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EPA-TCEQ agreement in the works

A compromise is in the works between the EPA and the TCEQ over the controversial “flex permits” that the EPA has deemed not in compliance with the Clean Air Act.

“We’re very close,” said Richard Hyde, deputy director of permitting and registration at the commission. He said the object of the meeting today is to bounce the compromise off industry and environmental groups. A deal between the commission and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could be formalized as soon as the end of the month.

EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz said he was optimistic about the negotiations but that there is still distance between the two agencies.

“It’s an indication that we’re making progress,” he said of today’s meeting.

At issue has been whether industrial plants that had been operating under broad, so-called flexible permits awarded years ago by the state ought to be subjected to more precise, stringent permits. The flexible permits set facility-wide emissions limits, which regulators say leave them in the dark about how many gases particular parts of the plant are belching into the air .

Firms that don’t take the voluntary route could face the wrath of the EPA, including a federal takeover of permits and tougher regulations.

According to a draft of the compromise obtained by the American-Statesman, the commission will require companies that want to “deflex” to submit within a year a permit application that spells out emissions points, such as individual boilers, and to explain the basis of their emissions requests.

The compromise also requires companies to essentially pull back the veil on their plants and explain what, if any, major modifications have been made since they won flexible permits. Such modifications will qualify them for more stringent rules. The companies also will be required to describe all air pollution control technology they have installed on plants. Each company is entrusted to do the look-back itself.

You can read the draft agreement here. This will go a long way towards turning down the heat on this issue, and will give industry some regulatory certainty, but it will not affect the ongoing lawsuit, or presumably any of the newly-filed lawsuits.

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