EPA Mounts Texas Offensive Defending Transport Rule

by jim on July 21, 2011

Just the other day, we were wondering if the Obama Administration could withstand industry lobbying on its third try to announce a new federal ozone standard that will make all the usual suspects cry out that the sky is falling. We have another 20 days or so to see out that decision turns out.

But there’s no question the Obama EPA is standing behind its proposed interstate air pollution transport rule, a re-working of a George W. Bush scheme to reduce pollution crossing state lines, despite all the whining by Rick Perry, TCEQ, ERCOT, the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and whoever else Luminant could get to pile-on that the EPA was just picking on Texas again.

This last week saw the EPA pushing back with specific opinion pieces in the major dailies, and a timely swing through the state by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

It’s behind the DMN paywall, but Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator of the Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation writes that,

“Despite claims to the contrary, this rule is based on sound scientific and economic analysis and will benefit the people and businesses of Texas.

This rule will also help Texas be a good neighbor by preventing pollution before it can become a problem for other states — and unfairly deprive their people of the health benefits associated with breathing clean air. As a matter of fact, fine-particle pollution from Texas power plants travels far and wide, significantly affecting air quality for millions of Americans in 11 states. In turn, pollution reductions taken in other states and Texas will benefit Texas families, preventing an estimated 670 to 1,700 premature deaths per year starting in 2014.

In other words, Texas is not being “singled out” by the EPA, as some have claimed. Texas and its sources of pollution are being held to the same standards as other states.”

(Funny story about Ms. McCarthy and Texas. During the 10-month wait in 2009 for a new Region 6 EPA Administrator to be appointed by the Obama Administration, long-time General Counsel Larry Starfield became Acting Regional Administrator, has he has been before when waiting for a new President to appoint a replacement. Nothing new there. Except that Texas and EPA were already at odds over the legality of the state’s “flex permits.” Instead of allowing Starfleld to act as the Agency’s negotiatoir, TCEQ Chairman Byran Shaw insisted that senior EPA officials from DC be at the table – no substitutions allowed -even though Starfield had the most experience with the program. Consequently, to satisfy Chairman Shaw’s pique, McCarthy traveled down to Texas over and over again during that first year, until Dr. Armendariz was eventually appointed as Regional Administrator and took over the reins. Ms. McCarthy knows the TCEQ very well. )

At the same time, Administrator Jackson was in Austin at a conference on green energy when she was asked about all the moaning and groaning by state officials on behalf of EFH and Luminant, the companies that have the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in Texas, and therefore the most cleaning-up to do. She had this to say:

“Well, three points. I’m happy to talk to ERCOT and we’re going to reach out to them to understand their concerns. But three things. Remember, the cross-state pollution rule is really the next generation of CAIR, which was proposed under Bush administration. Texas is a part of it. There is no surprise here for facilities. Don’t forget the extraordinary public health benefits. We’re talking about between 670 and [number unclear on tape] lives each year starting in 2014. That’s Texans. And that equates to billions, between $5 and $14 billion in health costs. Last but not least, this is not an onerous rule. Our modeling shows that over 50 percent of the pollution, the particle pollution, the soot that we’re worried about, comes from three plants. This is technology that’s out there that other plants have. Actually much of Texas’s generation is quite clean, and so our model shows this can be done cheaply and efficiently.”

Let’s take this opportunity to remind everyone that at the same time that Governor Perry and Bryan Shaw are criticizing EPA for it “heavy-handedness,” with this transport rule and other issues, the two are using the EPA’s own tougher emissions standards for cars as the basis for the proposed DFW smog plan. TCEQ’s strategy, and we’re not making this up, is to watch as everyone buys new cars with these higher emission standards and hope that smog levels go down.

When the new EPA transport rules take effect, there will be less ozone-forming pollution making its way from East and Central Texas coal-fired power plants into the DFW Metromess. This probably means there will be less ozone in general (although you never know with the rise of gas drilling in North Texas). And that probably means lower ozone levels sometime around 2014. If the levels do dip, we’re pretty sure that state officials will find a way to take credit for it, even as they accuse the EPA of destroying Texas’ economy.

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