Refinery gets pollution permit without public hearing
HOUSTON -- The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality renewed the air pollution permit for the largest refinery in the Houston area and denied the city's request to have a public hearing on the permit.TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw and Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein said the panel voted to grant LyondellBasell Industries' 10-year permit Wednesday without a hearing because the company is not seeking an increase in emissions.
According to the Texas Clean Air Act, the TCEQ cannot grant a hearing on a renewal unless the firm wants to increase emissions or has a poor compliance record.
The Lyondell renewal application complied with the existing permit, plus the draft permit calls for a 31 percent reduction in emissions of the carcinogen benzene over the previous annual cap, the company said.
In 2008, the city of Houston made the rare request to have a public hearing arguing that the state shouldn't grant another permit for the complex along the Houston Ship Channel without a trial-like process on the refinery's benzene emissions.
Commissioners said the city's issues are about process, not the permit, and would be more properly addressed in ongoing talks between Texas and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has said Texas rules limit the public's ability to participate in regulatory decisions.
Mayor Annise Parker said the city is determining whether it should ask the TCEQ to reconsider the hearing request.
"We were not asking for denial of the permit, but rather a full, thorough, and transparent discussion about Lyondell's emissions," Parker said.
Environmentalists say the move illustrates flaws in state environmental law.
"The city availed itself of the process provided by the agency, and the agency threw it in their face," said Matthew Tejada, executive director of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention. "It's sad."
The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday that other provisions of state law allow the commissioners to order a hearing on their own authority if they find that it's in the public interest.
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