John Bolton once famously declared that if the top 10 floors of the United Nations building in New York disappeared, the world wouldn’t know the difference.
We’re not big on Bolton, but if the headquarters of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality disappeared tomorrow, it’s debatable whether the state of Texas would be any worse off. After years of dominance by apparatchiks of Gov. Rick Perry, TCEQ has become little more than a protection racket for powerful polluters.
A few days before Christmas, the Observer received a letter from a TCEQ employee. The anonymous letter-writer, “EnviroFriend,” shared some strong opinions on his employer: “TCEQ is a cesspool and a farm team for aspiring lobbyists,” the person wrote. “It should be dissolved by the Sunset Commission.”
That’s the sentiment of somebody who collects a paycheck from the agency. Mothers with asthmatic kids choking on foul air in Houston, rural folks set to lose their way of life to a coal plant, or anyone clear-eyed about the coming consequences of climate change might be inclined to use stronger language.
While a Bolton-style dissolution is unlikely, there are promising signs that Texas finally might be forced to clean up its act. For the past year, President Barack Obama’s EPA has been giving the state what-for, ordering TCEQ to scrap its laughably “flexible” permitting program for major industrial facilities and demanding more opportunities for citizens to participate in decisions. And in a move that elated Lone Star greens, the Obama administration picked a dream candidate to run the regional EPA office.
Al Armendariz grew up in El Paso in the shadows of the now-closed Asarco smelter, an ugly, lead-spewing symbol of environmental injustice that plagued the city for more than 100 years. He is a scientist, a professor at SMU, and an eminently credible critic of Texas’ environmental policies who has brought his expertise to bear on the Metroplex’s smog problems.
Perry and his cronies will not play nice. Hours after Armendariz’s nomination, TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw issued a back-handed congratulation warning Armendariz not to use his position “as a podium for environmental activism”—as if Shaw hasn’t been engaged in his own regulation-shredding activism.
“I make no apologies for it,” Armendariz told the Houston Chronicle. He shouldn’t. The long-overdue restoration of environmental regulation to Texas—even by the dreaded federal government—is blessed news for all who don’t make a living pleasing corporate polluters.