The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is a federal agency charged with monitoring and maintaining a healthy environment in America. Many credit U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson with spurring interest in the environmental movement, he created Earth Day in the spring of 1970 which led to the creation of the EPA in December of that year. The EPA monitors a huge array of environmental issues in America. The agency scrutinizes everything from the fuel standards to mercury levels in lakes and landfill regulations. Natural resource programs were established in Texas at the turn of the 20th century, motivated initially by concerns over the management of water resources and water rights. In parallel with developments in the rest of the nation, and at the federal level, state natural-resource efforts broadened at mid-century to include the protection of air and water resources, and later to the regulation of generating hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
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The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality strives to protect our state’s public health and natural resources consistent with sustainable economic development. Their goal is clean air, clean water, and the safe management of waste. TCEQ for short, essentially is Texas’s version of the EPA. Texas has had a rough relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency. Texas legislators and business owners have refused EPA monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions and air permit requirements in the state. Reasons for this vary and include claims of states’ rights and rejection of EPA rulings on the dangers of six greenhouse gases. In May 2011, the Texas House passed a measure asking federal legislators to prevent the EPA from regulating emissions in the state under the Clean Air Act. The state lost similar legal battles in 2010 and 2011. The state has spent approximately $1.4 million on the cases so far, chiefly centered on air quality and climate issues that it says are intended to protect public health.
The EPA has five main goals: Addressing climate change and improving air quality, Protecting Americas waters, cleaning up communities and advancing sustainable development, ensuring the safety of chemicals and preventing pollution, and protecting human health and the environment by enforcing laws and assuring compliance. Air pollution, one of the EPA’s main concerns, comes from many different sources: stationary sources such as factories, power plants, and smelters and smaller sources such as dry cleaners and degreasing operations; mobile sources such as cars, buses, planes, trucks, and trains; and naturally occurring sources such as windblown dust, and volcanic eruptions, all contribute to air pollution. The Clean Air Act establishes a number of permitting programs designed to carry out the goals of the act. Some of these programs are directly implemented by EPA’s South Central Region also known as Region 6, but most are carried out by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Air Quality can be affected in many ways by the pollution emitted from these sources. These pollution sources can also emit a wide variety of pollutants. The number one air pollutant is Carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide or CO is a colorless, odorless gas formed by the incomplete reaction of air with fuel. CO pollution occurs primarily from emissions produced by fossil fuel powered engines, including motor vehicles and non-road engines and vehicles. Higher levels of CO generally occur in areas with heavy traffic congestion. Other sources of CO emissions include industrial processes, residential wood burning, and natural sources such as forest fires.
Oil and gas facilities in Texas released more than 20 million pounds of illegal sulfur dioxide emissions, which contribute to smog and acidification of water and soil, during breakdowns and maintenance activities in 2014 and 68 million pounds in 2015. The state’s enforcement of air pollution limits in permits has been poor. When Texas does impose penalties for violations, the fines are often small in comparison to the cost to public health and the profits generated by the industry.
Another main pollution concern is water. Texas is the second-biggest water polluter in the country, in terms of pounds released. But when the toxicity of the pollution is factored in, Texas jumps to the top of the list. The top overall water polluter in Texas was the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken-processing plant in Mount Pleasant, which in 2012 dumped 2.8 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the Tankersley River in Northeast Texas. Working on these issues in Texas isn’t easy, with powerful polluter lobbies that are used to getting what they want from state legislators and regulators. The only feasible way to promote solutions to the government and win is by forming an organization. Starting small and then expanding by getting more and more concerned citizens involved would go a long way. The organization would have to build traction and earn its place amongst the large companies and government agencies. The citizens, once organized into a force could boycott companies not in compliance with EPA or the community’s standards, sue large corporations for any number of shortcomings, and in short make change happen. The people hold more power together than they ever do individually and it will take cooperation on an extraordinary scale for such an idea to exist.
There are five main U.S. environmental laws. These include the Clean Air Act which divides the country into air quality regions and sets goals for the concentration of various pollutants in the air. After that is the Clean Water Act, its goals are to eliminate discharge of all pollutants and to restore and maintain the quality of the nation’s waters so they are fishable and swimmable. Another is the Safe Drinking Water Act which is in place to ensure water is consumable and looks clean. The SDWA also protects the quality of underground water sources. Next comes the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which manages the generation, storage, transport, treatment and disposal of solid and hazardous wastes from operating facilities, and minimize waste disposal to land. Finally, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act covers the clean-up of abandoned hazardous waste sites and spills, and provides for community right-to-know of industrial waste management practices.
Texas is usually going head to head with the Environmental Protection Agency arguing over a regulation of some manner. The EPA usually is the winner in these arguments from limits on greenhouse gas emissions to restrictions on air pollution that crosses state lines. During the Obama administration Texas, has sued the EPA and the federal government more than 50 times over environmental concerns. These lawsuits seem petty and wasteful of tax payer’s money to some. While others are glad that Texas is still up for sticking it to big government and making sure that they are not over reaching on boundaries trying to use powers that congress has not given them. Texas is continuously in court with the EPA because the EPA is encroaching on Texas’s management of air quality standards. The EPA is only doing so because Texas is doing the bare minimum to reduce pollution. It is doing what is required within the regulations so that it remains in compliance with the acts. However, it is still so little that then the EPA has to try and force Texas to do more than just the bare minimum and that invokes a lawsuit because they do not have jurisdiction to do such a thing. It is asinine and a poor representation of what our state government is capable of but with all of the major corporations backing the state Texas will continue in this manner. Congress would need to amend the acts to give the EPA more power in the matter. This however, is unlikely because that would-be encroachment on states’ rights. The fact of the matter is the Texas Government does not want to do it so therefore it will do everything in its power not to. Unless a major power switch were to occur or perhaps a major push via the citizens of Texas this charade will continue. It all amounts to unnecessary spending just to allow big business freedom to do as it wishes at the cost of the populations health and in increase in their wallet size.
Texas would much rather figure out its environmental issues on its own. A state set in its ways, it is not about to let the federal government have compete dictation over any of its policies. Beneficial or not Texas will conduct itself as it sees fit. Interference or forced control will meet opposition immediately at no consideration of expense. The wins Texas has acquired against the federal government has made it proud even though the losses fairly outweigh them. Texas may never agree with EPA on its regulations but the choices made by Texas now will largely effect environmental consequences for years to come.
Dawson, B. (2010, August 5). Texas officials say they won’t implement EPA’s climate rules. Retrieved from Texas Climate News: http://texasclimatenews.org/?p=357
EPA in Texas. (2016, December 23). Retrieved from EPA: United States Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/tx%20
Everything You Need to Know About the EPA. (2017). Retrieved from StateImpact: https://stateimpact.npr.org/texas/tag/epa/
History of the TCEQ and Its Predecessor Agencies. (2016, January 26). Retrieved from Texas Commision On Environmental Quality: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/about/tceqhistory.html
Satija, N. (2014, April 29). Supreme Court’s Air Pollution Ruling Goes Against Texas. Retrieved from The Texas Tribune: https://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/29/texas-loses-fight-against-epa-air-pollution-rule/
Satija, N., Carbonell, L., & McCrimmon, R. (2017, January 17). Texas vs. the Feds – A Look at the Lawsuits. Retrieved from The Texas Tribune: https://www.texastribune.org/2017/01/17/texas-federal-government-lawsuits/
The States Water by Region . (n.d.). Retrieved from Texas Parks & Wildlife: http://tpwd.texas.gov/landwater/water/environconcerns/regions/
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