House Bill 571 became the law of Texas in 2011. It requires sand miners to register with the state and follow “applicable environmental laws and rules.” So I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and tried to determine what those were. After weeks of searching, I had my first clue as to why sand mines on the San Jacinto don’t follow guidelines that are common in other states.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) website is bewildering. TCEQ documents posted online contain:
- Cryptic and nested references to references to references, such as the 81 word sentence above, that often end up in investigative dead ends
- Undefined acronyms, industry jargon, and obscure bureaucratic language that make comprehension difficult
- Titles that give you no clue about content
- Regulations that apply to one part of the state but not others
- Loopholes big enough for a cement truck to drive through.
Simply googling “Texas sand mining best management practices (BMPs)” does not hit the mother lode. So you keep on searching, not knowing whether the information doesn’t exist or you’re just searching the wrong way. You keep thinking, “With a state as business-friendly as Texas, there must be a clear, simple articulation of guidelines somewhere!”
I finally gave up and asked someone at TCEQ to just send me environmental rules, regulations and BMPs for sand mining. It took three tries, but yesterday, I finally got usable information. And the answer is…! THERE ARE NONE FOR THIS PART OF TEXAS … with the exception of a few EPA guidelines about refueling trucks within sand mines, some elements of the Clean Water Act, and a couple pages in a 133 page application.
The person helping me at TCEQ said that there appear to be:
- No rules that include a setback distance between a sand mine and the San Jacinto River.
- No restrictions on TCEQ permitting of sand mines in flood prone areas.
Texas does have guidelines for sand mining along the Brazos River in the John Graves scenic area of the Edwards Aquifer. However, they don’t apply to the San Jacinto River. And they have huge loopholes. For instance, see section 2.5 Stream Crossings and Buffers on Page 8. “Haul-road crossings through the buffer zones should be constructed ONLY WHEN NECESSARY [emphasis added].”
The closest we come to articulating BMPs for sand mining along the San Jacinto: two pages within a PERMIT APPLICATION (see pages 62 and 63 of 166) to operate a sand mine. There are also some attachments to a letter from the TCEQ to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about the nationwide permitting process in Texas (see image at top of page). Neither of these are intuitive places to search for BMPs.
The experience of researching Best Management Practices for sand mining in Texas reminded me of filling out an IRS tax form – minus all the clarity in the IRS forms.
This lack of clarity is a big part of our problem in my opinion.
So what is a burly, cigar-chomping sand miner wearing a Caterpillar gimme cap on a bulldozer supposed to do? Put the dozer in gear and make money, of course. End of rant.
Posted on June 28, 2018 by Bob Rehak
303 Days since Hurricane Harvey