Texas Star Alliance
20th Annual Environmental Superconference
Last Friday I was honored to speak to the 600 attendees of the 29th Annual Environmental Superconference held in Austin, Texas. I shared the exciting success of a program I developed over the last eighteen months with the help of Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Section of the State Bar of Texas.
The TCEQ Enforcement Assistance Program, or “TEAP”, matches low-income Respondents in TCEQ Enforcement actions with experienced environmental law attorneys. The program has no direct costs affiliated with it, and has to date matched four individuals who would otherwise been forced to represent themselves in a complicated judicial proceeding without the benefit of an attorney.
Typically, the respondents in these cases would fail to file a response to the action in the State Office of Administrative Hearings, and would ultimately end with the Commission entering a “Default” order against them. At TEAP, we consider “Default” orders a lost opportunity on several fronts. First, the Respondent loses the ability to assert any defenses they might have had, and loses the opportunity to avail themselves of any resources that may be available. The State of Texas loses because the environmental harm that gave rise to the enforcement action in the first place doesn’t get addressed, to say nothing of the penalty getting paid.
At the same time, this program allows associates at the larger firms to get first-hand litigation experience. Under normal circumstances, it might be many years of “carrying briefcases” before a young associate gets the opportunity to “first-chair” a case. Finally, the program gives environmental practitioners an avenue to serve as pro bono counsel in cases that are within their practice area. It addresses the typical complaint from specialized attorneys that they would do more pro bono work if they felt like it was an area where they were most competent.
Over the next twelve to eighteen months, we will continue to refine the processes and procedures necessary to administer the program, while simultaneously seeking to expand enrollment. But, to continue to scale up the program, we need environmental practitioners to “opt-in” to serve as volunteers available to be matched through TEAP. If you or your firm is interested, please contact me and I will get you the information you need to get registered.