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You are here: Home / Publications / Periodicals / Natural Outlook / Natural Outlook, 2011 / The TCEQ Sunset Review Experience

The TCEQ Sunset Review Experience

Background and update of the sunset review process. (Natural Outlook, Winter/Spring 2011)

by Jennifer Sidnell, Special Assistant to the TCEQ Executive Director

Texas capitol building
Photo ©iStock.com/Mienny Photography.

A "sunset review" is an assessment of the continuing need for a state agency to exist, by determining whether or not an agency's functions continue to be needed. The process works by setting a date on which the agency will be abolished unless legislation is passed to continue its functions. This creates an opportunity for the Legislature to look closely at an agency and make fundamental changes to an agency's mission, operations, or functions, if needed.

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission consists of 12 members of the Texas Legislature, appointed by the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House of Representatives. A report generated by Sunset Commission staff provides an assessment of an agency's programs and functions. This assessment enables the Legislature to draw conclusions about the necessity for the agency to continue.

There are about 130 state agencies that are subject to the Texas Sunset Act. The act, which became effective in 1977, specifies each agency's review date. Agencies typically undergo a sunset review every 12 years.

In 2001, during its last sunset review, the TNRCC (which later came to be the TCEQ) had been continued for 12 more years.

However, Senate Bill 2 of the first-called special session of the 81st Legislature advanced the date of the TCEQ's sunset review by two years, from 2013 to 2011. The TCEQ was one of several agencies whose sunset review date was moved forward.

TCEQ Completes Self-Evaluation Report

To prepare for the upcoming review, the TCEQ organized an internal Sunset Review Team and identified points of contact (POCs) throughout the agency for the sunset project. The first objective of the Sunset Review Team was to work with the POCs to draft the TCEQ's sunset self-evaluation report.

The TCEQ submitted this report (Protecting Texas by Reducing and Preventing Pollution: TCEQ Sunset Evaluation Report, SFR-089) to the Sunset Commission on Oct. 26, 2009. The report's structure and questions, which were set by the Sunset Commission, were designed to provide the Sunset Commission with an overview of the agency—including its key functions, performance, history and major events, funding, and organization—and detailed information on its programs.

Sunset Commission Staff Conducts Review

In April 2010, the Sunset Commission staff conducted its introductory briefing with the TCEQ to discuss its expectations and general timeline for agency review. Following this meeting, the TCEQ began preparation for its initial presentation to the Sunset Commission staff on the agency's primary programs and activities. The presentation was made in May 2010 by TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery and General Counsel Les Trobman.

For almost the next five months, the Sunset Commission staff scheduled individual office and division meetings with TCEQ staff members to develop a detailed understanding of the TCEQ's programs, functions, roles, and responsibilities. These meetings resulted in additional follow-up questions and information requests from the Sunset Commission staff. In all, over 50 meetings were conducted and more than 130 additional information requests were made by Sunset Commission staff.

Sunset Commission Staff Completes Report

In early November 2010, the Sunset Commission staff completed its report on the TCEQ. The report addressed the following eight issues:

  1. Texas has a continuing need for the TCEQ.
  2. The TCEQ's public-assistance efforts lack coordination and focus.
  3. The TCEQ's approach to compliance history fails to accurately measure entities' performance, negating its
    use as an effective tool.
  4. The TCEQ's enforcement process lacks public visibility and statutory authority.
  5. The TCEQ does not have the tools necessary to effectively protect surface water availability during drought or emergency conditions.
  6. Gaps in the regulation of petroleum storage tanks and the coming expiration of the remediation fee threaten the state's ability to clean up contaminated sites.
  7. The TCEQ lacks guidance on how to fund the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission.
  8. The statutory cap on emissions limits the TCEQ's ability to adequately fund the Title V Air Permit Program.

Each of these issues contained multiple recommendations that would require either statutory change or management action in order to be implemented.

The report also included "Water and Wastewater Utility Regulation Transfer," a supplement to the Sunset Staff Report on the Public Utility Commission (PUC). This supplement identified and discussed one issue: whether the state could benefit from combining regulatory functions related to gas and water utilities under the umbrella of the PUC. The supplement recommended that utility-related functions that are currently under the TCEQ or the Railroad Commission be transferred to the PUC.

The Sunset Staff Report on the TCEQ was released together with the report on the Texas On-site Wastewater Treatment Research Council (TOWTRC). This discussed the proposition that Texas does not need a separate, stand-alone council to fund on-site sewage research, and made three recommendations, including abolishing the TOWTRC and transferring its functions to the TCEQ.

Sunset Commission Holds Public Hearing

In December 2010, the Sunset Commission conducted a public hearing on its reviews of several agencies. This hearing provided the Sunset Commissioners with an opportunity to receive a formal presentation of the Sunset Staff Report on the TCEQ by their (Sunset Commission) staff, to hear presentations by the TCEQ commissioners and executive director, and to take more than six hours of public testimony on the report's findings, issues, and recommendations.

At the hearing, TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery testified, "I embrace the Sunset process and support the recommendations in the staff report. I recognize that we can't improve as an agency without conducting a process such as the Sunset review, and welcome its recommended changes. Finally, I recognize that TCEQ can enhance some of its processes to better protect public health and the environment."

Following the public-testimony hearing, the Sunset Commission met in January 2011 to adopt Commission Decisions on the Sunset Advisory Staff Recommendations for the TCEQ, as well as the PUC- and TOWTRC-related recommendations affecting the TCEQ. Several new issues that were proposed and presented by the public during the public hearing were also considered.

To read the Sunset Commission Decisions on the TCEQ and the TOWTRC, please download the report.

Next Steps

  • Based on the decisions made by the Sunset Commission, the Sunset Commission staff is working with the Legislative Council to draft the TCEQ sunset legislation that will contain the adopted recommendations and new issues.
  • The TCEQ sunset bill will follow the normal process through the Legislature, subject to legislative amendments and deadlines.
  • The TCEQ will follow progress on the bill and provide input, information, and assistance to Sunset Commission staff as requested during the legislative process.

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