EPA Takes Wind Out of Texas' Air Permit Program, Steams Governor

EPA on Wednesday announced final disapproval of the flexible permit program that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had submitted for inclusion in its clean-air implementation plan. EPA has determined that this program does not meet several national Clean Air Act requirements that help to ensure the protection of health and the environment.

Eliciting rancor from Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials, EPA disapproved 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. The ruling affects more than 100 industrial sites in the state.

"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, on June 30. "EPA will continue working closely with Texas, industry, environmental organizations, and community leaders to assure an effective and legal air permitting system."

Perry called the action a "federal takeover" of Texas' environmental policies and said the state will continue to fight the ruling. "The EPA's irresponsible and heavy-handed action not only undermines Texas' successful clean air programs, but threatens thousands of Texas jobs, families, businesses and communities throughout our state," he said.

The Clean Air Act is designed to ensure that businesses across the country operate efficiently and cleanly to safeguard public health from harmful levels of air pollution. Under the Act, all states must develop State Implementation Plans for meeting federal requirements to protect public health. Those plans must include an air permitting program to set pollution levels for industrial facilities. In 1992, EPA approved Texas' State Implementation Plan, but since 1994 the state has submitted more than 30 regulatory changes to the air pollution permitting part of the plan. This week's action represents a final EPA decision to disallow one of the most important changes made by Texas for failing to meet the protective measures of the Clean Air Act, the agency said.

In September 2009, EPA proposed to disapprove the state's flexible permits program and invited public comment. EPA said it has carefully reviewed comments and decided to finalize its proposed disapproval of the program.

To ensure no disruptions for facilities, EPA said it has reached out to industry, the environmental community, and TCEQ to discuss how to convert flexible permits into more detailed permits that comply with the Clean Air Act. One tool proposed by EPA is encouraging flexible permit holders to participate in a voluntary compliance audit program that would be designed to expedite efforts to identify emission limits; operating requirements; and monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping data.

On June 16, TCEQ approved proposed revisions to the state's flexible permit rules. The public comment period on the rules package opens today and runs through August 2, 2010. The state must then finalize its proposal and submit it to EPA for review. EPA said it will examine the new rules when submitted but added it believes that public health and federal law require disapproval of the existing program without further delay. For more information, go to www.epa.gov/region6.

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