Last Wednesday, I traveled to Washington D.C. to testify at a House Science, Space, and Technology hearing entitled Examining the Science of EPA Overreach: A Case Study in Texas. It was my first time testifying on Capitol Hill and I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with some of our Texas lawmakers on issues concerning the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Texas.
One item of discussion focused on the greenhouse gas permitting authority in the state and the fact that Texas’ legal actions have thwarted industrial facilities in the state from conducting business. A recent article in the Texas Tribune, titled “Anti-Regulation Politics May Have Hurt Energy Industry,” highlights the burden that a dual permitting process places on businesses seeking greenhouse gas permits.
The process, which requires industrial facilities, such as power plants and refineries, to apply to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for criteria air pollutants permits and separately to EPA for greenhouse gas permits, has proved onerous for industry. In the article, the Texas Pipeline Association says, “more than 50 planned projects since early 2011 have been significantly delayed by the [Texas] permitting process, putting 48,000 jobs at risk.”
During the hearing, Dr. Bryan Shaw, Chairman of TCEQ, defended the agency’s failure to issue the greenhouse gas permits, claiming the state did not have the legal authority to issue the permits. Even if that were true, the state could have passed legislation during the 2011 legislative session to avoid the onerous dual permitting situation that exists today.
Where is the logic?
In what Bryan Shaw of the TCEQ calls a “principled stance” against regulating greenhouse gases, the state has taken a series of illogical and thoughtless legal missteps that have wasted taxpayers’ money and put undue burden on businesses that want to comply with the law. Even when EPA stepped in to issue greenhouse gas permits following Texas’ refusal to handle the responsibility, the state sued. But for what purpose? Had Texas prevailed, facilities in the state would not have been able to secure a greenhouse gas permit from either Texas or the EPA.
While the state has been busying itself with countless, frivolous suits that have no merit or theory of victory, the other 49 states have found a way to work with EPA and remain open for business. Industry is now changing its stride, too.
Recently, Calpine Corporation, one of the nation’s largest power producers, submitted a brief to the Supreme Court in support of the permitting requirements for greenhouse gas emissions. Calpine’s brief noted that the company has invested billions of dollars in new, efficient natural gas facilities, and that it has successfully completed the greenhouse gas permitting process for six projects (two of which are located in Texas and received permits directly from EPA). Calpine confirmed that obtaining these permits did not delay its projects or add significant costs. In fact, the greenhouse gas permits motivated the company to adopt energy efficient technologies with important environmental and economic benefits.
Texas is a great state with a lot to offer – it shouldn’t be wasting time and resources fighting bedrock clean air protections. My hope is that one day state officials will wake up and see the value of business opportunities, new markets, and the optimism of those of us who believe that we can have it all – healthier air and a vibrant economy. But it’s only possible if we work together.
On Tuesday, the EPA announced that it was handing over the greenhouse gas permitting authority to the state of Texas. Although Texas should have taken responsibility for issuing the permits years ago, we hope that this move marks a new beginning for Texas and that TCEQ will move forward in its responsibility to implement the nation’s clean air protections.