On the Record: Our Comments Submitted to TCEQ

By Matthew Tejada, PhD Executive Director Air Alliance Houston and Elena Craft, PhD Health Scientist

It’s time to wait and see.

If the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality earnestly considers comments we co-submitted this month in response to its draft “Protocol for Notification and Work Group Functions for Evaluating Potential and Active Air Pollution Watch List (APWL) Areas,” it will signal a new era in the agency’s commitment to reducing levels of air toxics around the state. We especially welcome the appointment of a dedicated staff position to manage the APWL program. [See Dec. 2 blog post for more background on the APWL and “toxic hotspots.”]

However, we wanted to go on record here expressing our concern that the program’s ultimate effectiveness could be fundamentally undermined if the agency does not adopt the APWL protocol as rule. Clean air advocates have long maintained that a program as critical as this, designed to protect the health of Texans, calls for a rulemaking. We believe that putting the APWL program in rule will provide the best possible “middle ground” for such a program – short of the rigidity of statute, yet firmer than mere agency program or directive.

Additionally, given that we live in a new age of transparency, a program “in rule” will also allow the agency to modify the program with full public participation should such a necessity arise, while preserving long-term programmatic integrity through the inevitable changing of agency staff priorities and politics.

Another concern we must voice is that the proposed protocol fails to provide a comprehensive remediation plan for all current or potential APWL areas. For example, recent growth in the oil and gas drilling industry presents a new threat to air quality, especially in areas like the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex or the upper Rio Grande Valley, which have traditionally never dealt with chronic levels of air toxics.  Since the agency does not issue a priori (in advance of construction) permits for oil and gas drilling, many of the remediation efforts outlined in the current proposal may be irrelevant.

Finally, in the draft protocol, TCEQ proposes the following vision of the APWL program:

To improve air quality in APWL areas by providing mechanisms for TCEQ program involvement into site-specific APWL decisions, including communication to internal and external stakeholders and determination of strategic actions to reduce ambient levels of pollutants of concern.

Our suggestion revision to this vision:

To reduce levels of air toxics in APWL areas as expeditiously as practical to ensure healthy air quality for all residents within such areas by providing mechanisms for TCEQ program involvement into site-specific APWL decisions, including communication to internal and external stakeholders and determination of strategic actions in pursuit of air quality improvements.

A full report of our submitted comments and others’ will be accessible soon from the TCEQ website. It’s quite possible that the final version will not be adopted until the end of this year’s legislative session, but we look forward to the possibility of new APWL guidance and applaud our state environmental agency for making the oversight of toxic hotspots in Texas a priority.

This entry was posted in Air Pollution, TCEQ and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.