Given its unique role as the nation’s top energy and chemical producer, Texas has addressed regulation of air quality in a responsible but creative way. In contrast to recent EPA policies, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has found a relative balance between environmental protection and economic growth over the last decade, with impressive results in improvement of air quality.
In his piece titled “Perry slashed environmental enforcement in Texas“, Chris Tomlinson disputes the fact that Texas has been successful in protecting its environment without onerous regulations or policies driven by blind precaution. He claims that state officials have failed to protect Texans and their environment, and that industries benefit from relatively lax emission limits at the expense of the public health.
Nothing can be farther from the truth.
First off, the assumption that a cut in funding means a cut in quality is in no way accurate. Like with any other form of government spending, volume does not lead directly to results. Like education spending, which has tripled in as many decades, or economic stimuli, which has prolonged economic stagnation rather than shortened it, simply throwing money at an agency like TCEQ and expecting a reciprocal return is a highly unreliable prescription. Tomlinson erroneously equates funding with enforcement.
Environmental responsibility has been anything but “slashed” in Texas. In fact, TCEQ has enacted aggressive regulatory control measures to reduce ozone levels in the Houston and Dallas regions with dramatic success. Few thought Houston – home of the nation’s massive petro-chemical industrial complex – could achieve the still legally binding ozone standard. But Houston did so in 2009 and 2010. Texas, like all other states, must attain federal air quality standards and to do so TCEQ has developed many state regulations, an incentive program that has granted over $900,000,000 for diesel engine emission reductions, and has developed cutting-edge ozone science to ground targeted regulatory controls. Another such program – the Drive A Clean Machine program – was provided $150,000,000 for repairing old vehicles that failed to pass emissions standards and replacing some old vehicles with newer ones. Texas also employs more rigorous emissions standards than most states in an attempt to reduce nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compound emissions.
Seventeen years ago, Texas began what is called a flexible permitting program that allows some operational flexibility in exchange for tighter emission caps. The current EPA decided to invalidate this program on the basis of a hair-splitting difference on paper with the federal rule. Yet, the flexible permitting program worked to achieve the major emission reductions borne out by EPA’s own data.
Over the last ten years, levels of all six of the EPA’s principal pollutants (including ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter) have declined dramatically have fallen below the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Even while Texas added nearly 5 million people – not to mention the increased electric generation needed to meet this growing population’s demand(for instance, from 1996 through 2009, energy production in Texas increased by 20.7 percent compared to the national average of 14.1 percent)- ozone levels dropped by 26 percent and sulfur dioxide levels were more than cut in half from 2000 to 2010, according to air quality monitors that physically measure the true condition of the air. And unlike EPA elaborate computer models, monitors don’t exaggerate.
In keeping with Texas’ history of fact- and results-based policy-making, the agency must now analyze the economic impact of some environmental regulations before the regulation is enacted. Tomlinson believes this new law “has made tightening air quality permits on the oil and gas industry more difficult”, but why would it not help design regulation that can achieve maximum benefit at the least cost?
Because Texas has a large population, a vigorous economy and is a global center of energy and industry, the total value of emissions in this state will always be large. Texas is not Delaware! In terms of rate of emission reductions and attainment of federal standards, Texas outpaces most states.
The Texas record speaks for itself. A solid history of effective and efficient environmental policy that has been achieved under state-level implementation is proof enough that Texas can and should continue what it has been doing without the interference of the EPA or uninformed critics.