January 3, 2011

Chicken Littles: AP Report Casts Texas v. EPA Fight as Risking Health of Texans

In his report on the escalating dispute between the State of Texas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one thing you cannot accuse Ramit Plushnick-Masti of the Associated Press of being is a master of understatement. He claims that “Both sides and conservation groups agree the battle has put the health of Texas residents and the environment at risk.”

Really? The only problem is that the AP reporter never found anyone who is currently on the Texas side of the dispute who is saying anything remotely resembling that.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Plushnick-Masti’s prose, followed by a much later paragraph representing the closest the writer gets to naming someone on the Texas side to worry about the alleged “risk” (bold is mine):

A longstanding tit-for-tat between Texas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over how to regulate pollution has grown fierce in recent months, leaving industry frustrated and allowing some plants and refineries to spew more toxic waste into the air, streams and lakes than what is federally acceptable.

Both sides and conservation groups agree the battle has put the health of Texas residents and the environment at risk. But the back-and-forth over everything from who should issue permits to whether state agencies are properly cracking down on polluters shows no signs of slowing down.

The fight has gotten so ugly that the EPA took the unprecedented step this month of announcing it will directly issue greenhouse gas permits to Texas industries beginning in January after the state openly refused to comply with new federal regulations.

“It’s a soup of toxic chemicals,” said Neil Carman, a Sierra Club scientist and former Texas environmental regulator.

Seriously, a “former Texas environmental regulator” who is now a Sierra Club “scientist” is the AP reporter’s “example” of someone associated with Team Texas. No one else in his report on the Texas side comes anywhere close to agreeing that Texans’ health or its environment are at risk.

I call Mr. Carman a “scientist,” in quotes, simply because the Sierra Club still believes in human-caused global warming (which it now refers to as “reversing climate change”), despite:

  • The damning Climategate e-mails.
  • The dog-ate-my data excuses why no one can recreate what these so-called geniuses allege.
  • The admissions by “luminaries” including Phil Jones that there has been no warming since 1995.
  • Revised guidance from the Royal Society, the “UK’s leading scientific body,” that has backed away from formerly aggressive “settled science” posture.
  • The frank assertion by German economist and U.N. climate official Ottmar Edenhofer that “climate policy is redistributing the world’s wealth.”

Mr. Carman’s characterization of Texas as “a soup of toxic chemicals” is a really good soundbite for a PR person to spit out, but clearly disqualifies him from any reasonable claim to being a scientist interested in legitimate inquiry.

The dispute seems to boil down to one based on results (the Texas position) vs. one based on following every minute regulatory detail (Uncle Sam’s predictable position):

About 200 Texas facilities continue to operate with air and water permits that are either out of date or have been disapproved by the EPA. The agency believes they are releasing a variety of metals and chemicals into the air and water that would, under the new regulations, no longer be permitted.

A main point of contention has been the state’s flexible permit program, which sets a general limit on how much air pollution an entire facility can release. (“General” really means “specific overall.” — Ed.)

… Texas says it has wed environmental law so successfully with an industry-friendly economy that the EPA and other states could learn from it.

“The existing permits in Texas have helped our state achieve dramatic improvements in air quality and we believe they will ultimately be upheld in the courts,” Perry’s office said in a statement. “In their latest crusade, the EPA has created massive job-crushing uncertainty for Texas companies.”

If Gov. Perry’s office isn’t blowing smoke, so to speak, about the results achieved and can back it up, this fight really is about an over-intrusive federal bureuacracy imposing its will on the states, and not at all about clean air and water. The idea that it really is about the former and not the latter is given away in this paragraph from the AP-reporter’s dispatch:

Some industries in Texas have chosen to deal directly with the EPA, which says it’s working with about two-thirds of the largest facilities to get them new flexible permits.

That tells me that it’s really about whose flexible permits rule, not the idea of flexible permits.

For his part, the AP’s Plushnick-Masti seems to be fairly salivating over the potential gains by the statists in Washington, as seen in these two paragraphs about halfway through his report:

The EPA, meanwhile, by flexing its muscles in Texas, may be able to send a message to other states that the days when the agency allowed contentious issues to languish unresolved have ended. Other states have had their differences with the EPA, and at least a dozen have come together in a lawsuit – along with Texas – challenging new greenhouse gas regulations.

All are taking steps in the meantime to comply. Except Texas.

Implication: Texas needs to be squashed like a bug.

Expect future AP and other dispatches about this growing dispute to characterize Texas as some kind of outlaw cesspool of polluters. It continues an Obama administration tradition of using environmental regulation to dump on red states (see: Louisiana, BP oil spill).

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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