In his six years as a TCEQ commissioner, from 2003 to 2009, Larry Soward got a rare insider’s view of how the agency functions—and how it doesn’t.
“The mindset of the agency is we gotta issue permits, that’s our job, we issue permits,” he said during a recent interview in Houston. “Over the years the culture has been developed to be very friendly to industry and that is the culture the agency lives with every day.”
Commissioners, he says, are routinely lobbied by industry, and company lawyers or industry groups frequently draft rules for the commissioners to consider.
“I refer to it as the mariachi band approach,” Soward says. “You’d have three or four of the lawyers or consultants. They would set up meetings and go office to office with their spiel.”
Three hours after a fire broke out at Citgo's Corpus Christi refinery on July 19, 2009 releasing dangerous chemicals, the TCEQs regional head emailed a colleague; "Apparently there is a fire at Citgo. I'm walking into the Harry Potter movie."
An additional link on the agency's problems with an audio interview and PDF file emails:
Texas just saw the federal government come in and take control of some of their air monitoring permitting because of the complete failure of the state to protect their citizens, the environment and penalize polluters to the fullest extent posssible to force them to comply with regulations in the Houston/Corpus Christi areas.
As we have reported previously, 14 environmental groups are petitioning the EPA to remove ADEMs water control for also failing to enforce state and federal regulations, inspect properly and basically "do their job."
These failures clearly are not just local problems, and they exist everywhere and show a jurisdictional systemic problem with most state agencies.
In our area, Shelby County, Alabama looks to ADEM to do all the inspecting and enforcement for them, even though the EPA has told them in the 34 page federal audit that was an issuance of non compliance with their SWMP; "Larger counties may not rely on ADEM alone."
The Town of Vincent also keeps referring to ADEM for enforcement and inspections; they will also fall under what the EPA issued for the entire county and may not rely solely on ADEM.
Bravo to the EPA for finally stepping up to the plate and cracking down on this long standing issue. Let us hope that they will do the same for Alabama sooner rather than later.