EPA: Texas Refinery to Get Permits amid State Flap

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EPA disapproved Texas' flexible permit program; more than 120 plants in operating limbo.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it is moving to approve new operating permits for a Texas refinery, a first amid an ongoing dispute between the federal agency and state environmental regulators.

The EPA said it is helping Flint Hills Resources in Corpus Christi transition its permits from state versions banned by the federal agency for violating the Clean Air Act to ones that would meet federal guidelines.

It's the first company to embark on an EPA-approved path to get new papers since the federal agency disapproved Texas' flexible permit program in June—a move that left more than 120 plants, including some of the nation's largest refineries, in operating limbo.

The debate over environmental issues quickly evolved into a heated battle over states' rights. Gov. Rick Perry has cast the EPA's move as an example of the Obama administration meddling in state affairs, mentioning it again as recently as a Thursday campaign stop.

The EPA argues Texas' flexible permits do not allow for accurate monitoring of air emissions. The EPA is concerned plants are releasing more pollution than allowed. The new federal permits will require companies to separately monitor emissions from the hundreds of units in a plant, rather than measure them under an umbrella, as the Texas program had allowed.

Texas has challenged the EPA's disapproval in court, and insists its 16-year-old flexible permitting program is legal and has even helped the state reduce air pollution.

"Permit holders in Texas realize that they can comply with the law and operate profitably over the long term," Armendariz said. "They're doing so in other industrial states, they're doing so in other countries."

The permits need to go through several layers of bureaucracy before final approval, including a public comment period. The entire process is estimated to take a year.

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