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Lawmakers ask TCEQ to help plants comply with EPA

This is a good idea.

After a lobbying push by oil giants, a bipartisan group of Texas legislators have asked state environmental regulators to quickly solve a permit dispute with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that has left some of the nation’s largest oil refineries in operating limbo.

A letter signed by 46 legislators is the latest indication that while Gov. Rick Perry and his Republican supporters are ready and willing to wage war with Washington on everything from environmental regulation to education spending, some battles are wearing on the industries that have helped Texas weather the recession.

You can see the letter here; it has 29 Republican signers and 17 Democrats, with none of the latter coming from Harris County. Basically, they ask the TCEQ to offer all possible assistance to any plant that has a flex permit and wants to get in compliance now with the EPA rather than wait for all the litigation to conclude. Seems perfectly sensible to me. For all the chest-thumping and saber-rattling we’ve seen lately – and there’s plenty of it in the story, too – sometimes you just have to be practical.

Richard Hyde, TCEQ’s deputy director of permitting and registration, said the agency has been trying for months to find a structure that will be acceptable to the EPA, but has so far failed. In the meantime, at least three critical projects are on hold, including a major upgrade at the Motiva Enterprises LLC refinery in Port Arthur, Hyde said.

“We’re trying to work out an agreement with EPA that we can provide to those companies that will give them some certainty,” Hyde said. “This issue is totally a federal government issue.”

The EPA says it too is being approached by companies seeking federally approved permits, Al Armendariz, the EPA’s director of the region that oversees Texas, said in an e-mailed statement. “EPA encourages TCEQ to quickly provide flexible permit holders a pathway forward,” he added.

David Weinberg, executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters, a group that supports the EPA’s ruling on the flexible permits, said the letter and industry’s pressure indicates companies want a quick resolution.

“Valero is one of the largest flexible permit holders,” Weinberg said. “The fact that they’re rallying to get TCEQ to work tells you that what the governor is doing is not working.”

Weinberg alerted me to the story and sent me the link to the letter; the TLCV blogged about it here. Hopefully these companies will get their issues settled quickly, and others will want to follow suit as a result. We’ll see how it goes.

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