Every 12 years, the State of Texas conducts a top-to-bottom review of each state agency, which can result in operational changes or even “sunsetting” an agency’s work. This year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental enforcement agency, is up for Sunset Review, providing an opportunity for the public to weigh in on its commitment to Texas communities.
For Our Communities, a coalition coordinated by Public Citizen and supported by the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation, is educating the public about TCEQ’s Sunset Review, gathering resident input and developing recommendations for improving the agency’s governance and operations, emphasizing greater transparency, stronger monitoring and enforcement of pollution, and a deeper commitment to environmental justice and public participation.
Recognizing that the state provides just two public hearings for each agency under Sunset Review – with both hearings held in Austin – For Our Communities held a series of “People’s Hearings” throughout Spring 2022 to answer the public’s questions about TCEQ and solicit input for the Sunset Review Advisory Commission, as well as to model authentic public engagement. These hearings, held in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and virtually, captured the voices of those most impacted by pollution and drew common-sense recommendations for change.
For example, at the People’s Hearing in Houston, hosted by the Coalition for Environment, Equity and Resilience, residents spoke of the need for TCEQ to provide more community air monitors, to carry out mandatory penalties for polluters, and to require Union Pacific to fully remediate a creosote plume in the Fifth Ward community. In the words of Bridgette Murray, a leader from the Pleasantville community, “We elevate our voices because policies do matter. It was policy that allowed annexation of our Black and Brown communities for the purpose of placing dirty businesses near where we live – landfills, concrete batch plants, metal recyclers and chemical storage tanks. Today we say to TCEQ: change is required.”
In addition to the People’s Hearings, For Our Communities will organize residents to attend the remaining public hearing before the Sunset Advisory Commission in Austin, and encourage Texans to share written comment on how TCEQ can better serve the public. The Commission will submit its report and recommendations to the Texas Legislature in time for the legislative session in January 2023.