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Posts Tagged ‘flex permits’

With states scrambling to align their own rules with U.S. EPA‘s new regulations, which are set to take effect on Jan. 2, 2011 and require regulators to start issuing Clean Air Act permits next year for large stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissionsTexas is now the lone holdout, according to an analysis  by the  National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA). Click here to see a copy of the analysis. (more…)

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Dr. Al Armendariz, a former SMU professor, made his first appearance before a state legislative committee in his new role as Regional 6 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Most of the House Environmental Regulation Committee hearing was taken up with Armendariz’s testimony with the bulk of the discussion about EPA’s decision earlier this year to disallow the state’s controversial flexible permit program that allows some facilities to obtain air permits based on overall emissions instead of having to get permits for each emission source.

The ruling on the program, which is unique to Texas and has been in place since the middle 1990s, sparked a firestorm of criticism from top state leaders followed by a flurry of court action from the state and industry groups seeking its nullification.

The committee’s GOP members (5 Repulicans/4 Democrats) did nearly all the questioning with Armendariz trying to shoot down what he called common misperceptions over the implication of the ruling.  Some of those misperceptions  included:

  • that the 130-plus flexible permit holders would be on the hook for millions of dollars in plant renovations
  • that federal regulators would use the de-flex process as a fishing license to comb through companies’ records in search of minor violations, and
  • that companies that came forward to voluntarily de-flex would open themselves up for civil litigation from activist groups.

Armendariz tried to reassure skeptical Republican lawmakers that his agency is not on a witch hunt and reminded the committee that the warnings about Texas’ flexible permit plan were first sounded in 2007, when Texan George W. Bush was in the White House and one of former President Bush’s local allies, former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene, was the EPA regional administrator who warned all flexible permit holders at the time that changes to the program were coming.

Armendariz was followed by TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, a Perry appointee who stoutly defended the flexible permit program as being both legal under the Clean Air Act and effective in reducing pollution and ozone levels in Texas.

It is unlikely the testimony given today changed the hearts and minds of any of  the committee members. and so the show goes on.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Child using inhaler because of dirty airThe EPA announced today that Texas’s much-discussed and derided flex permitting program does not follow the federal Clean Air Act (big surprise  </sarcasm>).  This was an action that began when the EPA under George W. Bush called into question the transparency and efficacy of the program which allows big polluters to skirt the federal Clean Air Act.  From their press release:

EPA is disapproving the permit program after determining that it allows companies to avoid certain federal clean air requirements by lumping emissions from multiple units under a single “cap” rather than setting specific emission limits for individual pollution sources at their plants.

“Today’s action improves our ability to provide the citizens of Texas with the same healthy-air protections that are provided for citizens in all other states under the Clean Air Act.,” said Al Armendariz, Regional Administrator.  “EPA will continue working closely with Texas, industry, environmental organizations, and community leaders to assure an effective and legal air permitting system.”

We’re chiming in on this, with a joint press release from the Alliance for Clean Texas (ACT), where you can go to read the full press release.  Here’s the highlights: (more…)

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The battle between the TCEQ and the EPA is still making headlines, and, at least according to the headlines at the Houston Chronicle, the environmentalists have gained the upper hand!

TCEQ and EPA have been battling in the headlines, as shown by this Google News search

TCEQ and EPA have been in the headlines, as shown by this Google News search

With the looming possibility that Al Armendariz, regional EPA administrator, will take over all of Texas air quality permitting, as they have already done in the case of 39 Texas polluters, the strong opposition that Bill White is presenting to Rick Perry in the race for Texas Governor, and (don’t forget!) the sunset review of the TCEQ coming up in December, the TCEQ is in trouble.

“This has been brewing for about 15 years, ” our own Tom “Smitty” Smith told the Houston Chronicle.  “But what’s happening now is you’ve finally have [sic - Houston Chronicle's error, not Smitty's, btw] an EPA administrator who’s got enough guts to stand up to the polluters.”

According to that same article, the fight, which started in response to the TCEQ’s issuing of flexible air quality permits in violation of the Clean Air Act, could potentially escalate from permitting to all environmental regulations.  But with growing magnitude and environmental support comes growing backlash.  Former TCEQ commissioner and now environmental advocate, Larry Soward, worries that the legislature will join forces with the governor to fight off the EPA.

Governor Perry and those siding with him are standing strong behind the argument that the EPA is wrongfully expanding federal control over an issue that they originally delegated to the state and that this action will hurt the Texas economy.  TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw claims that the fight has already begun to affect Texas economically, and Attorney General Abbott and state agriculture commissioner Todd Staples agree.

Politifact decided to factcheck Staples, and his statement that:

“The EPA’s regulation would directly impact thousands of Texas businesses and cost real jobs. Companies that will be endangered in Texas include 575 dairy facilities, 58 swine operations, 1,300 corn farms. No industry is more threatened than the cattle industry. If this rule is implemented, an estimated 28,000 beef cattle operations in Texas will fall under EPA regulation.”

According to Politifact, this is absolutely FALSE.  The EPA ruled last week that farms will not be subject to these regulations, as (more…)

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The TCEQ granted a permit to re-open the ASARCO foundry over protests of staff, residents of El Paso, and local leaders. Luckily, the EPA intervened and stopped it.

You’ve probably heard by now.  The TCEQ has failed to adhere to the federal Clean Air Act, jeopardizing our health, our safety, and the quality of our air. This is why, on Tuesday, May 25, the EPA took over the TCEQ’s authority to grant clean air permits for 40 facilities across the state of Texas, most notably the Flint Hills Resources’ crude oil refinery near Corpus Christi.

The TCEQ has failed to fulfill its promises to the federal government and the citizens of Texas, whom it is supposed to protect.

The Sunset Advisory Commission is a 12-member body appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the speaker of the house to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies. Every 12 years, over 150 government agencies are reviewed for potential changes and improvements in their responsibilities and operations. And since the review of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the TCEQ, is quickly approaching, we’re getting organized!  Will you join us for a call next Thursday, June 10th at 6pm CT?

From the Alliance for Clean Texas:

The Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT) will launch its 2010-2011 TCEQ sunset campaign with a conference call next Thursday, June 10th at 6:30 p.m. All Texans committed to protecting our state’s environment and health are invited to participate in the call.

ACT is a coalition of organizations and individuals around the state working together to make this a milestone year for environmental protection in Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is currently under review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. Now is the time to turn our concerns about how TCEQ does and does not do its job of protecting our environment and our health into real, lasting reform.

In the last week, TCEQ has been at the center of two major stories about the Texas environment. The EPA has finally taken action to bring TCEQ air permitting back into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act–a move opposed by the TCEQ commissioners. And Fort Worth is reeling with the news that (more…)

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The other shoe has finally dropped.

Back in September 2009, we let you know how the EPA had issued rulings that condemned TCEQ’s air quality permitting practices. And today, the EPA stopped asking nicely and took some action.

From the Houston Chronicle:

Objecting to how Texas regulates air pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is taking over the issuance of an operating permit for a Corpus Christi refinery and could step in at some 39 other major facilities across the state.

“I think the writing will be on the wall — unless we start seeing better permits that address our objections, we are very likely to begin federalizing others,” EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said in a telephone interview. “The state is not following federal Clean Air Act requirements.”

At issue here is the process TCEQ uses to permit new industries that contribute to air pollution.  Specifically, these are called “flex permits” and have been roundly criticized by environmentalists and others for being insufficient in protecting human health and safety from dirty air.  During the Bush Administration, the EPA turned a blind eye to these practices, but now are finally giving TCEQ and flex permitting the scrutiny they deserve.

Of interest here is the Sunset Review process that TCEQ will undergo this year and next, giving the Legislature the opportunity to reform the state agency. With EPA showing they are not going to allow the loopholes that flex permitting creates, it is time for TCEQ and lawmakers alike to sunset these specific practices and go about permitting new facilities based on things like… oh, the Clean Air Act.  Because if TCEQ won’t, it certainly looks like EPA will.

Now if only EPA will ask TCEQ to regulate or at least measure emissions of greenhouse gases like the Texas legislature asked TCEQ to do and which they have promised to do in the past?

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The November/December edition of Public Citizen News, a bi-monthly newsletter distributed to Public Citizen members, featured this article on our statewide “Roll Beyond Coal” Tour.  Since not all of you out there get the newsletter, I thought I’d share:

‘Roll Beyond Coal’ Tours Texas

By Geena Wardaki

It’s not often that you lug a 20-foot-tall inflatable “coal plant” around Texas to protest dirty coal-fueled power plants.

But that’s exactly what Public Citizen and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club did in September.

The “coal plant” served as a powerful image that drove home the message to “clean up dirty power plants now,” which the groups delivered to Texas residents during the “Roll Beyond Coal” tour.

The groups visited Texas communities where proposed coal plants would be built and met with local grassroots and citizen organizations.

The two-week tour, which was part of Public Citizen’s Coal Block campaign, stopped in Waco, Dallas, Abilene, College Station, Corpus Christi, Bay City, Houston and Austin. Texas residents turned out in crowds of varying sizes to show their support and protest with the tour at each stop.

“The biggest cities actually had the smallest response,” said Ryan Rittenhouse, Coal Block campaign director for Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The largest turnouts were from grassroots movements where the issue is more local, smaller towns where proposed coal plants would be built and whose residents would be directly affected.”

Area demonstrators included members of T.P.O.W.E.R. (Texans Protecting Our Water Environment and Resources) from Waco, the No Coal Coalition from Bay City, the Multi-County Coalition from Sweetwater and the Clean Economy Coalition from Corpus Christi.

“Roll Beyond Coal” had two main objectives: one, to show support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent finding that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) rules for granting permits to new coal plants do not comply with the federal Clean Air Act; and two, to push the EPA to stop  the TCEQ from granting any permits for or allowing the operation of any new coal-powered plants and from issuing any new air pollution permits. TCEQ currently issues “flex permits,” which allow coal plants to sometimes exceed emissions as long as they don’t go over their total emission caps for the year. Eleven coal plants are proposed or under construction in Texas, more than any other state in the country.

The “Roll Beyond Coal” tour also educated people about federal climate change legislation making its way through Congress (H.R. 2454). Concern exists that new climate change legislation will grandfather proposed or newly built plants, allowing the plants to avoid the proposed emissions standards. (Senate climate change legislation also would enable new plants to be evade emission control standards for a decade.)

Public Citizen told residents to call and write Texas Sens. John Cornyn (R) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), and urge them to vote against the grandfathering of new coal plants in the climate change legislation. (Visit www.coalblock.org to see how you can e-mail these senators, too.)

“The ‘Roll Beyond Coal’ tour was an important and entertaining way to reach out to Texas residents and get them engaged and involved in blocking dirty coal power plants,” Rittenhouse said.

“Now, people need to let their lawmakers know that coal plants should not get special treatment in any climate change legislation.”

Geena Wardaki is a Public Citizen communications intern.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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