‘Significant interest’ leads TCEQ to schedule public meeting on Max Midstream’s air permit application

Victoria Advocate
By Kali Venable
Original article here

This computer-generated image depicts oil storage tanks at the Port of Calhoun where Max Midstream acquired the Seahawk pipeline and terminal. Contributed by Max Midstream Texas

Nearly 90 people asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to hold a public meeting and contested case hearing to address concerns with an air permit Max Midstream Texas is seeking for expansion of its Seahawk terminal at the Calhoun Port Authority.

If granted, the permit will allow Max Midstream to increase emissions of greenhouse gases measured in carbon dioxide equivalent by more than 100,000 tons per year, and increase emissions of other pollutants by more than 300 tons per year. Other contaminants include carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides, organic compounds, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter with diameters of 10 microns or less and 2.5 microns or less, according to TCEQ.

On Monday, TCEQ spokesman Brian McGovern said the agency had determined that a public meeting will be held in response to significant public interest in the application.

“Staff is currently working to begin the scheduling process for the public meeting,” McGovern said in an email.

A total of 87 requests for contested case hearings and 88 requests for public meetings had been submitted to TCEQ as of Monday. The public comment period for the application will remain open until the meeting is held, McGovern said. After the public comment period closes, TCEQ’s executive director will formally respond to all comments received. Once those responses are filed, all timely contested case hearing requests and any requests for reconsideration will be considered by TCEQ commissioners at a public meeting, McGovern said. Contested case hearings are legal proceedings similar to a civil trial in a state district court and are only granted based on disputed issues of fact that are relevant to the Commission’s decision on an application, according to TCEQ.

Max Midstream CEO Todd Edwards did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Expansion of the terminal, as well as the Matagorda Ship Channel, are part of Max Midstream’s plans to eventually export up to 20 million barrels of oil through the terminal each month. After purchasing the terminal from Northstar Midstream, Max Midstream announced in October 2020 that it planned to partner with the Calhoun Port Authority and build an oil exportation hub at the port.

As part of the partnership, the company is pumping $225 million into widening and deepening the Matagorda Ship Channel — a project that is well underway despite scrutiny from local residents, nonprofits and several state and national environmental advocacy groups who worry it will have detrimental environmental impacts.

Expansion of the terminal includes eight new storage tanks for crude and crude condensates, seven new loading docks, 16 new vapor combustion units, three firewater pumps and other equipment, according to the permit application.

Environmental activist Diane Wilson, who recently ended a 36-day hunger strike in protest of the widening and deepening project and oil exports, filed requests for a public meeting and contested case hearing on Max Midstream’s air permit application. She said she encouraged people who have been supporting her protests of the widening and deepening project to do the same.

Nearly all other requests were submitted by Texas residents who live outside of Calhoun County, including the director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment Fund, the Turtle Island Restoration Network and an atmospheric sciences professor at Texas A&M University. The vast majority of requests were uniform in language, saying that “Max Midstream has claimed in its permit application it doesn’t need to follow the best available pollution control technology, even though this would be a major industrial facility with the capacity to emit large quantities of air pollutants. To allow this permit to proceed without the most stringent pollution controls and monitoring would be a monumental error on the part of TCEQ.”

Sources of air pollution are classified as major if they have actual or potential emissions at or above the national ambient air quality threshold for any air pollutant, and are required obtain a Title V permit from the Environmental Protection Agency to operate. Because the proposed increases in emissions for the terminal expansion are below the applicable major source thresholds, Max Midstream contends that the project is a minor source modification in its application. Compared to major sources, minor sources trigger less stringent federal pollution control and impact modeling requirements.

Requests jointly filed by Wilson, the Environmental Integrity Project and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid question that classification and allege that the expansion project’s impacts to air quality are not accurately represented. The proposed limits listed for carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds in Max Midstream’s application are a particular source of concern because they are “very close” to the 100 tons per year threshold that would trigger major source classification, the requests said.

“While Max Midstream claims that its expansion project is ‘minor,’ it has failed to show that it will be able to comply with synthetic limits claimed to avoid more stringent pollution control and impacts evaluation requirements that apply to ‘major’ projects,” the request reads. “Members of the public should have an opportunity to voice their concerns about this project and to put questions to Max Midstream and TCEQ representatives directly.”

The requests were filed after the Environmental Integrity Project asked TCEQ to release emissions calculations that Max Midstream marked as confidential in its permit application. TCEQ referred the request to the Office of the Attorney General, which ruled that the information was subject to public disclosure and ordered TCEQ to release it.