Texas' clean air plan allows for more public input

Dec 6, 2013

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Texas’ clean air plan that covers public notification requirements for facilities applying for air permits.

The revised plan gives citizens additional opportunities to comment on applications for air permits for new facilities and modifications to existing facilities.

Citizens will be notified when a facility applies for a permit and after Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposes a draft permit. Facilities will also have to provide expanded technical documents to ensure citizens and interested groups have as much information as possible on proposed permits.

“Public review and input during the permitting process is important to making good decisions,” said EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “The state’s revised rule improves transparency in the air permitting process and allows for more public input.”

After extensive collaboration between the TCEQ and the EPA, the state revised the public participation rules for air permit applications to apply to new and existing facilities classified as major or minor sources of pollution. TCEQ incorporated these revisions into the State Implementation Plan submitted to EPA. The revised plan clarified procedures for citizens to submit comments on permit applications, as well as how TCEQ is to respond to comments.

The plan comes on the heels of some major lawsuits in the state.

In March of this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit gave the EPA the green light in approving the Texas clean air plan and disapproving another part.

In January, 2011, the EPA agreed with a decision to allow power companies limited protection from civil fines for excessive emissions—called upsets—if they were accidental and unavoidable.

But the agency refused to extend that protection to upsets caused by scheduled plant startups or shutdowns. The EPA said a plant should be able to prevent those.

The Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project and other groups sued the EPA to overturn the protection against fines for accidents.

Dallas-based Luminant and subsidiaries sued the agency for refusing to protect all upsets.

A three-judge appeals court panel supported the EPA’s decision, saying the agency did not act arbitrarily or capriciously.

TCEQ is predicting a dramatic drop in north Texas ozone levels over the next three years, according to a preliminary model of air quality from now through 2018.

According to the EPA, the Houston metropolitan area is already improving under new clean air regulations.

During the past 25 years, ozone levels in the Houston metropolitan area declined by nearly 30 percent, according to reports.

But the continued scrutiny and rule making has left some businesses skeptical.

According to the EPA, a recent final rule ensures that industries in Texas can continue to seek and obtain the valid greenhouse gas (GHG) permits they need to build new facilities or expand existing ones.

In December, 2010, EPA issued an interim final rule and a parallel proposal for public comment on the disapproval of part of Texas’ Clean Air Act permitting program for GHGs. This final rule responds to the comments the agency received. The interim final rule has been in effect since the end of last year and will be replaced by this action when it is published in the Federal Register.

Texas will continue to issue permits to facilities for other Clean Air Act pollutants. States are best suited to issue permits to sources of GHG emissions and have experience working with their industrial facilities. EPA is working with a number of states as they develop, submit and obtain approval of the necessary revisions to enable them to issue air permits to GHG-emitting sources and is ready to do the same for the state of Texas.

Beginning on Jan. 2, 2011, the Clean Air Act required large plants and factories planning to make, expand or build new facilities to obtain permits addressing their GHG emissions. Emissions from small sources, such as farms and restaurants, are not covered by these permitting requirements.

In April of 2011, Texas Ag Commissioner Todd Staples sent a letter of concern to the EPA, relating to the GHG regulations and the possible impact on agriculture in the state.

“I believe it is important to dispel certain myths about EPA’s work and its impact on agriculture. EPA’s GHG regulations have been written in a responsible, careful manner and we have even exempted agriculture sources from regulation. EPA’s GHG regulations will not adversely affect family farms or other agricultural activities in our state. The mischaracterizations by some are more than simple distractions; they prevent real dialogue on the issue,” Al Armendariz, Regional Administrator, countered. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor