Last week, Tom 'Smitty' Smith of Public Citizen met with local environmental organizers at the Dallas Clean Air meetup to discuss several issues, including the outcome of the Sunset hearings for Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Texas Railroad Commission. Every state agency must go through a Sunset review where it's practices are evaluated and the agency may or may not be permitted to continue. 

What do these agencies do?

TCEQ exists to protect the public by regulating industry and other activities that impact our environment and public health. TCEQ is supposed to issue or deny permits to limit pollution and enforce state and federal anti-pollution laws. As the state environmental agency, TCEQ is expected to be protective of public health and the natural environment, and to proect the interests of indivduals and communities who could be impacted by pollution. In all of its activities, TCEQ is required to seek input from the public.

The Railroad Commission has primary regulatory jurisdiction over oil and natural gas industry, pipeline transporters, natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline industry, natural gas utilities, the LP-gas industry, and coal & uranium surface mining operations. It is responsible for research & education to promote the use of LP-gas as an alternative fuel.

Smitty has provided the update below.

The TCEQ Review

The good news is that much of the bulk of the Sunset Staff Report was adopted. This includes:

  • improvements in compliance history
  • increasing the caps in penalties so that companies that break the law get hit harder
  • adopting its enforcement guidance as actual rules so everyone know how enforcement works
  • improving the Petroleum Storage Tank program
  • clarifying the mechanism to fund the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission so they can do their job

All of that represents slight improvements for TCEQ but there is bad news as well.

They took no action to improve OPIC - the Office of Public Interest Counsel - by either strengthening it or removing it completely to the Office of Public Utility Counsel as many had recommended.

They failed to authorize allowing the TCEQ to move the current cap on emissions fees so the agency would have adequate resources.

The Texas Railroad Commission Review

One outcome was that the commission is now called The Texas Oil and Gas Commission. Some good news:

  • Enforcement and gas rate hearing cases will go to the more independent State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).
  • There will not be three elected Commissioners, but only one statewide elected official, who will only be able to collect money from contirbutors around election time and if he wants to run for the US Senate? Under the new approved recommendations, he would have to resign to run.

The bad news is:

  • The Railroad Commission will still be deciding on rate cases for gas utlities and not the Public Utility Commission. Despite indicating he would, Senator Hegar never introduced an amendment to transfer uranium exploratory mining over to TCEQ where it should be.
  • Despite the disaster that has been the Barnet Shale, not even a greal discussion of additional regulartory tools to clamp down on unfettered oil and gas development. Like what you ask? Well we don't even have regulations on fracking fluids pipelines or air emission guidance on the completion of wells or refracking of wells. Some basic steps that could have been taken.