CORPUS CHRISTI - Texas won a round Monday in an ongoing lawsuit with the Environmental Protection Agency over the state's flexible pollution permits.
The 5th U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in the state's favor, finding the federal agency violated the Clean Air Act by rejecting a Texas program for approving air permits.
The ruling Monday, focused on the EPA's 2010 rejection of the flexible permitting program, which allowed plants to operate under an emissions umbrella, without separately detailing pollution from different sources.
Federal regulators said the program made it more difficult to track potential polluters.
State officials shot back, saying the agency's position would costs Texans thousands of jobs, and ultimately sued.
In a statement issued Monday, Gov. Rick Perry praised the court's decision, calling it a "big win for Texas."
"Our state has demonstrated you can cultivate jobs while cleaning the air, and this finding affirms that states have the right to develop permitting processes that balance the priorities of protecting the environment and allowing our industries to thrive," Perry said.
The governor called it unfortunate that Texas had to fight back against what he called a troubling trend of overreach and reckless political activism on part of the Obama administration.
The EPA's rejection of the state's flexible permitting program forced more than 100 Texas industries, including some of the nation's largest refineries, to work directly with the federal agency to acquire operating papers.
In May 2010 the EPA took over permitting for the Flint Hills East Refinery in Corpus Christi. The company worked with the EPA and in October 2010 agreed to drop its state permits in favor of federal rules. By July 2011 the EPA announced all 136 Texas plants that operate under the state's flexible permit program agreed to seek permits approved by the federal government.
The program was in operation for 16 years before the EPA shut it down.
Sierra Club officials said the decision asks the EPA to justify its reasons for the rejecting the program, though meanwhile, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality must rely on existing permitting programs until the issue is resolved.
"Today's ruling does nothing to change the fact that approximately 100 refineries and chemical plants hold air permits which are not based on an approved state plan," Sierra Club Texas Air Program Director Neil Carman said in a statement Monday.
The ruling called the EPA's rejection of the state program 16 years tardy and vacated its disapproval of the plan.
TCEQ officials issued a statement calling the court's decision "a victory for Texas, our environment and our economy."
"We regret that Texas businesses were forced into an additional, unnecessary permitting process by the EPA, even though existing permits were legal and protective of the environment," environmental officials said in the commission's statement.
The Associated Press contributed material to this report.
Copyright 2012 SCRIPPS Howard Publications. All Rights Reserved.
(Originally published August 13, 2012, in the Corpus Christi Caller Times.)