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Bryan Shaw

From the “Those that disregard history are doomed to repeat it” department

This is the state of environment protection in Texas.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Texas’ top environmental regulator suggested Thursday that the state may ignore a proposed directive from the Obama administration in June to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

“I’m concerned that if this is not contested, if we don’t dispute this, if we don’t win, the implications … are only the camel’s nose under the tent,” Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said at an event in the Texas Capitol sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The last time Texas refused to follow federal environmental rules, there were unintended consequences that caused a slow-down of the permitting process that prompted the energy industry to cry foul after losing millions of dollars.

About 150 people attended the event Thursday to hear Shaw and two other panelists speak about the proposal from the Obama administration, which could require Texas to reduce its carbon emissions from power plants by close to 200 billion pounds in the next two decades.

The general consensus among both the panelists and the audience was that the state should sue the Environmental Protection Agency over the rules if they are finalized, and should refuse to follow them. Karen Lugo, director of TPPF’s Center for Tenth Amendment Action, said she is working with state lawmakers on legislation affirming that Texas should ignore the rules unless Congress acts on climate change legislation, which it has never done.

The last time Texas regulators refused to implement federal environmental rules, lawmakers ended up reversing the decision. In 2010, the Obama administration started requiring companies that wanted to build new industrial plants to get “greenhouse gas permits” before beginning construction. When the TCEQ refused, the EPA had to take over, causing delays for some companies that lasted up to two years.

The result was legislation — supported by Koch Industries and the Texas Conservative Coalition, among others — that explicitly gave the TCEQ authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions so that companies could get their permits quicker.

Asked whether Texas could avoid the same result this time around, Shaw acknowledged that the delays did cause some “economic development costs.” But he said the costs would have been greater had Texas acquiesced to what state regulators say is federal overreach.

“I think those costs were smaller … than not making a principled stand,” Shaw said.

Remember, that’s the guy who’s in charge of the agency that is supposed to enforce environmental regulations in Texas. You will note that nowhere in the story – or really, any story involving people like Bryan Shaw and the TPPF chuckleheads – is there any concern expressed about the cost of not enforcing these regulations on people. I assure you, that is not an oversight. There’s only one cost taken into consideration, and it isn’t about you or me.

Giving tax breaks to those that don’t need them

You can add this to the list of things schools might have to pay for that they don’t have the money to pay for.

Three environmental commissioners appointed by Gov. Rick Perry are considering whether to grant some of the nation’s largest refineries a tax refund of more than $135 million money Texas’ cash-strapped schools and other local governments have been counting on to help pay teachers and provide other public services.

The property tax refund would mean more pain for some communities after a year in which state lawmakers slashed spending on public schools to deal with a budget shortfall. Nearly half of the refund would be taken from public schools, and those in cities where the refineries are based would be hurt most.

“We were already cut at the knees as it is, but more cuts? It’s appalling,” said Patricia Gonzales, whose 13-year-old twins attend Park View Intermediate School in Pasadena, a refinery town just south of Houston. Gonzales is president of the school’s new parent-teacher organization, formed this summer after the state budget cuts.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is evaluating 16 requests for the refund, which concerns a piece of pollution control equipment. If granted, the refund total could add up to more than $135 million, according to county tax data and application documents analyzed by The Associated Press. If the commission grants the requests, at least 12 other refineries that have not sought a refund also could qualify.

The three-person commission last year expressed some support for the refund.

See here for the background. Remember that the TCEQ is populated entirely by Rick Perry cronies, so if this goes through, you know where the buck stops. A breakdown of which district would owe what is here. Note that in addition to school districts, counties would lose millions as well – Harris County could wind up taking a $50 million haircut. The refiners themselves claim the actual numbers would probably be much lower, but unless that actual number is zero, I say it’s too much.

Lawsuit filed to force TCEQ to regulate greenhouse gases

Apparently, if you want the TCEQ to do its job, you need to file a lawsuit against them to make them do it. Which is what Public Citizen did on Tuesday, with a request to stop the permitting of coal-fired power plants in the meantime.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issues air pollution permits that set limits on toxic releases, but the agency says there is no need to regulate carbon dioxide. Texas emits more greenhouse gases, made up mostly of CO2 emissions, than any other state.

The lawsuit by Public Citizen — which describes itself as a consumer advocacy organization — calls for greenhouse gas limits to be imposed as part of the permitting process, based on a 2007 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that classified carbon dioxide as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

“The time has come for the TCEQ to take its head out of the sand and begin the process to regulate CO2 emission from Texas sources,” Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, said in a statement announcing the suit.

Bryan Shaw, the chairman of the TCEQ, said it would not make sense for the state to regulate CO2.

“The science on global warming is far from settled,” he said in a statement. “Neither Congress nor the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) have been able to promulgate final rules on greenhouse gas regulation. What is certain is that if done incorrectly, CO2 regulations will impose great costs on Texas without any guarantee of a measurable environmental benefit. Reducing CO2 in Texas will do nothing to lower CO2 globally, but will have the effect of sending U.S. jobs to China and India.”

Shaw’s words are the environmental equivalent of saying that there’s a “controversy” over evolution. The argument isn’t over whether or not it’s happening, it’s over how fast it’s happening and how much time we have to do something about it before we’re well and truly screwed. Sadly, this is par for the course with a Rick Perry appointee. You can read Public Citizen’s statement on the lawsuit here, and the lawsuit itself here (both PDFs).

Bryan Shaw

One gets used to disappointments with Rick Perry.

In late 2007, the appointment of Bryan Shaw, a Texas A&M professor and air pollution expert, to the three-member board that oversees the state’s environmental agency drew praise from a prominent government watchdog.

Tom “Smitty” Smith said then that Gov. Rick Perry’s selection “has lots of the skills and talents needed to figure out the impacts of air pollution across the state. Overall, I’m encouraged that this appears to be a very well-qualified commissioner.”

That was 19 months ago. This is now.

“His eyes are so clouded by the pollution in Texas that he couldn’t see a fact in front of him,” said Smith, director of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen.

In his short tenure, Shaw has rankled environmentalists who had hoped that a fresh day dawned with a scientist on the dais of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — a frequent target of complaints over its stewardship of the state’s air and water.

As a commissioner, Shaw has sided with industry in some bitter permit disputes, advocated free-market approaches to solving pollution problems and supported the governor’s sharp criticism of potential federal regulation of climate-altering gases.

Quelle surprise, no? That’s our Governor for you, always meeting our low expectations of him. For more on Shaw, see Floor Pass and Sen. Kirk Watson’s statement in opposition to Shaw’s nomination to the TCEQ.