District 73 State Rep. Kyle Biedermann’s bill that would tighten regulatory authority over the state’s rock-crushing aggregate facilities held a public hearing before a House committee on Monday.
“Yesterday, I laid out one of my quarry bills, HB 2871, in the Energy Resources Committee,” said Biedermann, R-Fredericksburg. “It would (shift) oversight of the permitting process of rock quarries from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to the Texas Railroad Commission.
“This bill is common-sense legislation and will provide long-term protections for private property owners living near rock quarries, as well more effective oversight of the industry by the Railroad Commission.”
Biedermann said the RRC has overseen surface mining and reclamation in Texas since the 1970s. He said the RRC is much more of a “regulatory” arm for these types of industries, and would provide better environmental oversight over aggregate facilities.
“Thank you so much to Sharlene Fey, Mark Friesenhahn, Don Everingham, Pamela Sealy, Toni Lott and Richard Keady from my district who came and testified in favor of the bill,” he said of the hearing, which lasted late into the evening.
HB 2871, also supported by the Hill Country Alliance and the Friends of Dry Comal Creek, should get a vote next week, said Larry Bailey, Biedermann’s legislative policy advisor.
Bailey said the same House committee on Monday heard testimony on a similar bill, HB 509, authored by Rep. Terry Wilson (R-Georgetown).
“Both bills have many of the same components,” Bailey said. “The most significant area of agreement is the creation of a reclamation permit to be issued and implemented by the RRC.
Today, there is no requirement for aggregate operations have such a permit and a performance bond, and under both bills that would occur.”
Bailey said the bills differ in defining the scope of RRC authority and that Biedermann’s bill would require water impact studies for quarries be conducted and approved by groundwater conservation districts, with the findings submitted to the RRC.
“It’s critical that terms for the first approval indicate that (a quarry) has available groundwater or not,” Bailey said. “The third difference is that our bill would have the RRC take over full responsibility for the permitting the APO program, which Rep. Wilson’s bill does not have.”
The bills would allow unannounced inspections, and require quarries restore land to its natural state following mining operations, and impose fines and criminal penalties on flagrant violators.
“These are by far the most comprehensive bills being proposed in the House,” Bailey said.
Bailey said Biedermann also filed HB 3798, which differs from HB 2871 in that permitting authority would be maintained by TCEQ, which would require a stricter permitting process.
It would also mandate the agency work toward adopting industry-wide air quality studies.
“It would mean the TCEQ would work with the industry on developing real-time studies of air quality,” Bailey said. Those studies would measure minute particulate matter – unseen dust created by aggregate facilities – deemed harmful to public health.
“The air studies would be compared with air quality levels to determine whether they pose concerns,” Bailey said. “We understand the TCEQ is moving one monitor closer to and around one of the APOs in Comal County, but we don’t know where.”
District 25 State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, has filed three Senate bills that would increase oversight of aggregate facilities. As of Friday, all three were still in committee.
The Guadalupe Valley/Hill Country Corridor Protection Act, or SB 1696, places additional permitting restrictions on quarries seeking to operate in the Guadalupe River watershed west of Canyon Lake Dam. Operators would have to file statements addressing water drainage and accumulation, reclamation, restoring quarried lands, and post bonds to cover damages to the Guadalupe River watershed and Hill Country.
Campbell previously filed SB 208, extending the buffer zones between concrete plants and neighborhoods, and SB 694, to increase oversight over inspections of aggregate facilities, and increases fees and fines for those cited for non-compliance.