Greens ask the EPA to take over pollution enforcement in Texas

Greens ask the EPA to take over pollution enforcement in Texas
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Two environmental groups are asking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take over the enforcement of federal air and water laws in Texas, arguing the state is no longer living up to its responsibilities.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the Caddo Lake Institute said recent legislation in Texas pushes the state below the minimum requirements for granting permits to facilities that could pollute the air or water.

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Additionally, the state has cut funding for its Council on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to a point that it cannot effectively protect the environment, they argue.

“The Texas laws create fundamentally unfair legal processes that deprive all Texans of basic rights and will result in more pollution in our state,” Jim Marston, the EDF’s regional director for Texas, said in a statement Tuesday, the day after submitting the petition to the EPA.

“The legislature also has repeatedly underfunded the state environmental agency to the point that the TCEQ cannot adequately do its job,” Marston said.

The greens argue that a concerted effort by Texas’s Republican-led legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to weaken and defund environmental enforcement have left the state unable to live up to the requirements. The EPA would take over enforcement if the state of Texas was deemed unable.

“Sadly, because our current office holders will not protect Texans from dangerous pollution, we have no choice but to ask EPA to exercise its fundamental duty under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and to retake responsibility to administer these vital national health programs,” Marston said.

The air and water laws allow states to administer certain programs, as long as the EPA determines that the states have sufficient rules and funding in place to do so, as Texas has been allowed to do.

The EDF petition points specifically to a state law that reduces the rights of outside groups to object to pollution permits while the state is considering them. 

The changes “restrict and limit the public’s ability to obtain judicial review of TCEQ’s permitting decisions ... reduce opportunities for public participation by increasing the burden on permit opponents in a contested case hearing ... [and] provide inadequate resources for implementation and enforcement” of clean air and clean water laws, the petition states.

The EPA said it is not aware of problems in Texas that would necessitate the action EDF is seeking, but it would nonetheless consider the petition.

“We are not aware of significant deficiencies in TCEQ delegated environmental programs at this time,” spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said in a statement. “We will carefully review and consider claims raised by the environmental groups and respond accordingly.”

Texas’ Council on Environmental Quality called the petition “frivolous” and said it expects the EPA to reject it.

“Texas law has and continues to meet federal requirements — to suggest otherwise is misleading to the public,” the agency said in a statement.