The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may take over the entire job of regulating air quality in Texas if the state continues to violate the Clean Air Act, a top EPA official told The Associated Press on Wednesday — intensifying a dispute over regulating pollution from the country's largest refineries and petrochemical plants.
The comment by regional EPA chief Al Armendariz comes a day after he said the federal government would issue the operating permit for one refinery in Corpus Christi and planned to take over 39 other permits.
Now, Armendariz said, the agency is studying how to federalize what has always been a state job and hiring eight permitting engineers and attorneys — partly to deal with Texas.
"Do we also think the deficiencies are serious enough to go that route? The answer is yes," Armendariz said. "If we have to, we will. The takeover of a state program and the federalizing of a state program is a lengthy process and doesn't happen overnight."
Armendariz had said the EPA wanted assurances by July 1 that Texas will comply with federal law.
The EPA's plan is sure to set off fireworks in Texas. State regulators have consistently said they disagree with the EPA's conclusion that Texas allows the petrochemical industry to spew out an unmeasured amount of toxins as it refines one-third of the nation's gasoline and produces thousands of other chemical products and plastics.
"It would take years and kill millions of jobs and the economy would suffer eventually, and we're seeing no environmental benefit," Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, told the AP.
Now, the dispute is rapidly becoming a battle over federal and state rights.
Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for re-election and campaigning on an anti-Washington platform, said earlier Wednesday that the EPA's action is another attempt by the federal government to wrest control from states.
"The Obama administration has taken yet another step in its campaign to harm our economy and impose federal control over Texas," Perry said. "On behalf of those Texans whose jobs are threatened by this latest overreach and in defense of not only our clean air program but also our rights under the 10th Amendment, I am calling upon President Obama to rein in the EPA."