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Jul 012010


From Green Right Now Reports

The EPA has disapproved Texas’ controversial flexible permit program after determining that it allows companies to avoid certain federal clean air requirements by lumping emissions from multiple units under a single “cap” rather than setting specific emission limits for individual pollution sources at their plants.

The EPA’s disapproval of the 16-year-old permit program yesterday marks a change under new Regional Administrator Al Armendariz, and will likely force fossil fuel energy companies to spend millions to meet the national Clean Air Act requirements.

“(The) action improves our ability to provide the citizens of Texas with the same healthy-air protections that are provided for citizens in all other states under the Clean Air Act,” Armendariz said in a statement. “EPA will continue working closely with Texas, industry, environmental organizations, and community leaders to assure an effective and legal air permitting system.”

The Clean Air Act ensures that businesses across the country operate efficiently and cleanly to safeguard public health from harmful levels of air pollution. Under the Act, all states must develop State Implementation Plans for meeting federal requirements to protect public health. Those plans must include an air permitting program to set pollution levels for industrial facilities.

In 1992, EPA approved Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s State Implementation Plan but since 1994 the state has submitted over 30 regulatory changes to the air pollution permitting part of the plan. This latest action represents a final EPA decision to disallow one of the most important changes made by Texas for failing to meet the protective measures of the Clean Air Act.

“EPA’s decision about Texas’ flexible permits is merely symptomatic of a larger problem with the way Texas leaders view clean air protection,” said Ilan Levin of the Environmental Integrity Project. “Polluters’ interests get priority over public health nearly every time, and clean air standards are viewed as bureaucratic hassles. Unless and until TCEQ gets serious about working with EPA to make all air pollution permits comply with federal law, Texans’ health will continue to suffer needlessly.”

To ensure no disruptions for facilities, EPA officials said they have reached out to industry, the environmental community and TCEQ to discuss how to convert flexible permits into more detailed permits that comply with the Clean Air Act. One tool proposed by EPA is encouraging flexible permit holders to participate in a voluntary compliance audit program. The program will expedite efforts to identify emission limits, operating requirements and monitoring, reporting and recordkeeping data.

On June 16, the TCEQ approved proposed revisions to the state’s flexible permit rules. The public comment period on the rules package opens on July 2, 2010 and runs through Aug. 2. The state must then finalize its proposal and submit it to EPA for review. EPA said it will examine the new rules when submitted but believes that public health and federal law require disapproval of the existing program without further delay.