Standard Deception

Our Lubbock neighborhood was recently baptized by fire in TNRCC policies and procedures, when a local shutter company, O'Hair Shutters, began seeking a permit to incinerate -- without emission controls -- huge amounts of wood waste and glue next to our homes and a neighborhood elementary school. We naïvely assumed that the TNRCC mission statement accurately reflected what the agency stood for: "To protect human health and the environment by ensuring clean air for Texans to breathe... ."

Despite one hurdle after another, All Neighbors United won its right to a public hearing contesting the issuance of a permit. Members obtained and scrutinized every document in the O'Hair Shutters permit file, consulted lawyers and experts across the country -- compiled enough information to fill four three-inch binders -- and visited literally for hours with a TNRCC permit engineer regarding the permit application.

But even before the first phase of a public hearing could be held, the TNRCC granted O'Hair a standard exemption so that it could begin burning without delay. The exemption allows them to burn 1,000 hours a year, with virtually no supervision by the TNRCC. Normally, the public has a 30-day period in which to protest such a decision. Not in this case.

Despite persistent phone calls to the TNRCC, with numerous questions about the incinerator issue, not a word about the standard exemption was leaked to the public by agency staff -- until the protest period had safely passed.

How did the TNRCC circumvent public partici-pation? By creating a new and separate file for the standard exemption. Our group was "burned" for not asking, "By the way, have you created any new files for O'Hair Shutters lately?"

Under this administration, the TNRCC seems to invent new policies at whim -- policies which undercut the public in order to oblige would-be polluters. What kind of a democracy is Texas -- where state employees work against the very people they are hired to serve?

Kathryn Suchy
President, All Neighbors United, Lubbock

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