Air (2011)

  • 2011 Legislative Recommendations: Air
  • Recommendations to the Sunset Advisory Commission on TCEQ
  • Correspondence Between EPA and TCEQ
  • Texas Clean Air Facts

Keeping our air safe to breathe is a priority for Texans. Over the past twenty years, certain types of air pollution have decreased significantly in Texas. ACT is proud of the leadership roles our partner organizations have played in this ongoing effort to make our air safer for all Texans. Unfortunately, millions of Texans continue to breathe air that is dangerous to their health. As progress is made, it is important to realize that better does not equal good enough–Texas continues to face serious challenges to ensure that all Texans breathe clean air.

In June 2010, after a seven year dialog between federal and state regulators, the U.S. EPA  declared that the Texas air pollution permit system violates the federal Clean Air Act and fails to allow significant public participation. Our state environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), is tasked with not only understanding our state’s air but with regulating it to ensure that its quality does not pose a threat to human health or environmental integrity. This regulation entails an enormous effort that includes air monitoring, health advisories, toxicological sampling and air modeling research. The foundation of air quality regulation in Texas, as it is in any other state, is permitting and the effective enforcement of those permits. TCEQ is failing to adequately regulate and enforce Texas’ permitting process.

In 2008, Texas was ranked number one in emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and the known carcinogen benzene. Air pollution in Texas is impairing our scenic landscapes, making Texans sick and costing our economy billions of dollars. Additionally, our state is failing to meet federal air quality standards. These facts are disturbing and indicative of the critical air pollution problem Texas is facing.

What are the problems with how TCEQ regulates air quality?
The Environmental Protection Agency has formally notified the TCEQ that a number of components of pending New Source Review (NSR permits regard construction or modification of a facility) permitting rules are not approvable as part of the State Implementation Plan (SIP) because they are not fully compliant with federal law and regulations.

Environmental groups have also raised numerous programmatic issues that remain unresolved, including: TCEQ issues permits that are not part of the SIP-approved NSR air permitting program; some TCEQ rules and policies do not assure compliance with the Federal Clean Air Act (FCAA); and TCEQ is failing to issue Operating permits that comply with federal law. Environmental groups have also petitioned EPA to exercise stricter oversight in Texas, to prohibit construction of new major sources that do not meet minimum federal NSR permitting requirements; and to limit the use of Flexible Permits, permits-by-rule (PBRs), and standard permits that may allow circumvention of federal standards and lack meaningful reporting or monitoring to ensure that public health is protected.

In addition to these very significant NSR- and Operating permit-related issues, a number of other concerns or issues exist relating to the general eectiveness and enforceability of air permits and other authorizations issued by the TCEQ, and the flexibility which the TCEQ has in determining and addressing air permit issues.

What are ACT’s recommendations?
ACT’s recommendations focus on specific reforms of current policies or programs that will allow TCEQ to better execute its mission and improve the safe guarding of Texas’ environment and public health including:

Maximize efficiency and effectiveness of TCEQ by implementing a more stringent and unambiguous permitting process.Ensure that TCEQ’s enforcement structure for all violations is transparent and fair.

  • Improve TCEQ’s public participation process by increasing public notice and public opportunities to comment on all permitting alterations and modifications.
  • Sharpen TCEQ’s methods for measuring a polluting facility’s emissions and compliance with air quality standards.
  • Require TCEQ to consider the cumulative impacts of air pollution.

For a comprehensive set of recommendations and an in depth look at air quality issues in Texas, download “TCEQ Air Permitting and Enforcement: Improving Texas’ Air Quality Through the Sunset Review Process.” These recommendations cover permitting, general enforcement, penalty policy and compliance history.

What does the EPA have to do with Texas’ air quality?
The federal Clean Air Act (CAA) was created to reduce air pollution and protect air quality. The EPA’s duties are monitoring and improving our air quality under the CAA. By law, the TCEQ is responsible for enforcing the Federal Clean Air Act in Texas. The Texas State Implementation Program (SIP) establishes this relationship and requires the TCEQ to uphold the Clean Air Act in the state.

Since 2002, the EPA and the TCEQ have been in communication regarding the Texas air permitting program. There has been considerable correspondence between the two agencies as they have worked to identify and work toward resolution. At issue are the ways the TCEQ air permitting program handles certain permits that differ from the federal statute. Among the issues are the 140 flexible permits currently in operation in Texas.

Flexible permits allow sources to lump hundreds of pieces of polluting equipment under a single pollution limit, or cap. Because most of the equipment is not monitored, it is almost impossible for regulators or the public to determine whether or not companies are complying with their pollution caps. To learn more about the issues with flexible permits click HERE.

ACT has received copies of letters between the EPA and TCEQ. There are available in three sets of PDFs. The earliest letter is dated June 17, 2002. Additionally, the EPA letter of fair notice that was sent to all flexible permit holders in the state of Texas on September 25, 2007 is available in a separate PDF files.

  • EPA-TCEQ Correspondence 1 (First document dated June 13, 2008) (84 pp)
  • EPA-TCEQ Correspondence 2 (First document dated June 17, 2002) (78pp)
  • EPA-TCEQ Correspondence 3 (Document dated October 28, 2005) (23pp)
  • EPA Letter to Flexible Permit Holders (includes FAQ and list of all recipients) (September 25,2007)