US EPA to reject flexible emissions permit use by Texas producers

09 September 2009 00:10  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS news)--The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said on Tuesday it would reject key aspects of the Texas clean-air permitting programme, including the use of flexible permits by chemical producers.

Such permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) allow companies to exceed emission limits in particular units, as long as they are under an overall emissions average.

But according to the environmental group Sierra Club, deferring to the average is illegal under the US Clean Air Act.

“Our concerns have fallen on deaf ears for years, but the new administration at EPA is taking action once again to enforce the nation’s environmental laws,” said Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Neil Carman, clean air director with the group, cited ExxonMobil’s oil and chemical complex in Baytown, Texas, and Shell’s complex in Deer Park, Texas, as examples of plants currently using flexible permits.

Neither company immediately responded to a request for comment.

According to Carman, most chemical plants and power plants in the Houston area – the hub of the US petrochemical industry – use such permits.

In addition, under current TCEQ rules, companies can make minor changes to plants or refineries under a flexible permit without being required to report them to the state, Carman said.

But that, too, is illegal under the Clean Air Act, he said.

“Now that the EPA has placed its cards on the table and we finally know what specific objections they have with our programmes, we look forward to working with them to resolve outstanding issues,” TCEQ executive director Mark Vickery said in a statement.

“The flexible permit programme is one of several programmes that have achieved large reductions in emissions, particularly from grandfathered facilities over the past 15 years,” he added.

The EPA said the announcement came as a result of a lawsuit settlement involving several Houston-area businesses, which forced the agency to approve or disapprove aspects of the Texas permitting process.

The rejections should become final in 2010, following a 60-day period for public comment.

Texas’ air permitting programme should be transparent and understandable to the communities we serve, protective of air quality, and establish clear and consistent requirements,” said EPA regional administrator Lawrence Starfield.

“These notices make clear our view that significant changes are necessary for compliance with the Clean Air Act.”

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By: Ben DuBose
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