Generic environment

A coalition of environmental groups is urging the federal government to push the state environmental commission to allow more people to speak out against industrial projects.

Thirteen organizations, including the Seadrift-based San Antonio Bay Estuarine Waterkeeper, petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency on June 28 to force the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to amend its air permitting process. TCEQ requires all entities planning to construct or modify a facility that “emits air contaminants into the atmosphere” to submit a permit.

Environmental activists in Texas are specifically taking issue with requirements for applying for a contested case hearing. TCEQ describes a contested case hearing as a kind of legal action meant for people who would be personally affected by a facility emitting air pollutants. Cases are heard by the State Office of Administrative Hearings.

Last month, attorney Erin Gaines, who helped the environmental justice groups file the petition, said the “affected persons” rule TCEQ enforces as part of the hearing process only allows people living within a mile of the site in question to participate in a case hearing.

Gaines said even though a Matagorda Bay fisher’s workplace is the bay itself, “if you don’t live a mile or less away, your interests aren’t distinct from the general public.”

When filing case hearing requests, TCEQ requires senders to identify “the location of the requester’s home, business, or property that is affected, and its distance from the proposed facility” and provide “a detailed explanation of how the requester would be adversely affected by the proposed facility or activity in a manner not common to the general public.”

Gaines said TCEQ applies unwritten rules when denying hearing applications.

“We don’t know the standards and factors (of TCEQ’s contested case hearing rule), Gaines said. “They sometimes discuss it, but they don’t give a written reason. If you go out on the bay to fish or do water quality monitoring, TCEQ says there are factors to consider, but they don’t lay out how they (evaluate the factors).”

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Leo Bertucci is a Report for America corps member who covers energy and environment for the Victoria Advocate.

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Energy and Environment Reporter

Before moving to the Crossroads, Leo Bertucci studied journalism and political science at Western Kentucky University.

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