U.S. EPA's plan to sidestep state officials and oversee climate rules in Texas has been temporarily blocked by a federal court, making the Lone Star State the only place where businesses cannot apply for greenhouse gas permits that the Obama administration now requires.
The first federal regulations on carbon dioxide took effect yesterday after more than a year of political wrangling, ordering emissions cuts from cars, light trucks and the largest new industrial plants.
Last month, when Texas did not implement the new rules, EPA released a plan to seize control of greenhouse permitting in the state. But the agency must wait at least a week so judges can make a decision on Texas' legal bid to stave off federal intervention, the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia ruled Thursday.
The temporary delay "should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits" of the state's lawsuit, the order said.
It is a small setback for EPA, which has promised a smooth transition as Texas and more than a dozen other states challenge the new climate regulations in court. But while the other challengers are going along with the new rules while their lawsuits move through the courts, Texas has refused, saying that EPA has shut the state out of the process by ignoring the usual procedural steps.
The Clean Air Act gives states a year to make changes before the federal government can take control, Texas argues. EPA also never gave Texas the chance to comment on the federal plan, which was released the day before Christmas Eve, the state said in a recent court filing.
"Transparency and openness in government -- which is the very purpose of the public notice and comment period ignored by the EPA -- are vital to our democratic system of government and, like the legal rights guaranteed to the state of Texas, cannot be simply overlooked because the administration wants to impose unilaterally its agenda on the American people," Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) said in a statement last week.
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said a delay of a few weeks should not have an impact on construction projects because most states were expecting to get just a few applications in early 2011. In states such as Ohio, he said, businesses and officials were rushing to get permits approved by the end of the year so they could avoid the new requirements.
"If a permit were that close to being issued, it would have been approved" before the new rules took effect, Becker said.
The temporary delay will last until the court makes a decision on Texas' request for a permanent stay. EPA must respond to Texas' lawsuit by Thursday morning, and a reply from the state is due by Friday afternoon.
Click here to read the court order.
Click here to read Texas' stay request.