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Here comes the EPA

No one can say they weren’t warned.

Objecting to how Texas regulates air pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is taking over the issuance of an operating permit for a Corpus Christi refinery and could step in at some 39 other major facilities across the state.

“I think the writing will be on the wall — unless we start seeing better permits that address our objections, we are very likely to begin federalizing others,” EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said in a telephone interview. “The state is not following federal Clean Air Act requirements.”

Tuesday’s unprecedented action affected a Flint Hills Resources refinery in Corpus Christi. The EPA’s action means the facility must submit an application with detailed information to the federal agency, which could approve or deny a permit.

The EPA and the state of Texas have been on a collision course for months now, so this was just a matter of time. As Forrest Wilder notes, the crux of the issue is “flexible permits”:

A “flex” permit essentially gives major polluters a pass on ratcheting emissions down at individual emissions sources, instead placing a cap on the facility as a whole. The cap is way too high and virtually unenforceable, critics charge.

Former TCEQ commissioner Larry Soward, now a consultant for Air Alliance Houston, said industry is only reaping what it’s sown.

“Industry got [the flex permit program] in place, proceeded to rely on it and now when the EPA is coming in and saying flexible permits aren’t compliant with federal law, industry is going to yell and scream,” Soward said.

This well-timed Observer cover story about the TCEQ has more. I think Bill White’s response is right on:

“Because of Rick Perry’s mismanagement of the state’s environmental agency, our state is now losing our ability to make our own decisions about air quality and the economy.

While Perry will likely try to make this into a partisan issue, the truth is that the state was repeatedly warned, beginning in 2007 under President Bush, that its permitting program violated the law that granted Texas the authority to issue air pollution permits.

Historically, under federal and gubernatorial administrations with leaders in both parties, Texas had earned the ability to administer the Clean Air Act. This delegation of authority has been important to Texas, letting our state implement the Clean Air Act in a way designed to fit our own air quality and economic needs.

Over the course of two federal administrations, Perry’s agency lost the confidence of regulatory authorities to the detriment of all Texans.”

More from White here, and from Texas Politics here, here, and here.

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  1. […] Kuff has much more.  As if on cue the Austin Chronicle and the Texas Observer have articles on the TCEQ and it’s corporate friendly attitude. Links to those below the fold. […]

  2. Brown Bess says:

    OK, but if Bill White really wants to be on the high ground here, he needs to dump his Barnett Shale stock and take advantage of the Cross Timbers Rebellion going on in deep red Tarrant, Wise and Denton Counties.

  3. […] the worst at something: You can improve a lot, and still be the worst at it. The state is getting exactly what it deserves from the EPA, which by the way first picked this fight over the Clean Air Act back in 2006. The […]

  4. […] flex permits issue has led the EPA to deny one operating permit so far. The state’s Republican leaders can whine and wail and gnash their teeth all they want […]

  5. […] really care about air quality, then litigating is totally the way to go. More background is here, here, here, and […]