Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Responds to COVID-19
Unlike Louisiana and some other states, Texas has not elected, as of now, to issue COVID-19 statewide orders of shelter-in-place that could mandate the closure of, or result in reduced operations at, commercial and industrial facilities or businesses that may be regulated by TCEQ. Instead, Texas Governor Abbott has left such decisions to counties and localities which have issued such orders. Governor Abbott did issue Executive Order GA-08, effective March 19, 2020, which ordered the implementation of CDC social distancing concepts and closed schools, and which had the effect of encouraging people to work from home. TCEQ and other state agencies took additional steps. TCEQ has prepared regulatory guidance and has taken steps to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on both TCEQ staff and its customers, and has posted information and guidance on its web page. See here.
Potential Impacts to TCEQ Services
TCEQ has announced on its web page that it expects potential impacts to TCEQ customer service. It notes that as of March 23, 2020, and through April 3, 2020, all TCEQ offices — in Austin and the Regions — will be closed to the public and open to staff only, and on a limited basis. Only a skeleton crew will be present, and TCEQ has instituted teleworking from home. Customers are directed to use regular lines of communication but are warned that they may experience longer wait times. Of particular note, TCEQ advises that its staff’s access to records will be limited and thus record requests will be delayed. TCEQ has published a list of program email boxes and a telephone directory for customer use.
TCEQ has also advised that any changes in status of public meetings and hearings on permitting cases will be noted on the TCEQ’s calendar on its web page. For the most part, all public meetings and hearings through April 3 are canceled or continued.
For those seeking to submit filings or comments to the Office of the Chief Clerk, they are not taking any hand deliveries, but filings and comments can be made through eFiling or eComment. Also, TERP grant documents will continue to be accepted by email, fax, or regular mail.
The TCEQ commissioners are currently operating remotely. The public will not be allowed to attend any scheduled meetings but can participate telephonically. Public participation is also allowed by email. See here.
The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) will have reduced in-office staff and a reduced intake for filings through April 12. SOAH has issued an Emergency Order effective March 23 suspending certain live, in-person hearings and mediations.
TCEQ has posted on its web page notices of certain specific COVID-19-related guidance. Among those include specific guidance on disposal of COVID-19 Waste, public water systems, occupational licensing, and certain reporting requirements. They have also posted a reference to Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce from the US Department of Homeland Security. This guidance has been utilized by counties and localities within Texas and by other states that have issued shelter-in-place orders.
Regarding reporting requirements, TCEQ specifically references two such reporting obligations, both due on or before March 31, 2020:
Point Source Emissions Inventory Reporting: TCEQ will consider 2019 annual compliance reports submitted on or before April 30, 2020, as timely received.
Mass Emissions Cap and Trade (MECT) and Highly Reactive Volatile Organic Compound Emission Cap and Trade (HECT) Annual Compliance Reporting:
TCEQ will consider 2019 annual compliance reports submitted on or before April 30, 2020, as timely received.
TCEQ will post additional information and guidance in response to COVID-19 as matters progress.