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Texas Task Force to Battle EPA Regulations

Texas is summoning all of its political firepower to do battle against the Environmental Protection Agency. A newly announced task force of state and federal lawmakers will try to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases and abolishing the state's flexible permitting system for refineries and other big plants.

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Texas is summoning all of its political firepower to do battle against the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Federal and state lawmakers announced the creation of a Texas task force to slow the agency's effort to tighten restrictions on Texas manufacturers. Twenty-three Republicans in the U.S. House and two senators plan to work on the issue with the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house and various committee chairmen. 

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, says the task force has two goals: to stop the EPA from discontinuing Texas’ flexible permitting program, which reviews the overall emissions by a plant and not the emissions from individual units within the plant, and to prevent the Clean Air Act from applying to greenhouse gases. “We think the endangerment finding that President Obama issued last year is flawed,” says Barton, referring to the EPA's finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a hazard for public health and welfare. “And we don’t think the Clean Air Act applies to greenhouse gases.” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already filed lawsuits challenging the EPA on both fronts.

Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, says the task force's mission is unrealistic because the EPA's greenhouse gas regulations — which Texas is the only state actively refusing to implement — is backed by a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. “What may be more realistic is there have been efforts in the Congress to block funding for EPA," Reed says. Without sufficient funding, the EPA would not have the manpower to implement the proposed rules, Reed says. 

The task force says the EPA’s rejection of Texas’ flexible permitting system, which covers some large refineries and other manufacturers in the state, has threatened job creation in Texas by creating uncertainty for energy companies operating in Texas. Barton says that at least two major manufacturers have put plans to build new facilities in Texas on hold or moved to other states. The EPA has said that companies are already fixing their permitting systems to comply with federal rules.

Bryan Shaw, of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, says the flexible permitting program supports the state’s economy and reduces emissions. The program gives companies incentives “to come forward and do good environmental deeds,” Shaw says, by giving them “increased flexibility” to develop facilities and jobs in Texas.

Environmentalists argue that “flexibility” protects the interests of the energy industry and allows companies to get away with polluting more than they should. “It’s appalling that these men are working to defend polluters against efforts to clean up our air and water,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, in a statement. “We can't let industry insiders and their friends in Congress get in the way, compromising our health and the health of our families.”

Members of the task force say the federal government is attacking the program for political — not environmental — reasons. “It looks to me like Texas being the biggest red state, the biggest Republican state, the Obama administration is trying to be punitive to our state,” says State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay. According to Fraser, the federal government hasn’t shown that Texas' permitting program failed to meet clean air standards.

The battle between state and federal government has put air permitting in Texas “in limbo,” Fraser says, because companies do not know the rules for meeting new greenhouse gas standards and lack the technology to sequester emissions, as the EPA would require.

But Reed says it’s Texas’ battle against the EPA that’s “causing a lot of confusion in the market and among residents and businesses.”

EPA’s permitting process wouldn’t stop companies from operating in Texas, Reed says, but it would require “major sources of air pollution to go through a permitting process in order to come up with the best available control technology for greenhouse gases.” He says Texas is the leading state on renewable energy generation, principally from wind, and that allowing EPA regulations would continue Texas’ efforts to help reduce global warming.

The task force plans on using congressional review “to give the president the opportunity to do what he announced publicly he was going to do, and that was veto regulations that would cause a loss to our economy and a loss to jobs,” says U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can stop an agency from implementing regulations if 30 Senators, rather than the usual 60, vote to challenge it. Carter says they’ve filed five congressional reviews and that he expects at least three will be voted on by the summer. 

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