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January 14, 2011

It's Time for EPA to Step In

It isn't old news around here that when it comes to air pollution, Texas has a big problem. And it seems like the rest of the nation is finally catching on.

Today in Downtown Dallas, hundreds of Texans will gather at the Crowne Plaza hotel to let Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and the infamous Texas Commission on Environmental Quality know that it is so on.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting a public hearing in connection with its announcement that Governor Perry must, in fact, follow federal law. Over the last few weeks, EPA took measured steps to ensure and enforce the safeguards put in place by the Clean Air Act enacted by Congress

Sierra Club will be live-blogging the hearings and press conference throughout the day at www.TexasGreenReport.com and tweeting @TexasSierraClub and @SierraClubLive.

But first, let's back up. How is it that Texas has the worst air in the nation and over 10 million people living in areas where the air doesn’t meet our minimum health safety standards? Well, first, Texas is the only state that refuses to comply with federal law in order to control dangerous and harmful carbon pollution. Since Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) flat out refused (PDF) to either create a state plan or work with EPA to ensure that business could proceed as usual, EPA was forced to step in and do the job.

This is an important piece to this highly complex puzzle: Governor Perry invited EPA into Texas because he refused to do anything to ensure federal law was effective in Texas. And Governor Perry has so far lost three requests to delay these safeguards.

Second, by filing multiple suits and refusing to proceed with any plan (no matter what the plan was), big, job-creating businesses must now get two permits to proceed in Texas, adding an administrative hurdle.

Texas should be leading the nation in energy policy, but Rick Perry is holding back Texas innovation. It’s particularly ironic as Texas leads the nation in electricity produced from wind and at one time, led the way with an aggressive renewable energy standard that led to major investment and growth in the wind sector.

But now, Texas has fallen far behind, and what's been stopped is the growth in these up and coming technologies. If Governor Perry would only play to Texas's strengths like wind and solar rather than putting other ambitions first in his fight with EPA - Texas could rightly lead the nation again and show why everything is always bigger and better in Texas.

More than jobs, however, the public health of Texas citizens is what's most at risk and frankly, that's what's so frustrating in this battle created by Governor Perry. If Texas allows more plants without up-to-date controls (as is required by EPA's recent actions), more harmful pollution would have been spewed into Texas's already bad air, putting the health of the entire region in jeopardy.

By refusing to enforce limits on dangerous pollution, Texas continues to lead the nation in bad air, with Houston's air comparable to that of Beijing. Under Governor Perry's failed TCEQ air permitting program, Texas industries produce the most toxic mercury pollution of any state, the most carbon pollution, the most smog, and the list goes on and on.

But the EPA isn't the only problem for Perry to worry about. Across the state, Texans are stepping up to voice their concerns in legislative townhalls, in front of the TCEQ Commissioners , and in their local communities.

Just ask Elida Castillo, a fourth-generation Texan from Taft, a town of less than 4,000 people located near one of the nation's largest clusters of refineries and chemical plants. She had asthma as a child, and her two four-year-old cousins have serious respiratory problems, requiring expensive treatments and inhalers.

"I will not let Gov. Perry and Attorney General Abbot keep running over small towns like mine," said Castillo. "We're the heart of Texas, and we want to clamp down on industrial pollutants including greenhouse gases. Mercury, air toxics, smog, all of the pollution spewed into our community from refineries and now a proposed coal plant - Las Brisas – is not good for our families and it's not good for our communities. I'm for a clean future- and that's the key word, future. This is about the future of our town."

Under the Clean Air Act, implementing safeguards for his state's health and economy is the responsibility of Governor Rick Perry. Since he won't do it, it's time the EPA does.

Now is the time to fix Texas's air programs and now is the time to finally step in and enforce the laws. Only then will Texas and Governor Rick Perry follow in the footsteps of the rest of the nation and keep the air safe to breathe.

--Jen Powis, Sierra Club Senior Regional Representative in Texas


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