EPA push on emission regs sparks state permitting scrambles, fury

U.S. EPA is planning to take over permitting programs for states that can't or won't comply with the Obama administration's climate rules by next year, and that isn't sitting well with some state regulators.

Officials in Texas and Arizona are staunchly opposing EPA's plans to force states into compliance with controversial climate regulations, while others fear the agency is rushing forward without giving states enough guidance as they prepare to begin regulating greenhouse gases for the first time.

"I don't see that there's any value in pursuing what is sort of a farce that is going to have only cost and no environmental benefits," said Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "They're not following the law and the procedures as we read it."

EPA last week issued a draft rule to allow the agency to issue greenhouse gas permits for industrial facilities in states that are not prepared to begin regulating those emissions in January, when federal climate rules officially kick in. The agency said 13 states will need to revise their permitting programs to cover greenhouse gases or they could face a federal takeover.

The states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon and Texas.


"EPA has taken steps to ensure that the transition will be smooth and the largest emitting facilities will be able to get permits, regardless of their location," spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said. "We will continue to work with states, the largest emitters and other groups to ensure they have the information they need."

Some states are hustling to revise their laws and regulations in time, but others are pressing EPA to reconsider its plans to implement the "tailoring rule" for greenhouse gases, which would require emission permits for large emitters of greenhouse gases while exempting smaller facilities.

Texas officials emerged as the most vocal state critics of EPA's plans to enforce their climate rules after Shaw and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) blasted the agency earlier this month for unlawfully attempting to force states to "pledge allegiance to its rules."

In an Aug. 2 letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and EPA's Dallas-based Region 6 Administrator Al Armendariz, the officials said that Texas "has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions" (Greenwire, Aug. 4).

Armendariz refuted Texas' claims, saying in a statement that the agency's "measured steps are in response to a Supreme Court decision issued more than three years ago" and that the agency is "not at liberty to ignore the law."

But Texas officials are not the only critics of EPA's rules.

"We don't appreciate the position EPA is putting us and other state air regulatory agencies in," said Ben Grumbles, director of Arizona's Department of Environmental Quality and former EPA water chief under President George W. Bush. "We don't like the options. We continue to believe Congress is in a much better position to establish a greenhouse gas regulatory program than the EPA effort, particularly if it's in a convoluted rulemaking process."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill in April blocking state agencies from regulating greenhouse gases without express legislative approval. Grumbles said that law blocks state regulators' authority to issue greenhouse gas permits.

"We definitely, I think, as a state, would benefit from EPA going back to the drawing board on the tailoring rule and its efforts to give us all more time to develop effective programs and to have an overarching congressional approach to this," Grumbles said.

States seek guidance

Regulators who are working to align their state programs with the federal rules say they would prefer to keep the permitting programs in their hands, rather than EPA's.

"We always like to work with our local industry on issues in our state," said Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. "We know the terrain," she added. Arkansas officials are working to revise the state's regulations, but they say they won't meet the January deadline.

EPA would also prefer to leave permitting to the states and says federal intervention will serve only as a stopgap.

"States are best-suited to issue permits to sources of GHG emissions and have long-standing experience working together with industrial facilities," the agency said. "EPA will work closely and promptly with states to help them develop, submit, and approve necessary revisions to enable the affected states to issue air permits to GHG-emitting sources. Additionally, EPA will continue to provide guidance and act as a resource for the states as they make the various required permitting decisions for GHG emissions."

Starting in January, EPA will require regulated sources to install the "best available control technology" to curb their emissions, but states are still waiting to see guidance from the agency about what that will be for various sectors.

"It's fair to say that anytime new rules come out, we at least like to see the guidance come along with them," said John Lyons, director of the Kentucky Division for Air Quality. "We would have liked to have already seen something." EPA has said it plans to issue guidance for states in the late summer or early fall.

John Mitchell, Kansas' top environmental official, said ideally EPA would have given state agencies more details up front. "I'm not complaining about the length of time; obviously EPA had reasons to move forward," he said. "But I think surely there could have been more decisions made at the EPA level that were available to answer states' questions, and it just seems rushed to me."

Like what you see?

We thought you might.

Start a free trial now.

Get access to our comprehensive, daily coverage of energy and environmental politics and policy.