Texas officials boycott EPA hearing on greenhouse gas rules

DALLAS -- The war of words over the Environmental Protection Agency's takeover of regulating greenhouse gases in Texas continued even as state officials boycotted a hearing Friday seeking public comment on the new rules for the state's biggest polluters.

The new regulations on greenhouse gas emissions would apply to the state's largest emitters of greenhouse gases, estimated to be 167 facilities, including a number of power plants and refineries. Despite fears that having the EPA issue permits will slow the process to a crawl, EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said he expects no delays.

"Our staff is ready to start issuing permits," Armendariz said during a break at Friday's hearing at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

While environmental groups provided testimony Friday praising the EPA's intervention and blasting the policies of Gov. Rick Perry, Texas officials didn't attend the all-day hearing, choosing instead to issue statements vowing to persist with the state's legal fight.

"Gov. Perry remains committed to defeating the misguided policies the EPA is imposing on Texas, threatening hundreds of thousands of Texas jobs and increased costs on Texas families," said a statement from Perry's office.

Meanwhile, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a statement before the hearing, signaling its intention to skip the event.

"The state's position on proposed greenhouse gas regulations has been clearly articulated to the EPA and well documented in several pending court cases," commission spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said. "Our attempts to reason with EPA and efforts to have constructive discussions on our position and their authority under federal law have been ignored. We look forward to pursuing our position in the court system, and we are confident that science and the law will prevail."

Stay is lifted

The state has filed nearly a dozen legal challenges to EPA intervention but suffered a legal setback Wednesday when a District of Columbia court lifted a stay against the EPA, stating that "petitioners have not satisfied the stringent standards required for a stay pending court review."

Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state "will continue to challenge the EPA's unlawful overreach."

Armendariz, the Region 6 administrator, said he wasn't disappointed that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality declined to participate in Friday's hearing.

But he said the EPA's preference remains for Texas to oversee permitting.

"We have no desire, no agenda to operate greenhouse gas permitting in any of the states," Armendariz said. "Most states have taken ownership of the permitting of greenhouse gases, and unfortunately Texas hasn't, so we will do the greenhouse gas permitting for as long as we need to but not for one day longer."

Burnam testifies

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, was among those who testified on behalf of the new rules, saying the permitting process will help improve air quality and provide certainty to industry, just as it does in other states. But Burnam expressed frustration that Texas' battle with the EPA will likely continue.

"What I resent is they are spending public dollars -- scarce, scarce, scarce public dollars -- to pursue their ideological agenda," Burnam said.

While Friday's hearing was the public's chance to comment in person, the EPA will accept written comments until Feb. 14. Some businesses have already provided written comments, Armendariz said.

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698