Rick Perry to Obama’s EPA: Don’t mess with Texas

Patrick Gleason Director of State Affairs, Americans for Tax Reform
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Much of the current focus on the EPA these days surrounds its move to be the largest regulator of the nation’s economy by treating carbon as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. As controversial and arduous a task as that may be, it hasn’t precluded the agency from finding time to go after the most prosperous state in the nation. After years of threatening to do so, the EPA recently announced plans to take over Texas’ air quality permitting system.

Since 1994, Texas has operated under a flex permitting system whereby overall emission caps are established for power plants and petrochemical facilities in the state. The caps are applied to each facility as a whole and it is up to management to abide by these limits. The system has served Texas well, improving air quality during a time in which the state has experience rapid economic and population growth. Sounds like a model that federal officials would hold up for other states to consider, right? Not so much.

Last month the EPA announced it will reverse the state’s permitting program and revert to the previous system in which caps are assigned to each individual greenhouse gas emitting source within a facility, such as a boiler. This onerous regulatory regime adds significant costs that will be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher energy prices and diminished job opportunities.

This federal power grab is unwarranted and will have adverse consequences for the state’s economy. Chad Burke, president & CEO of the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region warned earlier this month that an EPA takeover would jeopardize the 30,000 people directly employed by the petrochemical industry in the Houston Port Region alone, along with the 300,000 jobs indirectly tied to the industry.

Many in Texas believe this is part of an overall trend of the White House targeting a state that it resents for succeeding by governing in a way that is antithetical to the Administration’s big government agenda.

“It’s pretty apparent that Barack Obama has all but declared war on Texas,” said Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. “The latest shot is this EPA regulatory takeover. Texas has done a great job of taking care of itself. But here comes the Obama administration to overrun the state.”

Environmental groups have long criticized Texas’ flex permitting system, claiming that it gives too much leeway for pollution. However, such contentions are not supported by facts on the ground. As was previously mentioned, under the flex permitting system, air quality has actually improved in the state, making the EPA takeover a heavy-handed solution to a non-problem.

According to Kathleen Hartnett-White, Director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Armstrong Center for Energy & the Environment, the flex permitting system yields more environmental benefits than the regulatory structure that the EPA is trying to impose upon the state.

“We have a record that shows that we have significantly reduced emissions. It’s regrettable that the EPA is trying to seize control for control’s sake,” said White.

This federal power grab prompted an immediate response from Governor Rick Perry who, in a May 28 letter to President Obama, contended that the EPA’s actions would replace the 16 year-old permitting system with a “less effective Washington-based, bureaucratic-led, command-and-control mandate.” Perry went on to note that over the last 10 years the state’s flex permitting system has yielded a 22 percent reduction in ozone and a 46 percent decrease in Nitrogen Oxide emissions.

This is not the first time Perry has gone toe-to-toe with the EPA. In February, Governor Perry sued the EPA over its December 2009 declaration that it would begin regulating CO2 as a pollutant.

Perry’s opposition to the EPA’s move to reverse the state’s flex permitting program has been echoed by other lawmakers and state officials. “This action undermines Texas’ successful clean air programs and will cost the state thousands of jobs while growing the federal bureaucracy,” said Rep. Ken Paxton, a state legislator representing Texas’ 70th House District.

There are plenty reasons for the EPA to leave Texas alone. Aside from serving as the nation’s economic powerhouse over the past decade, Texas has been among the first states to emerge from the recession. According to a recent report produced by Dallas-based bank Comerica, Inc., the Texas economy began to rebound in September of last year, five months before job growth bottomed out in the rest of the nation.

Since 2008, 70% of the jobs created in the U.S. were located in Texas and the Lone Star State is now home to more Fortune 500 companies than any other state. The White House doesn’t like the fact that Texas’ small government model has continually succeeded, both environmentally and economically, while the Administration’s heavy-handed policies have driven this nation deeper in debt and retarded economic recovery.

“We don’t need more of what doesn’t work,” added Sullivan. “Let Texas take care of Texas.”