DALLAS — The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it is taking the unprecedented step of directly issuing air permits to industries in Texas, citing the state's unwillingness to comply with greenhouse gas regulations going into effect Jan. 2.
EPA officials indicated they reluctantly were taking over Clean Air Act Permits for greenhouse gas emissions because "officials in Texas have made clear . . . they have no intention of implementing this portion of the federal air permitting program."
"EPA prefers that the state of Texas and all states remain the permitting authority for (greenhouse gas) sources," the agency said in a statement. "In the same way that EPA has worked with other states and local agencies, the agency stands ready to do the same with (Texas)."
The EPA's takeover of Texas' air permit program came on the same day the agency announced it would begin developing standards to reduce heat-trapping gases at power plants and refineries.
Together, the developments show the agency is taking a hard line on regulating the pollution blamed for global warming, even as Republicans in Congress vow to block them. Legislation to limit greenhouse gases that was backed by the Obama administration died in the Senate this year, after Republicans and some Democrats said they would not vote for a bill that could raise energy prices.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the world's second largest environmental regulatory agency after the EPA, has said it will not modify its permitting process to include greenhouse gas emissions. In a statement Thursday, the TCEQ said it is still studying the EPA's plan to take over permitting in Texas, adding that it is neither a "common sense approach nor a reasonable approach."
"The EPA cannot measure reductions in (carbon dioxide) or any other (greenhouse gas) with this new regulation, and the EPA cannot correlate this new regulation to any environmental or health benefit," the TCEQ said.
The federal agency also plans to issue greenhouse gas permits in seven other states – Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming. But those states have indicated they are revising their permitting process to comply with greenhouse gas emission regulations.
Texas, which estimated 167 projects would be affected by the new rules, stands alone in refusing to modify its permitting process. The Lone Star State has more oil refineries, chemical plants and coal-fired power plants than any other state and leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions and industrial pollution.
Texas and the EPA have repeatedly clashed over environmental issues, a division Gov. Rick Perry used on the campaign trail as an example of Washington trampling on states' rights.
The new greenhouse gas rules go into effect Jan. 2. They require the nation's largest industries to meet more stringent greenhouse gas emissions standards in new facilities or ones that are undergoing significant modifications.
The standards were enacted after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act and a 2009 EPA finding that the gases can pose a danger to human health.
The EPA also announced Thursday it had set a "modest pace" in developing a timeline to update pollution standards for existing power plants and oil refineries. The agency will propose standards for power plants by July and issue final standards by May 2012. It will propose standards for refineries by December 2011 and issue final standards by the following November.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California praised the EPA for taking a "measured and reasonable step toward addressing the pollution that threatens the health and welfare of our families and children."
Scott Segal, an attorney in former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's law firm, called the timeline unrealistic and said a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases is useless without cooperation from other nations.
"By singling out the energy sector, the agency puts the nation's fragile economic recovery at risk and stifles job creation," said Segal, who represents utilities and refineries.
Associated Press writer Dina Cappiello in Lambertville, N.J., contributed to this story.