A program that gives the public information — albeit limited — about the compliance history of facilities overseen by the state's main environmental agency would end under a bill House lawmakers will consider this week. In the aftermath of the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in the town of West, environmental groups say the measure is a mistake.
State Rep. Wayne Smith's House Bill 1714, which is scheduled for a preliminary vote in the House on Wednesday, would discontinue the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's so-called compliance history program, which rates every owner or operator of a facility regulated by the state's water quality, solid waste disposal, radiation control and clean air rules, among others.
Critics of the program, which generates a report card of sorts, say it has "limited usefulness and marginal practical benefit and places a laborious and financial burden on TCEQ," according to the measure's bill analysis. The bill was voted out of committee April 9, eight days before the fertilizer plant explosion devastated West, but it wasn't set on the House calendar until Monday night.
The bill "decides that compliance history is not bringing one more drop of cleaner water, one more breath of fresher air, one more spoonful of cleaner dirt," Smith said when he first laid out the bill in March, adding that it lumps facilities ranging from dry cleaners to wastewater treatment plants into the same category. "I just don’t think it’s necessary anymore."
In the House on Tuesday, Smith said that the public would continue to have input through TCEQ's regular review process; his bill just does away with the scoring system. He said he doesn't know that such a scoring system "would have made any difference" in the West explosion.
Environmental groups acknowledge that the existing program has not been particularly useful, which is why there wasn't a major outcry as the bill worked its way through committee. "A very small percentage of businesses get a bad score under this program — something like 3 percent," said David Weinberg, executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters.
But they say in the aftermath of the West explosion, lawmakers should be working to beef up the program and make it more meaningful, as opposed to discontinuing it.
"Given what happened there, and despite the possible shortcomings of the program," Weinberg added, "now would be a very poor time to be taking away a tool that citizens have to find some information on whether facilities in their communities have good compliance history records."
Julián Aguilar contributed to this report.