By BILL HAMMOND
We always like to think that things are better in Texas. Certainly, Texas has a well-deserved reputation as a great place to do business.
We have enjoyed unprecedented growth in our Texas 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 to that question cannot be certain unless we address some critical issues.
One issue of major importance 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 the ability to get authorization for new facilities and businesses is unpredictable or uncertain.
Unfortunately, in Texas, when business developers who are deciding where to make investments ask the question: “How long does it take to get a permit?” All too often the answer from Texas permitting authorities is, “We can’t say.”
And that is an honest answer to the question. While the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality can move as quickly as possible to review applications and develop permits, the contested case hearing process in Texas provides an opportunity for protesters of new development to drag the process out indefinitely.
The contested case hearing process in Texas 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 as 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.