The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency smacked the hell out of Texas environmental regulators earlier this week, announcing that the feds will begin taking control over the issuance of operating permits to chemical plants and refineries because the state is essentially doing a really, really bad, job.
Regional EPA chief Al Armendariz said yesterday that the EPA is forbidding the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from issuing a permit to a refinery in Corpus Christi and will do so in dozens of other cases. The EPA has said for months that the state's permits may be illegal and violate the Clean Air Act.
This is the first time the EPA has ever done this. According to Peggy Fikac of the Houston Chronicle, Armendariz said, "We've not federalized a permit in a state in this manner before unless we were requested to do so by a state or a particular facility. The action we're taking today ... is unprecedented."
The battle between TCEQ and the EPA centers around the state's so-called "flexible permits," which allow plants and refineries to exceed pollution limits from individual emission sources so long as the facility as a whole remains below an overall emissions cap. The problem, clean-air advocates say, is that the "flexible permits" essentially stymie any ability to regulate or enforce emissions violation, as the Houston Press reported on in December.
When asked about the EPA's latest move, Neil Carman of the Sierra Club told Hair Balls, "It's about time. We've been meeting with the EPA for months, and I'm very pleased that the EPA is finally going to go after the state and is taking over the program."
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At this point, it remains to be seen what, if anything, TCEQ can do to keep its authority and flexible permit program in place, but the agency is digging in its heels. As reported by Randy Lee Loftis of The Dallas Morning News:
The TCEQ says its system cuts red tape without violating the law or sacrificing public health. In his letter Monday, commission chief [Mark] Vickery recounted what he said were ongoing efforts to find common ground.
He added, however, that, "as a matter of principle, the TCEQ strongly disagrees that there has been a wholesale circumvention" of key federal requirements.
Update: Rich Perry issues a statement.
The Obama administration has taken yet another step in its campaign to harm our economy and impose federal control over Texas. With their decision to take control of a permitting process that the Clean Air Act allows to be delegated to the states, the EPA is on the verge of killing thousands of Texas jobs and derailing a program that has cleaned Texas' air.
Because Texas involves the Legislature, TCEQ, business owners and the public in the process, and focuses on results instead of big-government control, our state's air is cleaner than it was ten years ago and our economy is stronger than most other states.
This is not a partisan issue: our emissions control program went into effect under Gov. Ann Richards in 1994 and was approved by the Clinton administration. Since then, the EPA's unelected bureaucrats haven't ruled on it once, yet, with the arrival of a new administration in Washington, they have put a bulls-eye on the backs of hardworking Texans.
An increasingly activist EPA is ignoring the 22 percent reduction in ozone and 46 percent decrease in NOX emissions that Texas has achieved since 2000.
On behalf of those Texans whose jobs are threatened by this latest overreach, and in defense of not only our clean air program but also our rights under the 10th Amendment, I am calling upon President Obama to rein in the EPA and instruct them to study our successful approach for recommended use elsewhere.