At Arlington City Hall, Locals Hammer TCEQ Panel for Stricter Gas Drilling Regulations

Shortly after the release of that Fort Worth air study, three reps from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality took a bit of a verbal beating last night from locals who told them, over and over and over again, that their agency is not sufficiently protecting the state's air quality, especially with regard to gas drilling regulations. We attended the evening session of the two-part hearing held at Arlington City Hall, when the mic was dominated by citizens sharing gas-drilling horror stories and pleading for tighter industry regulation.

The TCEQ extended the public hearing period from July 25 till August 8 to collect feedback regarding proposed revisions to the state's air quality standards and protections. Which is why TCEQ reps Kathy Singleton (the DFW SIP project manager), David Brymer (director of the Air Quality Division) and Bridget Bohac (director of the Office of Public Assistance) made the trip up from Austin.

"I can't enjoy being on my property form the noise and the fumes," Jane Lynn told the panel. She said her neighbors have had inexplicable illnesses since drilling began, including pain in their joints, headaches and, in some cases, fluid forming around people's hearts. "What level of exposure to carcinogenic gasses is safe?" she asked to the crowd's applause.

Anti-drilling activist Marc McCord, who's not known to hold his tongue, told the panel "We only have one environment ... When we pollute it, we're dead."

"We're telling you that your plan will fail, but it doesn't have to," said Kerry Kimberling, among the many parading the podium. "Your office is having some problems with math and science."

Many attendees stressed the need for a higher level of industry accountability. "The energy companies can clean it up, but they won't if they don't have to. They won't do it if you don't make them," said Julia Burgen, who identified herself as a Texas native and said she wrote her first letter to the EPA in 1973. Jeffrey Jacoby, the program director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment, approached the mic wearing a cardboard mask of Rick Perry's face and spoke out against both the governor and the TCEQ. "There are people suffering," he said. "You all know what to do -- do what is right."

Much has been said about gas drilling proponent Ed Ireland's emissions estimation, which he restated at the morning session of yesterday's hearing, and which many believe to be "grossly underestimated," in the words of Arlington's Kim Feil. At the morning hearing, industry experts said the exact opposite -- that environmentalists were "grossly overstating" the amount of air pollution caused by natural gas drilling, according to the Star-Telegram.

"All the cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex emit six times more volatile organic compounds than all the Barnett Shale natural gas wells," Ireland said, according to the Star-Telegram. "No further restrictions are needed."

Jim Schermbeck, head of environmental group Downwinders at Risk, countered Ireland's earlier statement, telling Unfair Park that the hearing was intended to "point out that the biggest flaw in this plan is the complete ignoring of the biggest source of the smog-forming VOC [volatile organic compound] pollution in the area, which is the gas industry."

Schermbeck's organization hosted a "Perry Bean" cook-off on the patio of Arlington City Hall before the hearing. The flier for the event called it "a conservative response to Governor Perry's gas problem." Over that light snack, Calvin Tillman former mayor of DISH Texas, and Tim Ruggiero, a Decatur resident and 60 Minutes profile whose family has a well adjacent to their home -- a home whose value has decreased in value by nearly 75 percent, he'll tell you -- spoke out about the effects of drilling and the environmental problems facing the state.

"It's going to get worse. So what do we do about it -- what does our state do about it?" Tillman said. "They stick their head in the sand ... We sacrifice with our health. We sacrifice with the health of our children. We need to do something. What they're proposing is unacceptable."

"All the energy and all the jobs that are supposedly created aren't going to do us a damn bit of good if we don't have fresh water to drink and water our crops and soil to grow crops," Ruggieroo said. "The time has come for revolution."

Before entering the hearing, Schermbeck said he thought people came to the event, complete with crock pots of beans, for "easy entertainment and community" and to "vent at people who they know aren't really the source of the problem but are here on behalf of the people who are."

After sitting through nearly two hours of public comment, Brymer, the director of TCEQ's Air Quality Division, told Unfair Park there were "no big surprises" and the commission had already considered most of what was said. Even so, he said the TCEQ would consider any points brought up during the public comment period and will issue a "formal response to comment" once the August 8 deadline has passed.

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