A “Tex-Extremist” Approach to the Clean Air Act

 A “Tex-tremist” Approach to the Clean Air Act

Texans enjoy better air quality like the rest of Americans thanks to a strong Clean Air Act. Unfortunately, some Texas politicians are making a play for their polluter friends at the expense of the people who sent them to office.

On Friday, Dallas will be the scene of a public hearing to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in making sure Texas remains part of the United States when it comes to controlling carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.

As part of its reasonable and staggered rollout to control carbon pollution under the Act, EPA asked each state to develop implementation plans on how it will assess carbon pollution within construction permits for new and modified power plants and industrial facilities that increase carbon pollution by 75,000 tons per year.  Without a state plan to issue permits businesses could not move forward with building these facilities or would do so in direct violation of the Clean Air Act.

As the National Association of Clean Air Agency reports, forty-nine states are on track with meeting this request and only one, Texas, has out and out refused to cooperate with EPA

Smog Covers Houston (image courtesy ens-newswire.com)

In isolating his state, Texas Governor Rick Perry has put forward three big myths for its refusal to cooperate.  

Myth 1. The unlimited carbon pollution that causes climate change is not subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.  In actuality, Governor Perry is saying Texas is not subject to the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2007, the Supreme Court confirmed in Massachusetts v. EPA that Congress made carbon dioxide an air pollutant subject to control under the Clean Air Act.  And last year, EPA started to limit carbon pollution under the Act as part of its updated standards for automobiles.   

Myth 2. EPA’s requirements will create a construction moratorium in Texas.  This myth flips the situation on its head. If EPA did not step into the void left by Texas’ non-action construction of major new facilities and upgrades of existing major facilities would be halted. EPA’s actions will actually ensure that construction can go forward.

Myth 3. EPA actions infringe on Texas ability to manage its own air. Even if we ignore that carbon pollution does not respect state boundaries, this one is still a hoot. EPA has repeatedly asked Texas to develop its own state implantation plan describing how the state wants to tackle the carbon pollution permitting issue. Instead of flexing its state prerogatives under the Clean Air Act, Texas has willfully abandoned this option. Texas’ actions follow on the heels of Governor Rick Perry’s recent secessionist rhetoric and are more an attempt to secede from the Clean Air Act than support for state rights. The losers in this fight may well be children, the elderly and other Texans whose lives are saved by cleaner air.

The perpetuation of these myths – sure to be repeated in Dallas – is nothing more than a smog screen denser than the one the often envelops Houston.  Instead of acting in the best interest of his state Governor Perry is doing the dirty work of big polluters who want to throw up every hurdle up to gut and filet the EPA’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis. And the Governor has some willing “patrons.” The Sunlight Foundation has tracked that the Governor has received over $1.3M in political contributions from oil and gas interests during 2009-10.  And the Foundation’s review of state-level campaign contributions lists a sampling of the Governor’s contributors including Exxon-Mobil ($ 49,560), Conoco Phillips ($ 18,250), Chevron ($ 11,000) and Shell ($ 7000).  Hopefully, the citizens of Texas will rally this week against these polluters, pull their state back from the brink, and send a vote of no confidence to Governor Perry and his extremist actions on carbon pollution and the Clean Air Act.