the country; and
  • Help hold large emitters accountable for their greenhouse gas discharges.

To learn more about the proposed reporting rule, go to EPA’s Proposed Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule for Petroleum & Natural Gas Systems.

To tell EPA to continue protecting the Texas environment and public health by enacting these rules, email GHG_Reporting_Rule_Oil_and_Natural_Gas@epa.gov.   Include “EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0923” in the subject line of the message. To help you construct your letter, we have provided a sample letter to Administrator Jackson.

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8 Comments

  1. Tim Ruggiero
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 12:36 PM | Permalink

    The day following my meeting with Dr. Burgess, and two days after his call for invetigation, he decided that the TCEQ is capable fo investigating themselves. As a doctor and asthma sufferer, Burgess is unaware of the asthma rate amoongst children of the shale. (25%) He didn't even know what it is as a national average (7%)

    As a Representative that was deceived himself by Industry at a recent Town Hall he held, he flipped and has now decided that the TCEQ can handle any investigation of themselves on their own. The Sunset review will have nothing to do with the corruption, lies and deception that has come out of the top level TCEQ brass for years, now, most recently on the part of John Sadlier, who knew of damaging information, but failed to disclose it.

    We expect far more from our politicians, and Burgess is no different. Given the recent wave of long term politicians losing their seats, he should seriously reconsider where he stands on these issues.

  2. Posted June 11, 2010 at 8:43 AM | Permalink

    It's stunning to see the 2 weeks from hell listed out! I had not kept track so thank you for that list.

    Also, thank you for the reminder about the EPA commenting period. It's so important for us to make those comments but so hard to keep up with it all. Today is the last day to comment!!! That document you linked to is super! We need more of this, please.

    I did not receive this blog post in and EDF email like I do some of the others. This information is extremely important to North Texans. Was that just an oversight?

  3. David McFatridge
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 12:12 PM | Permalink

    I've put the letter on Change dot org if anyone prefers to use change dot org to send the EPA an email: http://environment.change.org/petitions/view/urgent_today_epa

  4. Posted June 11, 2010 at 3:16 PM | Permalink

    Subject line “EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0923” Last February, my son became mysteriously ill just after the white out snow event in Arlington TX. I wanted to find out if reverse pollution was detected on those days at the air monitoring station. I was dismayed to find out the air monitor was at the municipal airport in south Arlington. I thought the UTA natural gas drilling rigs that we are north and downwind from made my child ill. I had issues with the TCEQ giving different answers when I call and speak to different people. TCEQ Jared Wessel, (817)588-5885 tried to walk me through the process to view online air pollution events. He could not show me the path to get to the emission inventory and had to tell me to use the search feature and type in the words "air pollution events", so that goes to show that the general public cannot access the site unless they know the magic words. I also was walked through the process of looking at the results for the Region 4 Arlington Municipal Airport C61. When we looked at the same screen, the bars were color coded red, yellow, purple and burgundy, there were readings in “underscored bold” and readings in italics, but they were not easy to make sense of the numbers and so I am unable to understand why the monitoring stations are useful if they are not in the right place which should be near gas drilling sites. Today I called and talked with Sandy and for a half an hour I was guided through the same murk and not any enlightened as to what air pollution event might have made my son sick. In March, I called TCEQ to complain about the local pint shops and the odor in my neighborhood-I visited one shop whose filters were not in the exhaust cages, there was follow up over the phone, but it was nothing resolved, the question was whether these shops were big enough to even be on TCEQ’s radar. The comment was made that if a TCEQ rep comes out and the odor makes us nauseous and we cannot carry on a conversation that there was nothing that could be done. Since I live in the entertainment district by the Cowboy Stadium, along with paint and body shops and surrounded by gas wells with more to come…we need CONTINOUS AIR MONITORING STATIONS WITH EASY TO READ ONLINE DATA, AND WE NEED TO KNOW THAT CUMMULATIVE AND VARYING SOURCES OF POLLUTANTS THAT COULD EXPONENTIALLY ENDANGER OUR HEALTH IS BEING MONITORED COLLECTIVELY.
    Thank you.
    Kim Feil

  5. Lynda Wilson
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 3:23 PM | Permalink

    We strongly approve EPA’s April 2010, proposal that would require oil and gas producing equipment in the same basin to report emissions as one facility. Oil and gas emissions must be aggregated and reported as one facility. We know that fugitive and vented emissions from oil and gas facilities are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in Texas. We must have accurate emissions data from these facilities to create polity that reduces greenhouse gases.

    EPA should require direct measurement of emissions. Using equations to estimate emissions is inaccurate. We need direct measurements to ensure the data is accurate to develop the best policy.

    Tom and Lynda Wilson
    Flower Mound, TX

  6. john bosch
    Posted June 21, 2010 at 10:26 AM | Permalink

    All comments are revealing that there is beginning to be a real public understanding that neither EPA nor TCEQ (nor most other environmental agencies for that matter)want to require fenceline monitoring of emissions from regulated facilities. Too costly politically, environmentally-revealing, and economically. It has been demonstrated and published by EPA and others that fugitive losses of VOC can be 50% of total VOC emissions from refineries and like kind sources–emissions not included in EPA-authorized emission factors.

    I retired after 38 years with EPA involved with emission and ambient measurements and data systems. I managed the original emission inventory programs and developed many of the AP-42 emission factors and protocols for such. They are not currently adequate for measuring compliance or for estimating health risks. And most folks know it.

    Continuous emission monitoring equipment are commercially available for pollutant measurements at the fencelines and which should be absolutely required as a condition of permit renewal in my opinion. Moreover the readings should be available real-time and on-line over the internet and wireless for anyone interested or driving by to view. Cavity-ring-down, FTIR, DIAL, UV, etc. etc. are all useful in this regard.

    Let's keep pushing and , remember, the 1000-5000 barrel per day emission estimate from BP is just another emission factor proved horribly wrong. Thousands of similar EFs are in use by regulated entities today to report their emissions–let's push for actual measurements instead!

    john bosch

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