Eagle Ford Follow-Up: Your Tax Dollars at Work

TCEQ - KEEP OUTThere's not much of a local air planning process left in DFW. What remains is an irregularly-scheduled "technical committee meeting" that mostly involves the staff of Rick Perry's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality explaining how their new anti-smog plan will be successful without the addition of any new pollution controls. But after this explanation any members of the audience can ask questions about the presentation. And if they need to, they can ask follow-up questions. It's the only forum where citizens can do this with a real live TCEQ staffer and the staff is expected to respond. You may not like their response, but there is an exchange.

The value of a place where citizens can ask questions of TCEQ and expect to get answers rises when one reads about how difficult it was for the reporters working on the huge Eagle Ford expose published last week to get anyone at the TCEQ to answer their questions at all, much less in person.  In a sidebar piece that ran with the original piece, titled "How We Got the Eagle Ford Story," they explain the obstacles the state put in their way,

The agency responsible for regulating air emissions—the TCEQ—refused to make any of its commissioners, officials or investigators available for interviews. Instead, we had to submit questions via emails that were routed through agency spokespeople. It's unclear if the spokespeople passed our questions along to the agency’s experts. We received answers to most of our emails, often in some detail. But some of our questions were ignored or answered with talking points on general topics. The TCEQ employees who dealt with our public records requests were helpful and responsive, however. They discussed the filing process over the phone and answered questions about our requests.

*When a reporter called TCEQ field inspectors at their homes—a commonly used reporting technique—TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow left the reporter a message saying, “Under no circumstances are you to call our people and harass them at home.” Morrow also blocked the reporter from approaching the agency’s chairman, Bryan Shaw, at a public meeting in Austin.

The next DFW anti-smog plan "technical meeting" is 10 am on Thursday April 17th at the North Central Texas Council of Government's headquarters at 616 Six Flags Road in Arlington. One of the biggest controversies with the state's approach is determining the amount of gas and oil industry air pollution that's actually out there affecting DFW. The Eagle Ford story shines a bright spotlight on why the TCEQ really doesn't have a clue about the true amount of gas pollution, so why is it so confident about its numbers in the Barnett Shale, or the shale plays to the south and east of us that are upwind during "ozone season?" Good question. Come ask it on the 17th.

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