Texas has refused to meet new federal greenhouse gas emission rules that go into effect in January, the latest anti-Washington move in an ongoing battle that could halt new construction at the nation's largest refineries and other industry in Texas.
The refusal to join 49 other states in agreeing to the new rules is the latest salvo from Texas in its fight with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which Gov. Rick Perry has used on the campaign trail as an example of meddling by the federal government.
"Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions," said a letter to the EPA from the Texas Commission on Environment Quality and state Attorney General Greg Abbott.
The new greenhouse gas rules go into effect Jan. 2, 2011. They require the nation's largest industries to meet more stringent greenhouse gas emissions standards in new or significantly modified structures, rules that came on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2007 that greenhouse gases are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act and a 2009 EPA finding that the gases can pose a danger to human health.
"States who don't have greenhouse gas permit programs in place by Jan. 2 _ either administered by themselves or EPA _ are unnecessarily subjecting their energy industry and manufacturing base to a construction ban in the state," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Act Agencies. "The sad news is that this totally avoidable."
The EPA said in a statement the agency is focused on ensuring "businesses get the permits they need and people get the protection they deserve."
"Texas seems to have different priorities right now, but we have not yet given up on our efforts to work with them," the statement said.
The Washington-based nonprofit that acts as go-between to the EPA for nearly every state environmental regulatory agency, surveyed the states on whether they would be ready to comply with the new rules by the deadline. In a report released Thursday, the association said 49 states have either changed their laws to allow regulation of greenhouse gases or will allow the EPA to issue permits.
Texas is doing neither.
Texas, home to some of the nation's largest refineries, and 16 other states have challenged in court the EPA's that greenhouse gas emissions can be dangerous. No court has ruled on the issue.
Texas has asked the courts to delay implementation of the new standards until there is a ruling, however that has not happened yet. The TCEQ believes the EPA does not have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases and calls the new rules "illegal."
TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw said industry would like clarity on this issue, but he's not convinced that turning the program over to the EPA would smooth things over.
"The EPA has put businesses in the situation that we're in," Shaw said, adding that the state decided to "stand with our principles."
Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Industry, the gas and oil industry's lobbying arm in Washington, laid the blame with the EPA, saying they were coercing states to allow the federal agency to regulate the new rules _ which are still unclear. Allowing the federal agency permitting authority is "unprecedented," he added.
"They're just trying to do too much in a too short a time," Feldman said. "EPA ... is jeopardizing industrial expansion and putting people back to work in this country."
Becker said other states are moving ahead because if they don't, "the facilities in the end are harmed as a result of a state's unwillingness or inability to meet the Jan. 2 deadline."
Companies that go ahead with construction without permits that comply with the federal Clean Air Act could face lawsuits and fines of up to $25,000 per day, Becker said.