HELP!

That’s the message coming from two environmental groups petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Caddo Lake Institute are asking the EPA to take over enforcing federal air and water laws in Texas. But why?

Environmental Defense Fund’s regional director Jim Marston says the petition asks the EPA to take back authority that they delegated to the state “when Texas made certain promises about how they would run the federal programs.”

Marston says the state promised to allow public participation “at the same level as one can participate in in federal court or in federal agencies.”

“In Texas Legislature, this passed session, significantly narrowed the ability for citizens to participate in environmental hearings in Texas,” he says.

The EDF’s contention is related to bill SB 709, which Marston says reduced the ability for citizens to participate in hearings and reversed the burden of proof.

“Only in environmental cases in Texas, meaning you have to prove that the applicant for a permit to pollute is violating the law,” he says, “contrary to the history of Anglo-American law, and also different from every other administrative type of proceeding in Texas.”

Marston says they also object the past decade of consistent budget cuts of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) made by the Legislature, with the help of the governor’s office.

“[The TCEQ] no longer can do an adequate job of enforcing or inspecting,” he says.

While it may seem as though the EDF is criticizing the EPA for not enforcing its mandates, the EPA was aware of SB 709  and warned the Legislature passing the law “could endanger delegation,” Marston says.

“The Legislature… ‘thumbed its nose’ at the EPA and, frankly, citizens like in our organization, and went ahead and passed the law,” he says. Marston says his group’s petition is the next step in holding the state accountable to the EPA.

“We’re really trying to get the problem fixed,” he says. “We hope EPA can convince the state to follow federal law and have a fair process and have a process that minimizing the amount of pollution that Texans are exposed to.”

Terry Clawson, a spokesperson for the TCEQ, said in an email to the Texas Tribune that “Texas law has and continues to meet federal requirements – to suggest otherwise is misleading to the public.”

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