The Texas Observer

Environmental Groups Take on El Paso Refinery, Major Perry Donor

Environmental Groups Take on El Paso Refinery, Major Perry Donor

Today three Texas environmental groups sent a letter to El Paso-based Western Refining threatening to sue “for significant and ongoing violations” of the Clean Air Act at the company’s El Paso Refinery. The notice-of-intent letter was addressed to Paul Foster, Western’s chairman of the board, a University of Texas System regent, and a major donor to Rick Perry.

The green groups – Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project, and Environment Texas – make a number of allegations, the most pertinent of which may be their assertion that Western is circumventing federal law through their TCEQ-issued “flex” permit. If you recall, Texas’ flexible permits program has been at the heart of a dispute between TCEQ and the EPA. A flex permit sets an overall cap on a plant’s pollution and allows the company to adjust emission levels at their will, so long as they stay under the cap. Critics argue that such a system is difficult to enforce, allows for excess pollution and violates key parts of the Clean Air Act.

In June, EPA officially rejected the 16-year-old program. Clean air groups cheered the decision as a repudiation of the state environmental agency’s industry-friendly bent while Gov. Perry and TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw accused the feds of destroying a successful program and putting jobs at risk.

In the letter, the environmental groups allege that the El Paso refinery has undergone “major modifications” without undergoing what’s called a New Source Review. They also argue that the refinery has exceed the pollution limits under their flex permit for particulate matter, which can cause respiratory problems, volatile organic compounds, a key ingredient in smog formation and benzene, a serious carcinogen.

Foster has given nearly $400,000 to Perry’s campaign, according to the Texas Tribune.

Read the whole letter here.