Texas warms to new style of Trump EPA

Pax­ton lauds Pruitt for quick ki­bosh on probe of oil, gas emis­sions.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Asher Price ash­er­price@states­man.com

Re­flect­ing the new con­ge­nial­ity between Texas and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton on Fri­day an­nounced his plea­sure at an EPA de­ci­sion to back off from a probe of oil and gas emis­sions.

The EPA de­ci­sion came Thurs­day, one day after Pax­ton had asked the new EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor, Scott Pruitt, to re­tract the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­quiry into in­dus­trial emis­sions.

The Obama team had wanted the in­for­ma­tion as part of its ef­forts to slow cli­mate change, which sci­en­tists have linked to emis­sions of green­house gases.

“We hope that the bur­den­some Obama cli­mate rules never see the light of day,” Pax­ton wrote in his March 1 let­ter, which was co-signed by at­tor­neys gen­eral from Alabama, Ari­zona, Kansas, Louisiana, Mon­tana, Ok­la­homa, South Carolina and West Vir­ginia, as well as the gov­er­nors of Mis­sis­sippi and Ken­tucky.

The cor­dial back-and-forth between Texas of­fi­cials and the new EPA said as much about the chang­ing re­la­tion­ship between Texas and Wash­ing­ton as it did about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to roll back en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions.

In cin­e­matic terms, the re­la­tion­ship’s tenor has changed from a dark, sus­pi­cious film noir to a sunny, op­ti­mistic buddy movie.

Last month, for ex­am­ple, found Gov. Greg Ab­bott meet­ing smil­ingly with Pruitt — two men who were for­mer state at­tor­neys gen-

For years, Texas of­fi­cials ar­gued that EPA ef­forts to im­prove air and water qual­ity and hu­man health were un­nec­es­sary and bad for busi­ness.

eral who, like Pax­ton, got much of their cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from oil and gas in­ter­ests and who, like Pax­ton, fought ef­forts to reg­u­late the in­dus­try.

The two men “agreed to work co­op­er­a­tively on a range of is­sues,” in­clud­ing about parts of Texas with smog con­di­tions that run afoul of U.S. en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, such as Houston and Dal­las.

Ab­bott spokesman John Wittman told the Amer­i­can-States­man that, as at­tor­neys gen­eral, Ab­bott and Pruitt “suc­cess­fully col­lab­o­rated on a number of ef­forts to fight fed­eral over­reach by the EPA.”

At the Wash­ing­ton meet­ing, “they dis­cussed the op­por­tu­nity be­fore them to re­vive the co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tion­ship that ex­isted between the EPA and the states prior to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and to scale back the job-killing reg­u­la­tions im­ple­mented over the past eight years.”

Pruitt has said he will re­v­erse an Obama-era ex­pan­sion of rules pro­tect­ing wa­ter­ways — a po­si­tion that also aligns with Ab­bott’s.

The good­will has fil­tered down to the Leg­is­la­ture.

The chair­men of the Texas House and Se­nate energy com­mit­tees have filed res­o­lu­tions call­ing for co­op­er­a­tion to un­ravel “the harm­ful, over­reach­ing reg­u­la­tions that have been im­ple­mented over the past eight years, which were largely aimed at neg­a­tively im­pact­ing the oil and gas in­dus­try.”

Such co­op­er­a­tion was un­think­able, po­lit­i­cally and philo­soph­i­cally, when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was in power.

For years, Texas of­fi­cials ar­gued that EPA ef­forts to im­prove air and water qual­ity and hu­man health were un­nec­es­sary and bad for busi­ness.

Ex­changes were of­ten barbed. After video sur­faced of Obama’s EPA Dal­las re­gional ad­min­is­tra­tor say­ing he would “cru­cify” com­pa­nies that vi­o­lated en­vi­ron­men­tal rules, Texas of­fi­cials in 2012 suc­cess­fully forced his res­ig­na­tion.

But as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has be­gun eas­ing rules, the re­la­tion­ship is closer to a ro­mance.

Ab­bott, Pax­ton and Pruitt “seem ex­tremely like-minded in their po­si­tions,” said David Spence, a Univer­sity of Texas Law School pro­fes­sor of energy law and en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion. “Noth­ing pops to mind as an is­sue that would di­vide them.”

But, Spence said, “re­peal­ing a lot of these rules is go­ing to be more com­pli­cated than a lot of peo­ple think.”

In some cases, the EPA would have to con­vene pan­els of sci­en­tists to come to a new un­der­stand­ing of the risks posed by pol­lu­tants.

The warmer re­la­tion­ship has ex­tended be­yond en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters, with Trump’s Jus­tice Depart­ment agree­ing to drop its op­po­si­tion to the Texas voter ID law and to dis­miss an ap­peal of a rul­ing that blocked Obama’s trans­gen­der bath­room di­rec­tive.

This week’s end­ing of the emis­sions in­quiry serves as a use­ful case study.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had sent let­ters ask­ing more than 15,000 own­ers and op­er­a­tors in the oil and gas in­dus­try to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the num­bers and types of equip­ment at all on­shore pro­duc­tion facil- ities in the United States.

The EPA also had asked for more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on sources of meth­ane emis­sions — a po­tent green­house gas — and emis­sion con­trol de­vices or prac­tices.

“In­dus­try likes to tout how much they’re do­ing,” said Mark Brown­stein, vice pres­i­dent for cli­mate and energy at En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund. “This in­for­ma­tion would have pro­vided that kind of doc­u­men­ta­tion.”

But after the March 1 re­quest for re­lief from Texas and other states — Pax­ton’s let­ter com­plained that the EPA re­quests amounted to an “un­nec­es­sary and oner­ous bur­den on oil and gas pro­duc­ers that is more harass­ment than a gen­uine search for per­ti­nent and ap­pro­pri­ate in­for­ma­tion” — Pruitt quickly with­drew the agency’s de­mand.

“We ap­plaud Ad­min­is­tra­tor Pruitt for his ad­her­ence to the rule of law as he pur­sues the bal­ance Con­gress has struck between pre­serv­ing our en­vi­ron­ment and al­low­ing our econ­omy to grow,” Pax­ton said Fri­day.

Brown­stein said en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists were con­cerned by the speed of Pruitt’s de­ci­sion and that it was made with “very lit­tle in­put from any­one other than a small group of state at­tor­neys gen­eral that he’s been palling around with.”

“And we’re con­cerned about the kind of prece­dent this sets for the agency go­ing for­ward,” Brown­stein said. “If busi­ness as usual will now mean the agency is un­in­ter­ested in col­lect­ing ba­sic in­for­ma­tion about pol­lu­tion or op­er­at­ing prac­tices, how can we be cer­tain that the agency will take its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to pro­tect air and water qual­ity and pub­lic safety se­ri­ously?”

The EPA with­drawal is ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately.

“By tak­ing this step, EPA is sig­nal­ing that we take these con­cerns se­ri­ously and are com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing our part­ner­ship with the states,” Pruitt said Thurs­day.


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