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Complaints from Texas over cross-state pollution rules hint at coming battles with EPA

In the two weeks since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a new rule limiting cross-state air pollution from power plants, Gov. Rick Perry and

Henry Hamer
News
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Jul 20, 2011

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinEnviro_Thumb5.jpgIn the two weeks since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a new rule limiting cross-state air pollution from power plants, Gov. Rick Perry and state environmental officials have been complained about the regulation in the usual terms — saying it’s a job-killer, fueled by the federal government’s thirst for regulation.

Perry called the new rule “heavy-handed and misguided.” Texas Commission on Environmental Quality chairman Bryan Shaw wrote in an op-ed that the rule “will cut Texas jobs, cut Texas economic growth, increase Texas energy costs and harm Texas energy security.”

It’s more of the same from Texas officials responding to EPA regulation, debunking science in the name of jobs and industry. But it’s a delicate time for the EPA, with a slate of new rules coming out in the next few months, and resistance in the state getting better organized.

In the op-ed, Shaw said the new cross-state rule will “impose great costs on coal-fired power plants, causing some to shut down or curtail operations,” and warned of blackouts “which create serious health risks to Texans dependent upon reliable energy.”

Shaw argued that the rule, limiting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in 27 states, was based on “questionable” science linking Texas pollution to faraway places like Illinois. (Climate change is another area of science about which Shaw has “some skepticism.”) Discounting science, he takes a guess at the EPA’s true motivations:

Like so many of the EPA’s proposed rules — extreme tightening of ozone limits, global warming control schemes, attempts to nullify Texas’ very successful flexible permitting program — this rule seems not so much intended to improve the environment as to impose unnecessary, expensive federal controls on industry and increase the costs of energy to consumers.

EPA responds

In a statement to the Texas Independent, EPA assistant administrator Gina McCarthy said three plants, which account for 13 percent of the state’s power generation, put out almost half of the state’s sulfur dioxide. “The balance of Texas power generation is already relatively clean and will not face a heavy compliance burden under this rule,” she said.

McCarthy also addressed claims that the EPA is just speculating about how far pollution from Texas travels:

As a matter of fact, fine particle pollution from Texas power plants travels far and wide, significantly affecting air quality for millions of Americans in 11 states. In turn, pollution reductions taken in other states and Texas will benefit Texas families, preventing an estimated 670 to 1,700 premature deaths per year starting in 2014.

McCarthy said TCEQ and others in Texas were, in fact, consulted before the new rule came out, and the state is being held to the same standards as other states. “Texas is not being ‘singled out’ by EPA as some have claimed,” McCarthy said. (McCarthy’s entire statement on the cross-state pollution rule is posted below.)

While EPA officials will point out the economic benefits of clean air and water, the agency must ultimately base its rules on science, not the potential economic fallout.

But the cross-state pollution rule is just one of the first in a series of new rules that will put the EPA further at odds with Perry and his appointees, for whom job creation is king and science is eyed skeptically.

The Dallas-based owner of Luminant Generation, a major Texas power provider, said it may indeed shut down some of its coal-fired plants to meet the new regulations.

Texas’ grid operator raised similar concerns in a statement Tuesday. Electric Reliability Council of Texas president H.B. “Trip” Doggett said that “within a few years,” we might be left unable to meet the “generation necessary to keep the lights on in Texas.”

While environmentalists like Public Citizen’s Tom “Smitty” Smith told the Austin American-Statesman that ERCOT is “just blowing smoke,” ERCOT-watcher and attorney Chris Brewster said it’s a rare sort of statement from the independent grid operator. “ERCOT doesn’t usually get involved in environmental regulatory issues,” Brewster said.

‘Statistical lives, not people’

A July 5 profile in the New York Times detailed the tough spot the new rules will create for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson:

The new rules will roll out just as President Obama’s re-election campaign is getting under way, with a White House highly sensitive to the probability of political damage from a flood of government mandates that will strike particularly hard at the manufacturing sector in states crucial to the 2012 election.

No other cabinet officer is in as lonely or uncomfortable a position as Ms. Jackson, who has been left, as one adviser put it, behind enemy lines with only science, the law and a small band of loyal lieutenants to support her.

Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry has made environmental regulation a key piece of his states’ rights initiative, has become the EPA’s loudest opponent, especially since its refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions last year, which continues to play out in federal court.

In a national online presentation hosted by Liberty In America last week, Perry-appointed former TCEQ chair Kathleen Hartnett White said it amounts to an “unprecedented barrage of new EPA rules,” adding “it’s really time to lift the veil on EPA.”

White, a senior fellow at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, said the EPA is asking states like Texas to make “leaps and bounds for what really appear to be marginal benefits,” questioning the agency’s use of estimated health risks in rules that will result in actual money lost. “These are statistical lives, not people,” she said. “There has been a great weakening of the science EPA uses to justify their policy.”

As she did in a TPPF policy paper published in March, White recounted the scheduling coincidence that will bring 10 new EPA rules due in the next few months, from cement kilns to coal combustion.

White remarked that what’s driving the new regulation is the federal government’s enthusiasm to move away from fossil fuels, echoing common remarks from Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips, whose well-funded campaign against the “global warming agenda” was the subject of a recent Times profile.

While Congressional Republicans work to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases, though, Texas’ regional EPA office announced it had reached agreements with nearly 140 power plants — all those affected by the regulation — for greenhouse gas permits.

In a statement from the agency, the EPA’s regional administrator Al Armendariz said the process has amounted much less trouble than Perry and other Texas officials predicted, announcing “significant progress with no disruptions, no job losses, and numerous commitments from companies to obtain Clean Air Act compliant permits through a transparent process.”

Here’s the full statement from EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy on the cross-state pollution rule:

“About 40 years ago, Congress passed, with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Clean Air Act to protect people’s health from the then-dire state of our nation’s air. As the federal agency charged with carrying out the act’s mandates, the Environmental Protection Agency has worked since then to put in place the standards needed to make our nation’s air as clean and healthy as possible.

As with previous actions, EPA’s new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will help do just that, by cutting pollution in 27 eastern, southern, and central states—including Texas—that degrades air quality in distant communities. Despite claims to the contrary, this rule is based on sound scientific and economic analysis and will benefit the people and businesses of Texas.

This rule will also help Texas be a good neighbor by preventing pollution before it can become a problem for other states, tribes, and local communities—and unfairly deprive their people of the health benefits associated with breathing clean air. As a matter of fact, fine particle pollution from Texas power plants travels far and wide, significantly affecting air quality for millions of Americans in 11 states. In turn, pollution reductions taken in other states and Texas will benefit Texas families, preventing an estimated 670 to 1,700 premature deaths per year starting in 2014.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule’s health protections have been well-received in Texas and across the country.

The Dallas Morning News states the EPA’s intentions quite clearly: “For the EPA, this is not merely an academic exercise or an elaborate plot to punish Texas. This is a matter of public health.”

The Houston Chronicle also supports the rule, stating that “clean air doesn’t stop or start at the state line. Texas emissions pollute the air of other states,” and “Texas air is in turn polluted by emissions from at least 12 other states.”

In other words, Texas is not being “singled out” by EPA as some have claimed. Texas and its sources of pollution are being held to the same standards as other states.

In addition, Texas has been aware of its impact on air quality in neighboring states for a number of years now. Texas power plants have already been operating under a similar interstate air pollution rule put in place by the Bush administration. CSAPR is an updated replacement for the Bush era rule.

Before issuing the new rule, EPA explicitly requested and received extensive comments from Texas sources of pollution, regulators, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and updated and then updated its data and modeling based on those comments as EPA crafted the final rule.

In so doing, EPA also found positive economic impacts for Texas in the form not only of fewer premature deaths, but also better health for children with breathing problems, the elderly, and other vulnerable Texans—human and economic benefits far outweighing the costs. In fact, EPA’s analysis shows that potential average electricity cost increases fall well within the range of normal electricity price fluctuations.

Finally, Texas power plants will be able to cut their pollution without jeopardizing reliable electricity service for Texans. Nearly half (42%) of the emissions of soot-forming sulfur dioxide covered by the rule are produced by just three plants, which, in turn account for only about one-tenth [13%] of the state’s electricity generation. The balance of Texas power generation is already relatively clean and will not face a heavy compliance burden under this rule. Thanks to EPA’s decision to design the rule with maximum flexibility for power plants, they can use a range of cost-effective emission reduction options including continuing to operate with Texas-mined lignite coal.

Texas and its citizens deserve the same health benefits of clean air as other states, and this rule will help them get there.”

Henry Hamer | I'm currently working for Google's Chrome team in Munich, Germany, as a developer advocate. I was a member of the team responsible for the online presence of Sueddeutsche.de, one of Germany's largest daily newspapers, from January 2010 to November 2011. I used to work for Yahoo! on their similarly massive European news pages before joining Sueddeutsche. I've concentrated my efforts on the internet, which has turned out to be a fantastic decision.

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