MIDLOTHIAN, TEXAS – During the 88th legislative session more than 50 proposed bills addressing the aggregate industry were introduced to committees, but few advanced. Of the bills that made it out of committees, two were steps in the right direction, one was lost to a Governor veto, and two were designed to muzzle local dissent and authority.
“I can sum up this past legislative session in one word: disappointing,” said Milann Guckian, President, Preserve Our Hill Country Environment and co-founding member of Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining (TRAM).
Our legislative summary includes:
- HB 1688 designates and preserves 21 miles of the South Llano River in Kimble County as part of the newly created Coke Stevenson Scenic Riverway, subjecting aggregates operators who mine this area to more effective regulations than elsewhere in Texas.
- SB 1397, relating to the continuation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), was signed by the Governor. Unfortunately, it is a watered-down version of what advocates had hoped to accomplish. It leaves many structural and cultural inefficiencies within the agency unaddressed, but does direct the TCEQ to develop voluntary best management practices for aggregate production operations. TRAM plans to participate in that process.
- SB 1399 relating to the renewal and review of standard permits for concrete batch plants passed both chambers. It was ultimately vetoed by the Governor, who said in a proclamation that it “appears to add more bureaucracy and cost.” His claim is unsubstantiated and fails to acknowledge that the bill would have helped protect neighbors from harmful air pollutants caused by concrete manufacturing.
- SB 471 relating to TCEQ investigations of citizen complaints, is the most alarming of all the bills. This legislation muzzles Texans without solving fundamental problems within the agency, especially the lack of staff to address and investigate citizen complaints. This bill gives the TCEQ a free pass to avoid investigating the environmental and health concerns of Texans.
- HB 2127 limits municipal and county authority where existing and future ordinances go beyond state laws. Experts anticipate that this bill will result in lots of litigation due to its possible unconstitutionality.
Over the course of the legislative session, TRAM strengthened its presence at the Capitol by advising legislators and staff in both the House and Senate on regulatory initiatives and proposed bills, as well as initiating dialogue with industry representatives at the Texas Aggregates and Concrete Association (TACA).
“It’s great that TRAM has earned a place at the negotiating table,” said Mark Friesenhahn, TRAM co-founder and member of the Comal Environmental Education Committee, referring to TACA dialogues. “However, legislators had a real opportunity to better the lives of so many Texans, but instead chose to allow aggregate companies to continue the status quo of operations within a deficient regulatory environment. These same companies meet health and environmental standards when working in other states but do not do so in Texas because it isn’t required. It makes no sense, especially given the domino effect this has on our water, air, and land quality.”
While TRAM earned respect and recognition from senior Representatives, Senators, and the aggregate industry, solidifying its presence in important discussions, the stark reality remains that state leadership has done little to balance the needs of Texans with the excesses of the aggregate industry. Though some legislators are beginning to recognize the need for industry reform, it will take continued pressure from voters to make meaningful changes to Texas’ regulations.
“The only way this is going to change is when more people get involved in protecting their environment,” Friesenhahn says, “We have to continue to put pressure on state leaders to do the right thing and protect Texans.”
TRAM will continue to raise public awareness about the aggregate industry and work to establish more protective standards and practices. TRAM is eager to work with TCEQ on establishing aggregate industry best management practices as outlined in SB 1397.
TRAM member organization Midlothian Breathe, which focuses on improving air quality through increased air monitoring, education and community engagement in the “cement capitol of Texas”, is deeply disappointed by the failures of this legislative session.
Midlothian Breathe is currently focused on restoring the sole regulatory monitor that the EPA and TCEQ have had in place to measure, monitor, and respond to pollutant levels in the air that our community members are breathing. This monitor was removed in the spring of 2022 and is not expected to be replaced until December 31, 2023.
Once it is replaced, it will require another three years of calibration before the data can be validated and “count” to know if we are in danger or if levels will affect local industry. Consequently, our community has been flying blind and will continue to fly blind with regard to our air quality for another 3–4 years.
Midlothian Breathe is working hard to expand and strengthen our growing network of community-funded and locally installed low-cost air sensors. This is the best we can do to protect our community during this time when the taxpayer-funded TCEQ and Texas legislature continue to leave their citizens uninformed and vulnerable while APO industries are allowed to proliferate with minimal regulations.
Source: Midlothian Breathe Press Release