Abbott takes on EPA over air permits
Attorney general sues, saying he’s defending state’s rights
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday filed a legal challenge to preserve the state’s control of an air-permitting program.
The suit filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans is the latest move in a struggle between the state and Washington over how Texas regulates air pollution from major industrial facilities.
The suit asks the court to overturn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision at the end of June to disapprove the state’s flexible permitting program, which sets umbrella emission caps for facilities rather than pollution limits for particular units, such as a boiler. The EPA has said the program, which had been in place since 1994, is too lax.
Abbott called the suit “an effort to defend the State’s legal rights and challenge improper overreach by the federal government.”
Regulating air pollution has been a point of conflict between Texas and Washington since President Barack Obama took office. Gov. Rick Perry has said repeatedly that more stringent environmental laws will harm the economy and has pointed to improved air quality in the state’s cities. The recipients of the 120-odd flexible permits are mostly refineries along the Gulf Coast, but the Lower Colorado River Au--
thority received such a permit for its coal-fired Fayette power plant.
Oil and gas companies have opposed the EPA’s actions. Since 2008, Abbott’s campaign has received at least $247,000 from oil and gas interests, according to the nonprofit Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics.
The EPA has begun negotiating new permits with some businesses while working with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to reform its permitting program. No facility has closed because of the flexible permitting decision.
But with the program’s disapproval, a facility’s individual emissions sources — a refinery unit, for example, or a boiler at a power plant — could be held to more stringent standards, rather than older, more lax standards in place when they first received a permit.
“Instead of worrying about cleaner air, the EPA seems intent upon putting the jobs of tens of thousands of hardworking Texans at risk, mainly so the EPA can impose a system it says will be easier for Washington bureaucrats to understand,” Perry said.
The scuffle over the air-permitting rules could take years to play out. At a public policy forum this month at the free-market think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation, speakers said the true implications of the permitting disapproval were hard to foresee.
“I’ve never seen this before, so I don’t know,” said Rich Walsh, the vice president and general counsel for environmental safety and regulatory affairs at Valero Energy Corp.
Carl Edlund, EPA director of permitting, said he did not think the agency’s action would lead to any layoffs or facility shutdowns.
“In the end, we’ll have a much better program committed to working for Texas,” he said.
Greg Abbott asks court to overturn EPA decision.
Exxon Mobil Corp. owns this refinery-chemical plant complex in Baytown. The company has been operating in Texas under permits never approved by the EPA.