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KERA's news coverage of environmental issues in North Texas, the state and beyond.

New Texas House Committee To Examine EPA Rules

Texas Tribune
Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

A new Texas House committee will investigate how federal environmental rules affect the state and its economy.

House Speaker Joe Straus on Thursday announced that the House Committee on Federal Environmental Regulation will examine a litany of new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency efforts that have roiled Texas leaders and industry. The rules include: the “Clean Power Plan,” an effort to clarify the “Waters of the United States” rule, a standard for smog-forming ozone and a crackdown on methane that wafts from oil and gas equipment.

“Many House members are concerned about the damage that these proposals could cause to our economy and about an expansion of federal power into the authority of the states,” Straus, R-San Antonio, said in a statement. “The House needs to take a thorough look at how these rules will affect jobs, energy rates and future economic development in Texas.”

Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, will chair the new committee, whose members will include chairs of other committees that often consider federal environmental rules. Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat, will serve as vice chair.

Other members include: Reps. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Byron Cook, R-Corsicana; Drew Darby, R-San Angelo; Jim Keffer, R-Eastland; Phil King, R-Weatherford;Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa;  Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco; Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio; Chris Paddie, R-Marshall; Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The Clean Power Plan — which requires states to cut carbon emissions by shifting from coal power to natural gas and renewables — is President Obama’s most ambitious effort to combat climate change. 

It could significantly affect Texas, an industrial juggernaut that generates more electricity and emits far more carbon than any other state. Critics fear it will raise electricity rates and strain the electric grid. Texas also leads the nation in producing natural gas – a fuel that policymakers could lean on while trying to shift from dirtier coal-fired energy. The state also is already feeling the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise, extreme heat and drought, and more frequent flooding, experts say.

Last month, Texas joined 23 other states in suing the EPA over the rule.

The EPA’s methane proposal, announced in August, also aims to battle climate change. It would slash emissions of methane — a more potent gas than carbon dioxide. It often leaks from well pads, compressor stations, processing plants and other equipment used in oil and gas production. The proposal is part of the president’s broader plan to cut methane emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent of 2012 levels by 2025.

The petroleum industry has pushed back, calling the rules costly and suggesting that companies are already addressing methane releases.

The rule is not yet final.  

With the Waters of the U.S. rule, the EPA seeks to better define which waters it protects. The 1972 federal Clean Water Act made it illegal to pollute "navigable waters of the United States." The rule is supposed to clarify what could be defined as "navigable water."

The EPA always believed its jurisdiction stretched beyond traditional navigable waters, like rivers and seas, to the smaller bodies of water and wetlands that can affect them, but it didn’t have a strong legal basis to prove it. The updated definition clarifies this authority, but it has left ranchers and industry officials nervous about whether they will need to check with the government before using their own land.

Texas is among many states suing over the rule, which a court at least temporarily blocked last month.

The EPA’snew ozone standard is part of the Obama administration’s effort to crack down on the pollution wafting from factories, power plants and vehicle tailpipes. 

The rule shrinks the previous 75 parts per billion ozone limit — which the EPA's advisers have called far too high — to 70 parts per billion. The EPA and health experts say the change will curb cases of asthma, heart and lung disease. 

Republicans and industry leaders say that compliance will cost too much, and point out that cities like Houston, Dallas and San Antonio don’t even meet the previous limit. Buckingthe scientific community’s consensus, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality suggests that tightening limits on ozone — which forms when emissions from cars and coal plants mix with other airborne compounds in sunlight — would not improve public health, and it paid a private firm $1.65 million to poke holes in the science behind the new policy. 

The Texas Tribune provided this story