Animosity between Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency reached a new level this week, with federal officials saying that they will take over the granting of permits for new power plants and refineries in the state because Texas refuses to regulate its emissions of greenhouse gases.
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The showdown centers on Texas’ opposition to the Obama administration’s program to rein in heat-trapping emissions, which has become a symbol of a broader struggle by industry and some Republican politicians to thwart such regulatory efforts.
Texas and several other states are fighting the mandates in court, and Republican leaders who will take over the House of Representatives next year have made no secret of their opposition, arguing that mandating cuts in industrial emissions will harm the economy.
Facing more muscular threats in the incoming Congress, the Obama administration has retreated somewhat on its timetable for some long-delayed rules governing smog and toxic emissions from industrial boilers.
Nonetheless, the E.P.A. has said that it is proceeding with plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial plants under the Clean Air Act starting Jan. 2. The regulations will in principle curb emissions by requiring plants to use the best available technology to control them. The plants will also have to monitor those emissions and report back to the government.
On Thursday, the agency plans to announce a schedule for issuing rules on emission limits for new power plants and refineries, according to industry executives and environmentalists involved in policy discussions.
With less than two weeks left before the regulations take effect, Texas is the only state that has flat-out refused to enforce the new emissions rules through its state permitting program. It is also the state that produces the most carbon dioxide because it has scores of coal-fired power plants, refineries and factories.
On Monday, Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. assistant administrator for air issues, told state environmental officials in a letter that if Texas would not regulate carbon emissions from smokestacks, the federal government would seize control of the state’s permitting program on Thursday.
“The unwillingness of Texas state officials to implement this portion of the federal program leaves E.P.A. no choice but to resume its role as the permitting authority,” Ms. McCarthy wrote.
Gov. Rick Perry, a conservative Republican who is a firm ally of business leaders, has railed against the E.P.A.’s attempts to crack down on industrial polluters in his state. He claims the federal government is overstepping its constitutional authority.
Mr. Perry has also disputed the argument undergirding the new rules, that the heat-trapping emissions that contribute to global warming threaten public health. He has argued that the regulations will cost jobs in the energy and agricultural sectors without better protecting health.
“This paints a huge target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers by implementing unnecessary, burdensome mandates,” Mr. Perry’s spokeswoman, Katherine Cesinger, said.
Environmentalists here say the Perry administration has been lax in enforcing the Clean Air Act for years, allowing large refineries and other plants to regularly emit more pollution than allowed under the law.
“The Perry administration is pulling the ostrich act and sticking their heads in the sand,” said Neil Carman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The E.P.A. has said the regulatory effort starting Jan. 2 is a prelude to broader regulation of carbon dioxide. In theory it could be one of the most far-reaching environmental regulatory programs in American history.
Since a bill to address global warming and climate change has no future in the next Congress, the Obama administration is betting on invoking the Clean Air Act to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming.
More than a dozen states have joined Texas in lawsuits challenging the E.P.A.’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, but most states are following the rules while the courts wrestle with the challenges. Across the country, officials are scrambling to get a patchwork of state and federal regulations in place so that large businesses can get the necessary permits starting Jan. 2.
The mechanism being used is a “prevention of significant deterioration” permit. The permit is required each time a refinery, power plant or other large industrial facility is built or refurbished.
In the past, the permits have given environmental officials leverage to force owners to reduce emissions of such pollutants as lead, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, but under the new regulations, carbon dioxide methane and other gases that contribute to global warming have been added to that list.
In Texas, at least 167 projects are in the pipeline that would require the permits next year, and federal officials say the owners will have to go to the E.P.A.’s Dallas offices to get them. The takeover of the permitting process is necessary, they said, to keep new construction from grinding to a halt, federal officials said.
State officials see it differently. “This is an arrogant act by an overreaching E.P.A. that is trying to implement new, unnecessary controls on American industry,” said Andrea Morrow, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.