Texas is energy country in ways good and bad and we do a lot of the nation's chemical and petroleum refining in general. The TCEQ is the second largest environmental regulatory agency in the world, second only to the EPA. Obviously, we need an agency that monitors environmental quality. The problem is that the TCEQ in its current incarnation (and many of its past ones) is doing a very poor job of protecting the citizens of Texas from pollution and environmental disaster. The agency is peopled across the state with devoted public servants, as is our local government in Corpus Christi. The problem, like with our local government, is that the people in charge are not concerned with protecting our citizens. They are concerned with attracting industry.
Attracting industry needs to be someone else's job. That would be my first recommendation.
Recommendation number two - authority over permitting decisions must be taken away from the three-person commission of the governor's appointees (any governor's appointees) and made to take into account science and public health data, not just their own political leanings. Right now, no matter what SOAH judges recommend after involved hearings, no matter what their own staff recommends, no matter what science says, the commissioners just do what they want - they make industry happy.
Recommendation number three - the agency must act to increase environmental justice. The poor must not be made to keep paying for progress with their lives and their children.
Four - polluters must pay. For all that they do. Under the present system, polluters are better off financially when they keep paying fines for non-compliance than they would be if they made the changes it would take to bring them into compliance with regulations. This needs to change.
Five - one of the authorities in the permitting process needs to be a physician with expertise in public health.
Six - economic impact should not be a factor in deciding what pollution standards should be.
That's where I would start. Those aren't my ideas, though. On Thursday, Del Mar College, the Sierra Club, the Clean Economy Coalition, Public Citizen and probably a bunch of other agencies I'm too tired to remember held a public meeting to discuss recommendations for the Sunset Commission. More than 200 people showed up. We went and kept the kids up way too late. It was a good meeting - the sort of public discourse that needs to happen more. I am grateful to the agencies who sponsored it, and especially to the public officials who attended.
The ideas have to get to the Sunset Commission and to our legislators to do any good, though. South Texas Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa is on the Sunset Commission. Please contact his office at www.hinojosa.senate.state.tx.us (there's an e-mail form on the site) or (512) 463-0120 to let him know what you think needs to happen with the TCEQ. Then contact our local state representatives and let them know, too:
Representative Abel Herrero, District 34
E-mail form: http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/email.php?dist=34&rep=abel.herrero
Telephone: (512) 463-0462, Austin or (361) 882-2277, Corpus Christi
Representative Solomon Ortiz, Jr., District 33
E-mail form: http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/email.php?dist=33&rep=solomon.ortiz
Telephone: (512) 463-048, Austin or (361) 991-004, Corpus Christi
Representative Todd Hunter, District 32Telephone: (512) 463-0672, Austin or 361-949-4603, Corpus Christi.
This is your assignment from Lone Star Ma for this week, mamas and papas and other people who care about the children of Texas. Please make the calls or e-mails to these legislators about the TCEQ. You will get another assignment next week toward a safe and green Texas for our children - there is so much to do! Keep in touch!