Voting mostly on party lines, the Texas Senate confirmed the nomination of Dr. Bryan Shaw to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Seven Democratic senators unhappy with the performance of the Texas Environmental quality Commission objected to the confirmation Shaw, a constituent of Sen. Steve Ogden.
Ogden urged the Senate to confirm Shaw, citing his academic credentials as a professor at Texas A&M University. “He does not deserve this character assassination that has occurred on this floor,” Ogden said. The objections voiced demonstrate “why we have so much trouble trying to attract talent to serve on commissions.”
But senators Eliot Shapleigh, Wendy Davis, Rodney Ellis and Mario Gallegos complained that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality had failed to perform its mission to protect Texas’ environment, and frequently disregarded the advice of its own staff on decisions that would curtail pollution.
The agency, said Shapleigh, has become ”a lapdog for polluters.” In particular, he cited the instances of illegal ex parte meetings between commissioners and the the lead-smelting company Asarko, which was seeking renewal of a permit for its 100-year-old lead smelter in El Paso. That permit was renewed over the objections of agency staff, Shapleigh noted.
It took action by the Environmental Protection Agency, which found that TCEQ applied the wrong standard after a two-year legal fight with the city of El Paso, to shut down Asarko’s plant.
Sen. Wendy Davis also gave examples of the TCEQ issuing permits to polluting industries in her district over the objections of the agency staff, and noted the revolving door between the commission and industry. Sen. Kirk Watson, a member of the Nominations Commission, said Shaw gave no indication at his nomination hearing that he felt compelled to make the changes that are required at TCEQ.”
Nominations chair Mike Jackson, though called Shaw highly qualified. The state agency has a difficult time keeping pace to new regulations from the EPA, he said.