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Targeted by the EPA

Don't mess with Texas.

Jun 6, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 36 • By BETH HENARY WATSON
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Industry efforts aside, last year the EPA ruled that certain permits issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality​—​which had regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act​—​do not comply with federal law. Operating under the permits since 1994, more than 100 businesses have been left in legal limbo while Texas contests the decision.

One affected business is EBAA Iron, Inc., a family-owned iron foundry with 250 employees at plants in Eastland and Albany, Texas. Until last year, the foundry ran under a flexible permit issued by the state environmental agency. The flexible permits emphasized results over an entire organization, while EPA concerns itself with individual sources of emissions.

Jim Keffer, president of EBAA Iron, Inc., says his staff has contacted EPA for guidance but keeps getting put off. The business, which opened in 1964, may be operating illegally.

Keffer runs the iron foundry full time, but he also serves as the state representative for his area and chairs the Texas House Energy Resources Committee.

“Everywhere you look, every time you turn around, the federal government is trying to stop exploration, to stop the use of fossil fuels,” Keffer says. “We’re trying to work on self-reliance. We’re trying to explore and bring to the country the resources that Texas has been blessed with.”

While the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s mission requires it to consider economic impacts, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and EPA don’t have to. Keffer points out EPA’s December emergency order to a Fort Worth company under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency acted in response to alleged contamination of two drinking water wells, even though the state’s gas regulatory agency had been on the scene. More than a mile separates the shallow wells from Range Resources’ natural gas wells. The company says it has spent $1.5 million defending itself against the EPA order.

“The EPA was having a press conference before they had all the facts,” Keffer says. “If you sit back and take in all that’s happened, it’s easy to look at a conspiracy theory.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a free-market think tank, held a briefing last month on 10 proposed and adopted rules it says constitute an “Approaching EPA Avalanche.” The organization is most concerned with EPA’s order that states regulate greenhouse gas emissions from major sources. The Lone Star State alone refused to comply, although at least 20 others are also suing the agency over greenhouse gas regulations.

TPPF scholar Kathleen Hartnett White, a former state environmental director, says the rules also require “Rolls Royce” emissions control technologies on industrial boilers and certain cement kilns. Unions claim the boiler rule alone could send 700,000 U.S. jobs to countries less concerned about air quality.

EPA is also considering tightening standards on “coarse particulate matter,” White says, and the proposed rule would drop the exemption for rural dust, a fact of life in West Texas. Remediation techniques for rural dust suggested by EPA include watering dirt roads and no-till days for farmers.

Because of the makeup of its economy, including the nation’s largest petrochemical complex, in Houston, Texas will be disproportionately affected by most air quality regulations. White says it doesn’t matter if Washington is deliberately picking on her state, though the administration’s actions speak to a strong desire to make alternatives to fossil fuels more appealing.

“We are a bad example,” White says. “We are not what the administration would like to see.”

Beth Henary Watson is a writer in Texas.

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