Monthly Archives: June 2010

WHY THE EPA IS LIKELY TO DISAPPROVE TCEQ’S FLEXIBLE PERMITTING PROGRAM

If you’ve been following the Texas air permitting war over the last several weeks, then you know that, at the end of this month, EPA is scheduled to render judgment on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ’s) flexible permitting program.

We think disapproval is highly likely – and for several good reasons:

1. Flexible permits eliminate federal, unit-specific, pollution limits that are intended to assure that public health is protected from industrial pollution.

2. Flexible permits allow polluters to lump hundreds of pieces of polluting equipment under a single pollution limit, or cap. Because most of the equipment is not monitored, it is almost impossible to determine whether or not companies are complying with their pollution caps.

For example, when companies shift pollution among different units at a plant, they aren’t required to analyze the resulting health impacts.  Benzene emitted from a tall stack in the middle of a large industrial site has less an impact on a neighbor than benzene emitted from a tank vent just across the fence from his back yard. Read More »

Posted in Environment, TCEQ, Texas Permitting| Tagged , , , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Competition for Creating the Best Possible World

This week we have a guest post from Alex Cuclis – it’s a timely, thought-provoking piece on the marriage of a sound economy with environmental protection. Alex worked for 2 years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, for 15 years as a refinery engineer for Shell in Deer Park, Texas, and for the past 10 years has been working on a variety of air quality issues for the University of Houston and the Houston Advanced Research Center.

In Romans 12:10 the Apostle Paul wrote, “Love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honor.”

This Bible verse makes me wonder: Could we create a society where individuals tried to ‘outdo’ each other in showing kindness?  Could people be encouraged to compete for the best performance to society and to the environment, and be rewarded when they are successful?

I don’t know the answer; however the way the battle over environmental issues is shaping up in Texas, one might expect to see a fight break out in the streets between Eco-Warriors and Economic Hit Men, the agents who work to secure huge profits for large corporations described by John Perkins in Confessions of an Economic Hit-Man.

Or maybe that’s just a dramatic exaggeration.

Still, the age old questions remain:  Can we have a sound economy and protect the environment at the same time?  When is the air we breathe and water we drink “clean enough?”  What regulations need to be in place without destroying the local economy?  Finally, how do we make these determinations in a society that is as diverse as it is in Texas? Read More »

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TCEQ in an uphill battle to regain lost credibility

Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to “impose federal control over Texas” and is interested in a “blatant power grab.”

In fact, the EPA is simply making good on its warning that it would be required to intervene in Texas’ air permitting program if the TCEQ doesn’t comply with the federal Clean Air Act.  What’s more, those warnings date well back into the administration of President George W. Bush.

Still, it must have seemed to the TCEQ like they were suddenly getting it from all sides.

TCEQ’s two-weeks-from-hell in review:

  • May 25:  EPA announces it will begin issuing air permits in Texas until the TCEQ's Air Quality Program can become federally compliant and issue permits consistent with the Clean Air Act.
  • May 26:  Texas Observer breaks story that there was an allegation of fraud against the TCEQ regarding their Fort Worth mobile air monitoring study and an internal investigation that uncovered four instances of elevated benzene levels in Fort Worth that went undisclosed to the public or city. Read More »

Posted in Ozone, TCEQ, Texas Permitting| Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Responses, comments now closed

TCEQ Response: Media Weigh In

After my last blog post, the predicted sound bite war showed signs of both sides mounting full force. We intend to continue our established role as environmental truth purveyors and set the record straight whenever necessary.

Coincidentally, Texas media have begun weighing in through two recent newspaper editorials which support our position that TCEQ is in need of a reality check (did someone mention Sunset Review?).

On May 28, the Dallas Morning News called TCEQ on its lack of adherence to federal regulations in “TCEQ is ceding control by digging in its heels,” writing:

“For more than a year, the Obama administration has been beating the same drum, telling the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that its permitting system falls short of federal standards. Yet some Texas leaders and regulators still seem shocked – shocked – that the EPA made good on its promise last week and stripped the state of some of its permitting powers. In meeting after meeting, federal officials have urged the TCEQ to change its approach to regulating industrial air pollution. The Texas response to the EPA? ‘You just don't understand.’”

And then, responding to Governor Perry’s negative reaction, wrote:

“Incredibly, Gov. Rick Perry has weighed in with what amounts to self-righteous indignation, claiming that the federal government has "put a bull's-eye on the backs of hardworking Texans." If anyone should shoulder responsibility for leaving industrial facilities in this uncomfortable position, it's Perry. The TCEQ is populated entirely with Perry appointees, who have been told in no uncertain terms that businesses' interests are a top priority. Ultimately, though, it's businesses that could pay a price for the state's lack of rigor in enforcing environmental regulations.”

On May 27, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran an editorial titled: “Texas governor should watch what he says about EPA” and wrote:

“Gov. Rick Perry's response to this week's Environmental Protection Agency clean-air enforcement actions in Texas might help him sell his book or even get re-elected, but they won't resolve the EPA's long-running objections to state policy or help Texans understand the issues involved . . . But the governor is wrong to blame the EPA's action on President Barack Obama. Documents available on the TCEQ website show the EPA objected to the Texas permit process at least as long ago as 2006, under the administration of President George W. Bush. Those objections have been the subject of continuing meetings and often strongly worded correspondence between EPA and TCEQ officials ever since.”

The Star-Telegram acknowledged Perry’s emphasis on jobs for Texans, but rightfully said that “. . . he shows a dark side when he says this week's action means EPA officials 'are willing to kill Texas jobs and derail one of the strongest economies in the country.'" And after mentioning TCEQ’s similar claims, the Star-Telegram shamed both parties with these summative statements:

“Emotional overstatements might fit political campaigns or book marketing plans, but they are out of place here. At a time when a botched oil well has spewed nobody knows how many thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Texas officials should think twice before downplaying concerns about the environment.”

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