Texas permit process is an economic barrier

03/13/2014 5:42 PM

03/13/2014 5:43 PM

We always like to think things are better in Texas, which has a well-deserved reputation as a great place to do business.

We have enjoyed unprecedented growth in our economy as we have added jobs and attracted capital investment.

But we constantly need to ask ourselves whether we can do better — and more importantly, if other states try to replicate our success, can we remain competitive?

The answer cannot be certain unless we address some crucial issues.

One important issue in attracting capital and business opportunity is the predictability of the regulatory process.

No investor can be expected to make decisions about moving capital to a state where getting authorization for new facilities and businesses is unpredictable or uncertain.

Unfortunately, in Texas, when business developers who are deciding where to make investments ask how long it takes to get a permit, all too often the answer from Texas permitting authorities is, “We can’t say.”

And that is an honest answer. While the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) can move as quickly as possible to review applications and develop permits, the contested case hearing process in Texas provides an opportunity for opponents of new development to drag the process out indefinitely.

The contested case hearing process is unpredictable, overly legalistic, costly and subject to abuse.

It is exactly the opposite of what a permitting system should be in a state that prides itself on being “open for business.”

Other states with which we compete have permitting systems that are far more fair, reasonable and predictable.

In fact, while many frequently criticize the EPA and other federal agencies for their unwieldy bureaucracies and inefficiencies, the EPA uses a much more rational notice-and-comment process to authorize federal permits.

EPA adopted rules under the Clinton administration to do away with contested case hearings at the federal level specifically because they found them to be ineffective and of little value in environmental protection.

Even when investors have made the decision to build projects in Texas, those plans are often canceled because investors get tired of waiting for decisions.

TCEQ records all too often show projects that have taken years to get final approval — some, sadly, as much as 10 years to get through the contested case hearing process. Not exactly a great advertisement for the nation’s strongest economy.

The contested case hearing process must be replaced with a process that is fair, predictable and more cost-effective, but still provides the public the opportunity to have their voices heard and concerns addressed.

It is crucial that a new process be put in place that protects the interests of all parties, but which results in decisions on a schedule that is reasonable and predictable.

We are not advocating a process that will result in less environmental protection in exchange for expediency.

Making this change will not mean more pollution, and it will not shut out the voices of environmental groups or concerned citizens.

It will add certainty to a very uncertain process, speed up the process of designing and building newer, more efficient facilities and helping to grow businesses in Texas.

Bill Hammond is president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. bhammond@txbiz.org

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