The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) says that it “strives to protect our state’s public health and natural resources” in a way that allows for “sustainable economic development.” Its goals are clean air and water, it says, but environmentalists aren’t convinced. They insist that TCEQ too often sides with alleged polluters such as municipalities, ignoring serious violations of environmental regulations or administering light slaps on the wrist when infractions can’t be brushed off.
On the other side are those municipalities – Texas towns, cities and counties – facing a TCEQ armed with dense regulations, inspectors and attorneys ready to file lawsuits against entities that it claims are not in compliance.
Diving into the numbers
The TECQ recently issued $318,695 in fines against two groups of regulated entities.
The first penalties were against 12 regulated entities in several enforcement categories, including one municipal solid waste, four violations in the municipal wastewater discharge and four public water system violations. Their fines added up to $275,308.
The second group included 18 regulated entities, with penalties totaling $43,387.
Among the alleged violators is the city of Mingus (between Fort Worth and Abilene) in Palo Pinto County. It’s no surprise if you haven’t heard of Mingus. Its population is about 235.
The TECQ fine of $1,725 was assessed because its public water system “failed to comply with the maximum contaminant level 0.080 milligrams per liter for total trihalomethanes.”
Mingus has 180 days to submit a proposed schedule for water treatment, an alternative source of water or other means of correcting the violation within 1,095 days.
A look at the science
The National Center for Biotechnology Information says trihalomethanes “are the result of a reaction between the chlorine used for disinfecting tap water and natural organic matter in the water.”
The effect on humans of drinking water containing the substance at low levels are “unclear or unknown,” says the CDC, though it warns that humans exposed to “massive levels” can suffer liver damage and central nervous system depression.
It is undoubtedly obvious why municipalities need informed, experienced legal representation throughout the regulatory process, including at TCEQ hearings and in responses to TCEQ inquiries and investigations.