A few house members defend EPA during a joint house committee hearing

John Moritz and Patrick Graves covered the joint hearing of the House Energy Resources and Environmental Regulation committees for the Texas Energy Report, which they say continued the long-running theme at the Texas Capitol that the feds are unfairly targeting Texas industries while ignoring progress made over the decades on clean air matters.

But about a half-hour into the familiar thumping of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, two Democratic lawmakers offered a rare counter-veiling view on the on-running battle.

Representative Jessica Farrar (D-Houston)

“It’s not as rosy a picture as you are painting,” state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) told Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, Ph.D.

Shaw had repeated his oft-state concern that the EPA’s action last year effectively outlawing Texas’ flexible permit program will kill jobs in the refining and manufacturing sectors and that the feds were ignoring Texas’ efforts to lower pollution levels.

But Farrar argued that people in her working-class district that is also home to several manufacturing facilities are often frustrated that plants operating under the flexible permit program often make changes that appear to affect emission levels without allowing for public comment.

Shaw argued that any such changes would not increase pollution because flexible permits set caps on overall emissions. Farrar argued that her constituents don’t always know that. Further, she said, coming budget cuts will likely mean less money for programs aimed at providing incentives for polluters to adopt greener policies for their facilities.

Representative Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)

Those comments were followed by an observation from Fort Worth Democrat Lon Burnam that Republicans on the committee were suggesting that the EPA had acted in bad faith by declining an invitation to attend today’s joint hearing.

Burnam pointed out that the hearing was only called late last week, while Shaw had been given a month’s notice of an EPA hearing last year in Dallas that he decided to pass up.

Shaw acknowledged that he declined to attend, saying that he and his staff have had numerous meetings with EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz but have still been unable to resolve their difference.

“It was not an effort to snub anyone,” Shaw said. “It (the meeting) was just not a good use of our resources.”

While TCEQ decided that this public hearing was not a good use of their resources, they squandered any goodwill they had with the citizens of the DFW area who took time out of their busy schedules to attend the hearing and were probably hoping TCEQ would show up to tell them directly why they have taken the position they have.

Moritz and Graves go on to report:

It was unclear if the two committees are planning any legislative remedy to the EPA/TCEQ standoff over flexible permits and related issues, or whether Republican-controlled Legislature will wait for the outcome of court challenges the state has filed against the federal agency’s policies affecting Texas.

Representative Jim Keffer (R-Eastland)

It was clear, however, that neither Energy Resources Chairman Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) or Baytown Republican Wayne Smith, who chairs Environmental Regulation, intended the hearing to derail the state’s civil action that remains pending in the federal court system.

Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown)

“Tell us all you can,” Smith told Shaw as he sat down to testify, “but don’t jeopardize your case.”

Later in the hearing, Deputy Attorney General William Cobb III  gave members a blow-by-blow account of the events leading up to the state’s lawsuit against EPA. He also said the case, which is still pending in a Washington, D.C., court is moving slowly, saying the parties have not even received a briefing schedule yet.

But, added, the state is committed to continuing the battle with the feds.

“It’s a fight worth fighting,” Cobb said, who described the back-and-forth over EPA‘s rule interpretations in detail without the benefit of notes. “We’re taking every measure to oppose these rules.”