The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, made up of 12 state legislators who evaluate state agencies every dozen years, is examining the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and will make a recommendation during the next legislative session whether to renew, tweak, or abolish it, and start over from scratch.
In response, environmental groups throughout Texas are banding together like never before to make sure their voices are heard.
Earlier this month, numerous Texas environmental groups issued detailed recommendations to the Sunset Commission on ways to improve the TCEQ and its policies relating to air pollution, such as permitting and enforcement.
It was the first time all the major clean-air advocacy groups in Texas collaborated on a single position paper, says Matthew Tejada of Air Alliance Houston, who helped spearhead the project.
"This is unprecedented for the environmental community in Texas," Tejada tells Hair Balls. "It's been a massive cooperative effort that's been hard to pull off but we're slowly pulling it off. These are everyone's recommendations all in one place, and that just doesn't happen often."
Tejada says the report touches on hot-button issues, such as revising the penalty process by raising penalty caps, and how to revamp permitting now that the EPA has begun taking over the permitting program. Most of the report, however, is less extreme.
"The majority of recommendations are not the huge, coming-out-of-left-field, environmentalists-want-to-turn-the-world-on-its-head, recommendations," says Tejada. "The majority are very specific, very well thought-out minor fixes that will have a major impact. They are things that will not make TCEQ do a different job, but do the job it's already doing, better."
Tejada attributes the collaboration between environmental organizations to having former TCEQ commissioner Larry Soward on board helping develop and craft the recommendations, as well as practical politics.
"People realize that we absolutely must, especially with Rick Perry still in the Governor's Mansion, pull together and have a united front," he says. "Telling the same story with different voices hasn't really worked."
The advocacy groups will release similar reports examining water and waste policy issues later this year.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.