Citing lax enforcement of clean air standards, the Environmental Protection Agency may take over air quality regulation in Texas, setting the stage for a battle over federal and state rights. The move comes a day after the EPA announced that it will issue the operating permit for an oil refinery in Corpus Christi and plans to take over 39 other permits, the Associated Press reports.
The regional head of the EPA said the agency is studying how to federalize this state responsibility and has hired eight permitting engineers and lawyers. Officials in Texas have voiced strong opposition to the possibility of a federal takeover.
“It would take years and kill millions of jobs and the economy would suffer eventually, and we’re seeing no environmental benefit,” Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told the AP.
The EPA says Texas’ flexible permitting program, which allows a general limit on the amount of pollutants an entire factory can release, is a violation of the federal Clean Air Act that mandates states set limits on each unit within a plant.
Federal environmental regulators listed one plant after another that the state has allowed to pollute beyond the legal limit. At its refinery outside Houston, Shell was allowed to increase emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen, by 18 percent, in addition to releasing twice the legal amount of sulfur dioxide, one of six pollutants strictly monitored by the federal government. At Exxon’s largest refinery in the U.S., also near Houston, emissions twice the legal yearly limit are permitted by the state.
The flexible permit system has been in place for 16 years in Texas, and the EPA is giving the state until July 1 to assure the government that it will comply with federal law.
Kansas may also be headed for a showdown with federal environmental regulators if an amendment to the state budget bill becomes law. The amendment would take away the power of any state agency “to plan, draft, propose, promulgate, finalize or implement any rules and regulations pursuant to the Clean Air Act.”
Observers say that if the state can no longer regulate greenhouse gases, the EPA is likely to step in and take over, according to the environmental news site SolveClimate.