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.
3. The federal Clean Air Act protects neighbors’ right to know about, and voice their concerns with, pollution increases that may affect the safety of the air they breathe. The flexible permit program allows industry to move emissions around, and increase pollution from some units, without notifying neighbors, or even state and federal regulators.
4. The pollution caps in flexible permits are so high that they don’t serve as a real limit on pollution, and they certainly don’t reflect the best that industry can do. The same companies that operate in Texas operate in other states under permits that meet federal requirements and include significantly lower emission limits.
Air is our most basic resource, and its quality relates directly to our personal health and survival. Shouldn’t we be a bit more careful about poisoning this most valuable resource?