HOUSTON — Texas is the only state that hasn't taken steps to meet new federal greenhouse gas emission rules that go into effect in January — a move that leaves its energy industry vulnerable to lawsuits and prevents plants from legally expanding.
This is the latest battle between Texas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a long, drawn-out fight that Gov. Rick Perry is using on the campaign trail, saying the law amounts to meddling by the federal government.
The new greenhouse gas rules go into effect Jan. 2, 2011. They require the nation's largest industries to meet more stringent greenhouse gas emissions standards in new or significantly modified structures.
A survey released Thursday by the Washington-based National Association of Clean Air Act Agencies, a nonprofit that acts as go-between to the EPA for nearly every state environmental regulatory agency, found that 49 states have either changed their laws to allow regulation of greenhouse gases or will allow the EPA to issue permits. Texas is doing neither.
"States who don't have greenhouse gas permit programs in place by Jan. 2 — either administered by themselves or EPA — are unnecessarily subjecting their energy industry and manufacturing base to a construction ban in the state," said Bill Becker, the association's executive director. "The sad news is that this totally avoidable."
Texas, which is home to some of the nation's largest refineries, and 16 other states have challenged in court the EPA's December 2009 finding that greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to human health. No court has ruled on the issue.
Texas has asked the courts to delay implementation of the new standards until there is a ruling, however that has not happened yet. In August, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality wrote a letter to the EPA that made clear it would take no steps to comply in the meantime.
"Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions," TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote.
Other states are moving ahead because if they don't, "the facilities in the end are harmed as a result of a state's unwillingness or inability to meet the Jan. 2 deadline," Becker said.
Companies that go ahead with construction without permits that comply with the federal Clean Air Act could face lawsuits and fines of up to $25,000 per day, Becker said.