SAN ANTONIO — A federal appeals court scolded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday for rejecting a series of state pollution control projects in Texas that federal regulators said failed to satisfy requirements of the Clean Air Act.
The ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stopped short of ordering the EPA to accept the previously rejected Texas measures. Yet the three-judge panel directed the agency to take another look at the state’s regulations and issue a quick decision.
At issue are state permits that govern pollution control projects at coal plants and energy producers in Texas. The EPA must sign off on the permit standards, but Judge Jennifer Elrod condemned the agency for waiting four years before taking action. The statutory deadline is 18 months.
“Because the EPA waited until more than three years after the statutory deadline to act on Texas’s submission, we order the EPA to reconsider it expeditiously,” Elrod wrote.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality cheered the ruling as a decision that should help keep the EPA in check when reviewing whether a state is meeting federal pollution standards.
“This is a significant victory for our Texas regulatory process,” said commission spokesman Andy Saenz.
The judges did not set a deadline for when the EPA must approve or reject the Texas standards. An EPA spokesperson did not immediately return an email seeking comment late Tuesday.
The EPA and Texas have been battling over pollution controls and federal environmental rules for years. Gov. Rick Perry made it an issue on the campaign trail, both when he ran for governor and in his failed bid for the GOP presidential nomination, saying the EPA is an example of Washington overstepping and meddling into state affairs.
Texas has filed numerous lawsuits challenging EPA rulings, and the EPA has taken over permitting on a variety of programs due to the state’s refusal to comply with its orders.