In the fight for states’ rights, no other state comes to mind before Texas. Gov. Rick Perry has pitted the state's interests against those of the federal government on a variety of issues — including health care reform and environmental standards — arguing the 10th Amendment grants state governments more autonomy than many of the laws passed by the federal government allow.
The number of lawsuits currently pending against the federal government still stands at 17. Although the Texas redistricting case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court closed in February, Texas filed another suit on March 16 to overturn the federal decision to cut funding for the Texas Women’s Health Program. It’s the second lawsuit involving women’s health — the other challenges the constitutionality of a federal law requiring all employers to include free contraception in health benefits.
The biggest legal battle mounted by Texas is against the Environmental Protection Agency. To simplify the often overlapping arguments, we grouped the lawsuits against the EPA into six main issues for this interactive.
Flip through this interactive to see the nature of the fights and the arguments of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Skip to: Women's Health Program | The Contraception Rule | The Endangerment Finding | Greenhouse Gas Regulation | Call to Change Greenhouse Gas Rules | Rejection of Texas Air Quality Regulations | Federal Takeover of Greenhouse Gas Permitting | Cross-State Air Pollution Rule | Federal Health Care Reform | Texas' Voter ID Law
The Texas Women’s Health Program provides preventive health-care services for nearly 130,000 low-income women. Texas had to follow federal laws to receive $9 in federal funds for each $1 the state spends on the Medicaid program. None of the funding may go to health care providers who perform abortions. But state lawmakers, looking to exclude clinics "affiliated" with abortion providers, approved a measure to oust Planned Parenthood from the program. The move disobeyed federal rules, and in response, the federal government cut off funding for the program.
State lawmakers say the federal government should not be allowed to put strings on federal dollars that violate the state’s will. The Obama administration’s decision to cut off Texas’ Women’s Health Program funding advances a “political agenda,” said Gov. Rick Perry, who has vowed to find state funds to continue the roughly $30 million-per-year program. The lawsuit filed by Texas seeks to overturn the federal decision and reinstate the funds for the program.
Federal officials say that by accepting funding for the Women’s Health Program, states agree to follow federal Medicaid law — which stipulates that states may not enforce rules that limit a patient’s choice of doctor. Nearly half of Texas women enrolled in the program chose to receive services from Planned Parenthood. The federal health department warned Texas that it would be forced to cut the funding if Texas moved ahead with the provision, and federal officials said they regret the state’s decision to implement the rule.
A provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide contraception and free preventive care services, including domestic violence screenings, in employees’ health benefits, will take effect in August 2012. After hearing opposition from religious organizations who said the rule infringed on religious freedom, President Obama revised the rule in February. The rule now exempts religious organizations and requires insurance companies to directly provide free preventive-care coverage for employees at exempted workplaces.
“Obamacare’s latest mandate tramples the First Amendment’s Freedom of Religion and compels people of faith to act contrary to their convictions,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a prepared statement announcing that Texas joined six other states and a handful of Catholic organizations in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the contraception rule. The lawsuit also alleges the revision to the rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by “requiring the federal government to troll through an organization’s religious belief” to determine whether the employer should be exempt.
The Obama administration says religious organizations will not be forced to violate their religious beliefs, because the revised rule does not require those employers to subsidize, sanction or have any involvement in the delivery of contraception or preventive care services to its employees. Administration officials also say it will save money. “Covering contraception is cost-neutral since it saves money by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services,” according to a prepared statement released by the administration.
In December 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency issued the Endangerment Finding, which said current and projected levels of six greenhouse gases threatened public health. At the same time, the EPA also determined that greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles contribute to air pollution. The findings did not impose regulations but gave the EPA authority under the Clean Air Act to issue regulations for greenhouse gas emissions.
Texas is attempting to overturn the Endangerment Finding. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a press release that the EPA relied on scientific research from a "scandal-plagued" organization that did not provide objective information on greenhouse gases' effects on climate change. He also argued that the impact of the subsequent regulations would cause billions of dollars of damage to the Texas economy.
The EPA argues that scientific evidence supports the finding that greenhouse gases contribute to climate change and harm "the public welfare of current and future generations." The finding was the result of a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court order that directed the EPA to examine how greenhouse gases affect climate change. The court said that if the EPA determined greenhouse gases were harmful, which it did, they should be regulated by the EPA under the federal Clean Air Act.
After issuing the Endangerment Finding, the EPA established three rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The "tailpipe rule" established regulations on motor vehicle manufacturers that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in new cars. The "timing rule" said other facilities would also be subject to greenhouse gas regulations when the tailpipe rule kicked in January 2011. And the "tailoring rule" targeted large polluters by requiring only the permitting of facilities that may meet or exceed a threshold for greenhouse gas emissions.
"EPA's crusade to regulate [greenhouse gases] at any cost and at break-neck speed have created an environment of regulatory and economic uncertainty at precisely the wrong moment," Texas attorneys wrote in a court brief. The state argues that it doesn't have the time or resources to comply with the intensified regulations and that compliance could hurt job creation and the economy.
The EPA says it developed the three rules to quickly respond to the need to regulate greenhouse gases and protect public health. Although the federal government did not give direct orders to issue these rules, it argues that federal agencies often develop administrative rules to comply with federal laws, which in this case is the Clean Air Act.
The Clean Air Act gives states authority to regulate facilities that emit air pollution, but the EPA must approve the states' plans to ensure that the regulations meet federal air quality standards. When the EPA finalized new rules for permitting greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, the agency said Texas was not following the federally approved plan and that the regulations in place would not meet federal standards. The EPA ordered Texas to change its regulatory process within one year in order to meet the new standards.
Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a press release that the EPA is "flouting the law by denying Texas the opportunity to manage its own air permitting program." Texas was the only state to refuse to set a timeline to revise its regulatory plan, which effectively meant Texas would not make changes to its permitting process to meet the new requirements for greenhouse gas emissions. Texas' attorneys argue that the state's regulations are not inadequate, and that the changes issued by the EPA will damage energy independence and the economic recovery of the state.
The EPA says Texas is in violation of the regulatory processes approved by the federal government because the rules implemented by the state are less stringent than federal requirements. The EPA began issuing permits for greenhouse gas emissions across the state in 2011, and federal agency says most facilities are already in the process of reducing emissions to comply with federal standards.
The EPA is required to approve or deny all changes to Texas' plan to regulate air quality, and never approved a handful of programs Texas lawmakers passed to "streamline" the regulatory process. Texas officials say the EPA failed to respond to the proposals, and Texas established the flexible permitting program and the qualified facilities program and made other revisions to regulations without the approval of the EPA. When the EPA finalized new rules for permitting greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, the agency said again that Texas' permitting programs would interfere with the state's ability to meet the federal standards.
Texas challenged the EPA's assertion that the programs run by the state for years are inadequate and must be discontinued in a handful of lawsuits. The state's attorneys argue the programs streamline a time-consuming regulatory process, and have sufficient standards, such as requiring permitted facilities to report emissions on an hourly basis. The state says the programs' standards meet federal requirements, therefore the EPA does not have the authority to dissemble the permitting processes devised by the state.
The EPA says Texas' regulations, such as the "flexible" permits that monitor the overall pollution of an industrial plant rather than set caps on each unit, fail to comply with the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The agency also says Texas' programs do not have provisions to adequately enforce and ensure compliance of the federal standards. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that the EPA's decision wasn't supported by the Clean Air Act. The EPA must further consider the program.
In 2011 when Texas refused to comply with the EPA's order to change its regulatory programs to implement new federal standards for greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA took over the permitting process for greenhouse gas emissions across the state. A U.S. Court of Appeals denied Texas' request to temporarily halt the federal government from intervening in the permitting process in January.
Texas' attorneys say the EPA has violated the federal Clean Air Act, which gives states the authority to regulate air pollution. In the latest court ruling, the attorney general's office issued a statement that said the "unlawful overreach" of the EPA puts "the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of Texas families and businesses at risk."
The EPA says it is following the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to step in if a state fails to properly implement federal standards. The agency says the new rules are "common-sense" provisions intended to protect the health of Americans, and that immediate implementation of the rules is important in Texas, the largest greenhouse gas emitter of any state because of its size and the large number of refineries, power plants and other industrial facilities.
In 2011, the EPA issued the so-called cross-state air pollution rule to replace the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which was invalidated by a court ruling. The new rule imposes a harsher cap on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, which can cause acid rain and heavy smog. The rule applies to power producers and companies whose emissions cross state lines and cause pollution in other states.
Texas challenged the rule, saying it puts a significant financial burden on power companies. The attorney general's office also argued it could threaten the reliability of Texas' electric grid by forcing power producers to shut down older plants. A U.S. Court of Appeals granted Texas' request to delay implementation of the cross-state air pollution rule until the court can rule on its merits. In two other lawsuits, the state is also specifically challenging the heightened standards for emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter.
The EPA said in a press release that it is following the Obama administration's orders to protect public health "through common-sense clean air standards." The nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions inhibit downwind states' ability to meet federal air quality standards and contribute to particulate matter in the air that can accumulate in the respiratory system and cause cardiovascular disease, lung disease or other respiratory problems. The agency says the rule will protect 340 million Americans from smog and soot pollution, prevent 34,000 premature deaths and save $280 billion annually on health care.
The federal government overhauled the U.S. health care system with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010. The Obama administration led the initiative, but both political parties collaborated and made concessions to reach bipartisan passage of the legislation. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in June, including a controversial provision, which mandates individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a tax. They also found the expansion of Medicaid by the ACA constitutional, but clarified that the federal government cannot penalize states if they choose not to accept federal funding to expand the program.
Texas and 25 other states have legally challenged the federal health care reform law. Their primary assertion is that the mandate on Americans to purchase health insurance violates their constitutional rights, and that provisions in the law do not fall within the federal government's jurisdiction to intervene in cross-state commerce under the 10th Amendment. The Texas attorney general's office also claims the law puts "coercive new spending mandates on the States" by requiring states to expand the coverage offered by Medicaid.
Proponents of the bill say it will help millions of Americans receive adequate health care and reduce rising health care costs. They also say states opposed to the reforms can request waivers to tailor reforms — as long as the states' reforms do not restrict access to health care. So far the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has not filed for any waivers, and the federal government denied a waiver requested by the Texas Department of Insurance to delay reforms that affect insurance companies.
Texas lawmakers approved a voter ID law last legislative session that requires citizens to show photo identification before they can vote. Under the federal Voting Rights Act, changes to state election laws must be approved by the Department of Justice before they can take effect. Anticipating the federal government would not approve the law, the Texas attorney general's office filed legal action in January requesting a federal court's approval to immediately implement the voter ID law. A three-judge panel in Washington D.C. rejected the law in August, saying it would disenfranchise voters.
Proponents of voter ID say requiring voters to show valid photo identification will deter or prevent election fraud. Attorney General Greg Abbott said he will appeal the federal panel's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a statement on the panel's ruling, Gov. Rick Perry said the decision was a “victory for fraud.”
Democrats and minority groups say the voter ID law passed by Republicans is intended to disenfranchise minority voters, particularly Hispanic voters. The Department of Justice denied Texas' application for preclearance of the law in March and said Texas did not prove the law wouldn't disenfranchise minority voters.
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