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Perry Tightens His Grip on TCEQ

by Published on

The old saying that “the fish rots from the head” seems almost tailor-made for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In Gov. Perry’s almost nine years in office, he has achieved close to a 100% success rate in appointing TCEQ commissioners who go out of their way to side with “customers” – as TCEQ refers to the polluting industries they regulate – over citizens and the environment.

Name the high-profile issue – cement kilns, coal-fired power plants, radioactive waste dumps, big city air quality concerns, lead-spewing smelters, etc, etc – the Perry-appointed commissioners almost always favor the monied interests.

The pro-industry orientation is not just limited to the commissioners. The TCEQ is a vast environmental agency, the second-largest in the world by some measures, and is constantly faced with complex policy, scientific and legal questions.

Yet, Perry’s commissioners have tended to fill top management positions with individuals who have minimal scientific background or are flat-out political cronies.

The last executive director, Glenn Shankle, had no formal training in environmental policy or science-based regulation (in fact, he didn’t have a college degree) but frequently saw fit to overrule administrative law judges and his own technical staff.

In one highly controversial instance, he overruled a team of TCEQ geologists and engineers who, after years of studying the issue, told Shankle that a radioactive waste dump could not and should not be sited in West Texas.

Shankle overruled his staff anyway, ordering them to write a license for the company.

Months later, Shankle left the agency and went to work as a lobbyist for that company, Waste Control Specialists, which is owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons and major donor to Rick Perry’s campaign and other Republicans.

This is a long way of introducing the latest high-profile hire to TCEQ management. Meet Zak Covar.

Zak Covar

The Statesman‘s Asher Price has the goods:

Now Perry’s former environmental policy adviser, Zak Covar, has the job of deputy executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Covar’s promotion, made by the executive director of the agency, is another stage in his meteoric rise. It also raises questions about the interplay of politics, policy and personnel at the state agency.


Covar began his career clerking for the House Environmental Regulation Committee and then advised Perry from 2005 to 2007, defending, among other things, the governor’s stance that scientists were still debating global warming.

The chairman of the House Environmental Regulation Committee at that time was Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), who earned the nickname of “Dennis the Menace” for his meanspirited attacks on any environmental legislation.

Price correctly, if too gently, calls Covar’s career path “meteoric.” The guy earned a bachelor’s in poultry science from Texas A&M; worked for a few years for politicians hostile to science and environmental concerns, and then suddenly was made second-in-command at the nation’s second biggest environmental agency.

I’m not questioning Covar’s intelligence or skills but I’m not sure that resume qualifies him for the job. Unless it’s loyalty that’s the main, if only, job requirement.

He then went to work at the Texas environmental agency as the executive assistant to Commissioner Bryan W. Shaw and in June 2008 made the jump over to the agency’s staff side, as assistant deputy executive director.

Perry recently elevated Shaw, yet another global warming denialist, to chairman of the TCEQ. Shaw’s confirmation almost went down in flames during the Lege session as Democrats accused him of being a lapdog for polluters.

Covar’s “legislative insight and knowledge of environmental issues were great assets,” said Shaw, who was named as chairman of the commission last week as part of the shake-up at the top of the agency.

“While Zak served in the governor’s office he did an outstanding job of advising the governor on natural resources issues,” said Perry’s spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

But Covar’s rise to the second-in-command job, where he will be chief operating officer at the 2,900-employee regulatory agency, puts a focus on one of the issues that the agency has grappled with: How to balance environmental regulation and economic development.

Covar, who has worked for policymakers who tend to be more sympathetic to economic development, said it’s possible to achieve a balance.

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is the editor of the Observer.

  • Alan Septoff

    Governor Perry’s and Texas’s approach to environmental oversight explains why they don’t actually do it, especially when it comes to the oil & gas industry.

    A case study in the Eagle Ford Shale based on TCEQ’s own documents shows that even when violations are found, TCEQ doesn’t sanction violators or warn affected residents at risk:

    A report about state (lack of) enforcement of rules on the books in Texas (focusing mainly on the Railorad Commission) and nationwide:

  • Kim Triolo Feil

    Does the TCEQ/RRC have any documents that show the direct or indirect creation of NOX from cradle to grave related to oil and gas extraction? DOUBT IT!

    —– Forwarded Message —–
    From: kim feil
    To: “[email protected]
    Sent: Sunday, April 6, 2014 1:52 PM
    Subject: where is SIP on addressing ozone created at all phases of drilling for oil/gas?

    Regarding ozone…
    I noticed your name on a TCEQ document (letter) regarding what constituents are more reactive than others in the creation of ozone.. (Kite sited in the letter “..ozone will be reduced when NOx is reduced….reducing relatively low reactive VOC from human activity is usually not very effective for reducing ozone….ozone reactivity of methane is so low that it is not even on the list….)

    As much as Perry doesn’t want the RRC & TCEQ employees to go after the oil and gas industry using the excuse that “methane isn’t highly reactive to generate ozone” is not addressing that ozone is created when…

    1) All of the Barnett Shale onroad vehicle (combustion related) emissions in extracting methane has direct NOX creation..

    2) All phases of natural gas cradle to grave methane losses to our atmosphere eats our stratospheric protective ozone which is warming to our troposphere. This indirectlycreates ground level ozone due to higher temperatures playing a part in reactivity…ie high noon/warmer temps is when ozone spikes.

    a) Drilling phase with diesel engines’ combustion creates NOX…

    b) Fracking phase using diesel fuel creates NOX..

    c) Fracking using hybrid engines where they burn natural gas (nasty field gas) and switch back to diesel fuel during idling also directly creates NOX..

    d) Fracking/rock cracking creates direct ozone effects** ..

    e) Flowback phase has methane losses (indirect ozone creation) before green completion equipment are employed- they need to use pressurized, closed, ventless flowback tanks for the top flowback phase…

    f) Methane losses on emptying storage tanks in production phase indirectly creates ozone

    g) **Injection wells and any fracturing that causes seismic events where rocks crack also creates direct ozone effects.


    Any Questions?

    Please let me know the status of where the TCEQ puts drilling in the threat to our ozone with the SIP, thanks.

    Kim Feil

    —–end (revised) letter to Mr Kite—- below is the attachments he received…

    From: kim feil
    To: “[email protected]
    Sent: Sunday, April 6, 2014 12:11 PM
    Subject: Fw: video of fracking waste truck spilling busy road/ health effects did it originate in Arlington?
    —– Forwarded Message —–
    From: kim feil
    To: “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]
    Sent: Sunday, April 6, 2014 12:07 PM
    Subject: Fw: video of fracking waste truck spilling busy road/ health effects did it originate in Arlington?
    —– Forwarded Message —–
    From: kim feil
    Cc: “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]” ; Mike Rawlings
    Sent: Sunday, April 6, 2014 11:20 AM
    Subject: video / Did this fracking waste truck spilling on the road causing health effects originate in Arlington?

    “This video was recorded today in Ft. Worth Texas. These cigar shaped tankers are used to haul frack flowback and are commonly known as “dragon trucks” after the manufacturer. This fella seems to have forgotten to close the valve on his load of 130 BBLs (5,460 gallons) of frack waste.
    Or maybe he left it open on purpose? You know, trucking to those disposal wells is SO expensive, and there’s just so much of thistoxic radioactive frack goo that it’s hard to know what to do with it all. Dump it in the creek when no one is looking? Dump it in the woods?
    Or just open up the valve and drive around the DFW Metroplex until the tank is dry. Take the tipping fees intended for the disposal well and split ‘em with your boss. Repeat.
    And this doesn’t only happen in Texas folks. It happens in Pennsylvania and New York and North Dakota, too.”
    I warned about this the other day I blogged on this picture NCTCOG to study frackswarms / injection well disposal trucks MIA risk

    From: kim feil
    To: Brenda (DSHS) Mokry
    Cc: “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]” ; “[email protected]” ; Mike Rawlings
    Sent: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 11:10 AM
    Subject: Please update me on the states plan to debunk the UT study cancer cluster Flower mound

    Please keep me on the contact list of the states plan of action since this study has been released, thanks.

    Here are the recent media links…

    FYI on electric drillings use and nonuse pro and con
    FYI on