Processing Magazine

Texas oil and chemical industries worry about EPA crackdown

October 14, 2009
According to the Associated Press, the Environmental Protection Agency has scrapped several aspects of Texas’ state air-pollution permitting program, which includes “flexible” permits. These “flexible” permits have allowed plants and refineries to exceed toxic emission limits in the short-term, as long as they comply with overall federal averages in the long-term. For years, environmentalists have complained that state regulations have allowed the powerful oil and chemical industries to skirt Clean Air Act standards in Texas, the nation''s foremost producer of industrial air pollution. Federal regulators say the move, set to take effect next year, is designed to cut toxic emissions and bring Texas in line with the Clean Air Act. Industry groups warn that getting rid of the state program in favor of more rigid standards will hurt industries crucial to the Texas economy, and that the costs of compliance may hit consumers. There''s worry in these industries that billow tons of toxins but employ thousands of people and pay billions in state and local taxes. Texas has more oil refineries and chemical plants than any other state. Plants could be forced to spend millions of dollars to upgrade pollution control equipment. Industry groups say that in turn could jack up the prices of gas, tires, carpet, upholstery and other products that pass through Texas factories. The EPA said no other state offered polluters such flexibility, and cited problems with the permit program''s enforcement, monitoring and record keeping, among other reasons. The oil and gas industry provides about 190,000 Texas jobs and paid about $10 billion in state and local taxes and royalties last year, according to the oil and gas association. The chemical industry employs about 74,000 Texans and last year paid $1 billion in state and local taxes. The chemical industry is the top air polluter in the state, producing about 16,000 tons of toxic emissions, according to the most recent EPA toxic release inventory in 2007. Oil ranked third, behind power plants, with about 4,500 tons. Both groups and state regulators say flexible permits have helped, and point to reductions of cancer-causing chemical benzene and ground-level ozone levels in the Houston area that''s home to the bulk of the state''s oil refineries and chemical plants.