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Texas Challenges EPA on Overturning Air Permit Program

The EPA ruled last month that the state's so-called flexible permit program violated the Clean Air Act.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas officials on Monday appealed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision to overturn a 16-year-old state air permitting program.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed the petition for reconsideration with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The EPA ruled last month that the state's so-called flexible permit program violated the Clean Air Act, which requires state-issued permits to set limits on each of the dozens of individual production units inside a plant. The state's program set a general limit on how much air pollutants an entire facility can release.

The EPA's decision will force some 125 refineries and petrochemical plants to invest millions of dollars to get new permits. Many plants may also have to invest in updates to comply with federal regulations.

In his appeal, Abbott wrote that the flexible permit program "improves air quality while helping regulators and regulated entities operate more efficiently."

The EPA did not immediately returned a message seeking comment on the appeal.

Gov. Rick Perry praised the appeal in a statement Monday, saying "the EPA's overreach is as potentially devastating as it is unnecessary."

The EPA's move came after years of bickering and negotiations between the federal agency and Texas. The argument recently escalated from a battle over environmental issues into a heated political dispute over states' rights.

Perry has been using the issue to drive home his contention that President Barack Obama's administration is overreaching.

"This legal action is the next step in our ongoing commitment to fight back against the Obama Administration's ever-widening effort to undermine our air quality initiatives and force a heavy-handed federal agenda on the people of Texas," he said. "The EPA's actions would likely result in significantly higher prices for energy and just about everything else, a frightening prospect during a time so many Americans are struggling to make ends meet."

State officials have insisted that the state's permitting program complies with the federal law and has improved air quality in Texas.

The EPA says Texas' system masks pollution and makes it impossible to regulate emissions and protect public health.

Texas has been issuing the permits since 1994 even though it never received the required federal approval. The EPA made clear at least five years ago it believed the permits violated federal air laws, warning Texas and the refinery and petrochemical industry it would take action. The industry, uncomfortable with the uncertainty, sued the EPA in 2008, demanding the agency take action on this and several other programs that remained in limbo.