Yesterday, I outlined the Texas Audit Act and how it isn’t a replacement for real regulatory oversight in the state. Today, I am going to talk about the Find it Fix it initiative at the TCEQ. Yet another program that limits operator accountability for violations of Texas regulations.
The Audit Act and the Find it Fix it initiative are very similar programs. So similar, in fact, that TCEQ hosted a meeting to help operators understand the differences between the programs in November (which I had the privilege of attending). Just like the Audit Act, the Find it Fix it initiative encourages operators to bring themselves into compliance with Texas regulations in return for reduced penalties for violations. Unlike the Audit Act which has been law in Texas for close to 30 years, Find it Fix it is a new program that was started in late 2020 and is only available for a limited time.
Find it Fix it arose from TCEQ’s realization that the emissions data they were receiving from operators was inconsistent. They were particularly concerned with emission events that were reported in the emissions database (STEERS) that appeared to be routine emissions rather than upsets. The TCEQ decided that they needed to “create a “path to compliance” while evaluating emissions event reporting”. That “path to compliance” became the Find it Fix it initiative.
The TCEQ did an analysis of the data in STEERS and identified emissions reports that appeared to be routine and therefore constituted violations. They then emailed all of those operators notifying them of this discovery. If the emissions were in fact “routine,” the operator was encouraged to enter Find it Fix it. However, Find it Fix it is not just limited to those notified. This process is one of the major differences between the Audit Act and Find it Fix it. The Audit Act cannot be utilized if the TCEQ becomes aware of the violation prior to the audit, but under Find it Fix it the TCEQ actually encourages the operators to enter the program if a violation is discovered.
Only operators located in the Permian Basin can utilize Find it Fix it, simply by filling out a six question form outlining which of their sites they would like to enter into Find it Fix it prior to January 31st 2021. Then the operator develops a compliance plan, which can be a combination of operational changes, physical changes at the site or permitting. The TCEQ then reviews the compliance plan for approval–although perhaps not thoroughly, as indicated by a TCEQ agent during the operator presentation: “We are not going to do a super in depth review of your compliance plan”.
If an operator can’t come into compliance within 6 months, they can email a request for a short term extension of up to 30 days. If even that isn’t enough, the TCEQ also gives the option to negotiate an alternative timeline for the operator to complete the compliance plan.
In return for entering the Find it Fix it program the TCEQ agrees to grant leniency on violations addressed by the compliance plan. This means that operators will not receive fines for those violations. This leniency may not include if the violations uncovered are of immediate risk for public health or the environment, but just like the Audit Act (which has a similar provision) what this actually means and how TCEQ would address such risks is unclear.
It should be concerning to every Texan that the TCEQ decided that it was enforcing the regulations it’s tasked with enforcing so poorly that they decided that operators’ self reporting would be a better solution than actually enforcing the regulations.
A regulator that relies on the regulated to self regulate is no regulator at all.