Flex permit companies moving toward compliance with federal standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that all `flexible permit’ companies in Texas have agreed to apply for approved air permits, helping to achieve clean air in the state and providing for regulatory certainty.

Under the Texas flexible permit rule, certain industries were allowed an exemption from having to disclose pollution for each individual smokestack at a facility which enabled them to aggregate all emissions from the plant together in spite of the fact that the EPA under President George W. Bush had warned the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) that the processes did not meet federal standards and should be reformed.

The Clean Air Act ensures that businesses across the country operate efficiently and cleanly to safeguard public health from harmful levels of air pollution.  Under the act, the EPA had authorized the TCEQ as the Clean Air Act permitting authority in Texas.   TCEQ operates the largest air permitting program for major and minor sources in the U.S.  with over 1500 major air permit holders in Texas.  Less than 150 companies had applied for and received non-EPA-approved flexible permits from the TCEQ creating uncertainty about their compliance status with the Clean Air Act.   Starting in 2007, EPA wrote to all flexible permit holders telling them of their need to ensure compliance with federal requirements.

On May 25, 2010, the EPA barred the TCEQ from issuing a permit to a refinery in Corpus Christi. EPA said that the process used to justify that permit violated the Clean Air Act.  EPA’s Region 6 Administrator, Al Armendariz, also stated that the EPA would block future permits and force polluters to comply with EPA standards if the TCEQ did not change its rules.  TCEQ and Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, filed lawsuits against the EPA defending Texas’ flexible permit program.  In September 2010,  EPA notified all of the 136 `flexible permit’ companies that they needed to seek Clean Air Act compliant permits from the state.

This move by industry to come into compliance with federal standards flies in the face of Texas’ position that the state’s flexible permitting rules met those standards and probably doesn’t help their lawsuit much either.

More about activities in EPA Region 6 is available at http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/region6.html