In Abbott’s recent letter to President Obama, Harry Reid, and John Boehner, he calls on Obama “to end job-killing regulations and rescind the EPA rules that Texas has challenged.” He opens with a history of the GHG issue that starts in December of 2009, and goes on to talk about the “flawed regulations issued by EPA based on its misguided claim of authority,” neglecting to mention a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 and more work done by the EPA during previous administrations.
Notwithstanding Abbott’s lack of historical context on GHG regulation, let’s review the arguments that Texas has stated for challenging these regulations, as well as why those arguments fail to make sense:
Argument: The Clean Air Act, passed by and amended by two Republican presidents to protect the health and safety of Americans, should not be used to address emissions that cause global warming.
Why the argument fails: The Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision (that is almost four years old, and authored by conservative jurist Anthony Kennedy,) requires the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, unless the federal agency determines that global warming poses no threat to the public welfare.
Argument: We don't need to worry about global warming.
Why the argument fails: Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that global warming is a serious threat to our way of life and that of our children, and thus the EPA is required to regulate the pollutants that cause it. See a review report of the effects of climate change on public health published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), the nation’s premier environmental health organization.
Argument: The U.S. Congress should take care of it.
Why the argument fails: Congress has taken care of it. They passed the Clean Air Act in 1972 and Clean Air Act amendments in 1990, giving EPA the broad authority to address air pollution, including the regulation of new pollutants. Let EPA do their job.
Argument: Greenhouse gasses from Texas don't impact the rest of the world.
Why the argument fails: Maybe Abbott thinks that we have a border fence for pollution. Texas is the largest emitter of GHGs in the United States. The United States is the largest emitter of GHGs in the world. While reducing GHGs in Texas alone won’t solve the entire climate change issue, everyone still needs to do their part. You have to start somewhere.
Argument: Texas isn't ready to take advantage of the clean energy economy.
Why the argument fails: If there's one thing Texas does well, it's business. Whether it's developing new ways to extract natural gas, groundbreaking semiconductor technology or building more wind than the rest of the country combined Texas has shown it can make more money and more jobs off of it than any other state. With our abundant natural energy resources like wind, solar and natural gas, people who say Texas isn't ready for the changing economy sell our state short. Even Texas agrees: the state of Texas has actually argued that air quality regulations haven’t negatively impacted the economy. In a 69 page report, the state environmental agency provides detailed evidence indicating that the economy of Houston has grown while pollution control measures have been implemented and as ozone concentrations have declined.
Abbott’s letter goes on further to discuss how well the state is doing in improving air pollution. While we understand that the state would like to take credit for improving air quality, a closer look at the facts indicates that we have cleaner air in Texas in spite of state leadership, not because of it. The state claims that their air permitting program is responsible for some air quality improvements across the state, but the reality is that Texas has failed to provide any meaningful data that they’ve had any role in reducing air pollution. In fact, none of the toxic hotspots identified around the state that have been remediated were done so through enforcement by the state – these areas have been remediated because of voluntary initiatives and forced reductions as a result of suits from local governments. And given that only 4 of the 13 remaining hotspot areas are even showing improvement in air quality, the state appears to be falling down on the job.
Of particular note in Abbott’s letter is the contention that ASARCO is a great example of a state enforcement case. He must be forgetting that it was his own state’s environmental agency that did everything in its power to continue to allow this egregious polluter to operate, including unanimously voting to renew the facility’s permit despite a century’s worth of evidence solidifying the facility’s place in environmental disaster history. Over half of the children living within a mile of the facility had blood lead levels 4x the health protective level – their parents can thank EPA for finally putting their foot down on the facility, not the state of Texas.
Regardless of the failures of the state, however, air quality has gotten better in Texas. It has gotten better for a number of reasons that don’t have anything to do with the state or the state environmental agency. For example:
- Consent decree settlements between EPA and several Texas facilities. These agreements alone have accounted for 21,967 tons per year of NOx reductions and 54,280 tons per year of SO2 reductions.
- Control measures implemented to comply with the federal ozone standard. In the Houston area, for example, one such control measure included approximately 80 percent NOx emission reductions from point sources through the Mass Emission Cap and Trade (MECT) program. A more complete list of control measures can be found in Chapter 4 of the Adopted HGB Attainment Demonstration SIP Revision for the 1997 Eight-Hour Ozone Standard.
- Engine standards that have been adopted by the EPA.
- Citizen suits have been brought against industry which have forced emission reductions. For example, a recent settlement between Sierra Club and Shell refinery requires that Shell that must reduce its emissions from upset emission events by nearly three-quarter of a million pounds per year.
- Emissions reductions from Senate Bill 7, the electric restructuring bill, passed during the 76th legislative session, which required a 50% reduction of NOx emissions and a 25% reduction for SO2 emissions from grandfathered plants by May 2003.
In closing, Abbott writes that “..if the President signs legislation requiring the EPA to abandon its legally misguided and economically damaging regulation of stationary sources of carbon dioxide emissions, such action would effectively resolve all six of Texas’ legal actions, and the state would willingly dismiss those actions [emphasis added].” A generous offer, considering that Texas has lost every GHG court challenge to date. Our state, in the midst of a $27 billion dollar deficit and funding cuts to schools and health and human services, has spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and continues to accept favors of "pro bono" legal work to support the agenda of the biggest polluters in the state – polluters, who have had record profits across the board (actually, not quite across the board.. BP reported a making a few less dollars this past year).
If Abbott were really concerned about preventing pollution and human health in any meaningful way, then he should concentrate his effort on enforcing environmental laws rather than wasting our taxpayer money on his expensive and unsuccessful attempts to advance the agendas of the state’s biggest polluters. In the midst of a decade of some of the most historic weather events of our time, as well as the overwhelming evidence linking GHG pollution to health effects, someone really should tell Abbott to stop filing frivolous lawsuits.