Texas challenges the EPA over climate change rules

By Neela Banerjee
Sunday, November 28, 2010

For decades, California has set the pace for the country on air pollution and climate change, adopting ever-higher standards for controlling auto emissions and, more recently, greenhouse gases that scientists say have led to global warming.

Now, California's dominance is being challenged by another mega-state, which wants to freeze the status quo instead of move toward tighter controls.

In effect, Texas is staking out a role as the anti-California.

With Republicans about to control of the House, powerful Texans such as Rep. Joe L. Barton of the Energy and Commerce Committee have vowed to check the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to use its authority to curtail greenhouse gases.

An even more ambitious challenge is coming directly from the Texas state government and leading Texas politicians. State Attorney General Greg Abbott, with the support of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, has filed seven lawsuits against the EPA in the past nine months.

In some ways, Texas's attack was bound to be bigger and bolder than it might have been from other states. After all, Texans proudly trace their lineage back to the defiant stand of patriots at the Alamo and the days when Texas was an independent republic under the Lone Star flag.

"At times, they're their own country," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a group of state environmental regulators. "They feel strongly, politically, that this is an issue that shouldn't pertain to them, and they would like to proceed on their own terms."

And Texas corporations clearly have California in their sights, as reflected in their determined though ultimately unsuccessful attempt to roll back California state law in the recent election.

In a recent letter to the EPA, state officials likened the agency's efforts to regulate greenhouse gases to a socialist "plan for centralized control of industrial development."

A touchstone

Rebelling against federal regulation, especially on the environment, was a touchstone of Texas politics long before the tea party emerged and made it a national rallying cry.

For years, the state's congressional champions had compelled the EPA, starting in the 1990s, to look the other way as Texas crafted regulation that went easy on industry, said Tom Smith, Texas state director for Public Citizen, a watchdog group.

"The big change is that now we have an administration whose EPA has some courage," Smith said.

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