WASHINGTON - MAY 11: The shadow of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Leavitt is cast after he signed the new Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule at EPA headquarters May 11, 2004 in Washington, DC. The new rule will remove 99 percent of the sulfur in diesel fuel by 2010 resulting in dramatic reductions in soot from all diesel engines. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Texas proposed changes Wednesday to its clean-air permitting process for petrochemical companies in an attempt to satisfy concerns about how the state complies with the federal Clean Air Act.
The announcement came one day after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered two companies, including Chevron Phillips, to apply directly to the federal government for operating permits and bypass Texas officials.
The proposed changes, outlined in a 65-page document, include rules that would not allow a company to use state rules to circumvent federal regulations. The changes also would add references to federal requirements and require companies to maintain stricter records and monitoring of equipment.
But Terry Clawson, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the announcement was not directly related to the EPA's actions this week.
"It's certainly an attempt to satisfy the EPA's concerns about the flex permits, but not necessarily in response to yesterday," he said Wednesday.
A spokesman for the regional EPA said the agency still is reviewing the state's flexible permit program. The EPA has threatened to take over Texas' air quality program, and has a court-ordered deadline of June 30 to act.
A public hearing on the proposals is scheduled for July 29 at the state agency's headquarters in Austin.
The debate between Texas and the EPA centers on the state's so-called flexible permits plan, which sets a general limit on how much pollution an entire facility can release. The program never was approved by the EPA, and the federal Clean Air Act requires permits to set limits on each of the dozens of individual pieces of equipment inside a plant.
The EPA has rejected nearly 40 operating permits issued by Texas late last year. After Texas failed to meet agency demands that the permits be fixed, it barred Texas from issuing an operating permit to a refinery last month and two companies this week, including the Chevron Phillips Cedar Bayou plant, east of Houston.