EPA Shaking Up Business In Texas

Houston skyline
Houston skyline, photo: University of Texas

By Wendy Lyons Sunshine

A sea change is underway at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and its effects have reached Texas. Under the Obama Administration, scientists are being appointed to top administrative positions and with them comes a renewed appreciation of hard data—a trend that worries the business community in Texas.

Consider the appointment of top EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, a Princeton-trained chemical engineer who is hip enough to twitter. Shortly after stepping into the top EPA role, Jackson rattled industries across the nation by insisting that carbon dioxide endangers human health and thus requires regulation. She’s got ozone standards in her sights, along with gas drilling practices.

When Jackson chose Al Armendariz to head up EPA Region 6, she sent Texas environmentalists into paroxysms of joy and likely sent the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality hunting for antacids. Armendariz is an associate professor at Southern Methodist University who has hands-on experience telling the blunt truth about pollution. He measured air emissions from cement plants in Midlothian, Texas, on behalf of Downwinders at Risk, and his findings lent fuel to a lawsuit that prompted changes and financed local clean air initiatives. He examined gas drilling in the Barnett Shale for the Environmental Defense Fund and wrote a report revealing the profound air pollution impacts of that industry.

Now as the new Region 6 Administrator, Armendariz  is scrutinizing industrial permits for air pollution across Texas, a state which falls perilously short of Clean Air Act Standards. Armendariz has made no secret that if the state environmental agency doesn’t shape up, it could get stripped of its air permitting authority. The implications for business are huge; if the agency is debunked, the permits it formerly issued would be cast into doubt and potentially invalidated.

Even the Wall Street Journal has remarked on Texas’ environmental arm-wrestling match.

Armendariz says his office will issue decisions on Texas’ air permits in three phases, the first coming later in March. Like Jackson, Armendariz believes that a cleaner environment strengthens the economy. Certainly his agency’s enforcement actions are bringing new jobs. EPA Region 6 is hiring, according to its blog:
“Join our team in performing oversight of state and local permitting programs including program audits, direct assistance to state and local agencies, and recommending actions to correct program deficiencies. Dust off your resume applications will be accepted soon. Apply online at USAJobs.”

Wendy Lyons Sunshine is a freelance journalist. She lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

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