EPA vs. TCEQ: Marston Weighs In

Get ready for a sound bite war ignited by EPA taking over from TCEQ the issuance of a permit for a Corpus Christi refinery – with the possibility to do the same at 39 other facilities across the state.

As our toxicologist Elena Craft alluded to earlier today, there’s one way that 49 other states abide by the Clean Air Act – and then there’s the Texas way (which is too often a way of NOT abiding by federal law).

For too long, Gov. Perry and TCEQ have treated the EPA and the federal health-based Clean Air Act as a nuisance they can’t be bothered with. Well, they’re bothered now, and squealing like a stuck pig.

Here’s what everyone should know when we hear the pitiful whining from these defenders of the status quo:

  • EPA’s action didn’t come out of the blue. For years they’ve been telling TCEQ to fix their air permitting program.  In response, TCEQ has thumbed its nose at EPA at the expense of the health of millions of Texans.  And now, finally, EPA is stepping up – rightfully – to enforce the law.
  • Air Quality has gotten slightly better – but in spite of the Texas permitting program, not because of it. Air quality in Texas has improved because of (1) federal government mandates, including clean car standards and tighter controls on nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide; (2) lawsuits filed by the environmental community resulting in agreed orders and settlements requiring advanced monitoring technologies and pollution control measures; and (3) local government action, such as that taken by the City of Houston under Mayor Bill White’s leadership.
  • Some will turn this into a political argument instead of what it really should be about: clean air.
  • You’ll also hear the same tired economic argument that business can’t afford to adhere to strong clean air standards, that jobs will be sacrificed. Funny, but 49 other states are trying to comply with the law. And besides, no one should have to sacrifice their health to make a living.

Remember that, ultimately, it’s about clean air and our health – and following the law under the Clean Air Act. Just like with an individual, a state agency that doesn’t follow the law can expect to hear from the authorities – in this case, the federal government – and we’ll all be breathing better air because of it.

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