Perry lead in Texas governor race may prolong chem emissions feud

02 November 2010 15:54  [Source: ICIS news]

Texas Governor Rick PerryHOUSTON (ICIS)--Voter polls show Republican incumbent Rick Perry is poised to win Tuesday’s election for Texas governor, potentially dragging out a battle on chemical emissions policies between the state’s environmental body and US officials.

Perry is already the longest-serving governor in Texas history, having taken the office in December 2000 after George W Bush was elected US president. It would be Perry’s third four-year term.

Perry is running against Democrat Bill White, the former Houston mayor who helped spark the ongoing feud on emissions policies between the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Several polls show Perry with a double-digit percentage-point lead over White among likely voters.

According to White’s campaign, the EPA’s ruling that flexible emissions permits in Texas were illegal occurred after US officials met with White, who said Texas regulators failed to act for months following a formal protest from the city of Houston over a benzene permit at a local refinery.

In late July, however, the state of Texas filed a legal challenge to the EPA’s rejection, arguing that its flexible permits programme had reduced Texas’ emissions by yearly marks greater than national averages.

With such flexible permits, companies could exceed emissions limits in particular units as long as they were under an overall emissions average for the complex as a whole. The EPA has said such permitting is illegal under the US Clean Air Act.

“Instead of solving a problem that he was alerted to by the Bush administration, Perry created a confrontation with the EPA in order to write a new chapter in his book about the federal government,” White said.

Perry has rarely mentioned White in his campaigning, instead slamming US President Barack Obama in hopes of tying White to his Democrat counterpart by association. Texas has not had a Democratic governor since 1994, and polls show Obama as unpopular among a majority of the state’s voters.

In late October, the EPA reached an agreement with Flint Hills Resources (FHR) to bring its refinery emissions permit at its Corpus Christi refinery in Texas in line with federal standards.

The EPA said it hoped the FHR process could serve as a model for other Texas chemical companies, but those cases are ongoing.

“We are defending our flexible air permitting programme because it works,” said TCEQ chairman Bryan Shaw. “EPA’s philosophy of more bureaucracy by federalising state permits will not lead to cleaner air, but will drive up energy costs and kill job creation at a time when people can least afford it.”

The Texas Chemical Council (TCC) endorsed Perry in the race, also pointing to his stances against federal cap-and-trade legislation and regulation of carbon dioxide by the EPA.

“Because of his policies, vision and advocacy in maintaining a regulatory climate to create more jobs, our state continues to attract capital investment and generate high-paying, high-quality jobs that sustain our state’s economy,” said TCC president Hector Rivero.

Analysts said the race could be called in soon after the polls close at 19:00 hours Houston time (0:00 GMT).

About 60% of US chemical manufacturing is in Texas. The state has more chemical plants, oil refineries and coal-fired power plants than any other, and its chemicals industry ranked second among all state sectors in 2009 exports.

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By: Ben DuBose
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