Government Endangers State’s Economic Success With Air, Water and Species Regulation
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ContributedSeptember 23, 2011 | 1,583 views | 1 comment
The Texas economy has weathered some rough times in the last few years -- and proven its durability. But we still face some serious challenges.
Some of them we can’t do anything about, such as the drought and the wildfires it spurred. In a natural disaster, you can’t do much more than move people to safety and help them start to heal.
But there’s another, slow-motion disaster rolling through Texas right now that we can and should fight. It’s an avalanche of federal environmental regulations -- a tangled web of requirements that threaten to put the brakes on our economy and trample on the rights of Texas property owners.
I hope I don’t need to tell you that Texans care deeply for the health of our land and water. I’m a fourth-generation rancher myself, and I know that private landowners are the best stewards of their own property.
When I warn about federal regulation, it’s not to oppose good-faith efforts to protect our environment. It’s to highlight a regulatory process that often relies on flawed or nonexistent science, and sometimes seems intended to punish our state rather than to help it.
Need some examples? Look at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) new “cross-states” air pollution rule, which takes effect next January.
It targets nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that travel across state lines. It will slam our state disproportionately. Texas plants produce only 11 percent of the sulfur dioxide released by the states addressed by the rule, but Texas is being ordered to absorb 25 percent of the reductions.
Luminant, the state’s largest power generator, already has announced that the cross-state rule is forcing it to idle two generating units and halt operations at three lignite mines, for a loss of 500 Texas jobs.
The rule also may raise electricity rates -- and compromise the reliability of an already overextended power grid. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s power grid, recently estimated that compliance with the cross-state rule would reduce the state’s generation capacity by 1,200 to 1,400 megawatts during the peak load months of June, July and August.
And this is despite the fact that, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, EPA’s own models indicate that our emissions don’t significantly affect other states.
The agency didn’t include Texas in many of the rule’s requirements until it adopted the final version, thus denying us the opportunity to provide comments on its impact. Now EPA has issued a supplemental proposal to include six more states in the rule -- and they’re receiving the proper notice Texas was denied.
Another cause for concern is EPA’s proposed expansion of its jurisdiction through the Clean Water Act. Right now, the act covers navigable waterways and permanent, adjacent tributaries and wetlands. Congress failed to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act to remove “navigable” from this definition, so in May 2011 EPA came up with an end run around the law, proposing “guidance” that could extend its authority to intermittent streams, isolated wetlands -- anything from a ditch on up, basically.
And EPA did this without presenting a single scientific argument as to why its current authority over our surface waters is inadequate.
Extended clean-water authority could make many more Texas construction projects subject to permitting by EPA and the U.S. Corps of Engineers, with all the uncertainty, project delays and mitigation costs that implies.
Perhaps the most egregious example of federal overreach, however, is the full-tilt expansion of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Texas. Right now, more than 100 species found here are under review for ESA listing or habitat changes over the next five years.
And it’s become clear that many listing decisions made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are being driven by litigation by various pressure groups rather than by sound science. Time and again, we’ve found that the science is incomplete at best.
More recently, FWS has proposed the dunes sagebrush lizard for protection under the ESA, despite a near-total lack of scientific data on the animal’s range or numbers. ESA protection can severely limit economic activity in species habitat -- which, in this case, includes the Permian Basin, source of 20 percent of the nation’s oil and gas and tens of thousands of high-paying Texas jobs.
In the face of exponentially rising federal regulation, it’s important for all Texans to remain aware of events in this contentious arena.
I urge all Texans to visit our new website, http://KeepingTexasFirst.or) to learn more about the potential impact of federal environmental regulation on our state -- and what you can do to ensure that your voice is heard.
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs is committed to making state government work better for Texans.