Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Implements Public Involvement Requirements for Applicants

November 09, 2022

Requirements associated with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) new Public Participation Plan became effective on November 1, 2022. The plan, which is intended to enhance TCEQ’s compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, requires applicants for certain new permits, registrations, or activities, as well as applicants seeking to make certain changes to existing permits, registrations, or activities, to complete a Public Involvement Plan Form and possibly develop a Public Involvement Plan.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by recipients of federal assistance on the basis of protected characteristics, such race, color, and national origin. Because the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides substantial financial assistance to state governments, local government agencies (such as TCEQ), and private corporations and organizations, EPA plays a role in enforcing civil rights laws with respect to those recipients of federal funding. Notably, part of EPA’s role includes directly enforcing civil rights complaints against funding recipients through an administrative complaint process.

Current EPA Investigations

There are currently four open EPA Title VI investigations of TCEQ. One, which is currently undergoing negotiations to reach an informal resolution, is based on an August 2021 complaint alleging that TCEQ issued a Clean Air Act operating permit without analyzing whether the permit’s pollution control requirements are protective and that TCEQ lacks proper nondiscrimination policies. The second investigation is based on a June 2022 petition seeking EPA review of TCEQ’s full air permitting program.

The final two investigations, which EPA announced in August 2022, are based on complaints alleging that TCEQ amended its standard permit for concrete batch plants in 2021 without including a requirement that applicants show particulate matter and crystalline silica emissions will not harm human health or the environment, and that the public process leading to the amendment excluded Spanish-speaking residents.

TCEQ’s issuance of the Public Participation Plan responds to these investigations by creating a process to determine whether additional public outreach is necessary for or beneficial to individual applications.

Plan Requirements

Under the Public Participation Plan, applicants seeking certain new permits, registrations, or activities or amending certain existing permits, registrations, or activities must complete the Public Involvement Plan Form, which functions as a preliminary screening tool to determine the required scope of public outreach. The Public Involvement Plan Form requests information on the type of application being submitted as well as community and demographic information for the area surrounding the project (e.g., percent of minority population nearby, commonly spoken languages in the area, per capita income) and planned public outreach activities.

A Public Involvement Plan must be developed for applications that (1) require public notice, (2) are considered to have significant public interest, and (3) are located in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, West Texas, the Texas Panhandle, or along the Texas/Mexico border.

According to TCEQ guidance, the requirement to complete a Public Involvement Plan Form and, if necessary, to develop a Public Involvement Plan applies to air permits and registrations, waste permits and registrations, water quality permits, and water rights permits. Depending on the specific application being submitted, public outreach activities such as mailing notices, publishing notices, posting signs, and holding public meetings may be required.


TCEQ’s issuance of the Public Participation Plan provides regulated entities with a road map of public participation requirements associated with specific applications. Although it remains to be seen what effect the plan may have on EPA’s ongoing Title VI investigations, the plan does indicate an increased focus on Title VI requirements—and, by extension, environmental justice concerns—at TCEQ.


If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following:

Laura C. Williams (Houston)
Stephen Fitzgerald (Dallas / Houston)
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