Residents question air quality monitoring of concrete plant

Questions still linger for Dripping Springs residents on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) ability to properly regulate air quality on a proposed concrete plant near Henly.

The proposed plant from Austin-based company Lauren Concrete Inc. has raised air and water quality concerns by nearby neighbors. With residents in the area living with various respiratory diseases and cancers, monitoring air quality is at the top of many people’s concerns.

“The TCEQ does not operate an air quality monitoring system in the immediate area of the proposed facility,” said Andrew Keese, media relations specialists for TCEQ. “Due to the cost and logistical constraints, the placement of air monitors is prioritized to provide data on regional air quality in areas frequented by the public.”

Keese said TCEQ does not have a routine monitoring plan for this type of industry.  However, compliance with the air quality permit means the applicant must also comply with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Residents living in the proximity of the plant say they want something to  ensure clean air.

Deborah Graham, a local resident, questioned how the agency can properly assess national air quality standards if no monitoring system is in place.

“I don’t understand how this permit considers nation air standards if TCEQ permits by a ‘check the box’ system,” Graham said. “If the air quality is bad, are we just supposed to notice and report to TCEQ?”

Ron Beal, professor of law at Baylor University, said he is not aware of any other state agencies which follow the “permit by rule” system, where the alternative is a contested case process.

In the contested case process, proceedings are done through the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), and the party seeking a permit has to ensure they are following guidelines outlined by the agency.

On the other side, citizens have the opportunity to dispute the sufficiency of that permit.

“It’s expensive and time-consuming,” Beal said. “Unfortunately, to give the public meaningful input, it costs money.”

Once a permit is issued, the permit cannot be contested. Beal, who has spent time studying administrative agencies, said the best thing people could do to change the permit by rule system is to express concern to the Texas Legislature.

If the applicant meets the requirements for an air quality permit, TCEQ must grant the permit, as the agency’s jurisdiction is established by the Legislature, Keese said. The only way TCEQ can void or deny a permit is if the applicant cannot meet all state and federal requirements.

“The Legislature is saying that they believe certain polluting devices below a certain percentage, as outlined by air regulations, does not facilitate public input,” Beal said. “But these are the hard choices the Legislature has to make. Do we want to spend money changing that system?”

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