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TCEQ

Texas' Environmental Agency Censors Climate Scientists


by: Ben Sherman

Fri Jul 19, 2013 at 10:59 AM CDT

Rick Perry's appointees to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are interested in anything but our environment.

In 2011, scientists put together a report on the Galveston Bay, in part to explore Texas' high climate change risk. In recent years, Texas has been exposed to increasingly extreme weather and more hurricanes along the coast to mass wildfires and droughts across the state. When the scientists submitted it to the TCEQ, Perry appointees immediately censored the report's references to climate change. Every single scientist who produced the 200-page report is now demanding that their name be removed from it.

Read more below the jump.

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State Leaders: Investigation of West, Texas Plant Explosion Underway


by: Joe Deshotel

Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 06:46 PM CDT

The Mayor of West, Texas confirmed as many as 40 people have been killed in the blast and preceding fire at the fertilizer plant Wednesday night. Authorities are responding to the situation as a crime scene until they determine whether the explosion was an industrial accident or an intentional act. Gov. Perry says the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is monitoring air quality and the Center for Public Integrity reports the US Chemical Safety Board is sending a "large investigative team" to the site. Unfortunately the Chemical Safety Board has been criticized for not closing cases or issuing recommendations in a timely manner -- they still have an open case on the Deep Horizon spill in 2011.

If you would like to help, Austin Food Bank is serving as the central distribution center for statewide donations and you can visit their website for more information.

In 2006 a complaint was filed with TCEQ about a strong smell of ammonia coming from the West Texas Fertilizer plant. It was then fined for not having proper permitting. The Dallas Morning News is reporting that state inspectors knew the plant with explosive capability was close to the school and homes that were damaged Wednesday night. As recently as 2012 the plant was fined for safety violations.

Lt. Governor Dewhurst told Sean Hannity today that they aren't ruling out anything including retaliation for the "Waco Siege" that ended 20 years ago tomorrow near the same town.

Today Governor Perry addressed the media saying,

President Obama called from Air Force One as he was enroute to Boston and we greatly appreciate his call and his gracious support of course and very quick turnaround of the emergency declaration that will be forthcoming and his offer of prayers. I have also spoken to local officials to make sure they have all the support and assistance from the state. To that end I am declaring Mclennan County a disaster.

State agencies arrived on the scene last night after the explosion and Perry says they will remain there as long as they are needed.

Texas Department of Public Safety is securing the area so that other law enforcement and first responders can attend to the emergency.

Texas Task Force 1 & 2 as well as Texas National Guard are assisting with active search and rescue operations.

Texas Department of State Health Services has brought in emergency vehicles and supplies, and set up a mobile hospital.  

Texas Education Agency is working with the local school district to meet the needs of the "intermediate school" that is within close proximity of the plant.

TCEQ is monitoring the air quality. All pipelines are also being monitored closely and gas distribution to all residents has been disconnected until further notice.  

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Looking West


by: Chaille Jolink

Thu Apr 18, 2013 at 08:00 AM CDT

This morning at BOR our eyes are upon the communities of Texas that need our help after yesterday's tragic explosion.

First, if you are able you can give blood at the Capitol Area Blood Bank of Central Texas, and please visit the American Red Cross of Central Texas on facebook for more information and other timely updates.

Even as of this morning it is not clear what caused the accident, as CNN reports:  

"What caused the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. was not immediately known. But its location -- next to an apartment complex, a nursing home and a middle school -- did not help matters."

As it turns out, according to Wikipedia, Adair Grain Inc. owner of the West Fertilizer Company was investigated for failing to secure a permit when a neighbor complained about an ammonia smell coming from the plant. According to the Dallas Morning News, "The business stored anhydrous ammonia for sale to farmers. State and federal documents describe West Fertilizer as a seller, not a manufacturer."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) investigated Adair Grain, Inc. and eventually issued a permit in 2006, yet according to the Dallas Morning News, Texas officials knew that these 12,000 gallon tanks of ammonia were close to homes, a nearby school, and other vulnerable citizens. In fact one of the conditions of the permit by the TCEQ was to build a wall between the fertilizer tanks and a public road nearby, to prevent accidental vehicle collisions which can almost certainly cause explosions.  

These large fertilizer tanks are used as irrigation systems essentially, but contain ammonia, which is a commonly used fertilizer. These tanks are filled with anhydrous ammonia, the commercial term for just plain ammonia without water, which is just a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen (not the liquid from). These tanks, not unlike hot water heaters, need to be kept at a certain internal level of pressure in order stay safe.

Whether or not this tragedy could have been completely prevented remains to be seen. What seems suspect is that the permit process started through a complaint, but according to the DMN there were no public comments for or against the TCEQ permit being issued. Hopefully we will get more information and better news as the day goes on, keeping West and all of Texas in our thoughts and prayers.  

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Judge Requires New Hearing On Radioactive Waste Dump Owned By Republican Super Donor


by: Adam Schwitters

Wed May 09, 2012 at 10:07 AM CDT

In a significant victory for landowners and environmentalists yesterday, a state District Court judge overturned a three year old decision by the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) which would have denied nearby residents and the Sierra Club the right to a contested case  hearing over a radioactive waste dump just north of Midland.  Two weeks ago, the dump, operated by Waste Control Specialists LLC and owned by uber-republican donor Harold Simmons, won final approval to begin accepting “low-level” nuclear waste (low-level does not mean not dangerous) from 36 states across the country.  The ruling mandates a new TCEQ hearing where two neighbors of the dump can prove how they are impacted by the dump and why the site is flawed.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lonestar Chapter of the Sierra Club, spoke about the judge’s decision:

[The ruling is] a stunning rebuke of TCEQ's decision to deny citizens the right to show how dangerous radioactive disposal would be in West Texas. This ruling confirms what we have been saying all along. The Sierra Club and its members in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico deserve the opportunity to show that radioactive waste dumped at the WCS site could impact people in the area through airborne radioactive particles and potential groundwater contamination.

The dump has been particularly controversial in recent weeks after State Rep Lou Burnam (Ft Worth) released previously confidential documents proving that several wells drilled near the site contained significantly more water than they should have.  One of these wells sits over the vast Ogalalla Aquifer, the largest underground water feature in the US.  The new hearing will allow lawyers for the Sierra Club to present this evidence before the TCEQ.  Two of the three TCEQ commissioners are Rick Perry appointees.

Rose Gardner, one of contestants in the case and a rancher who lives within 4 miles of the dump, was grateful for the decision, “I'm very glad about the judge's decision today, since we'll now have a hearing where we can fully examine radioactive risks to our land and water. We now have more livestock than ever before and having the WCS radioactive waste dump nearby threatens our health and safety.”

Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of the Texas Office of Public Citizen talks about the man behind the steaming pile of radioactive waste:

This case is of national significance because the dump's biggest investor is Harold Simmons, one of the largest contributors to Republican political campaigns and attack ads. He helped to fund the "Swift  Boat Veterans for Truth"  and  the "Obama is a Muslim"  attack ads. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Simmons has spent $18 million so far this election cycle and plans to spend a total of $36 million before the end of this cycle. Why would he spend that kind of money?  The amount and types of waste could be vastly expanded by a Republican President or Congress thus increasing the amount of money Simmons can make off of the dump and  increasing the funds he has available to donate to future political campaigns. And if anyone doubts that his political spending will pay off in favorable treatment, all they have to do is look at how successful he's been in Texas.

Harold Simmons is such a nice guy, he was once sued by his own daughters for making illegal political contributions in their names.  He was also the primary backer of Oliver North’s and John Poindexter’s legal defense fund during the Iran-Contra Affair, and has been fined repeatedly for exceeding campaign contribution limits.

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More Like No Bridge To Somewhere: Your Weekly Environmental Roundup For Texas And Beyond


by: Adam Schwitters

Fri May 04, 2012 at 03:51 PM CDT

An EPA Administrator is ‘crucified.’ An election in El Paso might hang on a bridge.  Spills, fines, and lawsuits abound.  The future might not be so bleak after all.  All that, and more, in this week’s environmental roundup for Texas, the nation, and beyond!

Texas

  • Al Armendariz, the EPA’s Region 6 Administrator based in Dallas, was forced to resign after a video surfaced in which he likens his enforcement strategy to a Roman conquest, “they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they crucified them.”  Needless to say, those comments have not gone over well with members of congress or the oil and gas industry in Texas.  Debbie Hastings, Executive VP of the Texas Oil & Gas Assoc, claims in a recent Op-Ed that Armendariz’s statement is part of a larger “federal undercurrent to undermine the oil and natural gas industry, which promotes our nation’s energy independence, provides millions of jobs and pays billions in taxes.”  EnergyWire is convinced that the feud between the Texas energy industry and the EPA will continue despite the resignation.
  • The 16th Congressional District Democratic primary contest might hang on the construction of a new international bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.  The incumbent, Silvestre Reyes, claims as many as 5,000 El Pasoans will be displaced by the bridge.  There is a slight problem for Reyes.  According to Roy Gilyard of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (which would be tasked with proposing the bridge in question), there is no current activity to build a new international bridge.  Reyes’s Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, called the controversy “the worst kind of pandering. [Reyes] is using lies to create anxiety and play upon that to try to win votes.”  O’Rourke has called for the construction of a new bridge, which, he believes, will increase international trade and keep El Paso competitive with other inland ports.
  • After last year’s wildfire season burned nearly 4 million acres in Texas, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced the creation of the Texas Wildfire Prevention Task Force.  The task force is a partnership between the Ag Commission, the Texas Forest Service, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, and researchers at Texas A&M.  It seeks to identify high fire risk areas and eliminate the risk through preventative measures, like controlled burns, before wildfires occur.
  • Four Southeast Texas marine-based entities have filed suit against BP, alleging that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill “has had detrimental effects on the Gulf’s marine and coastal environments and is to this day affecting business and their ability to generate revenue.”  This follows last week’s $7.8 billion settlement in another suit against BP, and federal charges brought against a BP engineer for supposedly trying to cover up the extent of the spill.
  • Flint Hills Resources, a Kansas based refining and chemical company that is “wholly owned by Koch Industries,” was fined $46,450 by the TCEQ for incorrect valve settings which led to the release of 4,875.5 pounds of hazardous organic compounds into the air from its chemical plant in Port Arthur.  At a different Flint Hills facility in Corpus Christi, a leak was reported in an orthoxylene unit last week which led to the plant’s shutdown.  The extent of the leak remains unclear.
  • Port officials say there is no risk for an oil spill after a 750 tanker collided with a drilling rig on Wednesday off the coast of Port Aransas.  There were also no reported injuries from the incident.
  • While Houston remains the worst city in the US, outside California, for ozone pollution, its air quality has improved significantly, according to the State Of The Air 2012 report from the American Lung Association.
  • Austin’s transit agency, CapMetro, added a cool new toy this week.  It is a zero emissions hydrogen fueled bus that has previously operated in Columbia, South Carolina.  A privately owned hydrogen fuel station will fuel the bus.

The Nation

  • The Sierra Club has filed suit against dated coal-fired power plants across Oklahoma.  According to Whitney Pearson of the Sierra Club’s OK chapter, all coal plants in Oklahoma emit excess emissions, and the EPA needs to “end the free pass that large polluters currently have which allows them to emit unlimited amounts of pollution during certain phases of their operations. Because people need to breathe all the time, limits of the amount of pollution that polluters can emit need to apply all the time.”
  • Amory Lovins, an “energy theorist,” claims in this TED Talk that ending the US dependence on fossil fuels will actually be easier, and more cost effective than most of us realize.  His central point is that once industry, individuals, academics, and the military start moving beyond coal and oil we won’t need federal regulations or acts of congress to help us along.  He also believes that this movement will begin soon.  I hope, one day, to share his optimism.

Beyond

  • A recent study shows that exposure to toxic chemicals can have risks over a much longer time frame than most of us realize.  Bruce Blumberg, a biologist at UC-Irvine, says, “it’s not just ourselves that are at risk. We’re condemning our descendants to have increased risks, too.”  
  • Greenland’s glaciers are still melting, but the rate of that meltdown is not increasing as fast as some climate scientists had predicted.  Earlier doomsday scenarios had the sea level rising by as much as 6 meters (20 feet) by 2100.  Now it looks, as if Greenland’s melting will only cause a 2 meter rise.  The vast majority of the Earth’s population lives less than 100 meters above sea level, so any rise could have a profound effect on millions of people.
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Big Problems Surround A Low-Level Nuclear Waste Dump In West Texas


by: Adam Schwitters

Tue Apr 24, 2012 at 00:22 PM CDT

Last week, a low-grade firestorm erupted in the Texas Capitol over a radioactive waste dump in Andrews, Texas just north of Midland, and just east of the New Mexico state line.

The dump in question is complete, and pending approval by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), set to receive “low-level” nuclear waste(LLW) from 36 states around the country.  LLW is a somewhat misleading term because, in the US, low-level waste is considered anything that is not tailings from uranium mines, spent nuclear fuel, transuranic waste (elements with an atomic weight higher than 238 which emit alpha particles), or high-level waste (the highly radioactive, hot waste generated in a reactor’s core).  LLW, therefore, can be anything from lab coats, to x-ray machines, to the rubble of reactor buildings.  Tons of this waste will be brought to Andrews by trucks crossing major highways throughout the state as soon as next month.

State Rep. Lou Durnam (D-Ft Worth) held a press conference and sent letters to AG Greg Abbott, and the TCEQ urging them to release confidential documents pertaining to the dump, and to hold off approval of the Andrews site “until key questions are answered about the presence of groundwater inside the 100 feet buffer Zone around the facility.”

The private company licensed to operate the facility, Waste Control Specialists (WCS), which stands to reap millions in profits in disposal fees once the site is operational, is pressing for the  agency to allow the site to open even though documents show significant groundwater present at the site, confirming the worst fears of TCEQ scientists that objected to issuance of the license five years ago due to the likelihood of groundwater intrusion at the site in future years.

It appears that serious public health and safety risks are being ignored in the interest of getting this site up and running,” Burnam said in a press conference at the State Capitol, adding, “Until we know the source of this water, the likelihood of groundwater contamination, and the risk to the public, it’s simply irresponsible to open this site.”

The groundwater contamination Burnam speaks of stems from TCEQ studies of the site which show significant water levels remaining in wells drilled from the site into the vast Ogallala Aquifer.  The Ogallala is one of the largest aquifers on the planet and provides 30% of all water used for irrigation in the United States.  Even with round the clock pumping, the TCEQ expects these wells to remain wet for at least 18 months.  As the aftermath of the Japanese Fukushima disaster has shown, the radioactive contamination of food supplies is a huge problem with long term effects on agriculture and consumer confidence.

The TCEQ’s rules are clear regarding potential groundwater contamination: “In the event that saturated conditions are detected inside the buffer zone, the Licensee shall cease all waste disposal operations and notify the executive director immediately.” According to Burnam, “WCS would be in violation of its license on its first day of operation.”

While the dump itself is highly objectionable, the man behind WCS, Harold Simmons (the second most active political donor in the country according to open secrets) would be one of the more polarizing figures in the country, if he were better known.   Simmons has been fined several times by the FEC for exceeding legal donation limits.  He was a primary contributor to the legal defense funds for Oliver North and John Poindexter during the Iran-Contra Affair.  He donated $4 million to the “Swift Vets And POWS For Truth PAC” which derailed John Kerry’s presidential bid.  So far, he has contributed over $13.7 million to Republican SuperPACs during the 2012 election cycle.  His own daughters sued him in 1997 for making political contributions in their names out of a trust in their names of which he was the sole trustee.  D Magazine has called him “Dallas’ most evil genius.”

Burnam is pessimistic about the chances of halting this dump noting that “the attorney general has received over a half million dollars from … billionaire Harold Simmons in the last five years,” but believes “The public has a right to know what the scientists  whose salaries are paid by their tax dollars thought about the adequacy of the site, the possibility of groundwater contamination, and the risks to their safety.”

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Weekly Environmental News Roundup For Texas and Beyond


by: Adam Schwitters

Thu Feb 16, 2012 at 03:10 PM CST

This is the first in what will be a weekly rundown of environmental news affecting Texas, the United States, and the world.  In brief, the drought in Texas continues despite recent rains in East Texas, news leaked out of an ongoing oil spill in the Gulf that began in 2004, the Keystone XL pipeline debate made its way onto Comedy Central, nuclear power is making a comeback in the US, and President Obama released his 2013 budget.

The Drought In Texas

  • The water supply system in Texas was built in response to the 1950’s drought. Laura Huffman of the Nature Conservancy argues that Texas needs major investments to meet the needs of today’s population and economy.  The drought cost Texas over $5.2 billion in crop and cattle losses last year.  If water supplies do not improve, losses could reach $116 billion a year by 2060.

  • The drought killed 5.6 million trees in urban areas and up to 500 million trees statewide, or about 10% of the state’s forest cover, according to a report from the Texas Forest Service.  Houston saw some of the worst drought damage, with thousands of trees lost in Memorial Park alone.  Central and North Texas parks tend to feature hardier, drought resistant species, so losses were less in those areas.

  • Arcane water rights laws force East Texas landowners to forgo water from the Sabine River because a hunting and fishing club needs more water, revealing a patchwork of water rights dating back to the 18th century.  More than 1200 water rights permits were suspended in 2011, and with the drought expected to continue through 2012, expect more lawsuits in the future.

The Seven Year Old Oil Spill You Haven’t Heard Of

Keystone XL Pipeline News

  • Republicans in the Senate are attempting to attach an amendment to a highway bill that would force approval of the pipeline.  President Obama has threatened to veto a similar bill in the House.

  • Anti-Keystone activist, Bill McKibben, appeared on the Colbert Report to discuss the widespread public outrage over the Senate Republicans’ plans.  His group, 350.org collected over 800,000 signatures urging senators to vote against the pipeline.

Other News

  • As we all know, our Governor, and national disgrace, Rick Perry loves polluters, and hates anyone (such as the EPA, children with asthma, and even religious organizations) that get in the way of his huge crush on those who poison our Texas environment.  The Texas Tribune has a neat interactive guide to Perry’s pursuit of dirty water and unbreathable air for all.

  • President Obama released his 2013 Budget that would increase funding for clean energy and energy efficiency by 30%.

  • The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) released the agenda for its last meeting, on Feb. 8 showing fines totaling $636,000 were handed down for violations including 11 air quality, 3 municipal solid waste, 7 municipal waste discharge, 3 petroleum storage, 2 public water system, and 2 water quality violations.  One particularly macabre violation was handed out to an Illinois medical waste disposal company, Stericycle, which was improperly dumping human remains in landfills in Austin and McCallen.  Stericycle was fined $42,000.  The entire agenda text can be read here.  TCEQ will meet next Feb. 22.

  • Nuclear power is back in the news after the announcement that 2 new reactors will be built in Georgia.  They are the first reactors approved in the US since 1978.  Nuclear power requires very little fuel, produces a huge amount of energy, and creates almost no waste… Unless something goes wrong.  The biggest obstacle to new nukes is, of course, the fear of another Fukushima like tragedy, but the cost of new plants is prohibitive as well.  The Georgia plants are expected to cost $14 billion!  Gizmag has a fascinating piece on Small Modular Reactors which are significantly smaller, safer, and, potentially, orders of magnitude cheaper than the current massive plants.  Its definitely worth a read.

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Sens. Davis and Ellis applaud TCEQ for Rejecting Valero's request for $93 Million Tax Rebate


by: Adam Schwitters

Thu Dec 22, 2011 at 09:00 AM CST

In a major ruling yesterday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) turned down Valero Energy’s request, on bogus grounds, for a tax rebate that would have cost Texas school districts up to $93 million out of budgets already pushed to the brink by the disastrous results of the 2011 Texas Legislative session.  State Senators Wendy Davis and Rodney Ellis were instrumental in applying the political pressure to TCEQ and released  this statement celebrating the victory for Texas’ teachers, children, and hard pressed communities along the Gulf Coast:


 

Senators Wendy Davis and Rodney Ellis today commended the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff for protecting potentially hundreds of millions in public education funds from a flawed tax exemption request.


Following a call by Senators Davis and Ellis to protect Texas schools, TCEQ rejected a pollution control tax break request filed by a refinery company that failed to meet the statutory criteria of providing on-site environmental benefits. The tax exemption would have required a school district outside of Houston to refund tens of millions in tax dollars. It was a pivotal decision because dozens of similar requests remain pending.


“School districts across the state are certainly breathing a sigh of relief today that the TCEQ staff has not buckled under political pressure and that the agency is rejecting this request that would potentially bleed hundreds of millions from Texas classrooms,” Davis said. “We must fight for every dollar for our public schools, especially following the more than $5 billion in state funding cuts that are impacting our schoolchildren.”


Senators Davis and Ellis had called on TCEQ to reject the request because the company’s investment failed to meet the letter or spirit of a 1993 Texas constitutional amendment that allows for tax exemptions when companies install pollution control equipment that provide an on-site environmental benefit. Earlier this month, Senators Davis and Ellis submitted a formal request for an opinion from the Texas Attorney General to clarify the law. In their letter to the AG, they wrote that the request does not meet the statutory guidelines of the law because “... the equipment at issue provides no environmental benefit at or near the site.”


In communications with TCEQ and the Texas AG, Senators Davis and Ellis had said that San Antonio-based Valero Energy Corp.’s request, if approved, would require a school district just outside of Houston to cough up tens of millions of dollars. And the refinery company’s request before TCEQ could have had a broad impact on Texas school funding as dozens of other requests similar to Valero's remain pending.


The request that was rejected today by TCEQ staff was filed by Valero in 2007. It was already rejected once by the TCEQ staff. But that earlier recommendation was disregarded by Governor Perry's politically-appointed TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, who asked the agency staff to re-evaluate Valero’s request. Shaw has been criticized as an industry ally. Perry has received the second-most donations in Texas from Valero - more than $147,000 from the company, its PAC and employees since 2004, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Shaw has also stood with Perry in public denials of climate change being caused by humans and he was recently accused of censoring an environmental report on Galveston Bay by a Rice University oceanographer, removing any references to a causal connection between human activity and the rises in sea level or the changes in the climate.


Senators Davis and Ellis requested the AG opinion to clarify the intent and the application of the 1993 law in order to assure that Texas taxpayers and schoolchildren are not victimized by political maneuvering that would override the intentions of the constitutional amendment.


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Hundreds Protest Outside TCEQ Hearing Demanding "Money for schools not Valero"


by: Adam Schwitters

Wed Nov 02, 2011 at 03:06 PM CDT


Suni
Up to 200 school teachers, parents and children protested outside today’s Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) hearing in North Austin today against a proposed property tax rebate for Valero Energy which would refund up to $93 million in property taxes to the energy giant.  The protesters claim that the funds would overwhelmingly come directly from local school district budgets that are already cash strapped due to over $4 billion in cuts to school funding during the last legislative session.

Patricia Gonzalez, Vice President of the Pasadena branch of the Texas Organzing Project (TOP), stated that Pasadena I.S.D. alone would be forced to repay $11.3 million and would lose a huge source of future school revenues.  She added that several other refinery companies were waiting to file similar claims if Valero’s is successful.  She implored the commissioners to deny the request, as they had in 2009, stating “everyone should pay their fair share.”

Jennifer Sylas of Houston said that HISD would lose $13.3 million from a district budget that has already seen the loss of such critical programs as buses, books for each individual student, and one on one help for students with dyslexia.

Despite the impassioned pleas from gulf coast residents in attendance, and the clearly audible chants from protesters outside, the three commissioners were unable to comment on this issue as their mandate prevents them from commenting on issues not in the current agenda.  As the TCEQ’s general counsel put it, the Valero “matter is not ripe for consideration at this time.”

While their was no pronouncement on the Valero tax rebate issue, their were several other interesting issues up before the commission during the 3+ hour long hearing.  One was a hearing request for a “major ammendment” of a Rio Grande Mining Company Texas Land Application Permit which would allow the mining company to directly discharge wastewater into state waters at a “daily average rate not to exceed 360,000 gallons per day” at a facility near Shafter Township in Presidio County.  Presidio County Judge, Paul Hunt, argued, via letter, that the permit should be denied due to concerns about arsenic contamination, though the commission will let the hearing go forward.  

The other major topic at hand was how the commission should interpret House Bill 2694 in the commissions rules.  The law can be interpreted to deny the ability of state agencies to become conflicting parties in litigation, as I understand it.  It could then, for instance, limit the ability of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Deparment from suing the Railroad Commission for threatening wilderness areas.

I will keep checking in with TCEQ to see if there are any new developments with the Valero case, or any of these other cases in the future.

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Valero Wants to Literally Steal Money from School Children


by: Adam Schwitters

Tue Oct 25, 2011 at 04:54 PM CDT

Despite the crippling budget shortfalls afflicting Texas’s school districts and county budgets in the wake of the 2011 Legislative session, energy giant, Valero, has requested a $92 million property tax refund from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Valero claims that this refund is due to them based on a 1993 consitutional amendment, proposition 2, that helps property owners comply with local pollution regulations by granting them property tax exemptions.  This is a good law that requires owners to “provide an environmental benefit at the site.”  

The problem here is that Valero’s proposed environmental improvements have nothing to do with reducing on or near site pollution.  The exemptions would fund the installation of hydrotreaters at several of its Texas refineries.  These hydrotreaters reduce the sulfur content of the gasoline produced so that it can be used in all modern automobiles.  According to the TCEQ’s own staff, these hydrotreaters “do not provide an environmental benefit to the site.” In fact, according to TCEQ engineer Minor Hibbs they “actually increase pollution.”

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