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TribBlog: EPA Shoots Down Texas Pollution Regulations

The Environmental Protection Agency has formally denounced the state's air-pollution permitting system for some of its biggest industrial plants — and reactions are pouring in.

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The Environmental Protection Agency has formally denounced the state's air-pollution permitting system for some of its biggest industrial plants — and reactions are pouring in.

Texas's system, the EPA said in its release, "allows companies to avoid certain federal clean air requirements." The decision, which the EPA had signaled last September, affects 122 plants, whose permitting systems will now be recalibrated in yet-to-be-determined ways. It's not yet clear what action the federal government will take to force a revamping of the state system.

At issue is the state's system of "flexible" permitting, which allows plants to regulate only the overall emissions of a facility rather than the pollution emanating from individual units within the plant. Environmentalists have alleged that Texas sets the overall caps too high, and that the regulations do not prevent high concentrations of pollution in specific areas of a plant, which could endanger nearby neighborhoods. 

Gov. Rick Perry blasted the decision and said that Texas would continue to fight it. "Blinded by its activist agenda, the EPA is even threatening a renewable-energy power plant and a manufacturer of energy efficient air conditioners," he said in a statement, adding: "I again call on the president and Congress to immediately rein in this rogue agency, and stop the EPA from continuing to threaten Texas families, their jobs and cost of living."

Bill White, the Democratic candidate for governor, took the opposite tack: "Instead of solving a problem that he was alerted to by the Bush administration, Perry created a confrontation with the EPA in order to write a new chapter in his book about the federal government," said White, also in a statement. "His failure is bad for Texas businesses. I guarantee that as governor, I'll bring permitting authority back to Texas where it belongs."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality defended its program, to which it recently proposed revisions after pressure from the EPA. "Texas flexible permitting program complies with the federal Clean Air Act. The flexible permitting program has contributed to improved air quality in Texas, and if the state is prevented from using the program, air quality could actually suffer," said Bryan Shaw, the TCEQ chairman, in a statement.

Environmentalists are thrilled about the EPA action, of course — they say Texas is the only state to defy the EPA so blatantly. But Debbie Hastings of the Texas Oil and Gas Association said that the decision was a "huge concern" for the 25 or 26 refineries operating with flexible permits.

"Some of these companies are going to start to wonder if they are operating with a correct permit or authorization," she said.

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