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86th Texas legislative session is complete

July 9, 2019 – Hard work pays off as lawmakers improve TCEQ

By Andrew Keese, TCEQ External Relations

American and Texas Flags at Capitol © CrackerClips iStock Collection/Getty Images.

Budget Highlights:

Expedited permits: The agency received ten full-time employee positions to improve processing times of more complex expedited permit applications while continuing to support the review of other expedited air applications.

Enhancement of the Municipal Solid Waste Program: The agency received eight FTEs and funding from Waste Management Account 0549 to conduct routine comprehensive investigations on a three-year cycle for active MSW landfills.

Improvement of mobile monitoring: The agency received funding to bolster its existing Air Monitoring Program. The funds will upgrade two existing vans that will provide real-time sampling for a broad-target pollutant list, and replace a third monitoring vehicle capable of real-time sampling. The funds also will replace the agency’s scanning electron microscope.

Air quality planning: The agency received $4.5 million in air quality planning grants to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas. Funds are limited to emission inventory, monitoring pollution levels, and administration of the program (no more than 10 percent). The funding will be divided equally to the 16 areas that qualify.

Every other January, they come to Austin. The 181 representatives and senators arrive from their districts to convene Texas’s biennial legislative session. For the next 140 days these elected officials, along with the governor of Texas, work collaboratively to improve how the state conducts its business.

Throughout the entirety of the session, staffers from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality work at TCEQ headquarters and at the capitol daily to support the work of lawmakers by providing testimony and analyzing bills that could have impacts on the agency and its processes. The efforts of many individuals create positive momentum for the agency for years to come.

Key bills involving TCEQ:

TERP Trust Fund, HB 3745 (Rep. Bell/Sen. Birdwell) – Establishes a mechanism for the continued funding of the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan. Beginning in 2021, the trust fund will provide additional grant money for projects to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides from mobile sources across the state. The trust fund will be outside the state treasury held by the comptroller and administered by TCEQ as the trustee.

Expansion of the Expedited Air Permitting Program, SB 698 (Sen. Birdwell/Rep. Lozano) – Until now, surcharges collected from expedited air permits could only be used to fund overtime and contract labor for people working on those permits. The new law allows those surcharges to fully fund full-time employees who work on these expedited permits. This allows TCEQ to fund the program entirely through these surcharges. SB 698 is an example of promoting government efficiency without compromising the rigorous application review process.

Dam hazard classification, HB 137 (Rep. Hinojosa/Sen. Perry) – Dam safety is a concern to residents and business owners downstream from dams. Of the more than 7,200 dams in the state, 1,677 are classified as either a “high” or “significant hazard;” meaning that, should a dam fail, the potential for loss of life or damage is greater than dams with lower hazard classification levels. A dam’s hazard classification is not based on its condition.

This piece of legislation directs TCEQ to provide a report by March 1, 2020, on the condition of “high” and “significant hazard” dams to local authorities. While dam owners are still responsible and liable for the safety of dams, local authorities will have more up-to-date information from the state.

“It gives TCEQ an open line of communication to local government emergency managers about the dams in their area," says Warren Samuelson, TCEQ’s Dam Safety Section manager.

Dam safety notification, HB 26 (Rep. Metcalf/Sen. Nichols) – This law is effective Sept. 1 and creates a Dam Release Alert System, which will help communities downstream of dams that have gated spillways, to know when releases will occur. Both HB 26 and HB 137 will help community leaders stay more aware of the dams in their areas, as well as how releases could affect their residents.

APO compliance and enforcement, HB 907 (Rep. Huberty/Sen. Creighton) – Aggregate Production Operations include facilities like rock crushers and concrete batch plants. This legislation provides for more state oversight of APO facilities. It requires that TCEQ investigate these facilities every two years during the first six years of operation, and then every three years after that. Also, TCEQ will be authorized to conduct unannounced investigations at those sites that have received a notice of violation in the preceding three-year period. In addition to increasing the annual registration fees for APOs, HB 907 increases the maximum administrative penalty authority. If a facility fails to register as an APO, the potential fine is now $20,000 per year, which is twice the previous penalty amount. If the entity fails to register for three or more years, the penalty increases from $25,000 to $40,000 per year.

Transfer of the Oil- and Gas-Produced Water Discharge Program, HB 2771 (Rep. Lozano/Sen. Hughes) – This legislation transfers the state’s portion of the wastewater permitting authority from the Texas Railroad Commission to TCEQ. It streamlines and consolidates the wastewater permitting process and directs TCEQ to seek federal delegation for permitting authority of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System by Sept. 1, 2021. Currently, applicants who want to discharge wastewater are required to submit separate applications to EPA and to RRC. Should EPA delegate this authority to TCEQ, applicants will be able to apply for just one permit. This will make the entire permitting process more efficient for this category of regulated entities.

“Although implementation will require significant initial effort, we anticipate improvements in permitting efficiency and regulatory consistency in the long run,” says David Galindo, Water Quality Division director. “We look forward to working with the public and the regulated community on rulemaking and program implementation.”

Water-rights efficiency, HB 1964 (Rep. Ashby/Sen. Alvarado) – Water rights applications in which the water right would have no impact on the environment, or on senior water rights, will now be issued faster. HB 1964, which went into effect immediately (on June 10), eliminates the need for notice and technical review for specific types of applications. This reduces the amount of information applicants must submit and the staff time spent on these applications, cutting the overall application processing time by about 90 days.

Water district efficiency, HB 2914 (Rep. Cecil Bell/Sen. Lucio) – This law gives the executive director the authority to issue an order on an uncontested dissolution or conversion. This new process creates an expedited, less expensive process for MUDs. Under the new law, landowners who oppose the dissolution or conversion to a MUD may still file written objections, which would initiate a public hearing at the commission.

Recycling study, SB 649 (Sen. Zaffirini/Rep. Ed Thompson) – This law requires TCEQ and the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office to study and make recommendations on how to stimulate the use of recyclable materials. The bill builds on the Study on the Economic Impacts of RecyclingExit the TCEQ by adding a review of the use of recyclables by Texas manufacturers and processors. The bill also requires a program to provide education to the public on recycling.

Water availability models, HB 723 (Rep. Larson/Sen. Perry) – Requires updates of certain water availability models for the Brazos, Neches, Red, and Rio Grande river basins by Dec. 1, 2022.

The 86th legislative session proved fruitful as lawmakers analyzed more than 7,300 proposed bills. By the time the session concluded, the legislature passed 1,911 of them and agreed on a $251 billion budget. Because of this collaborative effort, many of the agency’s environmental processes will be more efficient and responsive.

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American and Texas Flags at Capitol © CrackerClips iStock Collection/Getty Images.