EPA May Approve Texas Clean-Air Permits Amid Feud in U.S. Court

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to approve a portion of the Texas clean-air permitting program, declaring a truce in one aspect of a longstanding fight between the state and federal regulators.

“It’s not a panacea, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Carl Edlund, director for the permitting division of the EPA office in Dallas, said today in an interview. “It’s not solving all the policy and legal issues.”

The EPA signed off on a state plan that lets companies average their pollution allowances across units within a large plant. The EPA had insisted that operators measure pollution at each unit, Edlund said. The agency will seek comments for 30 days before issuing a final decision.

The EPA and Texas are in court over the decision by the agency in 2010 to reject the state’s so-called flexible pollution-permitting program because, the U.S. said, it didn’t adequately protect the environment. Texas sued the EPA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and the case isn’t affected by today’s decision, Andy Saenz, a spokesman for the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, said in an e-mail.

Both the state’s previous flexible-permitting program and the plant-wide emissions program approved today provide the same kinds of leeway for refiners, chemical plants and other industries to help them comply with clean-air rules, Ilan Levin, associate director for the Environmental Integrity Project, which advocates for clean air, said in an interview.

“The concept makes sense, but Texas has a really bad track record,” Levin said.

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