This blog post was co-written by Adrian Shelley, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.
Last week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held its only public hearing regarding the agency’s proposed plan to take over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Neither the TCEQ commissioners nor the executive director attended the hearing.
TCEQ’s move to issue GHG permits is quite a departure from the extensive actions the Texas government has taken NOT to regulate greenhouse gases in the state. In fact, in a letter dated August 2, 2010 to then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw used aggressive and robust language, declaring that:
“On behalf of the State of Texas, we write to inform you that Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has been quoted as saying, “What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration,” even sued the EPA over the common-sense greenhouse gas protections – a case in which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the Clean Air Act unambiguously requires large GHG sources, like coal-fired power plants, to obtain permits.
As recent as this September, Shaw was reported as saying that it is not clear climate change is human-caused or that it is continuing to happen today – and that the regulations could be "catastrophic" to the economy. All this despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, as well as a recent Yale Study indicating that 70 percent of Texans believe the climate is changing.
So why the change of heart? And why the hurry for the state to take over?
Well, Texas’ current dual permitting system, where industrial facilities, such as power plants and refineries, apply to TCEQ for criteria air pollutants permits and separately to EPA for greenhouse gas permits, proved too onerous for industry. As the state pursued its anti-climate agenda, these industrial facilities sent signals indicating that regulatory certainty is preferable to the prolonged litigation carried on by the state’s ideologues.
Finally, in February 2013, Zac Covar, Executive Director of TCEQ, sent a letter to the former acting regional EPA administrator backpedalling the previous litany of Abbott and Shaw, citing a number of Texas statutes that authorize the state to issue GHG permits.
After spending millions of taxpayer dollars fighting the Obama administration in a suite of suits, the state of Texas is now accepting responsibility for issuance of the state’s GHG permits.
However, there are many outstanding questions that are not likely to be resolved with Texas’ new proposal. For instance, what happens to the 75+ permits already in queue at the EPA for approval? Will the new permits issued by TCEQ be as robust as the permits issued by EPA? Why does the proposal not allow for public comment on new permits?
As TCEQ takes over GHG permitting authority, it is imperative state officials bring some common sense leadership to the process.