Governor Perry waded into the pollution controversy around cement plants in Ellis County and their effect on the Dallas/Fort Worth area's nonattainment status for clean air, and managed to piss off everyone involved. First, here's what our only governor proposed:
The plan being considered by Perry and Mike Leavitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, would group the heavily industrial northwest corner of Ellis County with the Metroplex. Industries there would have to significantly reduce pollution, but the rest of the mostly rural county would be shielded from severe sanctions, including the loss of millions in federal highway transportation dollars.
Perry says his goal is to solve the debate about whether Ellis County should be considered part of the Metroplex when tough new ozone regulations take effect. U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, has lobbied the EPA to not include his home county, but leaders in Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton counties insist that the region might never comply if pollution in Ellis County is not significantly curtailed.
"The storm over whether Ellis County must be designated might be calmed if only the industrial part of Ellis County is designated as nonattainment," Perry wrote in a Feb. 25 letter to Leavitt. "Such an approach that is based on science and common sense is likely to be recognized as the best solution by all concerned."
And as noted, no one liked the Governor's "solution":
"It's outrageous that it's just one small portion of the county, and it allows the rest of the county to be developed," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group in Austin. "The state has consistently failed to require Ellis County to do its fair share to clean the air."
Collin County Judge Ron Harris said all of Ellis County needs to be included in any plan to improve air quality. If not, he said, Dallas-Fort Worth leaders must consider suing the EPA.
"We think all of Ellis County needs to be in," Harris said. "We have reason to question why the governor would consider a special treatment for Ellis County."
Ellis County Judge Chad Adams gave the proposal a lukewarm endorsement, saying he wants more details. But Ellis County industrial leaders aren't pleased. They say it's unfair to single out the county's cement kilns and power plants for increased enforcement.
"Ellis County should not be included at all in the nonattainment zone," said Keith Depew, plant manager at the Holcim cement plant in Midlothian.
Barton's office said Thursday that the plan is not an acceptable compromise.
"His position remains that the county should not be included," said Samantha Jordan, Barton's deputy chief of staff.
Barton and Ellis County officials say that the county contributes only a small amount of ozone-producing pollutants to the region. But a preliminary report released last month by an environmental consulting firm found that industrial pollution from the county is at least partly to blame for some of the highest concentrations of ozone measured in the Metroplex.
One other thing to note about Perry's suggestion is that it's been made before and hasn't been accepted yet:
State leaders in North Carolina and South Carolina have attempted, and thus far failed, to persuade the EPA to designate only parts of counties.
[EPA Region 6 Administrator Richard] Greene said federal regulators are reviewing partial nonattainment in other areas across the country, including North and South Carolina, Ohio and Mississippi.
"If EPA does a partial designation in some counties in one state, say Texas, but nowhere else, we certainly wouldn't think they're dealing with us in an evenhanded way," said Tom Mather, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Environment & Natural Resources.