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U.S. House Panel's Hearing Centers on EPA and Texas

The contentious relationship between Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency was the primary focus of a Wednesday hearing of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

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WASHINGTON – Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency’s contentious relationship was on full display Wednesday in a U.S. House committee hearing, as Republicans argued that the federal agency’s overreach has reached new heights in the state. But Democrats countered that EPA regulations benefit all Texans.

“Unfortunately, too many within this administration believe that the only way to protect our environment is through federal government intervention and centralized ownership,” said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “This is the wrong way.”

Witnesses largely supported loosening federal environmental regulations, from greenhouse gas emissions rules to contamination oversight. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Chairman Bryan Shaw said “poor communication exacerbated challenges” with the EPA, while Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter called it an “ineffective federal agency.”

Porter expressed his frustration about the EPA’s controversial response to a 2010 groundwater complaint against Range Resources, a Fort Worth-based driller. “Nothing exemplifies the severe incompetence and blatant disregard for sound science as well as EPA’s infamous mishandling of the Range Resources case in Parker County, Texas,” Porter said. The EPA issued — and eventually withdrew — an emergency order against Range, which charged the company with contaminating two wells. An internal watchdog agency found that the EPA was legally justified in its decisions on the case.

Democrats and the Environmental Defense Fund pushed back against criticism of the EPA.

“While few people get rich from clean air and water, everybody benefits,” said U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, the ranking member of the committee. “Likewise, nobody should have the right to take those away, regardless of the potential for financial profit.”

Elena Craft, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund, added, “If we don’t take aggressive action now, we’re jeopardizing the future of all Texans.”

The hearing comes on the heels of a deal reached last week between TCEQ and the EPA to allow the state to take over greenhouse gas permitting. TCEQ initially refused to enact the rules, the only state to do so, which forced the EPA to take over. As a result, a backlog of requests quickly grew, drawing complaints from businesses and energy-related industries.

“The delay in the permitting process has put about 48,000 jobs at risk in our state,” U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said at Wednesday’s hearing. “Don’t you think you’d it would have been better to work with the EPA and save these jobs?”

Shaw answered that it was a “principled stand” against the EPA. “We felt that the immediate cost was less than what the long-term cost would have been,” he said.

Despite the new agreement, the greenhouse gas rules are far from settled. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments this month in Texas v. EPA to determine the legality of an agency to regulate gas emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act.

Among those in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing was Steve Lipsky and Gasland director Josh Fox. Lipsky, who appeared in Fox’s documentary, filed the complaint against Range Resources.

“I’m scared that if we keep doing this, we might go over a cliff,” Lipsky said about loosening regulations. “In the end, the truth is on my side and the science is on my side, but there’s a lot of money on their side.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, a committee member, attended the meeting but did not speak. He is among the challengers to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican primary.

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