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. Perhaps they're correct.
But given TCEQ's track record, Texas residents and federal authorities
have every reason to be skeptical.