Abbott takes on EPA over air per­mits

At­tor­ney gen­eral sues, say­ing he’s de­fend­ing state’s rights

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Asher Price

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.

pat sul­li­van

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.

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