Whitney White-Ashley

I sat in on the March 31 public meeting with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and air quality permit applicant Tommy Davis of Slick Machines.

The basic facts of the story are familiar to many in Somervell by now and Iíve dealt with TCEQ for other stories involving air quality permits, injection wells, pipelines, storm water drainage permits and a laundry list of other items.

I knew TCEQ was a rule-bound branch of the government and I thought I had heard just about every goofy line they had scrawled in their book - until that night.

I must admit that I probably missed something while I was left scrambling to pick my jaw up off the floor after a few of the comments I heard.

Most of the confounding comments came from the TCEQ side of the panel. When an audience member pointed out that the TCEQ allows applicants 33 days to post a second notice after the draft permit is reviewed and Slick Machines took 44 days, the TCEQ agreed - the rules do indeed say 33 days, but they also say TCEQ may take other actions, including letting the applicant take longer without penalty.

Gee, I guess all the hours I spend teaching my children that rules actually mean something has been a waste, because, apparently, you can break the rules without any real consequences.

Also, another shocking realization was that just because the TCEQ issues a permit, doesnít mean the applicant can use a permit. This response came after someone questioned why the applicant could potentially be granted a permit to destroy habitat of an endangered species in direct violation of federal law.

Quite honestly, the list goes on and if you were there, you know what I mean. It seems to me that the doctors have walked into the asylum and told the patients to decide if they were sane or not. If they think they are sane, then they are welcome to leave.

To me, this situation screams out about a bigger flaw, bigger than Glen Rose and Slick Machines. As prominent as this fight is here, I think we also need to look at the bigger picture. We need to catch the ears of our state and national representatives and tell them to fix the rules - make them make sense.

TCEQ is only functioning within the confines of their regulations. The regulations are broken. If a state entity is allowed to spend taxpayer time and money issuing and legalizing a permit that violates federal law and will instantly be rendered void, then that is gross negligence and abuse of taxpayer resources.

Sid Miller, Chet Edwards, Kip Averitt need to push to fix what is broken, not just here in our backyard, but in every backyard in the state. If TCEQ cannot legally nullify an application that violates federal law, then legislators need to provide them with the tools to do so.