Regulating air pollution here has been a point of conflict between Texas and Washington since President Barack Obama took office. Governor Rick Perry says more stringent environmental laws will harm the economy.
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power came to Houston. It took testimony from state officials, including Todd Staples, Texas Agriculture Commissioner. He told the panel that Texas is a major player in the production of the safest, most affordable and most reliable food supply in the world. But he says EPA's impending regulation of greenhouse gases, puts a burden on food production in the country.
"The Congress has taken measures to limit that. But as it moves forward, it looks like they're gonna wrap us into the permitting process, and that's agriculturally spend billions of dollars annually on conservation techniques, on improving soil quality, reducing runoffs."
Gina McCarthy of EPA conferring with Texas Congressman Joe Barton-R, who chairs the U.S. House Energy and Power Subcommittee
Staples says there are other ways to do that, instead of the regulatory approach from the EPA that will put a financial burden on consumers.
"It's frustrating to have a federal agency that refuses to acknowledges the success that we've had in Texas. And that's why I'm a party to the suits that our attorney general has filed, because it impacts agriculture. And if it impacts agriculture, it impacts every single Texan."
AG Greg Abbott filed suit, seeking to overturn the EPA's decision to eliminate the state's flexible permitting program. It sets umbrella emission caps instead of pollution limits. Gina McCarthy with the agency testified before the panel. She said the permitting program in place here in Texas since 1994 is too lax.
"I think the EPA has taken every step available to it, to do this in a common sense way, to do it in a way that doesn't interrupt business, that's doable at the federal level and the state level. The problem is, that we've resolved those issues in every state but one, and I'm standing in that state now."
Houston Democratic Congressman Gene Green agreed with Committee chair, Fort Worth Republican Congressman Joe Barton, who says the issue of the EPA's plan affects every industry in Texas.
"I wanted legislation that would require EPA to stand down five years, and come back to us, to let Congress say okay, 'this is what we want to do to reduce greenhouse gases in our country.' Because our base load ought to, over the next twenty years, go from coal to nuclear power."
Barton: "Or natural gas."
Green: "Or natural gas. In the meantime, but I don't know if the president's signs on, probably not. But we need to deal with that as a legislative body, instead of letting EPA or having EPA do it."
Barton says trying to use environmental law to establish economic policy affects the whole country, not just Texas.