Friday, April 25, 2014
Local Council's Apology not Enough | Last Word
The Alamo Area Council of Governments, or AACOG, committed a crime last summer.
It told you early results of an air quality study it was conducting with your money.
Its crime was that it didn’t first submit the draft report to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Actually, it wasn’t a crime, but it was a violation of AACOG’s contract with the environmental commission.
The funding for the study may have been your dollars, but it was given to AACOG by the TCEQ.
And the contract provides that AACOG would “notify and obtain verbal approval of TCEQ prior to releasing any information to the news media” on the study.
AACOG was ready to apologize.
“We did break the contract, they’re right,” County Commissioner Kevin Wolff told the Austin American-Statesman.
Wolff chairs the coalition of local governments from 12 South Texas counties.
AACOG interim co-chief Tim Trevino called it “an honest mistake.”
But an apology wasn’t enough to clear the air.
Instead, the TCEQ chose in effect to fine the citizens of South Texas $185,000 of their own money for the mistake.
While the TCEQ gave other AACOG-like agencies around the state a 35 percent hike in funding this year, AACOG’s request for the extra 35 percent was denied.
TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson confirmed to the San Antonio Express-News that the request denial was related to the fact that last summer AACOG gave its draft report to the Express-News without TCEQ permission.
My question is this:
Would the punishment have been the same if the report had not indicated that the massive Eagle Ford shale play appears to be having a serious impact on San Antonio’s air pollution by bringing emissions up on Gulf breezes?
Of course we’ll never know for sure, but we have good reason to be suspicious.
After all, the state’s environmental commission’s official position on fracking is “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
As the American-Statesman noted, the agency’s official magazine, “Natural Outlook,” says in its current edition that “overall, shale-play activity does not significantly impact air quality or pose a threat to human health.”
TCEQ does not like it when research it funds goes against its historical position that industry rarely causes significant air pollution.
Three years ago, a highly-respected Rice University scientist received a $5,000 grant from the TCEQ to look at rising sea levels of the Gulf of Mexico.
He found that in recent years the annual rate of the gulf’s rise was six times what it previously had been.
He wrote that a major cause was climate change and the melting of the polar ice cap.
TCEQ notified the scientist that they would remove the references to climate change from the paper.
In response to media questions about the deletion, spokeswoman Andrea Morrow publicly declared that the scientist’s data was “inconsistent with current agency policy.”
Since all three commissioners who head the agency are appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, it wasn’t difficult to view TCEQ policy through the prism of Perry’s presidential campaign book “Fed Up.”
It described the issue of global warming as “politicized” and “all one contrived phony mess.”
There is a better response to evidence that the Eagle Ford play is endangering San Antonio’s standing as the nation’s largest city that has not been declared by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to be violating clean air standards.
It is to fund further legitimate studies to learn more about the threat and how to meet it.
Instead the TCEQ has sent out a powerful message that if you want taxpayer money that it controls, you need to issue reports that it likes.