EPA, state environmental agency is expected to declare by end of the month, that Texas' air permitting program lacks adequate public participation and transparency. The decision could result in deep and expensive consequences for power plants and petrochemical facilities across the state as it could compel them to apply for new permits.
For years, the Texas Legislature and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have passed laws and established rules that tend to favor the interests of industry groups, according to environmentalists. The new administration has singled out the Texas air permitting program for review. Al Armendariz, an engineering professor and environmental advocate, has been selected as the new head of the EPA regional headquarters in Dallas. He will oversee Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana. He has criticized air permitting policy of the Texas commission and the EPA under a former President. He takes over at a time when EPA is proposing to enforce parts of Texas' regulatory process on air permits. In coming weeks, the federal agency is expected to use the Clean Air Act to formally disapprove of public participation and transparency aspects of Texas air permitting. Besides the transparency issues, which concern how notices are posted for permitting matters, EPA has said the state's permitting process gives too much leeway to polluters and has proposed striking down other major parts of the Texas program that it says do not meet federal standards. The Clean Air Act is designed to ensure that businesses operate efficiently and cleanly. States have flexibility in carrying out the act's requirements, but they must adhere to standards of public process, transparency and public health protection. According to the EPA, the act does not allow an undue advantage for one state over another.