The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality: An “Agency of Destruction”

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It's not about state's rights. It's about cronyism and corruption. And anyone — Republican, business group, or reporter — that says otherwise is lying to you.

Due to years of Rick Perry ignoring the warnings of President George Bush's Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA has announced that they will come in and take over permitting for as many as 39 Texas facilities. The newspapers and TV stations across Texas have covered the news:

However, no one — and I mean this sincerely — has done the long-term, fantastic reporting on this issue like the Texas Observer. While many stories about the issue focus on the “Washington vs. Texas” political story, embracing rhetoric over reality, the Texas Observer has done a fantastic job at getting into the real facts of the issue.

Unlike the federal stimulus dollars, or the health care bill, the EPA's decision to take over the permitting process is not a state's rights issue — as much as Rick Perry wants to make it one. The Texas Observer reports, in their story titled, “EPA Takes Down Screwy Texas Air Program” that President Bush, back in 2006, tried to get the TCEQ to improve their permitting process and make their data public:

In 2006, Bush’s EPA wrote to the TCEQ that withholding such data was “contrary to federal law” as well as state law.

“First, all emissions data must be made public,” the letter stated.

“Second, if the emissions data is not made public, the public and governmental agencies cannot know how the emissions limits were calculated and established, whether or not they are appropriate, and how they meet all legal requirements.”

Nonetheless, TCEQ went forward with permitting and today no one knows what type of startup, shutdown and maintenance activities are authorized under the flex permit. The Texas Attorney General has ruled for years that emissions data must be made public under the Clean Air Act, but often defers to TCEQ to decide what is emissions data.  TCEQ has refused to make that determination and, as a result, has essentially allowed companies to decide what's confidential or not, critics charge.

The Texas Observer goes on to provide actual documentation to demonstrate the point. Read the article “EPA Takes Down Screwy Texas Air Program” to learn more.

But if there is one story that thoroughly sums up the problems at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, it is the Texas Observer's researched, documented, fact-based overarching story, “Agency of Destruction.” The 4,000+ word feature story is perhaps the best article on the TCEQ I have ever read. I'm not going to reproduce the whole thing here, but you should absolutely carve a half-hour out of your lunch break, or when you get home tonight, and read it.

One part, which is a must-read, from “Agency of Destruction“:

In 2007, a team of geologists and engineers at TCEQ unanimously recommended that a license for the vast dump, near Andrews, be denied. Water contamination was a prime concern. Then-Executive Director Glenn Shankle ordered the TCEQ team to issue the license anyway. There was big money at stake. The company behind the dump, Waste Control Specialists Inc., is owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, who’s contributed $620,000 to Perry’s campaigns since 2001, according to Texans for Public Justice. Simmons stands to make billions from storing “low-level” radioactive waste in West Texas.

Records show that Shankle met regularly with a team of lobbyists, lawyers and company principals at the same time his own experts warned him of the dump’s dangers. Seeing that the fix was in, three TCEQ employees quit in protest. Commissioners hardly batted an eye. In January 2009, after a brief, technical discussion, they voted 2-0 (with Soward abstaining) to issue the license. They also denied the Sierra Club and 12 individuals in Eunice, New Mexico, the town closest to the dump, a chance to contest the license before administrative judges.

Shankle stepped down as TCEQ’s executive director in June 2008. Six months later, he went to work for Waste Control Specialists as a lobbyist, collecting between $100,000 and $150,000 for his services thus far. Commissioners and top management frequently leave the agency to work for the industries they previously regulated, a revolving door that critics say has led to TCEQ’s leaning in industry’s direction.


About Author

Phillip Martin

Currently the Research and Policy Director for Progress Texas and the Texas Research Institute, Phillip Martin writes occasional long-form pieces for BOR that promote focused analysis and insight into Texas politics. Born and raised in Austin, Phillip started working in politics in 2003 and started writing on BOR in the summer of 2005. Phillip has worked for the Texas Democratic Trust, the Texas Legislative Study Group, and now the Progress Texas family. He is a lifelong Houston Astros fan, a loyal Longhorn, and loves swimming at Barton Springs Pool.


  1. I just heard Perry
    say on the radio that the EPA action was going to kill thousands of jobs.

    I guess that's worse than really killing thousands of people.

    But it probably is a lie on his part. I bet he pulled that statistic out of his personal round file.

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