Chapter 10: Environment and Natural Resources
In Texas, as in many states with large urban populations, air pollution has
become a major concern. The state’s soaring population and booming economy
have led to air quality concerns in several urban areas. Clean water and
continued water availability also are major environmental issues. If our water
is unsafe or its supply unreliable, our economy and our health will suffer. To
address these and other important issues, government agencies charged with
protecting the environment and public health are rethinking traditional
Texas’ environmental and natural resource problems are complex and
often unique, and require a more flexible, results-oriented approach. New
approaches should take advantage of private markets to further the public good
and reduce costs. Cooperative planning should become the standard for effective
protection of the environment.
Use Financial Incentives and Market-Based Tools to Protect
Governments can use a variety of market-based tools to regulate activities.
For example, many environmental fees are assessed based on the amount of
pollution the permit holder releases into the environment. Market-based
environmental innovations help create a climate in which people face the
consequences of their actions and receive incentives to be responsible stewards
of their land and resources.
The state should encourage the cleanup and redevelopment of
“brownfields,” industrial or commercial properties that have been
abandoned or underused due to long-term environmental contamination. It can do
so by allowing the creation of enterprise zones around brownfield sites that
have been cleaned up.
Use Technology to Reduce Compliance Costs While Improving
The global economy is undergoing a profound transformation, and Texas
government must make sure that its regulatory structures encourage rather than
hinder the state’s economic development. Many governments are using the
Internet not only to provide environmental information to the public, but also
to provide increased flexibility to regulated entities through electronic
permitting, reporting and other key services.
Texas state agencies are beginning to redesign their online services to make
information more readily available. The state should develop an environmental
and natural resources information portal within the statewide portal. The
environment and natural resources portal would require the coordination of all
the state’s environmental and natural resources agencies and would provide
a one-stop center for environmental, natural resource, and regulatory
information and services.
The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) should also
provide incentives for linking private air quality monitoring systems to those
of the TNRCC.
Establish a Results-Based Environmental Protection System
Progress toward the state’s environmental protection and natural
resource management goals should be measured by real-world results, not by
permits issued or fines collected. Strict regulations should give way to
cooperative goal-setting and flexible means of achieving those goals.
Innovative compliance measures, voluntary approaches, and regulatory
incentives have proven to be effective tools for improving the environment.
Texas should involve industry in environmental protection and encourage
companies to go beyond basic compliance. Methods of solving problems include
providing easily understandable compliance assistance materials; offering
amnesty for inadvertent, minor violations; and allowing the use of
Another step the state can take is to use Supplemental Environmental
Projects (SEPs) to encourage the use of pollution prevention projects,
environmental management systems and brownfield cleanups. Promoting the use of
environmental management systems (EMS) and developing performance measures that
quantify environmental improvements would move the state further towards a
results-based based environment protection system.
Maximize State and Local Decision-Making
State decision-making that seeks local input and uses relevant local
information about community priorities and opportunities for environmental
improvements often proves to be the most effective. Close-to-home control is
particularly important to Texas due to the extreme diversity of its regions,
each with its own unique environmental concerns.
Texas also should do what it can to receive flexibility from the federal
government. The state should expand its coordination efforts with federal
environmental protection activities to increase its flexibility with federal
programs delegated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).