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Al Armendariz

Texas will do just fine under the new EPA clean air regulations

Unless it wants to fail, of course, which is always an option under the likes of Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

Greg Abbott approves of this picture

Texas could lead the way into a less carbon-intensive future under the Obama administration’s plans to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Or the state could have trouble keeping the lights on.

The competing views underscore the exquisite complexity of the rules scheduled to be unveiled Monday. The proposed regulation represents the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda – one that could lead to the shuttering of hundreds of coal plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.

Already Texas officials are lining up against the plan, with 29 members of the state’s congressional delegation – Republicans and Democrats – voicing concern in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency. They say the rules could drive up electricity bills, threaten reliability and lead to job losses in a state that pumps far more carbon dioxide into the air than any other.

But environmentalists note that Texas already is shifting closer to Obama’s goals. Last year, 63 percent of the state’s electricity came from sources other than coal.

“We will hear a lot of complaining about the rule, but we have a lot of options in Texas that other states do not have,” said Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.

Oh, there’s plenty of complaining, all right. The hot air generated by Rick Perry and Ted Cruz alone might be enough to offset whatever gains the Obama administration hopes to make via these new regulations. Just remember, when you hear the usual assortments of gasbags start to bloviate about this, we’ve heard it all before, and they’ve been wrong every single time. Consider this, for example:

Let’s flash back to an article from the Van Nuys Valley News, dated Sept. 10, 1970 — when the Clean Air Act was young and eager and taking aim at unchecked, noxious emissions from U.S. cars. “Ford Motor Co. said yesterday in Dearborn, Mich.,” the item begins, “that some of the proposed changes in the Federal Clean Air Act could cut off automobile production in just five years, lead to huge price increases for cars even if production were not stopped, do ‘irreparable damage’ to the American economy — and still lead to only small improvements in the quality of the air.”

Sound familiar? Are you driving a car nearly half a century later? Yes, those controls had a cost — and so too will future efficiency mandates that the Obama administration has put in place — but in the long view, the view that matters, life will go on and be cleaner for it. Not so sure? Consider that between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants dropped by 68 percent, even as U.S. gross domestic product grew by 212 percent and vehicle miles traveled increased by 167 percent. The number of private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during that same period.

So yeah, pay them no attention. And remember as well, they’re vastly out of step with public opinion:

* Among Americans overall, 69 percent say global warming is a serious problem, versus 29 percent who say it isn’t. Among Americans in the states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, those numbers are 67-31. Among Americans in states carried by Barack Obama, they are 70-28.

*Americans overall say by 70-21 that the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing plants to reduce global warming. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 68-24. In 2012 blue states, they are 72-20.

* Americans overall say by 70-22 that the federal government should require states to limit greenhouse gases. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 65-23. In 2012 blue states, they are 73-21. Even in red states, then, support for the feds stomping on states’ rights (on this issue at least) is running high.

* Americans overall say by 63-33 that the government should regulate greenhouses even if it increases their monthly energy bill by $20 per month. In the 2012 red states, those numbers are 60-35. In 2012 blue states, they are 64-32.

On every one of the above questions, in red states, large percentages of independents and moderates favor action. And more broadly, as you can see, those just aren’t meaningful differences between red and blue states on these questions. This applies even in nearly two dozen coal states [emphasis added].

Who wants to bet the Trib will come out with a poll showing the opposite in Texas? I can see it coming from here. Unfair Park and the Rivard Report have more.

Court rules for the EPA against Texas again

Another win for the environment.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Obama administration’s new rules that for the first time limit emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

In a split decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a Texas-based challenge to the regulations, saying the federal government acted reasonably to protect the environment and public health from poisonous gases and cancer-causing chemicals released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels.

Developers of the White Stallion Energy Center, a proposed power plant about 90 miles southwest of Houston, challenged the federal regulations, arguing that the new limits would be too burdensome and thus prevent them from securing financing for the project. Several industry groups and 22 states, including Texas, joined the fight.

But a divided three-judge panel ruled that federal law and previous court decisions do not require the Environmental Protection Agency to consider cost when imposing new regulations on electric utilities.

[…]

At the time the EPA finalized the rules in 2012, Texas was home to seven of the top 16 mercury-emitting coal plants in the nation, an Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

“There is no other state that is going to get as much public health benefit than Texas from the mercury rule,” said Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in the state.

See here and here for some background. I’ve long since lost track of which lawsuit by Texas against the EPA is about what, and I don’t think I have any previous blogging on this specific case, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all of a piece, and it’s all about whether we make the polluters be responsible for their actions or we give them a free pass. The EPA counters claims that these regulations are too costly for business with evidence that the health benefits for everyone else will outweigh those costs. That will never satisfy the polluters, of course, and I presume they’ll appeal this first to the entire DC court, then to SCOTUS. It’s a nice win for now but it’s far from over. The LA Times, the DMN BizBeat blog, the Texas Green Report, and the EDF, which has a separate statement beneath the fold, have more, while Wonkblog reminds us of the disproportionate effect of industrial pollution on minority neighborhoods.

Environmental Defense Fund applauds today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., denying legal challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Today’s court decision rejects flawed legal claims by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of the opponents of EPA’s vital clean air safeguards for our communities and families.

Attorney General Abbott has sued the federal government 31 times since 2004, needlessly costing Texan taxpayer’s nearly $4 million.

The EPA emission standards at issue establish the first nationwide emission limits on the mercury, arsenic and acid gases discharged from the U.S. fleet of existing coal- and oil-fired power plants, the single largest source of these toxic airborne contaminants.

Mercury exposure can impair the brain development of infants and young children. According to the EPA, each year more than 400,000 infants are born with elevated mercury levels in their blood, but the MATS standards will eliminate 90 percent of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants. In Texas, the rule will annually prevent up to 1,200 premature deaths, while providing between $4 billion to $9.7 billion in health benefits in 2016 and each year thereafter.

“Today’s decision comes as an unquestionable victory for Texans who care about vital clean air safeguards and protecting our most vulnerable citizens – young children and pregnant women. Rather than waste taxpayer’s money and protect the interests of big fossil fuel companies, Greg Abbott and other state leaders should champion life-saving measures that protect the health and well-being of Texans.”

CSAPR knocked down by federal court

Score one for the polluters.

Greg Abbott approves of this picture

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority with the new regulation.

Led by Texas, 14 states and several power companies challenged the legality of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which imposes caps on nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide from coal-fired power plants in eastern states. Texas officials fear some utilities will shutter plants to comply with the rule, threatening the state’s ability to “keep the lights on.”

The EPA has said the rule is necessary to reduce lung-damaging pollution that causes thousands of premature deaths and respiratory illnesses each year around the power plants and in downwind states.

“This is clearly a big blow for breathers in downwind states,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “The good neighbor rule is a critical component in the EPA’s strategy to ensure healthful air quality.”

See here and here for some background. The Environmental Defense Fund has a press release and anlysis of the ruling, which you can read here. Unlike the flex permits ruling, this one is a genuine setback, though though it should be noted that the court didn’t say the EPA had no authority, just that it needed to write the rules differently. While the usual pollution-enabling gang celebrates, the former head of the EPA in Texas notes that the industries who helped fight this may come to regret it.

Al Armendariz, who was the regional administrator of the EPA when the cross-state rule was finalized and now works as a senior representative from the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Texas, said:

“The ruling, I think, only delays the inevitable, which is that there is going to be a transport rule that requires utilities to significantly reduce their emissions. And ironically, the judgment is critical of steps the agency took which were designed to make the rule cost-effective. And if anything, the judgment could result in EPA putting a rule forward about a year from now that requires utilities to spend more to reduce emissions than if the cross-state rule had gone into effect. So the delay is unfortunate, but ironically, I think the court’s criticism of some of the steps the [EPA] took to try to make the rule cost-effective might result in the agency moving forward with a rule that costs more to comply than the cross-state rule would have.”

Of course, that assumes an EPA that’s not been taken over by industry hacks by that time. We’re all clear on what needs to be done to prevent that, right? Texas Vox has more.

“Flex permit” plants agree to follow EPA guidelines

Somehow, the world continued to rotate on its axis afterward.

The unique way Texas regulates air pollution from refineries, chemical plants and other major industries is no more — for now.

The EPA said Tuesday all 136 industrial plants with state-issued permits that do not meet federal Clean Air Act requirements have agreed to apply for new ones.

The announcement comes one year after the federal agency rejected Texas’ use of so-called flexible permits. But the dispute is not over, because state officials and at least 10 industry groups are challenging the EPA’s actions in federal court.

Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials have said the EPA was threatening jobs by forcing permit changes at the facilities, including some of the largest refineries in the nation.

Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administrator for Texas, said the companies are converting their permits without any job losses.

“We’re really happy,” he said. “All the permit holders have agreed to get federally compliant permits, and we’ve done it without any economic disruption.”

The plants are still suing the EPA over claims that they have no legal authority to intervene here, of course, but in the meantime they prefer the certainty of being compliant. Funny how these things work, isn’t it? Hair Balls has more.

You must obey these laws, but not those laws

Here’s a Chronicle story profiling EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz:

That the EPA is picking on Texas, a favorite refrain of the politicians, is an “unfortunate characterization” because the agency works with the state on many issues, ranging from oil spills to clean water for impoverished communities along the Mexican border, Armendariz said in a recent interview at his office.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the elected officials — the governor and the attorney general (Greg Abbott) – see some value in fighting the federal government for their own sake. They’re fermenting the disagreements we see. It’s bad public policy. It’s bad for permit holders. And it creates uncertainty.”

Armendariz insists that anyone in his position would be taking the same steps he has. He notes that Richard Greene, the Bush appointee who proceeded him as the EPA’s regional administrator for Texas and four adjacent states, sent “strong letters” to the TCEQ about problems with aspects of its permitting program. Armendariz later determined that roughly 130 refineries, chemical plants and factories with so-called flexible permits needed to bring them into compliance with federal law.

“The steps we’re taking are required by law,” he said. “What people are disagreeing with is the Clean Air Act, as written by Congress. What they don’t like is how the law is written.”

And here’s an Express News story about “sanctuary cities” and the legislation that will be taken up to deal with it.

Several, including one by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, would deny state grants to cities that don’t enforce immigration laws. Several similar bills have been filed in the House, including one by state Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball. Riddle also filed a bill that would allow police to arrest illegal immigrants on trespassing charges.

[Mayor Raul] Reyes said that would put more burdens on cities like El Cenizo.

“They should be helping communities like El Cenizo,” he said. “We don’t have the economic means to hire personnel.”

Bennett Sandlin, the executive director of the Texas Municipal League, agreed with Reyes. It’s almost unheard of for city councils to tell police not to ask about immigration status, Sandlin said; most policies are set by police departments.

And he said the Legislature shouldn’t be interfering with police chiefs. On top of that, Sandlin said, requiring police to enforce immigration laws would be an added financial burden in the midst of budget shortfalls.

“In a perfect world we’d have the state and federal money to enforce immigration statutes,” he said. “But right now we’re bare to the bone just locking up the bad guys.”

Riddle said she’s confident her bills fall under Perry’s emergency item designation and will be voted on in the session’s first 30 days.

Patrick said he wants sanctuary cities done away with so individual cities aren’t thumbing their noses at federal and — assuming the Legislature passes a bill he filed that requires officers to ask anyone without identification about their immigration status — state law.

So let me see if I’ve got this straight. It’s bad for the federal government to enforce its laws in Texas. It’s good for the state to require cities to enforce federal laws, even as such requirements represent unfunded mandates and fall outside the jurisdiction of municipal law enforcement agencies. Maybe what environmentalists need to do is get someone to file a bill that would require cities to arrest violators of the Clean Air Act. That seems to be the approved method of federal law enforcement these days.

TCEQ a no-show at EPA hearing

They’d rather sue than engage.

At the hearing in a hotel ballroom, Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administrator for Texas and five adjacent states, said the federal agency prefers to let the state issue the permits, as it does for other air pollutants.

“This isn’t a program that we want to implement for years,” Armendariz said. “We want the state of Texas to take ownership of it, and we are ready to work with the TCEQ. However, at this time, those discussions have not begun.”

In a statement, the TCEQ said it didn’t attend the hearing because the state agency’s position “has been clearly articulated to the EPA and well documented in several pending court cases.”

“Our attempts to reason with EPA and efforts to have constructive discussions on our position and their authority under federal law have been ignored,” the statement said. “We look forward to pursuing our position in the court system and we are confident that science and the law will prevail.”

All they care about is finding a judge to let them off the hook. Remind me again why we even have the TCEQ?

Federal court denies stay in Texas’ lawsuit against EPA

No love from the Fifth Circuit.

Texas’ bid to stop the federal government’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases hit another roadblock today, when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the state’s request for a stay of a move to force states to implement federal plans.

“Petitioners have not met their burden to satisfy the legal standards required to allow a stay pending appeal,” the court said, in its short denial.

[…]

Texas’s efforts are hardly over, however. “The Respondent’s Motion for dismissal or in the alternative transfer to the D.C. Circuit remains before the panel,” the 5th Circuit said.

You can read the denial here; there’s not much more to it than was quoted above. As noted, the case itself is still ongoing, so denying the request to halt the EPA before it begins doesn’t mean that the suit will be resolved in the EPA’s favor. And this particular setback hasn’t stopped the state from filing more lawsuits.

The Texas petition to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia accuses the Environmental Protection Agency of abusing its powers by taking control of the permitting program without proper public notice. The EPA made the unilateral move Dec. 23.

“Once again, the federal government is overreaching and improperly intruding upon the state of Texas and its legal rights,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. Typically, the federal government delegates implementation of Clean Air Act rules to the states.

Abbott previously filed a challenge to the new rules, saying their underpinnings — that the gases threaten public health by warming the planet – are based on faulty data. Two federal appeals courts, including the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as recently as Wednesday, rejected his requests for a stay while the lawsuit is pending.

Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administratorbased in Dallas, criticized Texas “politicians” for filing suit again “instead of working with EPA to protect Texans’ health and welfare.”

You can read AG Abbott’s fulminations here, if that’s your thing. As the HuffPo reports, we’re in for a long and drawn-out fight. A statement from the Environmental Defense Fund is beneath the fold, while Grist and Kos have related items.

(more…)

TPA announces its Texan of the Year for 2010

While this was a pretty lousy year for progressive politics in terms of election results, it was in many ways a great year for progressive achievements, from the passage of the Affordable Care Act to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Along the way, many individuals and groups distinguished themselves through their words and deeds. The Texas Progressive Alliance, as it has done since 2006, recognizes these people and their accomplishments through its annual Texan of the Year selection. This year, the TPA has named Fort Worth City Council Member Joel Burns for this honor. From our press release:

Burns, Fort Worth’s District 9 City Councilman, received international attention and acclaim in October after delivering a speech at a Forth Worth City Council meeting concerning suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign.

In his speech, Burns spoke eloquently and emotionally about his experiences as a teen facing bullying in Crowley because of his sexual orientation. Burns’ speech, which became an internet sensation, resulted in interviews on CNN, NPR’s All Things Considered, an in-studio interview with the Today Show’s Matt Lauer, and an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“Joel Burns’ speech did more to raise awareness of the difficulties LGBT youth in Texas face on a daily basis perhaps more than anything else this year,” said Vince Leibowitz, Chair of the Texas Progressive Alliance. “His courageous action in delivering this speech was worthy of recognition, and progressives everywhere should salute him,” Leibowitz continued.

Here’s the video, in case you haven’t seen it:

Joel Burns, we in the TPA salute you.

The TPA also honors Administrator for Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Texas DREAMers as Honorable Mentions.

Armendariz was recognized for cracking down on polluters in Texas in spite of immense political pressure from state leaders and corporations. Armendariz issued the first Emergency Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order against a natural gas operator in Parker County which caused high levels of methane in private water wells.

The Texas DREAMers–students and activists involved in supporting the DREAM Act through peaceful protest and other means, were recognized for their work in Texas which has included everything from organizing phone banks to call and persuade U.S. Senators, to staging sit-ins and demonstrations at the offices of U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. The group has even staged hunger strikes in support of its efforts.

Armendariz and the EPA are of course also engaged in a huge struggle against basically the entire state government to actually enforce the laws that protect us from all kinds of pollution. As for the DREAMers, I must confess that I’m completely unable to comprehend why we wouldn’t welcome them with open arms. (For those of you who are about to say something about “getting in line”, please note that the line in question is now up to 22 years long. You think maybe we ought to do something about that?) We in the TPA stand with them in their fight to make our state and our country a better place. Our thanks and our congratulations to all our honorees.

Federal court clears the way for greenhouse gas rules to be enforced in Texas

Apparently, Texas is subject to the same laws as those other states. Who knew?

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected pleas from Texas, some other states and industry allies to block nationwide rules on greenhouse gas emissions slated to start next month.

The states, industry groups and free-market groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its first attempt to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from automobiles and large industrial sources. The rules, they argue, would harm the economy.

But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the request to freeze the new regulations while the lawsuit is pending, ruling that the challengers failed to show that the harms they allege are certain, rather than speculative.

The decision of the three-judge panel clears the way for the rules to take effect Jan. 2, as planned. The federal rules require new controls on emissions from vehicles and industrial sources, such as power plants and refineries.

Bear in mind, the DC circuit appeals court has a reputation for being very conservative. It’s the venue that Texas Republicans plan to use instead of the Justice Department to preclear its redistricting plans, with the hope of getting a more lenient interpretation (or an outright overturning) of the Voting Rights Act.

In challenging the EPA, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has argued that the underpinnings of the new rules — that the gases blamed for global warming threaten public health — are based on faulty data. The new rules also will hurt business, he told the court.

But the Texas lawsuit had a “see- through problem,” said David Doniger, director of climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the new rules.

“You can say anything you want in a press release or a two-page lobbying letter to Congress,” Doniger said. “But when you go to court, you have to prove your case, and they didn’t. These cases were brought to dress up a political argument.”

Imagine that. Facts are stubborn things.

More Texas v. EPA

The stakes keep getting higher.

The EPA has threatened dozens of Texas refiners and chemical and plastic makers with penalties if they don’t begin taking steps to bring their air pollution permits into compliance with federal law by late December.

The blunt threat was made in a recent letter by the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator in Texas, heightening tensions in a standoff that has already reached the courts.

[…]

Last week, the agency sent letters to 74 companies, giving them until Dec. 22 to explain how they intend to obtain federally approved permits. If they miss the deadline, then the EPA will penalize them, the agency’s Dallas-based regional administrator, Al Armendariz, wrote in the letter.

This comes on the heels of AG Greg Abbott filing a brief in defense of Texas’ flex permits, and of the EPA turning its attention to natural gas wells. Whoever ultimately loses in this court battle is going to lose big, that’s very clear. I don’t have any idea who has the better legal case, but let me ask this: Does anyone truly believe that the state of Texas and the TCEQ, on their own and without any prodding from the EPA, really take the job of enforcing Clean Air Act regulations seriously? I don’t know how anyone can claim with a straight face that they do. How much that will really matter in the end is another question, however.

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.

State sues the EPA again

Round and round we go

Texas has sued the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the second time in six weeks, escalating a feud over the state’s rules for air pollution from refiners and other large industries.

State Attorney General Greg Abbott said Monday he filed a petition with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to block the EPA from disapproving the state’s so-called flexible permits.

State officials argue the federal agency had no legal or technical justification for rejecting the 16-year-old permitting program, which covers 122 refiners, chemical plants and plastics makers.

[…]

[Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administrator based in Dallas,] said the EPA rejected flexible permitting because the rules fall short of the federal Clean Air Act’s requirements. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issues the permits on behalf of the EPA, but the EPA decides whether they are in compliance with the law.

Although Texas created the permitting rules in 1994, the EPA did not rule on them until after industry groups sued to force the agency to act.

That’s the irony of all this. Had industry groups not sued the EPA earlier, they might not be in this pickle now. So much for that. Given where we are now, I’m sure the faster and cheaper resolution, not to mention the one that allows for actual progress in cleaning up the air we all breathe, would be for the EPA to work with affected manufacturers to get them into compliance, which is what they’re already doing with many of them. But if you want to drag things out and make everybody spend a bunch of money on legal fees and you don’t really care about air quality, then litigating is totally the way to go. More background is here, here, here, and here

EPA goes after more permits

Good for them.

The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it was taking over the issuance of operating permits for two more Texas facilities — Chevron Phillips Cedar Bayou and Garland Power and Light — further escalating the federal-state fight over air quality regulations.

“The state has refused up to this point to issue good permits, and we have a legal responsibility … to ensure the Clean Air Act is implemented,” EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said by phone Tuesday.

If the TCEQ had been doing its job instead of carrying water for polluters, this would not now be happening. If Governor Perry cared a tenth as much for the interests of the people as he does for his corporate benefactors, none of this would now be happening. They may get some relief from the activist federal judiciary, but they have no one to blame but themselves for their predicament.

On a related note, the TCEQ will be making some changes to its permitting process to demonstrate that they are in compliance with the EPA and the Clean Air Act. Assuming this is more than just window dressing, it’s unlikely to have any immediate effect.

EPA officials knew Texas was crafting proposed rule changes, but the agency’s regional administrator, Al Armendariz, said in an interview his focus wasn’t on the proposal.

“Our action is going to be based on those rules that the state of Texas has already been implementing for a number of years,” Armendariz said on Tuesday. “It’s not a high priority for me to engage with the state in a process to create a new version of that program.

“New programs under the Clean Air Act sometimes take years to evaluate and to approve,” he added. “My high priority right now is simply to get the permits that are flawed in Texas corrected.”

I’d say he has their attention. We’ll see about the rest of it.

Texas sues the EPA

I suppose this was inevitable.

Texas filed a federal court challenge Monday to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to reject part of the state’s air-quality program.

[…]

State Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office — in a statement accompanying the announcement of the petition being filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals in New Orleans — said the law allowing the state rule was passed in 1995, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality submitted revised qualified facilities rules to the federal agency in 1996.

[…]

Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administrator, has said the state isn’t following Clean Air Act requirements and it’s his obligation to ensure the federal law is followed.

EPA spokesman Joe Hubbard today said his response would stand from last week, when two industry groups filed a similar challenge: “We believe our efforts to give Texans the same clean-air protection as other states is well-defined, and we expect the court will rule in our favor.”

For a political party that’s forever yammering about frivolous lawsuits, these guys sure are a litigious bunch. We’ll see what the courts have to say, and we’ll see how much this little exercise in protecting the profits of polluters will ultimately cost.

Here comes the EPA

No one can say they weren’t warned.

Objecting to how Texas regulates air pollution, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday it is taking over the issuance of an operating permit for a Corpus Christi refinery and could step in at some 39 other major facilities across the state.

“I think the writing will be on the wall — unless we start seeing better permits that address our objections, we are very likely to begin federalizing others,” EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said in a telephone interview. “The state is not following federal Clean Air Act requirements.”

Tuesday’s unprecedented action affected a Flint Hills Resources refinery in Corpus Christi. The EPA’s action means the facility must submit an application with detailed information to the federal agency, which could approve or deny a permit.

The EPA and the state of Texas have been on a collision course for months now, so this was just a matter of time. As Forrest Wilder notes, the crux of the issue is “flexible permits”:

A “flex” permit essentially gives major polluters a pass on ratcheting emissions down at individual emissions sources, instead placing a cap on the facility as a whole. The cap is way too high and virtually unenforceable, critics charge.

Former TCEQ commissioner Larry Soward, now a consultant for Air Alliance Houston, said industry is only reaping what it’s sown.

“Industry got [the flex permit program] in place, proceeded to rely on it and now when the EPA is coming in and saying flexible permits aren’t compliant with federal law, industry is going to yell and scream,” Soward said.

This well-timed Observer cover story about the TCEQ has more. I think Bill White’s response is right on:

“Because of Rick Perry’s mismanagement of the state’s environmental agency, our state is now losing our ability to make our own decisions about air quality and the economy.

While Perry will likely try to make this into a partisan issue, the truth is that the state was repeatedly warned, beginning in 2007 under President Bush, that its permitting program violated the law that granted Texas the authority to issue air pollution permits.

Historically, under federal and gubernatorial administrations with leaders in both parties, Texas had earned the ability to administer the Clean Air Act. This delegation of authority has been important to Texas, letting our state implement the Clean Air Act in a way designed to fit our own air quality and economic needs.

Over the course of two federal administrations, Perry’s agency lost the confidence of regulatory authorities to the detriment of all Texans.”

More from White here, and from Texas Politics here, here, and here.