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 (This request was later withdrawn to allow the Sunset review process to do its job, but not before the agency's credibility was drawn into question.)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.