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Environmental groups petition EPA over TCEQ permitting

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Posted at 1:40 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 20:28:41-04

AUSTIN, Texas — A petition has been filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) naming deficiencies by Texas in its Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

If Texas fails to address the deficiencies, the petition asks the EPA to withdraw Texas' authority to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System under the Clean Water Act.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was entrusted with the enforcement of the Clean Water Act in 1998. But, over 20 environmental groups say TCEQ has failed to act in the best interest of the environment and citizens.

"Texas currently administers the act in ways to result in significant harm to water quality, and impede the ability of the public to participate in the regulatory process," said Eric Allmon, Environmental Attorney with Austin-based law firm of Perales, Allmon & Ice. "That's why more than 20 organizations within members in broad areas of the state today petitioned the EPA to withdraw Texas authority to implement the Clean Water Act unless Texas corrects its program."

The Clean Water Act was amended from the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972 and is designed to address water pollution.

"Today, we have in Texas, almost 10,000 miles of rivers and creeks, 590,000 acres of surface waters, lakes and ponds, and 12,480 square miles of our coastal estuaries that are considered impaired or too polluted to meet that 50-year old national goal," said Ilan Levin, Texas Director, Environmental Integrity Project. "The problem is not with the law, we've got good laws on the books. The problem in Texas is that our state seems unwilling to faithfully enforce the Clean Water Act."

The petition raises two key points Levin says, any company or person applying for a permit in which there will be a pollutant added to a waterway must prove it is in the state's best interest or necessity to build the new development and add the pollutant to the waterway.

The law also requires there is no viable alternative to the development, Levin said.

"That law is in place so as not to be gray," he said. "And that's called the anti-degradation policy. Texas is completely failing to implement that federal requirement."

Levin adds Texas is also failing to implement the policy of public participation, saying that the users of the state's waterways are being cut out of the decision-making process.

Ingleside resident and President of Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association, Patrick Nye, says as a fisherman and birder, he is concerned about the loss of seagrass that is occurring in the Coastal Bend.

He says one acre of seagrass can harbor 40,000 fish and 100,000 invertebrates and are the nurseries of the oceans food chain.

"These spawning grounds are rapidly dying off due in part to lax TCEQ permits," Nye said. "They're allowing rapid industrial expansion, increase in wastewater discharge dredging, seagrass meadows are being buried with silt and allowed by the TCEQ."

He says he has lost confidence in the TCEQ permitting process.

"Although the TCEQ is charged to protect public health and health in natural resources, I for one have lost confidence in an agency that poisons our waters with each rubber stamp permit," Nye said. "Today we are witnesses of the cumulative degradation of rivers and streams that flow to our estuaries, bays, and beaches."

Allmon says the organization hopes the EPA will take the petition seriously and ask Texas to make changes and if necessary hold a hearing, which the EPA is authorized to do.

"Should EPA fail to act within a reasonable period of time there is the option of then suing the EPA to take action on the petition, but we certainly hope it does not come to that," Allmon said. "Should EPA not grant the petition, these are issues that potentially could be pursued in federal court."