Energy & Environmental Policy

Air Pollution: Texas’ Major Export?

The severe air pollution in Beijing became a sensationalized international concern when the dangers of air pollution put the 2008 Olympic Games at risk. The air pollution within China’s capital was so dense that it affected visibility. Athletes worried how the Beijing air pollution would affect their health as well as their performance. The Chinese government had to go to extreme measures to radically reduce pollution in the air in order for the Olympic Games to take place as scheduled. In order to decrease pollution during the Games the government proscribed 90% of the cities cars from driving on the roads. Many factories and companies had to be shut down in order to reduce emissions. The rush to reduce air pollution to safe levels for the Olympic Games was surely an embarrassment for China.

The United States could potentially face the same type of embarrassment if states like Texas do not soon begin to take responsibility for air pollution emissions by abiding by the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a tailoring rule aimed at regulating greenhouse emissions. This rule will forcemore sources of emissions, such as power plants, refineries and other large industrial plants, to obtain permits in order to exceed the emission limit of 100,000 tons per year.

Texas fought back against the EPA to keep their existing plan of “flexible permitting,” stating that the new regulations would cause job loss. According to The New York Times, flexible permitting sets an overall cap on a company’s emissions, rather than a limit on each source of pollution. The EPA made a compromise to allow Texas to keep flexible permitting as long as companies voluntarily go through an audit to see if they truly are under the federal limit and regulations. If sources are found to be out of regulation limits, they will bear no risk of fines if they have agreed to voluntarily be audited.

This compromise is sympathetic towards Texas’s wishes in keeping flexible permitting, but is problematic for both sides. Some Texans fear this compromise may still put them at risk for lawsuits from violations they may have.On the reverse, the EPA can no longer effectively ensure that there is improvement in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the original complaints from Texas as reported by the Austin American-Statesman states that if “businesses have to get new permits, they might have to add controls for carbon dioxide emissions, which they have said will cost them and their customers.” Although regulation may result in more cost to sources of greenhouse emissions, this cost is surely outweighed by the external cost to society that increased greenhouse gas emissions cause. There may not be much incentive for individual businesses to become more environmentally friendly, but society as a whole should collectively have enough incentive to force Texas to follow regulation.

Texas is not the only state that must adhere to the EPA’s final tailoring rule, yet Texas is the only state fighting it. All states must follow the same regulation in order for the EPA to advance their purpose of environmental protection by improving air quality. Creating regulation to provide clean air will prevent further environmental damage caused by greenhouse emissions and create health benefits. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality warns that high levels of air pollution can lead to throat and lung irritation as well as an increase in respiratory problems among children. Texas should accept the new regulations in order to protect the environment, its people and its reputation as a state.

In his frustration with the increased regulation of greenhouse gases, Gov. Rick Perry has gone as far as to sue the EPA. He reasons that Texas’s environmental policies are already successful. In an article titled, “If at First You Don’t Secede, Sue the EPA” Zachary Roth states, “Perry declared at a press conference that the lawsuit was intended to ‘defend Texas’ environmental successes against federal overreach’.”

However annual EPA reports do not show these “environmental successes.” In 2009 EPA reported that Texas had the highest level of CO2 and NOx emissions in the country. It seems irrational for Gov. Rick Perry to claim success for the current flexible permitting program. Al Armendariz, EPA administrator for the region that includes Texas, often comments on the need for improvement of air quality in Texas.  Armendariz has been quoted in the Houston Chronicle, stating in regards to Texas’s air quality, “There are some areas where the air quality is improving. But there are still some existing issues, and some are very serious.”

There is obviously a need for reform in the way Texas handles permitting for air quality. The EPA has recognized this need and has thus created the final tailoring rule aimed to regulate and ultimately decrease greenhouse emissions in areas such as Texas. It is now the responsibility of Texas to accept and follow the terms outlined in for the betterment of the environment and the health of its people.

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