Op-Ed: Texas Must Continue to Lead Fight Against EPA
The federal government’s pervasive culture of regulatory extremism continues to threaten the energy sector with stifling, confusing, and prescriptive rules that would severely damage Texas’ economy. The heavy-handed approach that the federal government continues to pursue is misguided at best and deliberately punitive at worst.
In contrast, Texas has done an exemplary job of protecting the environment while sustaining a productive private sector energy industry. The state has made huge leaps in clean air attainment despite a growing population, and the state is also a national leader in energy technologies such as enhanced oil recovery, carbon capture and sequestration, and the development of a digital grid and advanced metering systems that reduce energy inefficiency.
Texas legislators have a strong record of enacting state-level reforms to protect the environment while allowing the robust development of the state’s vast natural resources. In 2006, Texas surpassed California as the nation’s leader in wind generation, and the latest statistics from the American Wind Energy Association show that Texas—by a wide margin—has the highest wind generation capacity of any state in the nation, and far more wind capacity than its adjacent states.
Despite these environmental successes, which have corresponded with a boom in Texas’ private sector energy industry, the federal government continues to target our state by attempting to abrogate our clean air permitting authority, introducing a cross-state air pollution rule that leaves Texas exposed to the threat of blackouts in hot summer months, and exceeding the authority of the Clean Air Act in an attempt to regulate naturally-occurring carbon dioxide.
Thankfully, Texas is having some measured successes in pushing back against the federal government. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator who oversaw the agency’s activities in Texas analogized his approach to regulation of the oil and gas industry to how the Romans would crucify villagers, Governor Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott, and Chairman Barry Smitherman led an outcry that eventually forced him to resign. The incident was indicative of the EPA’s punitive approach to the energy sector.
Further evidence of this approach was seen in March of this year, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the EPA’s disapproval of Texas’ Pollution Control Project (PCP) Standard Permit, ruling that the EPA failed to provide a legal basis under the federal Clean Air Act for its rejection of Texas’ permit. In its opinion, the court criticized the EPA for “[overstepping] the bounds of its narrow statutory role,” and for failing to cite “any provision of the [Clean Air Act] or its implementing regulations that Texas’ program violated.”
Earlier this year, the EPA rescinded an “emergency order” against Fort-Worth based gas producer Range Resources. The withdrawn order had alleged that the company was culpable for methane contamination in water wells, but a January 2011 review by the Railroad Commission of Texas found that the gas wells “were not causing or contributing to contamination … as erroneously alleged in EPA’s December 2010 emergency order.”
Texas should be heartened by these victories and must continue the fight for economic freedom, sensible and science-based regulations, and a robust private sector energy economy. At least four policy measures should be pursued. First, the competitive electric retail market must be expanded. Second, the state must improve its energy transmission infrastructure to ensure that providers can reliably deliver energy to consumers. Third, legislators must take what steps they can to continue to address the problem of overbearing and misguided federal regulation of the energy industry. The cross-state air pollution rule, an endangerment finding on carbon dioxide, and the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline permit all continue to needlessly threaten our energy security and our economy as a whole. Finally, the state’s urgent water needs must be addressed by incorporating free market approaches.
Texas has demonstrated that sensible regulation of the energy sector can foster economic growth, create jobs, and generate significant tax revenues for the state, all while operating facilities safely and in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations. State leaders must continue to pursue and advocate for a pro-growth policy that bears broad economic and environmental benefits for our state.
Colyandro is executive director and Connett and Aldred are policy analysts at the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, based in Austin. This opinion-editorial was published by the Houston Business Journal on May 25, 2012.