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Posts Tagged ‘United States Environmental Protection Agency’

Bastrop Texas wildfires

Wildfires rage over Labor Day near Bastrop, TX, southeast of Austin


Our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to the people currently evacuated and who have lost their homes this holiday weekend. I, myself, having gone through losing a home to fire I send my best to all of you affected, and have already contacting folks via our church to find out how we can help. I’ll post links as soon as I can get them to give directly to disaster relief. UPDATE: KVUE has a great list they are updating with where to donate. Please give what you can.

This puts into focus several things that have been ruminating in my head all weekend, and it all comes back to this one question– Why does Rice play Texas?  This weekend, two of our nation’s best universities met on the football field. And while both Rice and University of Texas can duke it out on relatively equal footing on the basis of academics, Rice is. . . shall we say, not the athletic powerhouse that Texas is. So, why does Rice always begin its football season with a drubbing of 34-9 (hey, tip of the hat for getting 9 points on the scoreboard– I guarantee there will be teas that do less this year), with the Owls now having lost 41 games out of the last 42 meetings to the Longhorns? And here the answer lies with the other goings-on of this long weekend.

It started with a bang and whimper as our Caver-in-Chief, President Obama, announced he would overrule both the Supreme Court in Whitman v American Trucking Associations and the EPA in pulling back on the agency’s interstate smog rule that has been in the works since the Bush Administration. As Prof of Law Lisa Heinzerling points out in an excellent post over at Grist called Ozone Madness, this decision is wrong based on the law, the science, the economics, and the transparency.

While the President is trying to, I’d assume, take what he sees as the high ground and compromise with those people who claim that these regulations kill jobs, the opposite is, in fact, true. These National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, are set by the Clean Air Act and, defined by the Supreme Court, are to be based on the best available science about what levels of pollutants are healthy for human beings (people like you and me) to breathe. Tea partiers and some of their corporate paymasters in the fossil fuel industry have been caterwauling that these rules will be “too expensive” to implement, and therefore shut down a lot of old, dirty power plants.

coal smokestacks polluteUmmmm.. . . yes, please? Couldn’t we, nay, shouldn’t we shut them down? Our best available science tells us these pollution sources are making us sick. We need these life-saving regulations to help all of the sick children, the elderly, and just the plain folks who  suffer from asthma and other respiratory disease. Count up the missed school days, the missed work days, the premature deaths– count how they hobble our economy. How can children compete in a global economy if they are missing days from school sick because they can’t breathe? How much work is done not on time? How much lost productivity have we hamstrung our economic engine with to cater to people who don’t know how to compete in a modern energy economy against cleaner forms of production? Because the new EPA rules won’t shut down all power plants, only those who can’t compete, who can’t run cleanly. And since there is also good evidence to show that these sorts of life-enhancing regulations actually help, not hurt,  the economy. It also rebuts the White House’s own stated position that they posted just one. day. earlier. that clean air helps the economy, preventing in this year alone:

  • 160,000 premature deaths;
  • More than 80,000 emergency room visits;
  • Millions of cases of respiratory problems;
  • Millions of lost workdays, increasing productivity;
  • Millions of lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

So aside from the doublespeak and the just plain bad policy, it looked like the Obama Administration is also taking early steps to signal that they will approve the Keystone XL pipeline to bring the world’s dirtiest and most carbon-intensive source of oil on the planet to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, despite weeks of protests involving thousands of people and hundreds of arrests.

The impact on the climate if this is approved? Well, according to Jim Hanson, one of our top climate scientists, he called it “essentially game over.” Or, as Bill Paxton in Aliens put it:  (WARNING: NSFW for swearsies, including the dreaded f-dash-dash-dash word)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsx2vdn7gpY]

Ok, well, all kidding aside because this is deathly serious, as in the fate of the planet’s climate, THIS is what Jim Hanson told climate protesters outside the White House just before he was arrested for his part in the protest.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lii5Q-meoro]

Bill McKibben, environmental activist and one of the ringleaders of the several weeks long protest event, said this on Friday about how this is not the end of the protests, it’s only the beginning:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcBCLXBzYLg]

These are serious stakes. “Game Over” stakes. What does that mean? Well, for climate, if you’ve liked the record-breaking heat this year in Texas, you’re in luck, as this could easily become the new normal with climate change. And with the heat, we’ve got the huge economic impacts of the drought. For farmers and ranchers, the Dallas Morning News is reporting a 5 billion dollar loss. Thats Billion with a B, folks.

So next time someone starts talking about how it’s “too expensive” to deal with climate change, do what the Violent Femmes say to do and “Add it Up.” (warning:song lyrics also NSFW because of those darn swearsies)  Loss from hurricanes like Irene, loss from this summer’s floods and tornadoes in Joplin, loss from drought, loss from wildfires, loss to the economy from dirty air (since hotter temperatures mean worse smog), and tell me that just continuing to do nothing and just putting more carbon into the atmosphere is potentially the most expensive thing we can do.

JFK speaking at Rice University

So, what does this have to do with Rice vs Texas? Well, what we have here is political expediency and taking the easy path instead of fighting for what is right. Regulations, regardless of their impact on a multinational corporation’s bottom line, save lives, and improve lives. This is what Ralph Nader fought for when he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed. Corporate whining and their record-breaking profits are not more important than people, and people’s’ rights to breathe clean air, or live in a stable climate. I, for one, am not willing to give up on Central Texas, and let this become the new normal for climate. When I first came to Austin, my literal first impression of the area was “I now understand why people were willing to die at The Alamo to protect this land.”


Decades ago, another President came to Texas to challenge a nation to go to the moon before the end of the decade, and asked an assembled crowd at Rice University the magic question.

“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” … But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

President Kennedy answered his own question:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Climate change is the same challenge, which I previously hit on in another blog post where I also used this quote. It is certainly one we must be willing to accept, unwilling to postpone, and which we intend to win.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ouRbkBAOGEw]

But, most importantly, he notes that “But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.”

Let me take liberty with JFK’s speech where he talks about the need to build a space industry and replace it with a clean energy economy. “If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The [creation of a clean energy economy] will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for [clean energy].  Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of [energy]. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it.

Our economic torpor, our environmental problems, and yes, our hurricanes and droughts and wildfires, are ALL things we can solve if we are willing to take this same leadership role. Surely there will be pollution in the future, there will be recessions, there will be storms and droughts and fires– but they will NOT be supercharged by an ever-increasing blanket of carbon making our planet warmer and warmer. We must stop doing the same things over and over, relying on fossil fuels, and expecting different results. We must put our courage to the sticking place, and say that we will not allow the voices of a few, economically powerful and well-connected industries to wreak untold havoc on us and our neighborhoods.

You’ll notice, in JFK’s speech, he talks about the costs that a trip to the moon will require. He advocates not spending money recklessly, but in spending a large amount of money to win this challenge.

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at 5 billion 400 million dollars a year—a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United States, for we have given this program a high national priority—even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us. But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240 thousand miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25 thousand miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun—almost as hot as it is here today—and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out—then we must be bold

However, I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don’t think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job.”

President Obama will be giving a speech on jobs later this week. In it, I’d love to hear even a smidgen of the boldness and realism of Kennedy. I’d love for him to recant his statement on the EPA smog rule, and say that he will stop the Keystone XL pipeline, as it will only increase our dependence on oil when we need to be quitting it. But I doubt it.

But, it could be worse. We could be realistically thinking about electing as President of the United States someone who believes climate change is a hoax, that climate scientists are in it for the money, and the best way to run a state is to slash the budget of the Forest Service, the agency responsible for fighting fires in Texas, by $34 million– almost one-third of its budget– on the eve of one of the most destructive fire seasons ever. It is worth noting that during the sunset hearings on the Texas Forest Service I testified as to the need of the Forest Service to engage in extra forecasting as to what a climate-change-fueled fire season would look like and be prepared to fight it, so this is a little bit of a personal issue for me.

Apologies for the political birdwalk and the sniping at the two likely major-party candidates for the Presidency. What is clear is what JFK was talking about: we must do things like fight climate change not because they are easy, but because they are hard, and because they are a challenge we are willing to accept and unwilling to postpone. It is a fight we must win, it is a fight for our very existence as we know it here in Texas.

This Saturday my alma mater will be coming to Austin to play Texas, and as my BYU Cougars sit as 4.5 point underdogs against the Longhorns, they and we must remember that this is why Rice plays Texas. This is why BYU plays Texas. To challenge ourselves, and organize our best efforts to make us better. That is why Rice plays Texas. And that is ultimately why we must get our head in the game on clean energy and quit our addictions to fossil fuels and their campaign contributions.

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For updates on where exactly wildfires are raging in Texas, please visit http://ticc.tamu.edu/Response/FireActivity/

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Seems like everyone is jumping onto the “Fracking” bandwagon. 

In an earlier blog we talked about the US Department of Energy’s entrance into the “Fracking” fray with Secretary Steven Chu appointing an Energy Advisory Board subcommittee on natural gas, led by former CIA director John Deutch, who plan to have recommendations on the table in the next few weeks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the other federal agency looking at the environmental impact of drilling for huge volumes of shale gas, but EPA doesn’t plan to release its initial findings until 2012 at the earliest. Nevertheless, this week they unveiled proposals to regulate air pollution from oil and gas operations, taking aim for the first time at the fast-growing practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Environmental activists say the regulations would mark the first significant steps taken by the EPA since 1985 to control harmful emissions released during production and transport of oil and gas, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association is already characterizing the proposed rules as an “overreach.”

The EPA’s suggested regulations fit into four categories, including new emissions standards for (1) volatile organic compounds (VOCs), (2) sulfur dioxide, (3) air toxics during oil and gas production, and (4) air toxics for natural gas transmission and storage.

The EPA expects the following emissions reductions would result if the new standards were fully implemented:

  • VOCs: 540,000 tons, or industry-wide reduction of 25 percent
  • Methane: 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or a reduction of about 26 percent
  • Air Toxics: 38,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.

Now Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter has put together the Eagle Ford Task Force, whose top concerns include:

  • Protecting water resources while tapping into millions of gallons to help shake oil and gas out of tight shale formations
  • Waging good community relations via public education of how the oil and gas industry will operate in the area
  • Listening and working with concerns of locals citizens concerning noise levels and wear and tear on county roads and state highways
  • Developing a well-trained, technical workforce to fill thousands of entry-level jobs with starting pay of $60,000
  • Exercising stewardship over the area’s natural resources while balancing environmental concerns with cost-effective regulatory practices

Individuals named to the task force include:

  • Stephen Ingram, Halliburton Technology Manager
  • Brian Frederick, southern unit vice president of for the east division, Houston, of DCP Midstream, a gatherer and processor of natural gas
  • Trey Scott, founder of Trinity Minerals Management of San Antonio
  • Leodoro Martinez, executive director of the Middle Rio Grande Development Council, Cotulla.
  • Webb County Commissioner Jaime Canales, Precinct 4, Laredo.
  • Teresa Carrillo, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club executive member and Eagle Ford landowner.
  • James E. Craddock, senior vice president of drilling and production operations, Rosetta Resources, Houston.
  • Erasmo Yarrito, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Rio Grande Water Master, Harlingen.
  • Steve Ellis, senior division counsel, EOG Resources, Corpus Christi.
  • Dewitt County Judge Daryl Fowler, Cuero.
  • Anna Galo, vice president, ANB Cattle Company, Laredo.
  • Mike Mahoney, Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District, general manager, Pleasanton.
  • James Max Moudy, senior client service manager, MWH Global, Inc., Houston.
  • Mary Beth Simmons, senior staff reservoir engineer, Shell Exploration and Production Co., Houston.
  • Terry Retzloff, founder, TR Measurement Witnessing, Campbellton.
  • Greg Brazaitis, vice president government affairs, Energy Transfer, Houston.
  • Glynis Strause, dean of institutional advancement, Coast Bend College, Beeville.
  • Susan Spratlen, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs, Pioneer Natural Resources, Dallas.
  • Chris Winland, Good Company Associates; University of Texas at San Antonio, interim director, San Antonio Clean Energy Incubator, Austin/San Antonio.
  • Paul Woodard, president, J&M Premier Services, Palestine.

 It will be interesting to see what kind of a production this cast of thousands puts on.

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US Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu

US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Chu may play a role in sorting out the entangled mess of misinformation and spin about the environmental impacts of gas drilling.

U.S. gas producers are looking to ramp up industrialization in rural areas outside of some of the nation’s largest cities.  Secretary Chu has indicated that the White House has charged the DOE with helping to develop this industry, but in an environmentally responsible way, but no one knows what that looks like at this point.

The Obama administration enforcement of the Clean Air Act is pushing the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants out of the nation’s electricity fleet. That means tapping and burning trillions of cubic feet of newly booked gas reserves is quickly becoming a de facto energy policy in the absence of federal policies designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and gas producers are hoping that gas will replace the coal burners.

Because of these “game changing” new gas discoveries near population centers in Pennsylvania, Texas and New York  have entered the public consciousness through environmental lenses, and the EPA coming under siege because of their new rulemaking on air quality, the DOE is looking to play a larger role.

U.S. energy debate around this industry is dominated by a fear that extracting this gas through “fracking” is too invasive and fouls air and water.

Impacted States and U.S. EPA have been searching for a balance that allows companies to expand their drilling operations, while government agencies craft policy that addresses public concern about contaminating water aquifers, toxic waste pits and air pollution.

The nation’s massive shale and tight gas reservoirs are spread across the Northeast; in the upper Midwest; under Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas; and north into the Rocky Mountain region.

In May, Chu appointed an Energy Advisory Board subcommittee on natural gas, led by former CIA director John Deutch and which includes Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

EPA is the other federal agency looking at the environmental impact of drilling for huge volumes of shale gas, but EPA doesn’t plan to release its initial findings until 2012 at the earliest. Chu’s panel plans to have recommendations on the table in the next few weeks.

Where DOE’s report will fit into the broader array of  investigations into the environmental pitfalls of the gas boom is hard to say.  Regardless, DOE’s authority is limited. Land and water management tied to gas production on private and state lands is left to state and local regulators.

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A report by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Office of Inspector General found that the groundwater at some coal ash sites is contaminated with arsenic and other toxic pollutants and is a health hazard.

Levels at the Gallatin plant site in Sumner County and at the Cumberland site, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, are at health-hazard levels.  Beryllium, cadmium and nickel levels are above drinking water standards at Gallatin, as are arsenic, selenium and vanadium at Cumberland and arsenic was found above allowable levels repeatedly in groundwater at TVA’s’ Allen coal-fired plant in Memphis.

Coal ash, once considered harmless, has been shown to contain a variety of heavy metals in low concentrations that can leach into drinking water sources and pose “significant public health concerns,” an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report has said.

Currently, the EPA is evaluating rules for coal ash waste as a pollutant.  If the EPA regulates coal ash waste, it could have a much greater effect on many coal-fired plants in Texas coming into compliance than the new air quality rules will have.

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The EPA under Perry . . . what would that look like?  I don’t know about you, but that thought sends cold shivers down my spine, even on a 104 degree day.

The Austin American Statesman takes a look at what the EPA might become with a Perry White House.  Public Citizen’s own “Smitty” weighs in:

Perry environmental stance would transform EPA

By Asher Price
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

As governor of Texas, Rick Perry has argued that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has strangled business and interfered with state environmental efforts, and he has championed a half-dozen lawsuits challenging federal air pollution and greenhouse gas regulations.

The dispute with the EPA serves as a proxy for larger Perry arguments about states’ rights versus federal power. It “illustrates how Washington’s command-and-control environmental bureaucracy is destroying federalism and individuals’ ability to make their own economic decisions,” Perry wrote in his book “Fed Up! ”

So, should he run for the White House and win, how would a President Perry treat the EPA?

From his rhetoric and record as governor, one might think that he’d be tempted to dissolve the agency. He has actively loosened regulations in the name of economic development and denied that scientific consensus exists on climate change, ascribing anxieties about greenhouse gases to a “secular carbon cult.”

But on the campaign trail, he is likely to tell a story about environmental accomplishment. He will point to improvements in air quality in the state’s major cities, and he will note that the state leads the nation in wind power. And he will say that Texas has done it by working with industry, not being its adversary.

“If the EPA thinks a sweeping mandate is required to spur the creation and adoption of alternative energy sources, they need to know the private sector is already making that happen here in Texas, helped by incentives from this state,” he said in a news conference after Obama’s victory in 2008 .

The state’s wind industry won its greatest boost from a 1999 mandate by the Legislature that Texas utilities buy a certain amount of power from renewable sources as part of a grand bargain to deregulate the state’s electricity market. In other words, wind power got a foothold because of just the sort of big government edict that Perry abhors.

To his credit, he encouraged a $5 billion ongoing plan to build transmission lines from West Texas and Panhandle wind farms to the state’s population centers, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, the head of the Austin office of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group. The lines will be paid for by utilities, which will pass costs on to ratepayers.

Perry also could repeat a claim about improvements to the state’s air quality. Between 2000 and 2010 , he noted in a news release last year and in a letter to President Obama, “the Texas clean air program (has) achieved a 22 percent reduction in ozone and a 46 percent decrease in (nitrogen oxide) emissions.”

PolitiFact Texas rated that statement as Half True: UT chemical engineering professor David Allen told the Statesman that it’s difficult to say quantitatively whether federal or state regulations were primarily responsible for the emission reductions. A quarter of the state’s nitrogen oxide pollution comes from industrial sources, which are mainly what the state regulates, but much of the rest comes from cars and other mobile sources, which the federal government regulates.

The point of Perry’s statement, in any case, was to say to the federal government, “Hands off; we can handle environmental issues ourselves.”

“It isn’t necessary to bludgeon job creators with hefty fines and penalties in order to make progress,” he writes in “Fed Up!” “It is better to work with business and harness American innovation — the same innovation that drives our economic success — in the realm of pollution control.”

One example: In the mid-1990s, Texas opted to issue so-called flexible permits that set facilitywide emission limits. The permits, strongly defended by Perry, set overall emission caps for facilities, rather than particular limits on emissions from a single boiler.

The flexible permit program “is like saying, ‘As long as you go 55 miles per hour, on average, in a month, you can go 100 or 125 some days,'” Neil Carman, air quality specialist at the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, once told the American-Statesman . “It allows excessive kinds of pollution if you play that game.”

Federal regulators say the permits leave them in the dark about how many gases particular parts of a plant are belching into the air, and they are demanding an overhaul to the permitting program. The upshot has been hot rhetoric over the past two years between Perry and EPA officials. (The EPA now appears to have the upper hand, as some refiners, utilities and manufacturers have been working with federal authorities to revamp their permits.)

According to several measures tracked by the Environmental Defense Fund, Texas is the nation’s leading polluter. Its national rank among emitters of sulfur dioxide, which contributes to acid rain and smog, actually rose during Perry’s tenure from fifth in 2000 to third in 2009.

But the state’s pollution might be as much a reflection of the richness of Texas’ industrial base as a comment on environmental compliance.

Perry “approaches the issues from a very libertarian bent,” said Jim DiPeso , policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection. “The EPA would be in for some significant budget reduction. There would be no new intiatives, no regulatory programs that would be initated. There’d be litigation from environmental groups that believe he’s not enforcing the Clean Air Act and Water Act as robustly as the law provides.”

“Any regulatory programs would be really throttled back,” he said. “He has shown no interest in climate policy at all. He doesn’t accept the science.”

With the governor’s blessing, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is challenging at least six EPA greenhouse gas-related regulations. The state’s underlying argument: The fundamental finding that greenhouse gases are a public health threat is scientifically flawed.

The federal government is pushing “hastily enacted, cascading regulations” on states and businesses, Abbott argued in a June brief filed on behalf of nine states in federal court.

Perry’s approach to energy, DiPeso said, “would be to produce more,” rather than discourage the development of energy projects, such as coal plants, that emit greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

“In terms of energy, (Perry) would pursue what many Republicans call the ‘all of the above’ strategy, with more energy development offshore and onshore,” DiPeso said.

Individuals and committees associated with energy, the extraction of natural resources and waste disposal contributed just short of $14 million to Perry’s campaigns between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2010, according to Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics. Overall, donors gave more than $102 million to his campaign during that period.

His top individual donor during that time was homebuilder Bob Perry, who contributed $2.5 million and has supported property rights efforts unsympathetic to endangered species protections. Ranking behind him was investor Harold Simmons, who owns Waste Control Specialists. In 2008, over the objections of environmental groups and its own staffers, the state environmental commission approved a license for Waste Control Specialists to build a dump near the New Mexico border for disposal of radioactive waste related to Cold War-era uranium processing. Three agency staffers quit in protest.

Broadly speaking, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has shown itself to be sympathetic to business interests. In several prominent cases, its commissioners, appointed by Perry, have ignored the recommendation by the agency’s public interest counsel to deny major air and waste disposal permits.

In requests for permission to build a coal plant about 100 miles northeast of Austin, to reopen a copper smelter in El Paso and to dispose of various kinds of waste at the West Texas radioactive waste landfill, the commission sided with recommendations by its executive director over those of the public interest counsel. By some empirical measures, its enforcement arm is weak. A 2009 Notre Dame Law Review article comparing 15 states found that Texas spent less on environmental programs than all but one on a per capita basis. And in the recent round of budget cuts, the commission suffered disproportionately high cuts of 30.2 percent.

Perry himself earned the ire of environmental groups for trying to fast-track the permitting of as many as 17 new coal-fired power plants in 2006. Most were never built.

An EPA under a President Perry “would be more effective, accountable, pragmatic and realistic,” said Kathleen Hartnett White , a former environmental commission chairwoman and a Perry appointee to the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority. She also is a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a small-government think tank.

Under Perry, the commission “operated under the rule of law and has not stretched it or contracted it,” she said.

“The current EPA really stretches the limits of law in which they operated,” she said. “They need to be more accountable to Congress and to the states. Needless to say, the governor would give more respect for state authority.”

Perry also would have “higher standards for science,” she said, echoing arguments that the attorney general has made in disputing the EPA’s finding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health.

Despite those claims, there is consensus among scientists that humans contribute to climate change. An international climate change panel of more than 2,000 scientists came to just that conclusion in 2007.

“Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems,” concluded a May report of the National Research Council, which is charged with advising Congress on health and science policy. “Each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted commits us to further change and greater risks.”

The best guide to a Perry EPA might be an early Bush EPA, which was concerned with energy development.

Among other things, the Bush administration downplayed and edited work by EPA scientists warning about climate change and sought to loosen rules about putting power plants near national parks.

But upon Bush’s departure from office, Richard Greene , then the head of EPA’s regional office in Dallas, told the Statesman, “A claim can rightfully be made by the Bush EPA that air is cleaner, water is purer, and land is better protected than it has been in three generations.”

Environmentalists would beg to differ. But a Perry administration could be even worse for environmentalists’ interests, Smith said.

He said Perry criticizes EPA initiatives that had roots — if weak ones — in the Bush administration, such as more stringent smog standards, and tougher rules on power plant emissions.

A Perry EPA, Smith said, “would pander to the polluters.”

[email protected];445-3643

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Here’s some great news! With EPA tightening the standards for coal plant emissions, Energy Future Holdings, the parent company of Luminant (formerly TXU) and the major electric power provider for much of North and West Texas, is considering how to respond to new federal clean-air regulations.  Yesterday they announced they will mothball 3 coal plants in Northeast Texas.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said it was looking at all options including other shutdowns or slowdowns, as well as seasonal or temporary shutdowns, and the option of installing scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide from plant emissions, or even switching fuels to fire the furnaces that generate the steam used to generate electric power.

This will significantly improve air quality and the health of people that live near the plants and downwind.  The company is concerned about the expense of controls that would be needed for these old and dirty plants.

CPS Energy in San Antonio is already planning to mothball and then retire Deely 1 & 2 coal plants for the same reasons.

Blue skies smiling at me,
Nothing but blue skies do I see

Ozone days, all of them gone
Nothing but blue skies from now on

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that all `flexible permit’ companies in Texas have agreed to apply for approved air permits, helping to achieve clean air in the state and providing for regulatory certainty.

Under the Texas flexible permit rule, certain industries were allowed an exemption from having to disclose pollution for each individual smokestack at a facility which enabled them to aggregate all emissions from the plant together in spite of the fact that the EPA under President George W. Bush had warned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that the processes did not meet federal standards and should be reformed.

The Clean Air Act ensures that businesses across the country operate efficiently and cleanly to safeguard public health from harmful levels of air pollution.  Under the act, the EPA had authorized the TCEQ as the Clean Air Act permitting authority in Texas.   TCEQ operates the largest air permitting program for major and minor sources in the U.S.  with over 1500 major air permit holders in Texas.  Less than 150 companies had applied for and received non-EPA-approved flexible permits from the TCEQ creating uncertainty about their compliance status with the Clean Air Act.   Starting in 2007, EPA wrote to all flexible permit holders telling them of their need to ensure compliance with federal requirements.

On May 25, 2010, the EPA barred the TCEQ from issuing a permit to a refinery in Corpus Christi. EPA said that the process used to justify that permit violated the Clean Air Act.  EPA’s Region 6 Administrator, Al Armendariz, also stated that the EPA would block future permits and force polluters to comply with EPA standards if the TCEQ did not change its rules.  TCEQ and Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, filed lawsuits against the EPA defending Texas’ flexible permit program.  In September 2010,  EPA notified all of the 136 `flexible permit’ companies that they needed to seek Clean Air Act compliant permits from the state.

This move by industry to come into compliance with federal standards flies in the face of Texas’ position that the state’s flexible permitting rules met those standards and probably doesn’t help their lawsuit much either.

More about activities in EPA Region 6 is available at http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/region6.html

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Data on Dangerous TXU-Luminant Pollution Underscores Need for Strengthened Environmental Safeguards

The Sierra Club released new reports indicating that three large, North East Texas coal-fired power plants owned by Luminant, formerly TXU, are single-handedly causing violations of federal air quality standards.  The three East Texas coal plants addressed in the reports — Big Brown, located in Freestone County, Monticello, located in Titus County, and Martin Lake, located in Rusk County, have a history of environmental problems.  The new reports indicate that sulfur dioxide emissions from the troubled coal plants are causing air pollution in nearby areas that exceeds the federal air quality standard for sulfur dioxide (SO2).  The reports come a week after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule that requires coal-fired power plants in 28 states, including Texas, to cut dangerous SO2 emissions.

“TXU-Luminant’s coal plants have been a problem for public health and the environment for a long time now.  Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake top the list of the nation’s worst polluters,” said Neil Carman, Sierra Club’s Clean Air Program Director.  “These reports reveal that the TXU-Luminant coal plants’ emissions of dangerous SO2 pollution are more than double the allowable amount of that pollutant.  

The new EPA safeguard is designed to protect public health by setting a maximum amount of SO2 considered to be safe for Americans to breathe. The reports by Khanh T. Tran of AMI Environmental, show that the three coal plants are each modeled to emit SO2 pollution at levels that are predicted to far exceed the federal standard – even without taking into account other background sources.

SO2 is linked to asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and heart disease.  SO2  is especially harmful to those with existing conditions, such as asthma, and is associated with increased emergency room visits, according to the EPA.

In 2010, TXU-Luminant’s three coal plants emitted the following tonnage of SO2 into the air:

Martin Lake                ~76,000 tons of SO2
Big Brown                    ~63,000 tons of SO2
Monticello                   ~58,000 tons of SO2

TOTAL in 2010      ~ 197,000 tons of SO2

Ilan Levin, attorney with Environmental Integrity Project, said “Despite lots of promises, TXU-Luminant continues to be the poster child for dirty coal-fired power plants.  The levels of dangerous contaminants being put into the air and water from just these three coal plants is staggering.”   

Highlights From the Reports:

  • Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake are the top three emitters of sulfur dioxide emissions in Texas
  • Martin Lake coal plant was modeled to exceed safe limits by over 189%, and the area of exceedances is up to 10 miles away from the coal plant.
  • The report’s modeling shows that each coal plant is causing exceedances of sulfur dioxide air quality standards independently, without taking into account other sources of SO2 pollution.

TXU-LUMINANT OPTIONS

“A series of additional EPA environmental safeguards  are pending that will require  coal plants to install a series of retrofits to meet toughening clean air and water  standards. We estimate these retrofits  could cost  as much as $3.6 billlion for all three of the plants,” said Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.  “TXU-Luminant should consider retiring these aging coal plants and replacing them with cleaner energy options such as energy efficiency and renewable energy including geothermal, wind, and solar power. TXU-Luminant has already made some clean energy steps, however they could create many more jobs by transitioning away from dirty coal toward clean energy.”

An earlier report released in March 2011 by the Sierra Club, The Case to Retire Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake Coal Plants details financial issues at the North East Texas TXU-Luminant coal plants which are the subject of today’s air modeling reports.  The financial report’s author Tom Sanzillo found, “The bottom line investment decision: should $3.6 billion, and possibly more be invested into plants that are nearing the end of their useful life (usually fifty years) in a regional economy that is not conducive to coal plants. Throughout the United States coal plants are being retired because the market in mid and late stage plants are no longer profitable.”

Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director with the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter summed it up this way, “TXU-Luminant should begin phasing out and retiring the dirtiest coal plants – these plants are public health hazards and that is not acceptable — nor financially viable.  TXU-Luminant would do much better to strongly transition to clean energy.”

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Tell them that the testimony being given is based upon false premises and they should not vote for HR 2273 when the Committee hearing resumes at 3 pm EST.

According to the National Academy of Science (NAS) Coal Combustion Residues or waste (CCR’s) contain numerous hazardous metals and substances with hazardous characteristics including arsenic, lead, selenium, mercury, chlorides and sulfates. (The National Research Council (NRC), Managing Coal Combustion Residues in Mines, March 2006, pp. 27-57)

A recent report cites hexavalent chromium as another toxic by-product of CCR’s

These pollutants can cause cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, damage to the nervous system and kidneys, and learning disabilities in children.  Similar to lye, CCR’s can be caustic enough to burn the skin on contact.  CCR’s can decimate fish, bird and amphibian populations by causing developmental problems such as tadpoles born without teeth, or fish with severe spinal deformities.  CCR’s have been associated with the deaths of livestock and wildlife.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a waste is “hazardous” if it leaches toxic chemicals, like arsenic or selenium, above a certain threshold when tested using the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP).

Using the TCLP, coal ash rarely exceeds this threshold.  The EPA’s Science Advisory Board and the National Academy of Sciences have determined that the TCLP does not accurately predict the toxicity of coal ash.

National Research Council, Managing Coal Combustion Residues in Mines, 2006, pages 150-152.  Also see U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board, Waste Leachability: The Need for Review of Current Agency Procedures, EPA-SAB-EEC-COM-99-002, Washington, DC, 1999, and Leachability Phenomena: Recommendations and Rationale for Analysis of Contaminant Release by the Environmental Engineering Committee, EPA-SAB-EEC-92-003, Washington, DC, 1991.

When EPA tests coal ash using the new, more accurate Leaching Environment Assessment Framework (LEAF), the resulting leachate can exceed by many times these hazardous waste thresholds.  For example, when tested with EPA’s new, more accurate test, coal ash leached arsenic at 1,800 times the federal drinking water standard and over 3 times the hazardous waste threshold. The new test revealed selenium leached from one coal ash 580 times the drinking water standard and 29 times the hazardous waste threshold.

U.S. EPA, Characterization of Coal Combustion Residues from Electric Utilities – Leaching and Characterization Data. EPA-600/R-09/151, Dec. 2009, http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/pubs/600r09151/600r09151.html,  pages xii, xiv, 133, 135, 138 and 143.

U.S. EPA, Characterization of Coal Combustion Residues from Electric Utilities – Leaching and Characterization Data. EPA-600/R-09/151, Dec, 2009, http://www.epa.gov/nrmrl/pubs/600r09151/600r09151.html, page xiv, Table ES-2.

EPA’s 2010 risk assessment found the cancer risk from drinking water contaminated with arsenic from coal ash disposed in unlined ponds is as high as 1 in 50 adults, which is 2,000 times EPA’s regulatory goal for acceptable cancer risk.

U.S. EPA, Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Wastes, RIN 2050-AE81 April 2010, page 4-7.

In hearings today, members are providing information that minimizes the harm by coal ash waste.  Rep Green is holding that Coal Ash is only an impoundment issue, and Rep. McKinley has testified that all tests show Coal ash is not toxic using a chart that uses ONLY TCLP tests results when the National Academy of Science has twice determined that the TCLP is NOT accurate.   Further, Rep. McKinley has testified that EPA has twice “conclude” that coal ash is not toxic when the EPA stated that if new evidence is presented that shows evidence of damage that it will revisit the determination.

Can you call your legislators and explain that the testimony being given is based upon false premises.

US House Energy and Commerce Committee

Republican Members, 112th CongressCliff Stearns (FL)  202-225-5744       

Fred Upton (MI) 202-225-3761
Joe Barton (TX) 202-225-2002
Ed Whitfield (KY) 202-225-3115
John Shimkus (IL) 202-225-5271
Joseph R. Pitts (PA) 202-225-2411
Mary Bono Mack (CA) 202-225-5330
Greg Walden (OR) 202-225-6730
Lee Terry (NE) 202-225-4155
Mike Rogers (MI) 202-225-4872
Sue Myrick (NC) 202-225-1976
John Sullivan (OK) 202-225-2211
Tim Murphy (PA) 202-225-2301
Michael Burgess (TX) 202-225-7772
Marsha Blackburn (TN) 202-225-2811
Brian P. Bilbray (CA) 202-225-0508
Charles F. Bass (NH) 202-225-5206
Phil Gingrey (GA) 202-225-2931
Steve Scalise (LA) 202-225-3015
Bob Latta (OH) 202-225-5206
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA) 202-225-2006  
Gregg Harper (MS) 202-225-5031                 
Leonard Lance (NJ) 202-225-5361
Bill Cassidy (LA) 202-225-3901
Brett Guthrie (KY) 202-225-3501
Pete Olson (TX) 202-225-5951
David McKinley (WV) 202-225-4172            
Cory Gardner (CO) 202-225-4676
Mike Pompeo (KS) 202-225-6216
Adam Kinzinger (IL) 202-225-3635
Morgan Griffith (VA) 202-225-3861

Democrat Members, 112th CongressHenry A. Waxman (CA) 202-225-3976
John D. Dingell (MI) 202-225-4071
Edward J. Markey (MA) 202-225-2836
Edolphus Towns (NY) 202-225-5936
Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ) 202-225-4671
Bobby L. Rush (IL) 202-225-4372
Anna G. Eshoo (CA) 202-225-8104
Eliot L. Engel (NY) 202-225-2464
Gene Green (TX) 202-225-1688
Diana DeGette (CO) 202-225-4431
Lois Capps (CA) 202-225-3601
Michael F. Doyle (PA) 202-225-2135
Jan Schakowsky (IL) 202-225-2111
Charles A. Gonzalez (TX) 202-225-3236
Jay Inslee (WA) 202-225-6311
Tammy Baldwin (WI) 202-225-2906
Mike Ross (AR) 202-225-3772
Jim Matheson (UT) 202-225-3011
G. K. Butterfield (NC) 202-225-3101   
John Barrow (GA) 202-225-2823
Doris O. Matsui (CA) 202-225-7163 Kathy Castor (FL) 202-225-3376 Donna Christensen (VI)

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Oh no . . . we're fracked!

What happens when you let Big Business regulate itself? – You get fracked.

Hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — is a controversial method of natural gas extraction that involves injecting a toxic chemical sludge into the surface of the earth until it rips open.

And it’s a case study in the dangers of letting giant corporations sidestep laws that protect our health, our investments and our environment.

Learn more about the risks of fracking, including how it could threaten your drinking water:

www.citizen.org/fracking-unsafe-unregulated

In 2005, then-Vice President Dick Cheney got fracking exempted from laws that keep our air and water clean. That exemption — known as the “Halliburton loophole” — allows oil and gas companies to force hazardous chemicals into underground water supplies.

As if that’s not enough, the Halliburton loophole is only one of seven exemptions for the oil and gas industries from major federal environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The wholesale lack of federal tools to protect the public from fracking has created an inadequate patchwork of state regulations. As a result, companies are assaulting the environment and polluting drinking water supplies all over the country.

In Pennsylvania, a state with some of the most robust fracking regulations, one company — Chesapeake Appalachia LLC — racked up 149 environmental violations in just two and a half years.

While fracking is currently a hot-button issue, it is not a new practice. It was developed by Halliburton in the 1940s and has primarily been the scourge of communities in the Southwest.

The huge bump in fracking has been based on speculation that shale reserves in the Northeast could be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. But even this is being challenged. The New York Times has recently reported that natural gas companies may be vastly overstating their reserves in what could be a giant Ponzi scheme.

To the credit of activists all over the country, the federal government has been forced to address fracking.

  • A number of lawmakers have sent letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking it to investigate whether the industry has provided accurate information about the productivity of natural gas wells, particularly those involved in fracking.
  • As part of President Obama’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) is exploring recommendations to better protect public health and the environment from fracking.

Public Citizen will be giving public comment with a list of recommendations at a SEAB meeting later this week. We will be giving you an opportunity to contribute to the dialogue, too, so stay tuned!

But investigations are only the first step toward curbing this unsafe practice. In the near term, legislative action to close loopholes that exempt fracking from federal law is needed. Meanwhile, all fracking activity should be suspended. Moving forward, shifting away from dangerous and dirty fuels is the only solution.

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New EPA Safeguard will Improve Health & Lives of Millions of Americans

Earlier today, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  announced a new Cross State Air Pollution Rule designed to protect Americans from dangerous air pollution from coal-fired power plants. The new protections will reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in 27 states including Texas. SO2 and NOx form soot and ground-level ozone smog which contributes to poor air quality days and respiratory illnesses affecting millions of Americans.   Texas environmental groups Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and Environmental Integrity Project welcomed the EPA’s announcement.

Dr. Neil Carman, Sierra Club’s Clean Air Program Director in Texas, a chemist and former Air Control Board investigator celebrated the announcement:

The Sierra Club applauds EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s landmark Cross State Air Pollution safeguard announcement today.  EPA’s actions today will help save lives and reduce dangerous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.  Air pollution does not respect state boundaries.  As a result, air pollution created in one state can burden surrounding states with harmful pollution.  Texas coal plants are known to produce pollution that has negative consequences for the health of people both in Texas and surrounding states, particularly in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.  We are especially pleased with EPA’s decision to include Texas in its proposal and to include sulfur dioxide, as Texas coal plants are at the top of the list of worst polluters in the nation.

According to the EPA, in 2005, 17 Texas coal plants emitted 531,059 tons of SO2 and 134,234 tons of NOx. By 2014, the new safeguard will reduce from 2005 levels — 303,467 tons of SO2 or 57% of SO2 and 49,814 tons of NOx or 29% of NOx.  90% of these reductions will occur at Texas coal plants.  EPA Chief Administrator Lisa Jackson today said that this rule will prevent 670-1000 premature deaths in Texas beginning in 2014.

Carman concluded, “This will result in a leap forward in reducing ozone in Texas non-attainment areas where urban areas have been struggling to clean up the air.  People living near the coal plants will definitely enjoy living with cleaner and safer air.”

TEXAS ENERGY NEEDS COVERED & COST BENEFITS

Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas office spoke about the economic implications of the new EPA safeguard saying,

Concerns about meeting Texas energy needs are unfounded.  ERCOT’s most recent state of the market report along with its 2011 Report on the Capacity, Demand, and Reserves in the ERCOT Region show that we have sufficient generating capacity to meet summer peaks.  With cost effective energy efficiency measures, we can meet the electrical demand and clean the air.  Concerns about costs of this protective measure are also unfounded.  EPA found that this protection will result in a less than 1% increase on electricity bills.

We believe – and, the Texas PUC’s own Itron report, the “Assessment of the Feasible and Achievable Levels of Electricity Savings from Investor Owned Utilities in Texas: 2009-2018” shows that we can cost effectively reduce the energy needed in Texas by 23% using energy efficiency measures that are far cheaper than the cost of burning coal.   Today Texans are paying almost $6 billion a year in health care costs resulting from power plant pollution, and the insignificant cost increases that might result to consumers will be more than made up in lowered medical costs for all.  It’s time the utilities do their fair share to clean the air. The emissions controls that the utilities will be required to use are very similar to those put on every new car since the 1970s. Besides health benefits, the EPA’s safeguard supports Texas transition to a clean energy economy and green jobs.

Texas officials should convene a panel to analyze the cost of pollution upgrades at the coal plants and look at whether there are more cost-effective ways to meet our energy needs in the future.

TEXAS TRANSITION TO CLEAN ENERGY JOBS

San Antonio’s public utility, City Public Service recently announced the phase-out of its dirty old coal plant, Deely in favor of clean energy solutions and just yesterday announced a call for bids for a 400 Megawatt solar power plant.

Smith concluded, “The costs of solar are plummeting as this clean renewable energy source comes to scale.  San Antonio is leading the way to Texas clean energy future and the rest of the State should get with the clean energy program.”

A recent report published in March of 2011 by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that a significant investment in energy efficiency in homes and businesses and investments in new combined heat and power capacity within the industrial sector found that some 98,600 jobs would be created over the next 20 years in Texas. An American Center for Progress Report study found that a 25% renewable energy standard by 2025 coupled with increased spending in energy efficiency through the monies earmarked for Texas through the ARRA would produce some 150,000 jobs in Texas by 2030, while a 2009 Blue-Green Alliance study found that a nationwide Renewable Energy Standard would create 60,000 new jobs in Texas over the next 10 years, including 20,000 in solar energy.

Next week, Texas environmental groups will release new data that details pollution problems at existing coal plants and underscores the importance EPA’s inclusion of Texas in this new Cross State Air Pollution rule.. 

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There are two main causes of air pollution—diesel engines and coal-fired power plants—both of which are prevalent in Texas.  And these neighborhood contaminants are having grave consequences, particularly on Hispanics in Texas and the rest of the country. 

Because of work or housing availability, Hispanics across the country tend to live near some of the most polluted areas of the country.  In both urban neighborhoods and rural areas, 65 percent of Hispanics live in areas where the air fails to meet federal standards.   According to the Clean Air Task Force, Hispanics take in approximately one-and-one-half times the levels diesel exhaust of the average American, resulting in anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 premature deaths in the Hispanic community annually. Additionally, Hispanics are 3 times as likely as whites to die from asthma.

Coal-fired power plants are among the biggest polluters in the country and 15 percent of Hispanics live within 10 miles of one.  But it is not only poor air quality that threatens Hispanic neighborhoods.  A recent report released by the Sierra Club indicated that mercury—emitted from coal-fired power plants—is present in high levels in rivers and streams that Hispanics fish. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of eating contaminated fish because mercury poisoning contributes to babies being born with learning disabilities, developmental delays and cerebral palsy.

A 2007 University of Texas study revealed that children who lived within a 2 mile radius of the Ship Channel in Houston had a 56 percent higher chance of having leukemia than those living elsewhere, and this area of Houston has a large Hispanic population.

The impact on health translates into increased pressure on families juggling caring for a sick family member and their jobs, increased costs to the family from emergency room visits and medication for chronic conditions, all these things are a tremendous burden on families and workers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets air quality standards by setting maximum levels of common air pollutants, which include ozone, particles, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and lead, which can be present in the air over a set period of time. They also measure for other contaminants that the EPA calls toxic, such as mercury.  States then enforce these standards by issuing permits and

Currently in Texas, when a polluter applies for an air quality permit, the state environmental agency (the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality – TCEQ) looks only at projected air emission levels from that specific plant.  There is no requirement that they look at the cumulative impacts on air quality and efforts to address cumulative impacts failed to pass in the Texas legislature this past session.  This leaves communities dealing with the cumulative impacts of air pollution from several different sources with little recourse, because without one specific polluter, individual families can’t take legal action against companies.

From coast to coast, Hispanics are banding together in a growing environmental justice movement insisting that not only should the earth be protected but also people should be treated equally around environmental issues.  Industry threatens that increasing regulation to protect citizens will cost jobs, but jobs are a poor exchange for the loss of a loved one.  One way to address the current inequities is to VOTE YOUR INTERESTS.  Keeping local, state or federal candidates’ stances on environmental issues in mind when election time rolls around can impact air pollution in your community.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says if an amendment to HB 2694 remains on the TCEQ Sunset bill, undermining federal regulations at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ could risk losing its permitting authority and EPA might have to intervene directly in Texas permitting cases.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), whose sunset legislation for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality won unanimous Senate approval Thursday, said she stripped out all House amendments, including one that prompted a letter from the EPA.

The most controversial House amendment, added by Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), would shift the burden of proof in a contested case from the company applying for a permit to a citizen challenging the permit.

In an April 29 letter from EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Lawrence E. Starfield to the Sunset Advisory Committee Chairman Sen. Glenn Hegar,  the EPA said House changes could affect how federal requirements apply to federal permits issued by TCEQ and that “jeopardizes EPA’s approval and/or authorization” for Texas permitting programs.  The letter also specifically addressed the shifting of burdens to a person contesting a permit, saying that affects “Texas’ public participation process.”

While contested case hearings are not required by federal law, Chisum’s change would warrant federal review to make sure the legislation doesn’t conflict with federal law.

The EPA letter to Senator Glenn Hegar can be found here.

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Tuesday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule allowing it to take over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting authority in Texas .

The agency said that EPA’s permitting authority to process Texas’ permit applications for GHGs was effective on May 1.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has indicated that 167 GHG-emitting sources will require PSD permits during 2011.

EPA said its final rulemaking is intended to assure that large GHG-emitting sources in Texas, which became subject to GHG permitting requirements on January 2, will continue to be able to obtain pre-construction permits under the CAA’s New Source Review program after the April 30, 2011, expiration date of the Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) that EPA put in place in December under an interim rule.  The GHG program would apply to large stationary emission sources of CO2, including power plants and refineries.

In December, the EPA told TCEQ that it was planning a temporary takeover of GHG permitting authority from the state after Texas officials made clear that they did not intend to enforce that part of the federal air permitting program.

EPA said its 1992 approval of a State Implementation Plan for the TCEQ was in error because the Texas did not address how its permitting program would apply to any and all pollutants subject to future federal regulation.  EPA said it has changed the approval to a “partial approval and partial disapproval,” with the GHG FIP covering the “gap” in the state’s plan.

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HB 2694, the sunset bill for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will be heard on the house floor tomorrow and several dozen amendments have be prefiled.  Of concern to any of you who have opposed a permit being granted is Representative Warren Chisum’s (R-Pampa) proposed floor amendment to HB 2694 which would completely undercut the Contested Case Hearing rules for TCEQ.

This session Rep. Chisum introduced House Bill 3037 to try to give polluters advantages in the contested case process, including placing the ‘burden of proof’ on the persons contesting a pollution control permit to prove that the permit should not be issued.

Currently the burden of proof is where it should be – on polluters to demonstrate that their discharges into the water or emissions into the air will be within legal limits and not produce adverse impacts. Our air and our water are shared resources. If a person or a company wants to introduce pollutants into our air and water, than they need to prove that it will not be harmful – the burden should not be on those potentially affected by the pollution.

House Bill 3037 received a hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee a couple of weeks ago, and it received overwhelming bipartisan opposition from citizens around Texas – from El Paso to Central Texas to Conroe and many other areas – and from local governments enforcing pollution control laws. The only supporters of the bill were those industries who want to eliminate any meaningful opposition to the pollution control permits they seek. The Committee has not acted on the bill, so Rep. Chisum has taken the HB 3037 language and fashioned it into a proposed amendment to House Bill 2694, the legislation that will continue the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), set for House floor debate tomorrow.

Most of the “affected persons” that participate in contested case hearings are rural farmers and ranchers or families wanting to
protect their quality of life.  They don’t have the resources to “prove” a permit should not be issued.  Most cannot even afford legal representation for the contested case hearing — much less water quality studies or air pollution modeling necessary to prove potential pollution impacts.

Citizens merely want proof that the additional pollution will not harm their children, livestock and property.   Citizens that ask the probing questions that often times reveal problems or even novel solutions that improve the overall outcome. 

Also, contested case hearings often bring to light problems with the proposed permit that TCEQ never considered.  For example, independent State Office of Administrative Hearings Law Judges have decided based on contested case hearing evidence cross-examination of application witnesses that more stringent permit conditions are required to protect the public. 

And, Rep. Chisum’s amendment goes even further in undermining meaningful public participation.  Proposed Sec. 5.316 would actually
violate the federal Clean Air Act, and would jeopardize Texas’ ability to issue federal air permits.  Another proposed section would also require the agency to spend more of our limited tax dollars on defending the issuance of a private company’s profit making permit (i.e., the provision regarding executive director’s participation in the contested case hearing).  That is simply absurd in this economy and state budget constraints!

You can make a difference, call your State Representative and tell them to vote AGAINST Warren Chisum’s proposed floor amendment to HB 2694.  A simple phone call makes a HUGE difference.  If you don’t know who your representative is, go to http://www.house.state.tx.us/members/find-your-representative/

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