Biedermann Introduces Two Quarry Bills
Two bills introduced to the Texas legislature earlier this month by Canyon Lake’s House Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-73) could strengthen the state’s regulatory authority over mining operations like Vulcan Materials’ proposed rock quarry at Highway 46 and FM 3009.
One of the bills might even halt development of the controversial 1500-acre open-pit limestone quarry in a high-density residential area of central Comal County, between Bulverde, Spring Branch, Garden Ridge, and New Braunfels.
Larry Bailey, Biedermann’s policy analyst, led the effort to draft house bills 2871 and 3798.
A fifth-generation Texas on his mother’s side, he’s worked for Texas Water Quality Board, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Defense Logistics Agency, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Department of Energy, and two international engineering consulting firms.
Bailey said Biedermann’s two bills are the culmination of extensive discussions with the regulatory community in Austin, constituents, industry groups like the Texas Aggregates & Concrete Association, EPA, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, grassroots advocacy organizations, and officials from other states with comparable mining operations.
“The people of District 73 spoke, they came to Rep. Biedermann in different forms, many times as individuals, sometimes as groups, and their concerns were heard,” he said.
Differences Between the Bills
H.B. 2871 would keep regulatory governing authority for mines with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) but would strengthen the permitting process. H.B. 3798 proposes transferring lead environmental regulatory law from TCEQ to the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), the state agency that regulates the oil-and-gas industry, gas utilities, pipeline safety, safety in the liquefied petroleum gas industry, and surface coal and uranium mining.
Bailey estimates there could be as many as 10 other bills introduced by Texas Hill Country legislators governing various aggregate production operations (APO).
Under this bill TCEQ retains its regulatory lead over mining operations, but gets four new requirements above and beyond what currently exists. In a phone interview, Bailey explained some of the signifcant features of the bill:
Air Quality Monitoring
“We have required what’s called an industrywide air quality study to be directed by TCEQ whereby the aggregate production operations would select a certain number of mines and perform an air-quality study that would focus on air emissions from the entire facility and compare that to public health standards.”
Currently, the TCEQ permits air-quality emissions from the onsite rock crusher only.
“The TCEQ has air quality models they use to determine whether there’s any impact on the public’s health. The problem is they do not currently collect ambient, real-time air quality information for the existing mines in Comal County.
“Air quality data used by the TCEQ are not collected at or near the rock quarries in question. Again, we’re hearing from the community, advocacy groups, who say air quality models need to be validated with real-time data. The only way to get this real-time, ambient air quality baseline data is to set up air sensors in and/or near each mine and then assess the cumulative effects of the mines on the public’s health.
“Rep. Biedermann supports the groups being directly involved, and the industry should pay for a large portion of the study.”
“Currently, TCEQ could issue a permit and it is not dependent upon the availability of groundwater used by the rock quarry.
“So what we’re saying is that in the case of Comal County, there is a new Comal Trinity Groundwater Conservation District whose rules became effective January 2019. This organization, per our bill, will issue its approval and or permit for the APO before TCEQ can issue its final permit to begin operations.”
“If you can imagine TCEQ having an umbrella permit, and underneath that you have the groundwater conservation district issuing its permit or giving its approval, you would also have RRC doing the same regarding reclamation. RRC currently requires for lignite mines and uranium miners in Texas to be bonded, and to prepare reclamation plans that show how they’re going to take the property back to a similar condition to what existed before they began mining.”
“One other area where we are recommending change has to do with distance requirements from residences, schools, hospitals, etc. We believe that even if an air study comes back and shows there are no air issues for the most part, the distances need to be extended four times from what they currently are. From the edge of the property or rock quarry, depending on how the permit is written.”
The second bill calls for the transfer of the primary role for issuing permits to the RRC, which currently oversees permitting and governance programs for lignite, coal and uranium mines.
Bailey said the RRC is familiar with groundwater issues associated with mines, has extensive experience with monitoring the air quality of mines, and has procedures and policies already in place that meet and/or exceed the TCEQ requirements.
“So for example on reclamation, the RRC has far more substantive regulations governing what’s going to happen to that rock quarry in the future after the APO operations cease.
“In the second bill, we have set up the RRC to be the lead environmental regulatory agency and the groundwater conservation districts will have their role. Depending on what actually happens with the bill, TCEQ may have a secondary role.
“There are big differences between both bills.”
Stopping Vulcan Quarry
Bailey said if H.B. 2781 passed as it is currently written, if a production operation hypothetically needed 100 gallons of water, and a groundwater conservation district said it only had 50 gallons available, the quarry operation only be allowed to operate based on 50 percent of its original planned water needs.
“So this could possibly stop Vulcan Quarry or a similar APO from going forward with its original plans,” he said. “We have to see what comes out of committee.”
“I would say it’s significant.”
Additionally, stricter regulations on air-quality monitoring arising from an industrywide air quality study could have a significant impact on both proposed and existing mining operations, he said.
Protecting Texas Hill Country
Bailey said Rep. Biedermann believes the Texas Hill Country needs to be protected so that it doesn’t end up looking like other major metropolitan areas of the state.
“People come to the Hill Country from other parts of the state because their parts of the state don’t have what the Hill Country offers…We have uniqueness, we have beauty, and we’ve got a lot of natural assets that need to be protected.
“These bills, along with other bills pertaining to land use, are being thoroughly discussed in this legislative session.”
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