The TCEQ enjoyed a successful 82nd legislative session that saw, among other achievements, unanimous votes in the both the House and Senate that will continue the agency for the next 12 years. After a two-year-long intensive review of the agency's operations through the legislative Sunset Review process, the Texas House voted 147-0 and the Senate voted 31-0 to continue the agency for the maximum time period allowed.
Throughout the review process, dozens of TCEQ staffers and management met numerous times with Sunset staff. They also testified at the Sunset Advisory Commission hearings, as well as numerous House and Senate committee hearings regarding the agency's Sunset legislation.
The TCEQ commissioners comment on the session, including thoughts on the agency's mission, budget, and water management.
"We are very proud of our agency's record, and I think it showed in our performance before the various Sunset committees," said TCEQ Chairman Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D.
"By continuing the agency for 12 years, the Legislature, acting as representatives of the people of Texas, signaled they approve of how the agency applies sound law, sound science, and common sense to environmental regulation."
Cuts were made in most state agencies, and the TCEQ was no exception. Total appropriations for the coming biennium were $693 million, a reduction of $305 million from the 2010-2011 biennium. Full-time-equivalent employees (FTEs) were reduced by 235.
"These reductions will require us to prioritize our most important duties, to focus on our core functions, and to operate with a leaner workforce," said TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia. "We began preparing for these budget cuts many months ago, by reducing hiring and focusing attention on our key operations. We will make every effort to maintain good customer service to the citizens of Texas."
"We appreciated this show of support and respect from the Legislature," said TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein. "We always ask our employees to be flexible and to embrace change. I have faith that TCEQ staff will do whatever it takes to continue their top-notch attitudes and performance."
HB 2694 was the agency's Sunset Bill, and there were many other legislative actions that will have an effect on the TCEQ's operations. Some of the most significant items, along with a brief description, are listed below:
TERP, which provides incentives for reductions of emissions from federally controlled engine sources, was potentially reduced by 50 percent, to $114 million. Establishes three new grant programs to facilitate natural gas vehicles and infrastructure. Establishes a new air monitoring program in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Abilene regions.
Increases the maximum penalty to $25,000 from $10,000 for most of the agency's areas of jurisdiction and requires that the TCEQ's Penalty Policy include a deterrent to prevent economic benefit from noncompliance.
In SB 1, the Appropriations Act, the PST program was appropriated $43.9 million for the biennium. Under HB 2694, the agency is required to develop a process to allow contractors currently cleaning up PST sites to continue their work at those sites. Also, the use of the PST remediation fee expands to include the removal of PSTs if certain criteria are met.
Other state agencies may not contest the issuance of a permit or license by the commission, though they will continue to be allowed to provide comments. Also, the TCEQ executive director is required to participate as a party in contested-case hearings.
Provides direction to the TCEQ to focus agency efforts on the most hazardous dams in the state. It exempts certain dams—based on hazard classification, size and location—from safety regulations; however owners of all dams must continue to comply with operation and maintenance requirements.
Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Permits (HB 2694 )
Provides a specific review process for permit-amendment applications submitted by electric generating facilities to solely comply with federal Clean Air Act MACT requirements. Includes specific timelines for the consideration of these MACT permit applications.
Sets annual limits on the importation of waste that comes from outside the compact states. Imposes a surcharge of 20 percent of the total contracted rate on non-compact waste. Provides guidance on setting interim disposal rates.
Requires water-right holders to provide monthly water-rights reports upon request during drought or emergency water shortages. Allows the TCEQ to temporarily suspend a water right and adjust the diversion of water during droughts or emergency water shortages. Directs the executive director to evaluate at least every five years the need for a watermaster in water basins that are currently without watermasters.
Transfers the authority for making groundwater-protection recommendations regarding oil and gas activities to the Railroad Commission of Texas. Stipulates that a landowner owns the groundwater below the surface of their land as real property. Authorizes a groundwater conservation district to use the State Office of Administrative Hearings to conduct a hearing on a permit or permit amendment.
Prohibits the TCEQ from promulgating new or amending existing authorizations for the oil and gas industry without performing a regulatory impact analysis, extensive monitoring, and correlated monitoring.