Texas State Government Skips EPA GHG Permit Hearing, But Environmentalists Don't

No members of Texas government nor industry representatives spoke in the hearing.

Testimony at a Jan. 14 public hearing in Dallas on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s dispute with Texas over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting was almost unanimously positive, in stark contrast with the combative stance the state has taken. No representatives from the state attended the meeting.

There were plenty of environmental protection groups and private citizens, though, and both praised EPA’s actions at the hearing. Texas brought a lawsuit against the agency on the grounds that the unelected EPA did not have the authority to compel states, via regulations slated to go into effect Jan. 2, to regulate carbon dioxide. It then informed EPA that it would not issue the permits until the conclusion of the suit. After a brief legal tussle, EPA assumed GHG permitting authority (pdf) in the state’s stead, much to the chagrin of officials at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

Neither members of TCEQ nor industry representatives spoke in the hearing, which came just two days after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit lifted an injunction on EPA’s plan to issue the permits.

"The state's position on proposed greenhouse gas regulations has been clearly articulated to the EPA and well-documented in several pending court cases,” TCEQ said in a statement released to the media. “Our attempts to reason with EPA and efforts to have constructive discussions on our position and their authority under federal law have been ignored. We look forward to pursuing our position in the court system, and we are confident that science and the law will prevail."

Most of the 100 or so people at the daylong hearing testified differently.

“Although government officials might say you’re overstepping, EPA is really answering a cry for help, a cry for clean air,” testified Irving resident Diane Testa.

The overall tone of the testimony alternated between gratitude for the EPA’s actions and bitter feelings toward TCEQ.

“Their interest is oil and gas; their interest is not our safety,” said Dallas resident Marc McCord.

Several other speakers, including state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), were upset that Texas was using taxpayer money to pursue the suit against EPA at a time when it is grappling with an estimated $27 billion budget shortfall.

"What I resent is they are spending public dollars – scarce, scarce, scarce public dollars – to pursue their ideological agenda," Burnam said.

Those in support of the permitting process were almost gleeful about the lack of opposition present. “I guess if I worked for the industry, I’d be ashamed to show my face, too,” said Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

Large GHG-emitting facilities in Texas have slated 167 construction or renovation projects in 2011 that required a permit, so the lack of industry attendance was somewhat surprising.

Bill Stevens of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers had registered to speak but was unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts. Stevens submitted written testimony instead, in which he stated his organization believed the science behind GHG regulations was not strong enough to warrant regulation yet.

“We’re just pushing back as what we see as overreaching,” he told Environmental Protection. “I think we’ll see a delay in implementing these rules, and I support that. In two or three years, we’ll know more about what’s happening with climate change, and our economy will be in better shape to handle [the new regulations].”

Stevens said that the extra cost of complying with the new regulations during a slow economic period could weaken the competitiveness of American-produced energy on the world market.

The effect of the regulations, he said, is “hard to see right now, but … I’m not looking to support somebody who wants to put a burden on [energy producers]. I’m not interested in driving domestic production out of business and sending production overseas. Those regulations could have that effect.”

About the Author

Laura Williams is a content editor for Environmental Protection. She can be reached at LauraWilliams@1105media.com.

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