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Window on State Government

Environment/Natural Resources Task Force

Weslaco, April 7, 2000

e-Texas Commission Members and Comptroller's Office Staff Hear Environment and Natural Resource Concerns in the Rio Grande Valley

Information access, electronic permitting and regulatory reporting, and innovative compliance methods are all taking advantage of new technology in the environment and natural resource business, according to testimony given at the e-Texas Environment and Natural Resources Task Force public hearing in Weslaco.

valley residents
Valley residents listen as panelists discuss environment and
natural resources at the e-Texas hearing in Weslaco.

"Currently, there are 12 state agencies that deal with the environment and natural resources," said e-Texas Environment and Natural Resources Task Force commissioner Noe Fernandez. "Our challenge is to pull resources and work together for the consumer, so you don't have to visit all 12 agencies to get the work done, but maybe just one or two."

This was the seventh in a series of public hearings Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander is holding as part of her e-Texas initiative, which is designed to help Texas state government meet the challenges of the Internet Age.

Major Issues

Major issues discussed by panelists and audience members included:

  • Innovative approaches for protecting the environment,
  • Information access,
  • Transaction support, and
  • Private stewardship.

Panelists Commentary

"The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission is and always will be a regulatory agency," said Randolph Wood, TNRCC deputy director of policy and regulatory development. "However, we are always looking for new ways to do our jobs more efficiently and more effectively for the public."

TNRCC has put into practice innovative ideas to encourage pollution reduction and implement environmental regulations.

One idea is to form international partnerships, specifically with Mexico. Through this partnership, TNRCC is able to develop environmental plans with the six Mexican states that border Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

"We know that the what happens in our border areas affects the states in Mexico that border Texas, and what is happening in Mexico affects Texas' environment," Wood said. "Through this partnership we are able to work together to cut down on pollution and air contaminants."

Another project is the Border 21 initiative. This partnership between Mexico, Canada and the United States allows Texas to monitor air quality in the border region and implement prevention programs.

Additionally, TNRCC has adopted new enforcement methods referred to as supplemental environment projects (SEP). A SEP is a means by which fines, fees and penalties for environmental violations may be directed toward environmentally beneficial projects.

These projects have three primary goals:

  • Find remedies to problems and violations,
  • Pursue penalties for the violations, and
  • Determine the best punishment for the penalties.

One example of a SEP is the recycling initiative along the Texas border that is funded through fees from environment violation penalties.

In 1995, the TNRCC Voluntary Cleanup Program was enacted into law to encourage cleanup of "brownfields," properties hampered by environmental contamination. Under the Voluntary Cleanup Program, Texas has removed the obstacle of liability by protecting new owners and investors from liability in return for the site being cleaned up to appropriate levels under the supervision of the TNRCC. This has been very successful in Texas, according to Wood.

Randy Wood, TNRCC; Michael Simms, Science Applications International Corp.; Noe Fernandez, e-Texas Task Force Commissioner

"Our old approach (to regulating the environment) was to set specific limits and enforce those limits," Wood said. "Our new approach is to go into the communities, emphasize that environment compliance is a community problem and the community needs to play an integral part in solving the problem. TNRCC will then assist and partner with the community to reduce contaminants."

Along with new, innovative programs to reduce contaminants, information and access is essential in environment compliance, according to Michael Simms, senior program manager with Austin-based Science Applications International Corporation.

"Massive amounts of information related to the environment and natural resources are available via the Internet, including data, regulations and public outreach information," Simms said. "And agencies are currently redesigning Web sites to make this information easier to find."

Accessible information includes drought and ozone information, including suggestions and solutions to problems that arise during these times. Also, industries are implementing environmental information management systems in an effort to streamline compliance.

In addition to increased information, states are beginning to develop transaction systems to provide electronic reporting and permitting. Currently, the Texas Railroad Commission is working on an electronic compliance and approval program and TNRCC is able to collect fees for municipal solid waste and other programs.

Dr. Schwartz
Dr. Gary Schwarz, private land owner

Dr. Gary Schwarz, a private landowner representative, also spoke of ways the public can get involved in environmental protection and natural resource management. Dr. Schwarz discussed ways for private landowners or organizations to pursue conservation on their own and working with neighboring landowners.

e-Texas is an initiative of Carole Keeton Rylander, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Post Office Box 13528, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas

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