TCEQ and EPA, control over one of its biggest air pollution permits
The Environmental Protection Agency's takeover of a key permit governing Flint Hills Resources' East Corpus Christi refinery marks a widening gulf between federal regulators and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The EPA, for now, has stopped short of seizing control of the state's entire air-pollution permitting system. But the agency's top regional official said he is preparing to take over more Texas permits and is insisting the state make basic changes.
"The EPA is serious about requiring that air-quality permits held by companies in Texas are federally sufficient," EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz said in a telephone interview. "If the state agency is unwilling or unable to issue those permits, the EPA must and will do so."
The TCEQ has insisted that its permit system is legal and effective. In a letter to the EPA dated Monday, TCEQ Executive Director Mark Vickery said the state understood that legal deadlines might force the EPA to take over some Texas permits while the agencies try to resolve "significant differences in opinion."
Armendariz said the EPA's choice of Flint Hills Resources to begin its permit takeover did not reflect a particular problem with that facility. Rather, he said, the agency believed objections to its state permit were on especially strong legal grounds.
The TCEQ issued a draft operating permit for the Flint Hills Resources refinery last October. The EPA formally objected to the state permit in December, saying it omitted required information about emissions and environmental requirements.
Without that information, the agency said, neither the public nor regulators could adequately monitor the refinery's pollution.
That process also will occur at other facilities with disputed permits, Armendariz said. In the past six months, the EPA has filed formal objections to major Texas permits at 40 facilities, an apparently unprecedented number in any state.
Armendariz said Texas permits have taken improper shortcuts, omitted key information and made it difficult to tell if facilities have skirted mandatory reviews.
The TCEQ says its system cuts red tape without violating the law or sacrificing public health. In his letter Monday, commission chief Vickery recounted what he said were ongoing efforts to find common ground.
• Improperly relies on the refinery's separate "flexible" permit, which itself does not comply with the Clean Air Act.
• Obscures key requirements by directing the reader to other documents instead of stating the requirements plainly. The Clean Air Act mandates a "clear and meaningful" statement of permit provisions so the public can monitor a facility's operations.
• Requires just three years of environmental record-keeping. The Clean Air Act requires five years.
• Fails to identify the specific equipment covered by some requirements.
• Omits information needed to determine if the refinery should have been subject to enhanced scrutiny.
SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency