Plans for a crude oil export terminal in Port Aransas have provoked strong opposition from environmentalists and local groups worried about what the project could mean for the Gulf Coast and the popular tourist community.
Now, opponents say the state agency responsible for permitting the project is ignoring their concerns.
Developer Lone Star Ports has partnered with the Port of Corpus Christi to build the terminal. According to Lone Star Ports' website, the terminal would be able to load "very large crude carriers," i.e., ships capable of carrying up to 2 million barrels of oil each.
Because that process would emit carbon monoxide, hazardous air pollutants, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, Lone Star Ports needs permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
As part of that permitting process, TCEQ is holding a public hearing tonight in a tent outside the Port Royal Ocean Resort and Conference Center. The problem with that, activists say, is city leaders will not be present; they'll be in Washington, D.C., to talk about hurricane disaster aid with FEMA.
John Donovan, a spokesman for the Port Aransas Conservancy, said the TCEQ was asked not to hold the hearing today but did anyway.
“If this is the attitude that they’re showing going in, we’re very concerned about the results coming out of this,” he said.
Donovan said his group plans to protest the hearing, which is being held in a tent because the conference center is still damaged from Hurricane Harvey.
TCEQ said because it had to change the initial venue, the event got moved to today.
“In this instance, the agency rescheduled the public meeting given concerns about the initial location,” Ryan Vise, TCEQ director of external relations, said in an email. “A second location and meeting was then scheduled which is now subject to an additional request to reschedule.”
The TCEQ will be accepting written public comment on the project until Dec. 30.
Some opponents of the project think the odds are stacked against them – regardless of what public input the TCEQ receives.
“I don’t think they’re so much a protection agency as a permitting agency,” Donovan said.
He said his group has already requested a hearing with an administrative law judge to try to stop the project.
“We’ll have a chance to fight it along those terms,” he said. “If it goes beyond that we’ll just see what we shall see.”