TCEQ’s Misplaced Priorities

Adrian Shelley, Community Outreach Coordinator at Air Alliance Houston

This blog post was written by guest author Adrian Shelley, Community Outreach Coordinator at Air Alliance Houston.

If there were any doubts about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) priorities, they were removed at a public hearing yesterday. The hearing was poorly attended, with zero testimony from Texas’ industry. It seems that industry is so confident that TCEQ has its best interests in mind that it isn’t even bothering to show up anymore.

Yesterday’s hearing was about a proposed rule relating to Houston’s failure to attain a decades-old ozone pollution standard. At Air Alliance Houston, we’ve made our opinion on the proposed rule well known: it is designed to avoid imposing any obligation whatsoever on polluters. Yesterday we told TCEQ that this is the wrong approach and a missed opportunity for the Houston region.

When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made a finding last year that the Houston area failed to attain the 1979 one-hour ozone standard, the door opened on a new regulation—the section 185 fee. The fee creates an incentive for polluters to reduce their emissions. If they cut emissions by 20 percent, they don’t pay the fee.

But thanks to TCEQ, polluters won’t be paying any fees, ever. The agency proposes to pay the fee for the polluters, using money that Houston area drivers already pay into emissions reduction programs. In other words, in order to avoid making major polluters pay a fee, TCEQ would rather you, a Texas driver, pay that fee.

Of course industry will allow this to happen. Quietly. Not a single person spoke in support of TCEQ’s proposal yesterday. Why would they? Industry knows that the agency is already working in its best interests, and it sees no need to advertise this in a public forum. The absence of industry testimony yesterday demonstrates what we already knew—TCEQ places protecting industry ahead of bettering our environment.

Everyone deserves to breathe clean air, and TCEQ should use every opportunity to clean up our air. Yesterday, Air Alliance Houston let TCEQ know that, in its haste to forgive polluters, the agency was missing another opportunity. A representative from Sierra Club also spoke, taking TCEQ to task for shifting the fee obligation from polluters to Texas drivers.

It’s not too late for you to speak up, too. Environmental organizations across Texas are submitting written comments criticizing the proposed rule. We have until Monday to let TCEQ know that we don’t approve of its decision to keeping working for industry and sacrificing the air that we breathe. If you want to write to TCEQ, you can learn more about the fee here.

Speak up, and let TCEQ know that it works for you.

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