It’s been a very busy week for government meetings, but one more happened in Austin that is important to the ongoing discussion about equity across urban Texas cities as it pertains to environmental justice.
On Wednesday, the Sunset Advisory Commission met to review a staff report about the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or the TCEQ.
The Sunset Commission’s job is to evaluate various state agencies and then make recommendations to state lawmakers as to what legislation might need to be enacted or changed to improve them. The TCEQ was last evaluated almost 12 years ago.
The report (which you really should read in full) outlines concerns that the agency had largely ceded control to the industries it was supposed to regulate, allowing them to police themselves. Those are significant concerns: the TCEQ is the backstop to curbing emissions, regulating industries that emit hazardous materials into the air, ground, or water. The commission also dug into whether permitting decisions and oversight were equitable.
“The commissioners’ lack of visibility in and ownership of TCEQ decision making has only inspired further frustration and distrust among both the regulated community and environmental advocates,” the report said.
The commission heard from dozens of Texans, including some from Houston who testified about environmental decisions that often disproportionately impacted neighborhoods of Black and Hispanic residents. If that sounds familiar, it’s because there are several neighborhoods in Dallas—including the neighborhood around the GAF shingle factory in West Dallas—that have pointed to historic zoning and environmental regulations that seem to ignore the health and safety concerns of their neighborhoods.
But it’s not just Shingle Mountain and the GAF plant that have North Texans concerned about how the TCEQ is regulating industries.