A Quiet Hell: Game Time

Flexible permits offer a loophole big enough to drive an oil tanker through.

Notwithstanding the question of flex permits, critics argue that the rest of TCEQ's permitting program is too complicated to be effective and again, does not pass federal muster.

"The Clean Air Act requires that you have a single, easily readable permit, and that has just been ignored in Texas," says Tom "Smitty" Smith of the environmental group Public Citizen. "For one single facility, you could have hundreds of permits for thousands of different emission points and not be able to get a comprehensible summary sheet that is easily enforceable."

Permitting should be simple to help regulators do their job.

"Instead," says Tejada, "we've built in all of these uncertainties and things to figure out so that our limited resources become even less effective. Industry knows that the more complicated permitting is and the more bureaucratic investigations and enforcement are, the more they will be able to game the system and sustain the principle that it's okay to pay to pollute in the state of Texas."

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