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TCEQ sued for ignoring greenhouse gases

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

On Tuesday environmental advocacy group Public Citizen sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, alleging that the state agency, which handles a variety of permits, has refused to hear data relating to the effects industry, especially coal power plants, may have on climate change. Sierra Club and Public Citizen held a press conference to announce the suit.


The suit was filed in Travis County District Court and, according to a Public Citizen press release, “seeks to extend to Texas law the precedent set by the US Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA,” which declared carbon dioxide to be a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency recently ruled that TCEQ’s air permitting process does not adhere to the federally mandated Clean Air Act. However, the ruling has no binding or enforceable requirements.


In 1991 the Texas House gave TCEQ the authority to regulate air emissions that contribute to global warming. Charles Irvine, a lawyer representing Public Citizen, told In Fact Daily, “TCEQ has not done so, and in fact they steadfastly refuse to allow any discussion (about gases, such as CO2, that may contribute to global warming) during air-permit proceedings.” Public Citizen argues that the Texas Clean Air Act applies to any contaminant that may harm public health, and they want a declaration from a judge that TCEQ is, in Irvine’s words,  “behaving illegally,” which would require the state to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.


Five coal power plants are currently in the permitting phase with TCEQ; these plants would add 37 million tons of CO2 per year to the environment. Despite the fact that the EPA is in the process of making rules to regulate CO2, Irvine says, “We feel we can’t wait because Texas is just hurrying up to get those five plants out there.” He added that the timeline of the suit and the permitting means that it is unlikely construction of these five plants would be delayed.


Sierra Club spokesperson Eva Hernandez said the organization, which was also at the press conference, was on a statewide tour to bring attention to the EPA’s recent ruling. “Our state air-regulatory agency is not doing its job,” she told In Fact Daily.


The Dallas Morning News reported on Monday that Governor Rick Perry, who appoints the TCEQ commissioners, was named chairman of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a multi-state organization that advocates for “the right for state regulation of oil and gas resources.” Perry has said he doubts that humans have contributed to global climate change.


With that in mind, it’s no surprise that TCEQ Chairman Bryan W. Shaw, Ph.D., responded to the suit, saying, “The science on global warming is far from settled. Neither Congress nor the EPA have been able to promulgate final rules on greenhouse gas regulation.” Shaw’s written statement to the press continues, “What is certain is that if done incorrectly, CO2 regulations will impose great costs on Texas, without any guarantee of a measurable environmental benefit. Reducing CO2 in Texas will do nothing to lower CO2 globally, but will have the effect of sending U.S. jobs to China and India.”

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