e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 10: Environment and Natural Resources

Provide Incentives for Linking
Private Air Quality Monitoring Systems to State Systems


Emerging air-quality monitoring technologies that allow government agencies to collect real-time data from remote locations would help the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) assess pollution events and move rapidly to identify their causes. By giving regulated companies incentives to directly link such monitoring devices to TNRCC, air pollution problems could be identified and remedied quickly and efficiently.


About 150 stationary air-quality monitoring stations operated by the TNRCC measure general air quality in various populated areas around the state. Through its MeteoStar Data Acquisition System developed in 1998, the agency is able to receive real time data from the stations. Using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant in 1999, TNRCC expanded the system by linking two privately-owned regional monitoring systems to MeteoStar (formerly known as LEADS).[1]

The system gathers detailed air quality data in real time, greatly increasing the agency’s ability to collect, analyze, and report such information. The EPA recognized the LEADS system as the new standard for all continuous air monitoring systems in the nation.[2]http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/admin/topdoc/sfr/057_98/index.html

In addition, several TNRCC mobile monitoring units travel to locations where air pollution problems are reported.[3]http://www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/admin/topdoc/sfr/057_99/index.html The state also relies on neighborhood complaints or the companies it regulates to report emissions problems. TNRCC uses the information gathered by these methods to penalize regulated companies for air pollution incidents and provide them with instructions on how to clean up their problems.

TNRCC Air Permitting

TNRCC regulates an estimated 12,000 companies that hold formal air quality permits and licenses, and another 55,000 that operate under various legal clean-air requirements.[4] The agency regulates such companies through a combination of permits, emissions monitoring, and inspections.

Under Title V of the federal Clean Air Act, all federal air pollution regulations are combined into a single operating permit for each regulated company. By identifying and listing every applicable requirement for each company, these permits improve compliance and, thus, reduce emissions.

TNRCC requires companies to obtain new permits whenever they modify any of their regulated facilities. To be approved, such changes cannot affect public health, and must employ the best available pollution control technology, based on reasonable costs. The agency also can issue a permit specifying a cap on air pollution that allows a company to modify its facilities as long as its emissions stay under the cap.

Until recently, regulated facilities built prior to the state’s 1971 Clean Air Act were exempted from more stringent regulation if they remained unmodified. The 1999 Legislature, however, required these older facilities to phase in improvements and apply for new permits by September 2001 or face high fees for their emissions. In addition, all electric utilities that had been exempt in Texas must be permitted by TNRCC by May 2003 or close down.[5]

Unauthorized Air Emissions

TNRCC has difficulty identifying regulated companies that exceed their air pollution limits either through “upset” or “maintenance” events, according to a review by the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission.[6] An upset event is an unplanned, unauthorized air emission; a maintenance event is a planned event expected to cause air emissions that exceed permit limits.

Companies that exceed their limits can be exempted from fines and other penalties if they meet certain reporting and record-keeping requirements. Some companies, however, take advantage of weaknesses in TNRCC’s monitoring by not reporting or delaying the reporting of pollution events, knowing that it is sometimes difficult for the agency to know where and when short-term pollution events occur.

Monitoring devices placed on the fence lines or smokestacks of regulated companies could provide TNRCC with better, more timely information about air emissions, more quickly than is presently possible, and thus allow the agency to address pollution problems more quickly and efficiently. Additional air quality information also would help the agency map out and plan better strategies for controlling and reducing air pollution.

Yet these monitoring devices would be too expensive for the government to install at all regulated companies. Instead, incentives should be given to these companies to voluntarily purchase, install and directly connect these remote monitors to TNRCC’s MeteoStar Data System.


The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) should provide regulated companies with incentives to install monitoring systems and link them with TNRCC’s MeteoStar Data System.

TNRCC should give incentives to regulated companies that voluntarily purchase, install and directly connect their remote monitors to TNRCC. These monitors would provide continuous, real-time data to the agency’s Internet server from both fence lines and smoke stacks for TNRCC review. The incentives granted could be similar to those TNRCC already provides under its Clean Texas Program, such as on-site technical assistance, expedited permitting, reduced reporting and record-keeping requirements, and reduced inspections, consistent with federal requirements.[7]

Greater use of continuous, real-time monitoring would help TNRCC move to a results-based system. Instead of providing detailed instructions to regulated companies on how to clean up problems, TNRCC could outline the desired end results and allow individual companies to decide how best to deal with the cleanup.

Fiscal Impact

TNRCC would incur only negligible software development costs to modify its MeteoStar System to link with corporate remote monitoring systems. Improved monitoring would allow the agency to save money and redirect resources into creating a new vision for its regulatory program.

The primary costs would be borne by companies that would choose to install continuous emissions monitors at various locations along fence lines or on smoke stacks at a cost of $3,000 to $10,000 per unit. The decision to link with TNRCC’s MeteoStar System, however, would be voluntary.

[1] Interview with Steve Spaw, director, Monitoring Operations Division, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Austin, Texas, April 18, 2000.

[2] Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Biennial Report to the 76th Legislature, Volume II (Austin, Texas, December 1998), pp. 33–36 (). (Internet document.)

[3] Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Biennial Report to the 77th Legislature, Volume I: Protecting a Thriving Texas (Austin, Texas, March 2000), pp. 15-16 (). (Internet document.)

[4] Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, State of the Texas Environment: Strategic Plan, Fiscal Years 2001-2005, Volume 2 (Austin, Texas, June 2000), p. 22.

[5] Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Biennial Report to the 77th Legislature, Volume I: Protecting a Thriving Texas, p. 27.

[6] Sunset Advisory Commission, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, Staff Report (Austin, Texas, May 2000), pp. 41-48.

[7] Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, “Clean Industries Plus: Program Description,” Austin, Texas, April 1999, p. 12.

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Austin, Texas

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