It's already hard enough to stop a permit application from going through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but fighting an air quality permit may get even more difficult if a newly filed bill makes it through the state legislature.
State Senator Craig Estes, a Republican from Wichita Falls, has cooked up a bill that, if it makes it through the 85th Biennial Legislative Session, could make it even more difficult for people protesting air quality permit applications by consolidating the comment periods required for each of the hundreds of permit applications TCEQ receives each year.
The current law in Texas gives people two comment periods during which they can share how they feel about a proposed air quality permit. The first comment period starts up shortly after a company sends a permit application to the TCEQ, and the second one starts after TCEQ officials publish a draft of the permit.
Senate Bill 1045 wants to streamline that process, allowing TCEQ to consolidate the two comment periods if a company has finished its application and the agency officials have managed to draft a permit within 15 days. (The proposed legislation makes no mention of the federal Environmental Protection Agency's mandated 30-day comment period, so we don't know if that would start once the application is filed or once the draft permit is posted. But either way, 15 days would be cut from the comment period time.)
Right now, to contest a permit in Texas, people have to file for a contested case hearing during the first comment period, before the draft permit even exists. On one hand, just having a single comment period would mean that people could actually see the draft of the permit they were opposing, which might be useful.
But at the same time, the TCEQ currently looks at every comment submitted from both comment periods before making a decision, so it might not really change anything. On top of that, TCEQ is known to be pretty cuddly with industry in Texas, as we've recently noted. Taking away any time in the permitting process might make it easier to get a permit approved before it attracts too much public scrutiny.
It also means that TCEQ only has to post one public announcement noting a facility has requested a permit in a community. In a state like Texas, where it's difficult to beat out the wants of industry, even with a wealth of public opposition, the less attention these permit applications get, the more likely they'll be granted without much attention from those in the area.