Back in 2008, Mayor White and the city of Houston made a request of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to hold a hearing before a judge on the latest permit application for Lyondell Chemical Co.’s refinery along the Houston Ship Channel. The TCEQ got around to ruling on that request this week, and they said No.
The Texas Clean Air Act says the three-member commission cannot grant a hearing on a renewal unless the firm is seeking an increase in permitted emissions, and LyondellBasell isn’t, TCEQ’s executive director, Mark Vickery, wrote in response to the city’s request.
But other provisions in state law allow the commissioners to order a hearing on their own authority if they determine that it’s in the public interest.
Vickery concluded that the city’s arguments for a hearing “are not based on any unique facts nor compelling issues that would support a decision to grant a hearing in the public interest.”
The commission’s Office of Public Interest Counsel, which represents the general public in permit disputes, supports Houston’s request, citing the refinery’s potential to adversely affect public health.
That’s an interesting view of what the public’s interest is, isn’t it? Imagine the squawking we’d hear if this had been a federal agency disregarding the wishes of state officials. As it turns out, that still might happen.
The refinery has what’s called a flexible permit, which caps overall emissions at a plant without regulating each emission source. The EPA has said that type of permit, which has been given to about 100 Texas industrial sites, violates the federal Clean Air Act in part because it denies the public an opportunity to review a plant’s operations.
If the EPA begins rejecting flexible permits, as it has threatened, then the refinery might be forced to seek a new permit, said Kelly Haragan, who heads the environmental law clinic at the University of Texas at Austin.
“It’s crazy that the TCEQ is still approving these flex permits,” she said. “They’re vulnerable.”
Just keep that in mind for when the EPA (hopefully) smacks down the TCEQ. The TCEQ can’t say they never saw it coming.