OPIC Director Garrett Arthur on Representing the Public Interest
From the time he was a youngster growing up in the Dallas area, Garrett Arthur loved being outdoors – hiking in national parks, skiing on family vacations – anything that allowed him to spend time with family and friends in the natural world.
Over time, Arthur realized he also had a love for the law – a confluence of interests that led him to the University of Houston’s Law Center (after earning an undergraduate degree in history at Texas Christian University.)
It was only, well, natural, then, that Arthur would accept a position in TCEQ’s Office of Legal Services after passing the bar exam, in 1999.
“I knew I wanted to study environmental law,” he recalls. “And I liked the idea of living in Austin, so working for TCEQ checked all the boxes, so to speak.”
For several years, Arthur represented the agency’s executive director and staff in the Environmental Law Division’s Air Section. There, he provided legal counsel on matters involving permitting, rulemaking, and interpretations of environmental statutes and rules. He also handled remediation cases and provided support to the Texas Attorney General’s Office in state court litigation.
In 2005 Arthur moved to the Office of Public Interest Counsel, where he served as staff attorney from 2005 – 2014 before ascending to the role of senior attorney.
In September of 2022, he was promoted again, to OPIC director, where he manages – when at full strength – a staff that includes five staff attorneys, a senior attorney, and an executive assistant.
At present, the office is down two staff attorneys, he notes, adding that, “getting back to full staff is a priority.”
As OPIC director, Arthur has myriad responsibilities, including participating in contested case hearings; preparing briefs for hearing requests and motions for rehearing; and a host of other matters. The office also compiles an annual report for TCEQ’s three commissioners that summarizes its work.
By law, OPIC is independent of other TCEQ divisions and is charged with representing the public interest on matters that come before the Commission.
“I think it’s important for OPIC to be independent and that includes looking at an issue from all sides,” Arthur says. “The positions we take have to be grounded in the law.”
Arthur’s straightforward demeanor is an advantageous quality in a job that demands dispassionate consideration of complex legal issues frequently wrapped up in technical rules and case law.
A priority, he says, is “to be straight and candid with people … even if they don’t like the answer or agree with the answer we’ve provided.”
In keeping with the agency’s overall mission, OPIC works to facilitate informed Commission decisions that protect human health, the environment, and the interests of affected members of the public to the maximum extent allowed by applicable law.
Notably, OPIC advocates for public participation in the Commission’s decision-making process. For example, members of the public can request a hearing or ask for reconsideration of an executive director’s decision.
The office’s role in such instances can be confusing, Arthur acknowledges.
“People might think we represent them – i.e., individual members of the public – but we can’t do that,” he notes. We represent the public interest as a whole; the collective public interest.”
The way Arthur sees it, a big part of his job is explaining to the public their rights and responsibilities so that people can meaningfully participate in the give-and-take process.
As for OPIC’s interaction with TCEQ leadership, Arthur believes his office provides a unique perspective.
“I think our voice is very valuable to the commissioners,” he says. “Even though they may not take our position, (OPIC provides) a more complete record … that hopefully aids them in making their decisions.”
When not pouring over legal documents or appearing before the Commission, Arthur also likes to cook – smoking meats on his backyard grill, preparing Italian and Mexican meals with homemade sauces and the like. His claim to fame within TCEQ came years ago, during an annual cook-off competition, when he took down top honors in the hot salsa category with a tomato-based habanero concoction.
Beyond that, Arthur enjoys spending time with his family and – you guessed it – hiking and camping in the great outdoors.
Photo credit: James Elliot / TCEQ