Showdown in Texas over EPA climate rules

Texas has become ground zero for an increasingly public fight over EPA’s climate regulations — a fight that has led Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) in Washington to push legislation to permanently block the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of scientists say climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human activity.

Texas state officials have refused to comply with EPA permitting requirements that large new facilities, or those facilities that make major modifications, limit their greenhouse gas emissions.

As a result, EPA decided late last year to issue permits on behalf of Texas. The move led to a series of lawsuits aimed at overturning the decision.

“We are not engaged today in a witch hunt against the Environmental Protection Agency, but we do believe that the Environmental Protection Agency, like every other federal agency, should follow the law and not make it,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman emeritus of the committee, said Thursday.

McCarthy defended the administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and slammed the state of Texas for refusing to comply with key parts of the rules.

“Unlike all other states, [the] Texas state government is refusing to cooperate with EPA to address greenhouse gas emissions in its permit process,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also defended the EPA’s decision last year to reject a Texas program that allowed facilities in the state to meet air pollution standards through a more flexible approach.

Under the so-called flexible-permit program, the state sets a broad emissions cap for all facilities rather than requiring facility-by-facility emissions limits.

The program “allows increases in emissions to go unchecked and doesn’t ensure the enforceability of the permit requirements,” McCarthy said. “These flexible permits fail to comply with Clear Air Act requirements to protect public health.”

But Bryan Shaw, the chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the flexible-permit program is a “tool developed largely to help us to find innovative ways to find enhanced environmental performance.”

Republicans and Texas officials argued that efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act would put major burdens on the economy.

“We want strong air quality and enforcement in Texas, but we want a state that can grow economically,” Barton said.

“Ultimately, in this process, it is the consumer, American families, that will be picking up the tab for higher costs,” Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said.

But MCarthy said arguments that enforcement of the Clean Air Act harms the economy are “misleading.”

“It is terrifically misleading to say that enforcement of the Clean Air At has cost jobs. That claim is simply untrue,” McCarthy said. “Enforcement of the Clean Air Act has saved lives and allowed the economy to grow.”

The EPA recently released a study that said the Clean Air Act will "prevent 230,000 premature deaths and result in $2 trillion in economic benefits in 2020."

Amid all of the disagreements on key issues, McCarthy called on Texas officials to work with the EPA to come to a compromise.

“It’s time for this bickering to stop,” she said. “It’s time for us to work together to find a common ground to deliver an effective Clean Air Act program.”

While Shaw, the head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said he is “committed” to working with the EPA on a “path forward,” he acknowledged that compromise could be difficult.

“There’s really not a lot of area for fertile negotiations,” he said.