Goodbye Flexible Permits! We won’t miss you.

Today, the EPA announced that all 136 of the industrial facilities across the state that had flexible permits committed to bring them into compliance with federal law. While it seems only logical that air permits issued to facilities comply with the Clean Air Act, this has not been the case in Texas.  Since 1994, when the first flexible permit was issued, many facilities in Texas have been operating under permits that make it nearly impossible to track facility compliance.

 What was wrong with flexible permits?

As we’ve said many, many, many times before, here is a summary of a few of the problems with flexible permits:

 1.      Flexible permits eliminate pollution limits designed to protect public health.   Flexible permits eliminate federal, unit-specific, pollution limits that are intended to assure that public health is protected from industrial pollution.

 2.      The flexible permit pollution trading system is unenforceable and fails to protect public health. Flexible permits allow sources to lump hundreds of pieces of polluting equipment under a single pollution limit, or cap. Because most of the equipment is not monitored, it is almost impossible to determine whether or not companies are complying with their pollution caps.

 3.      Flexible permits prevent the public from their right to know.  The federal Clean Air Act protects neighbors’ right to know about, and voice their concerns with, pollution increases that may affect the safety of the air they breathe.  The flexible permit program allows industry to move emissions around, and increase pollution from some units, without notifying neighbors, or even state and federal regulators.

 4.      Flexible permit emission caps allow so much pollution that they aren’t limiting industry emissions.  The pollution caps in flexible permits are so high that they don’t serve as a real limit on pollution, and certainly don’t reflect the best that industry can do.   The same companies that operate in Texas operate in other states under permits that meet federal requirements and include significantly lower emission limits. 

 What now?

Facilities have committed to a timeline to transition to legal permits – permits that meet both state and federal law. It will take a while, but eventually, all 136 companies will have new, legal permits.

 A quote from Al Armendariz, Region 6 Administrator on the announcement:

“It’s great that Texas businesses would meet the challenge so quickly,” said Armendariz. “Here we are – one year from beginning to work with the largest 40 permit holders – and we have significant progress with no disruptions, no job losses, and numerous commitments from companies to obtain Clean Air Act compliant permits through a transparent process. Several companies have reached the first milestones ahead of schedule. People living in cities and towns across Texas will benefit from the hard work of EPA staff and these companies.”

It’s clear that industry recognizes that certainty in regulation is better than the legal limbo that they’ve been facing ever since the Bush Administration. And we thank Texas industry for making the right decision to follow the law. Local communities will have greater confidence that they are receiving the protections afforded under the Clean Air Act. Health is everyone’s issue. And meeting the laws that help protect clean air should never have been optional.

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