Watchdog: TCEQ fails to comply with own complaints policy as required by Texas law

Of more than 100 oil & gas complaints Earthworks’ filed, half required formal Public Information Requests to ascertain their fate months later

Austin/Dallas, TX – Today Earthworks sent a letter to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Governor’s office, and the U.S. EPA detailing TCEQ’s chronic failure to comply with its own policies regarding public complaints as required by Texas law. Since 2015, Earthworks has submitted 103 complaints to four regional TCEQ offices regarding oil and gas air pollution, 49 of which required Public Information Request filings to determine TCEQ’s actions on those complaints. The letter also outlines how Earthworks will submit complaints going forward.

“It’s ironic that an agency charged with enforcing the law doesn’t comply with it,” said Earthworks Senior Organizer & Certified Thermographer Sharon Wilson.

From the letter:
Since 2015, Earthworks and our allies have submitted 99 complaints to TCEQ [regional offices in Dallas/Fort Worth, San Antonio, Waco and Midland]. Of those, we provided at least 48 affidavits authenticating the information and confirming we followed TCEQ protocols and procedures.  This work requires a significant amount of time and effort.

Despite this clear policy, TCEQ typically does not share any information about our complaints unless we file a Public Information Request (PIR).  TCEQ’s website is either incorrect or regional offices are not regularly complying with [their] policy. Earthworks has filed a total of 49 PIRs related to our complaints. In short, PIRs, not TCEQ’s complaint policy, provide the vast majority of information we receive related to our complaints.

The letter also details how TCEQ regularly takes months and sometimes more than a year to investigate complaints about air pollution from oil and gas operations.

“TCEQ is supposed to protect the public’s air. The fact that TCEQ forces the public to perform a long and difficult dance to get information that state law requires it to provide suggests TCEQ is more interested in protecting the oil and gas industry from the public than protecting the public,” said Wilson.

Earthworks researches and documents air pollution impact based upon air monitoring data generated by state and federal regulatory agencies, field investigators, and various monitoring networks. Our thermographers are trained and certified on a variety of air monitoring instruments including, but not limited to, FLIR GF320 optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras. As a result of our technical expertise, we spend a significant amount of time conducting field documentation of emissions from a variety of sources in Texas and around the country. This information and expertise create the basis for all complaints Earthworks files with TCEQ.

Texas state law provides for state regulators to initiate investigations and enforcement action from third party evidence and complaints of oil and gas pollution.

“Our field research and complaints of oil and gas operations are doing the job that Texas regulators ought to be doing to protect the public,” said Earthworks’ Senior Policy Counsel Aaron Mintzes. He continued, “Fortunately, Texas empowers private individuals to trigger enforcement with complaints of oil and gas pollution. Unfortunately, TCEQ is unwilling or unable to do even the enforcement part of its job well.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION