This is the second of a two-part series on greenhouse gases and the part Texas plays.
Last month, we wrote about The Convention on Climate Change conference (COP18) and the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Texas, a state whose GHG emissions are comparable to those from “131 railcars worth of burning coal.”
Indeed, such emissions increasingly have the potential to threaten our way of life as the climate continues to change. Just this month, a draft report from the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee says that evidence of climate change can already be seen around the world, including Texas. According to the report, there is “strong evidence to indicate that human influence on the climate has already roughly doubled the probability of extreme heat events like the record-breaking summer of 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma.”
Because it’s been well documented that Texas contributes a disproportionate share of the nation’s GHGs when compared to other states, we welcome the news that after one year, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GHG federally implemented permit program is on its way to becoming a national model and a good starting place for Texas should the state ever regain management of the program.
Under the federal Clean Air Act, states have the authority to regulate facilities that emit air pollution, including GHGs. In December 2010, after Texas refused to issue GHG permits to facilities in the state, EPA stepped in and created a federal implementation plan for GHG permits whereby facilities could apply to EPA directly for their GHG permits. Had EPA not stepped in to issue the permits, several new facilities across the state would have not been allowed to operate.
Unsurprisingly, industry leaders and even Texas officials balked at the move and filed lawsuits in retaliation. The biggest criticism was that such action would hurt business. However, since EPA began issuing GHG permits in 2011, most facilities have begun the process of reducing emissions to comply and business as usual continues.
According to EPA staffers, the GHG permit program is well under way and shaping up to be a national model. The program includes agency transparency, public participation, scientific rigor and solid process. Since EPA took over the program, such elements have ensured the approval of numerous facility applications in Texas.
Another positive outcome of EPA’s management of the program has been the establishment of best emissions control technologies. EPA staffers say that a number of the approved permits could easily be considered some of the best model permits in the country. Sometimes, stronger controls are implemented than a company may have proposed on day one. Implementing this program has been a learning process and ultimately has the potential to benefit similar programs around the nation, as well as safeguarding public health through improved air quality.
The process hasn’t been perfect – the biggest issue so far has been that incomplete applications can delay the permit. EPA is working to educate applicants on the process, and delays have been reduced coming into the new year.
They said it couldn’t be done. When EPA first took over the program, critics predicted the move would shut down business. That didn’t happen. Permits are being issued. There haven’t been any closures. Facilities are up and running and bringing forward the best control technologies.
Bottom line: Companies are able to do the job they need to do while reducing harmful emissions. EPA stepped in to issue air permits when the state would not, enabling businesses to comply with federal regulations, and ultimately helping Texas to thrive economically while also doing its part to help combat climate change.