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Governor steps into Ellis County mess

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.”

Basically, what Perry is suggesting is that since it’s only one part of Ellis County (namely, the part where all of the smoke-belching cement plants are) that’s degrading DFW’s air, then that part of Ellis County should be thrown in with the other counties that are subject to EPA sanctions, while the rest of it gets exempted. On the surface, this makes some sense. The problem, though, is that the counties that are adversely affected by the Ellis polluters don’t have any direct jurisdictional control over them, and thus they would have no stick to use to get them to do their fair share of the cleanup that will be needed to get DFW into compliance. Only by making all of Ellis County accountable can pressure be brought to bear on their pollution scofflaws.

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.

Smokey Joe’s position is that since Ellis County itself is in compliance, the rest of the Metroplex can go pound sand. Apparently, he believes that Ellis County’s pollution doesn’t travel past the county line. One wonders how he’d feel if he had a neighbor whose trashy yard was reducing his own property values.

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.

Indeed. Of course, given the general track record of the Bush administration, I fear the solution will be to make less strict rules the norm. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if Smokey Joe has floated that idea to someone higher up.

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  1. Frank says:

    I understand the boundaries of this partial nonattainment area manage to exclude the large industrial park cement maker TXI has in Ellis County – it’s called Railport, and it already has a power plant sited within it.

    Because of this, One high level local EPA official thinks it doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

    This proposal was written by TXI, given to Barton, who sent it to Perry, who sent it to the EPA chief.That’s the real chain of command in Ellis County.

    What really has the local Republican leadership steaming is the fact the Gov did this without consultation or warning – they learned of it after the fact.

    PS – TXI is the only cement maker in Texas still burning hazardous waste. They turned their circa-1960’s kilns into haz waste incinerators – only w/o all that bothersome and expensive pollution control equipment of real incinerators.

  2. […] attest to this. For that matter, we’ve seen this movie before right here in Texas, with the Midlothian cement plants and their deleterious effect on the air quality in neighboring Dallas and Tarrant […]