Sunday, June 13, 2010

TCEQ botches air quality oversight

Decisions about Texas air quality ought to be made in Texas, not in Washington. Unfortunately, the bumbling efforts of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under Gov. Rick Perry have invited an Environmental Protection Agency takeover of the air-pollution permitting process in the Lone Star State.
For 15 years, Texas has operated an air-pollution-permitting program that lacks EPA approval required by the federal Clean Air Act. The program began under Ann Richards and continued under George W. Bush and Perry.

At issue is TCEQ's use of flexible permitting that measures emissions from a group of emission points at a facility rather than from a specific emission point. That allows individual smokestacks to far exceed pollution standards as long as the groups they are in collectively meet them.

The EPA, under the Bush administration, warned state officials and flexible permit holders about potential non-compliance. Perry chose to ignore those warnings. Now the EPA is threatening to take control of the process.

Perry mistakenly sees this as yet another example of the unbridled exercise of federal power. It's a good campaign sound bite, but it doesn't reflect the reality of the failure of leadership — handpicked by Perry — at TCEQ.

This is the same TCEQ that has outraged residents of North Texas by failing to disclose errors in air quality testing related to gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. And it is the same TCEQ that has fought a legitimate open records request from Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, to turn over records of agency officials who met with representatives of a copper smelter company while it had an air emission application pending.

Perry and TCEQ officials claim the EPA takeover is unwarranted because Texas has one of the most successful clean air programs in the nation [I suggest visiting Bluedaze Drilling Reform for Texas if you are curious about all that great air Texas residents are breathing]. Perhaps they're correct. But given TCEQ's track record, Texas residents and federal authorities have every reason to be skeptical.
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