Texas Residents Are Getting Fined By The Government For Caring About The Environment
Under a new bill filed in the Texas Senate, residents like who make more than two complaints to the environmental protection regulators that don’t lead to enforcement action will be fined.
For some Texas residents, like Linda Hunter, environmentalism isn’t just a far-off idea, but something that affects their everyday lives. After a concrete plant moved in next door to Hunter, it wasn’t just the noise and the views that impacted her life, but also the dust that rains over her garden and irritates her asthma, and the water runoff that seeps into the local flora and fauna.
Under a new bill filed in the Texas Senate, residents like Hunter who make more than two complaints to the environmental protection regulators that don’t lead to enforcement action will be fined. According to The Texas Tribune, fines for excess environmental complaints could be as much as it costs to investigate the claims, a deterrent against reporting that could have a huge impact on both Texas residents and the environment.
Supporters of the bill say that its intent isn’t to deter everyday citizens from coming forward with concerns, but to put a stop to excessive complaints that use the system for personal gain. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality investigates as many as 10,000 claims each year, not including investigations that originate from TCEQ’s own concerns. Examples of these excessive complaints include an individual who filed 28 complaints about a single asphalt operation, all of which resulted in no need for penalization.
Other residents believe that the bill is an excuse for the Texas government to ignore citizens’ legitimate concerns about operations that might be impacting the environment. Other opponents said that citizens shouldn’t be penalized if their reports don’t lead to enforcement; TCEQ is usually slow to respond to citizen complaints and the circumstances around their reports could have changed by the time they’re being investigated. Not to mention that if an environmental problem persists, despite lack of government enforcement, citizens have every right to continue submitting complaints until the problem is dealt with.
While investigations instigated by citizen complaints make up only 10 percent of TCEQ’s total yearly investigations, they’re two to four times more likely to warrant action than TCEQ’s other investigations, leading many to believe that this new bill targets the wrong people. Critics of the bill also say that the bill would disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color, who are more likely to experience the adverse effects of industrial pollution and would be less likely to risk a fine. Texas’s recent review of TCEQ labeled the agency as a “reluctant regulator,” saying that the data pointed to lax enforcement policies.
After the report on the TCEQ, government officials encouraged TCEQ to find ways to build trust with their community and prioritize the citizens’ needs over the needs of corporations. This new bill will do just the opposite of that, discouraging Texas residents from filing complaints and leading many to believe that TCEQ provides only the illusion of enforcement while letting corporations—and pollution of the environment—run rampant. Texas citizens argue that the bill will cause irreparable harm; government agencies like TCEQ should serve to protect the everyday Texan, not silence them.