KXAN Austin

KXAN investigation sparks bill to make sure companies pay for environmental violations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A Texas State Representative recently laid out a House Bill that aims to protect clean air and clean water by making sure companies pay for environmental violations. The bill cited a KXAN investigation that found TCEQ had offered discounts on many penalties, even for repeat violators.

State Rep. Erin Zweiner, D-Driftwood, laid out House Bill 3035, a bill that would make certain that the penalties imposed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are at least equal to the value of economic benefit gained by the alleged violator. She called it a “common sense bill on TCEQ penalties.”

Zwiener explained:

“We all know that fines exist to discourage bad behavior. But if the consequence for ignoring the law is less than the financial gain, why would you stop? We need to ensure that businesses whose violations harm Texans are penalized at least the amount of any economic benefit from the harm done. We need a regulatory structure that encourages proactive compliance instead of rewarding strategic negligence.”

A release from Zweiner’s office cited a 2016 KXAN investigation that found more than half of all businesses targeted by the TCEQ have recieved a discount of at least 20 percent on their fines. And, in some cases, an even higher discount.

“TCEQ’s job is to protect our air and water quality,” said Rep. Zwiener. “Appropriate penalties for endangering our environment are essential to protecting Texas from industrial disasters.”

Zweiner’s bill is pending in committee. An analysis of the law found it would send more money to the state’s coffers, but the state could not estimate how much.