The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggested Thursday it would approve parts of Texas' clean air plan, a move that could help ease some of the strains between the state and the federal agency.
The EPA said in a statement that it supported revisions submitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality giving operating flexibility to some of the biggest air polluters, including the state's many refineries. The EPA indicated it would approve the plan once a 30-day public comment period ends.
The EPA and Texas have been locked in a bitter public battle for several years, an argument that peaked when the federal agency overturned the state's flexible permitting program. It forced more than 100 industries, including some of the nation's largest refineries, to work directly with the EPA to get new operating papers.
Thursday's announcement is a sign that Texas and the EPA quietly collaborated, even while Gov. Rick Perry blasted the EPA on the campaign trail when he sought the GOP presidential nomination.
"They have their disagreements with us still on policy levels and we're still working with them on those in various forms," said Carl Edlund, EPA's director of the air, waste and toxics division in Region 6, which oversees Texas. "This is not a panacea, but it's an improvement and it shows that we can work together."
In a statement, the TCEQ said it is pleased with the EPA's announcement, saying it "clears the way for companies to have regulatory flexibility and certainty."
The proposed program would require industries to separately monitor emissions from different units, while operating under a general cap or umbrella, Edlund said. This means, for example, that if one pollutant is higher than permissible and another is lower but combined, they're below the pollution "umbrella," the plant would still be able to legally operate.
The TCEQ had challenged in court the EPA's decision to overturn the state's so-called "flexible" permit program, which also allowed plants to operate under an emissions "umbrella" but did not separately detail pollution from different sources. It remains unclear whether Texas will drop that lawsuit.
Ramit Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at (at)RamitMastiAP.