Investigative Report

Appeals court decision draws widespread condemnation

An appellate decision over a TCAD lawsuit has astounded commercial property owners and attorneys who represent them. If the Texas Supreme Court allows it...

Convention Center plans to retain staff during four years of inactivity

City staff employed by the Convention Center Department could remain on the payroll for four to five years despite closure of the Convention Center itself, according to departmental plans.

City staff failed to stop mayor from misusing city resources

City staff failed to prevent Mayor Steve Adler from making candidate endorsements that were aired live on a city-run television station last December, on the first day of early voting, even though he told them beforehand that that’s what he intended to do when he got in front of the cameras.

Who Protects the Texas Environment?

Published Monday April 1, 2010 9:08am
Updated Wednesday April 14, 2010
Who Protects the Texas Environment?
Hint: It Isn’t the State Agency That’s Supposed To
Investigative Report by Greg M. Schwartz

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s mission statement says the agency “strives to protect our state’s human and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Our goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste.” But the agency’s numerous critics charge that the environmental protection of Texas is repeatedly trumped by politically motivated management decisions concerned only with the economic development part of the equation.

Neil Carman“There is so much dirt on the agency and most of it has never been investigated,” says Neil Carman, clean air director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter, based in Austin. From 1980 to 1992, Carman worked as an investigator and inspector for the Texas Air Control Board, a predecessor agency that was merged into what is now the TCEQ. Carman says he has a list of criminal cases against the TCEQ that have never been pursued, compiled from trading war stories with other investigators around the state. One of the primary areas of malfeasance Carman cites is the TCEQ’s air permitting system.

“TCEQ issued more than 150 state flexible air permits from 1995-2009 to major industrial plants by using an illegal permitting program that circumvented the Clean Air Act,” Carman says. These plants include many large industrial sources of toxic air pollutants, particulate matter, ozone-forming compounds, acid rain-producing gases, and haze-forming chemicals. The U.S. EPA Region 6 headquarters listed 142 plants in Texas in a September 25, 2007, letter that was sent to companies. The letter indicated the need for grandfathered, industrial plants that hold so-called “Flexible Permits” to reduce pollution and comply with the Clean Air Act.

Carman authored a 1999 report on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention. The report identified about 1,070 Texas plants partly or totally grandfathered under the state law known as the Texas Clean Air Act.

“We have a permitting system that creates enforcement nightmares,” Carman says. He said the TCEQ has issued somewhere around 86,000 permits for industrial plants and facilities since 1971, and only denied about 15. Eighty-six thousand permits over 40 years averages out to 2,150 a year—more than eight every single day. Carman says the incredulous number comes directly from the permit numbers assigned by the TCEQ.

“People are shocked when they hear about all the air permits being more than 86,000—and that is a dated total. But that is good for ‘bidness’ in Texas. They issue this stuff like candy, every day, state

A con man gets his just reward

Loan packager finds easy targets in tough times About 4600 words This is a four-part series of articles about a man who was ripping off small...

Anti-apartheid newspaper publisher a fraud

About 4600 words This article is the result of an international investigative reporting project that exposed the fraudulent behavior of a well-educated South African, who...

County commissioner defeated, indicted, sentenced

This is a package of seven articles, published in three successive issues of the Williamson County Sun, in Georgetown, Texas. The articles, which were...