AP News

EPA shifts greenhouse gas permitting to Texas


HOUSTON (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Texas authority over greenhouse gas permitting on Tuesday, ending a long, often bitter battle between the federal agency and the state.

EPA's administrator in Dallas, Ron Curry, said he signed the paperwork earlier Tuesday delegating authority over the program to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It comes after months of negotiations concerning what the program would look like. There will be a 30-day public comment period on the program's outline.

Noting the EPA and Texas' often contentious relationship and the many unresolved issues between the two, including a backlog of 80 greenhouse gas permits currently in the process of being approved, Curry said "that is big news" when announcing the program had been approved. He spoke at a luncheon sponsored by Air Alliance Houston, an environmental group.

Texas, the leading greenhouse gas producer in the U.S., had been the only state in 2010 that refused to meet new federal greenhouse gas emission rules, placing some of the nation's largest refineries in operational limbo.

The EPA, in an effort to ensure those facilities could continue to operate, has been directly issuing permits since 2011, assuming a role that has historically belonged to states.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a law giving the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. That is when the EPA and the Texas environmental agency began working to develop a program that would meet federal requirements, Curry said.

Initially, Texas had wanted to have a six-month turnaround on all permits, but the EPA refused to put a cap on how long it would take to issue a permit, Curry said. The state also wanted to include a "hearing process" in its program, but the federal agency declined. In addition, Texas had to establish appropriate emission thresholds, he added.

Once those and several other issues were resolved, Curry said he was able to shift authority to Texas, though the EPA "will periodically review this program."

"It's a program that the state will have forever as long as it operates correctly," Curry told The Associated Press.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said in a statement it doesn't agree with the EPA's move to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but will follow the direction of the Legislature "so that permits can be issued in a timely manner, and to continue the successes of the strong Texas economy."

While most are pleased to see the EPA and Texas begin to resolve issues that have sparked lengthy legal battles, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director Adrian Shelley said he fears the state's primary goal will be to issue permits quickly to "ensure smooth sailing for their industry customers."

"My hope is that EPA will balance TCEQ's goals with environmental protection," Shelley said.

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Plushnick-Masti can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RamitMastiAP .


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