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Environmental agency receives various donations for travel expenses

Over the course of 17 months, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental regulatory agency, received $135,121.37 in contributions from outside agencies.

These contributions were largely used for travel fare, meals and hotel stays for conferences.

The largest contributor to the commission during this period was the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which paid for 18 trips to seven cities.

The Advocate collected this data from commission interoffice memoranda detailing gifts more than $500 made to the agency from September 2013 to January 2015. Memoranda are reported to the commission quarterly to make the acceptance of gifts public, said commission spokeswoman Andrea Morrow.

Related: The RRC ponders their responsibility to urban inspections

Taking a closer look at what organizations are wining and dining a state regulatory agency could provide clues about whether there is any outside influence on the agency.

Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen Texas said most of the reimbursements are from government agencies — and are OK — although they raise questions about budget cuts to state agencies.

Contributions by the American Petroleum Institute, American Coal Council and the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners, which the commission regulates on a state level, could pose as conflicts of interest.

The petroleum institute waived a Dallas conference fee of $600 for an official to attend an institute meeting on “evaporative loss estimation.” And the Coal Council and boiler owners both paid for state toxicologist Michael Honeycutt’s airfare, rental car and meals to speak at their events. These two trips concern Smith because Honeycutt is known to be controversial for being a lone voice opposed to the federal government regulations on ozone, toxics and soot, he wrote in an email Wednesday.

 

This article was written by Sara Sneath from Victoria Advocate, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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