Club Lone Star Chapter • Environmental Integrity Project • Environment Texas • Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition • Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services • Air Alliance Houston • Public Citizen Texas • Environmental
For Immediate Release -- August 2, 2010
Neil Carman, Sierra Club, 512-288-5772
Elena Craft, Environmental Defense Fund, 512-691-3452
Environmental Groups Criticize Texas Environmental Agency’s Proposed Flexible Air Permit Rules
Weak Proposal would Foul Air, Endanger Public Health, Cater to Big Polluters
(Austin) – Eight Texas environmental groups filed comments today with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that were highly critical of TCEQ’s proposed changes to its flexible air permitting program used by large industrial plants, including oil refineries, chemical plants and power plants.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formally requested that the TCEQ bring its flexible air permit program into full compliance with the Clean Air Act, and most of the leading Texas environmental groups, in written comments filed with TCEQ, expressly told the TCEQ that its proposed "fix" of the flexible permit program rules are still illegal and would allow plants to continue to violate the Clean Air Act.
Further, the proposed amendments to the flexible permitting program would continue to make national air quality laws nearly impossible to enforce.
The EPA formally disapproved TCEQ's flexible permitting program on June 30 and has threatened to take over the air permitting program in Texas if the TCEQ fails to bring its program into full compliance with the Clean Air Act.
In order for states to meet national air quality rules and regulations, each state must propose a “state implementation plan,” otherwise known as a “SIP,” outlining how that state’s environmental agency will coordinate and enforce state law so that it complies with the minimum requirements under federal law.
TCEQ’s flexible permit program fails under federal law and therefore cannot be included in Texas’s SIP. TCEQ’s proposed changes to the flexible permit program are the state agency’s first effort at complying with federal law.
“TCEQ’s existing Flexible Permit rules have been used by regulated entities to circumvent federal Clean Air Act requirements, and the EPA has recently disapproved these rules for inclusion as part of the Texas SIP in comments filed with TCEQ," said Ilan
Levin, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project in Austin. “While the TCEQ’s new proposed flexible permit rules appear to address some of EPA’s stated concerns, the proposed rules still fail to meet federal Clean Air Act standards and are not approvable as part of the Texas SIP," he added.
“Big oil and chemical companies like BP’s Texas City complex (oil refinery and chemical plants) have been allowed for decades by the TCEQ to release clouds of deadly air pollution, including toxic substances like benzene and 1,3-butadiene, both carcinogens” according to Neil
Carman, clean air director for the Sierra Club’s Lone Star
Chapter and a former TCEQ air investigator. “BP’s Texas City refinery has a flexible air permit and is one of the largest sources of dangerous benzene in the nation in 2008 (169,000 pounds) in addition to being a notoriously deadly plant,” Carman noted. Source:
2008 EPA Toxic Release Inventory at http://www.epa.gov/triexplorer
"Air pollution continues to be a significant health threat to Texans across the state. We need the TCEQ to join the rest of the country in requiring reasonable, enforceable, and verifiable emission standards for our regulated entities,” said Dr.
Elena Craft, Toxiclogist for Enviromental Defense Fund. “Many of TCEQ’s flex permits have been extremely lax, and Texas refineries and chemical plants often led the nation in releases of cancer-causing benzene and 1,3-butadiene, based on the 2008 EPA Toxic Release Inventory”,
Craft added. Source: 2008 EPA Toxic Release Inventory
Enforceability remains a key concern in TCEQ’s revisions. The environmental groups noted in their comments that “...
improvements from existing Flex Permit rules do not resolve
the larger problems with the Flexible Permit Program, including
a lack of practical enforceability, opportunities for permittees
to circumvent new source review, and a lack of public participation
when changes are made at facilities covered by a Flex Permit.
At least 125 major industrial plants obtained Flex permits
from TCEQ since 1995. Plants with flex
permits include the largest sources of toxic air pollution
in Texas and large
emitters of smog-forming chemicals (volatile organic compounds
and nitrogen oxides).