January 30, 2011
The EPA's Mess with Texas
As part of Obama's new political initiative to bypass a Congress that rejected his leadership in 2009 and 2010, he has announced executive orders to allow the federal government to restrict economic activity to fit legislative goals he apparently no longer believes he can win in political debate. One of the most important new targets in this new post-congressional agenda is Texas. The EPA is messing with Texas in ways that threaten to disrupt the biggest jobs-producer in the United States.
The EPA is moving to restrict Texas' ability to continue as the largest production base for natural gas in the nation. As the largest consumer and producer of natural gas, Texas provides an important alternative in energy production to the conventional fossil fuels of coal and oil. Those fuels have fallen into dire regulatory restrictions that Vice President Biden suggested should eventually lead to the end of coal production in the United States. Natural gas has emerged as an important transitional fuel to the green economy. Despite this, the Obama administration is moving to limit this component of Texas' economic boom.
A secret weapon in the battle over Texas is EPA regulator Dr. Al Armendariz. Armendariz was tapped by the Obama administration to limit natural gas production in Texas. In his seminal article on natural gas production from the Barnett shale in North Texas, Armendariz argues that gas production contributes more to global warming than automotive traffic in Dallas:
For comparison, 2009 emission inventories recently used by state and federal regulators estimated smog- forming emissions from all airports in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area to be 16 tpd. In addition, these same inventories had emission estimates for on-road motor vehicles (cars, trucks, etc.) in the 9- county Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area of 273 tpd. The portion of on-road motor vehicle emissions from the 5-counties in the D-FW metropolitan area with significant oil and gas production was 121 tpd, indicating that the oil and gas sector likely has greater emissions than motor vehicles in these counties.
The research relies on "personal conversations" Armendariz had with natural gas-producers in the Dallas area. This is not generally an acceptable standard for research, but it is laying the foundation for intensely regulating the last major fossil fuel that Texas and the United States can turn to in the 21st century. The promotion of the activist/expert to the EPA bodes ill for energy use in the United States. The EPA plans to designate Dallas air as "serious" with regard to ozone pollution based on 1997 standards. Though Dallas has economically boomed and had a population increase of more than 25% since 1997, the city has reduced ozone levels from 102 parts per billion to 86 parts per billion. This impressive feat draws no acceptance from the EPA, and the 2 ppb will be enough to designate Dallas as having some of the dirtiest air in the nation. Dallas air is getting cleaner and will likely soon meet the 1997 standard despite rapid economic growth, but the EPA is eager to dim the star of Lone Star success.
The broader war on CO2 is also important. The potential ramifications for natural gas-producers are huge since CO2 regulation is authorized by a 2007 Supreme Court decision that allows the EPA to regulate such emissions. The messing with Texas is compounded by ideological documentaries such as Gasland which try to deceive the public into believing that natural gas extraction contaminates water supplies. Though gas is extracted nearly a mile below the water supply, ideologues show homeowners dependent on well water setting fire to their water taps from gases presumably introduced by gas drilling. Though the causation is purely speculative and can definitely happen without the presence of gas drilling, the scare tactics are having the same effect they had on nuclear power with "China Syndrome" and an array of fear-mongering tactics designed to destroy practical access to energy sources inside the United States.
The consequence of this long-running fear-mongering over domestic energy is that the United States pays billions of dollars to dangerous governments around the world to extract the same energy without meaningful regulation. This means that the world is more polluted than it would be from American sources and that Americans fund jobs elsewhere, drive up oil prices, fund an array of overseas activity -- including terrorism. The specific effort to mess with Texas energy production reduces one of our nation's most productive internal economies. Americans are flocking to the state, as shown by the 2010 census, and departing from states holding the EPA's view of greenhouse gases.
We would do well to expand the impact statement approach to environmental policies like this one. What will be the global impact of reducing Texas' ability to produce energy? Why is allowing a nation such as Mexico unbridled access to Gulf drilling or other forms of fossil fuel extraction superior to Texas' approach? If the EPA knows that energy consumption is not going to be reduced by regulation, do they bear a burden in increasing global pollution through the executive orders signed by the president? These are all more than fair questions going forward.