LUBBOCK — A federal mandate to slash carbon emissions nationwide could result in another lengthy legal battle in Texas after the front-runner to become the state’s next governor said Monday he will fight the effort.
Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and Republican nominee for governor, said requirements to cut emissions by 39 percent in Texas would further a federal agenda that has threatened to cut jobs in a booming state energy industry.
The comments put into question how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would force Texas to comply with its new standards if Abbott wins the gubernatorial election in November. The EPA is relying heavily on governors to help develop an emission-cutting strategy within three years but can create its own plan for states that refuse.
Abbott, who has repeatedly sued the EPA as Texas’ longtime top prosecutor, appears ready to follow that route if necessary.
“Previous EPA regulations have threatened to eliminate Texas jobs and stifle energy production, an industry at the very core of our state’s economy,” Abbott said. “Yet the Obama administration is doubling down on their job-killing agenda with this latest proposal.”
Under the federal plan unveiled Monday, Texas must meet the carbon emissions goal by 2030 in a move that could further reduce the state’s reliance on coal power plants and force the state to develop more alternative energy sources. The EPA’s broader plan calls for a 30 percent nationwide reduction.
State officials say they will need to evaluate the effects on consumers and the state’s ability to meet demand. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Public Utility Commission and the Railroad Commission of Texas are reviewing the proposal and will provide comments to the EPA.
Texas environmental officials say they are concerned the EPA is using the Clean Air Act and not congressional action to regulate carbon emissions. The TCEQ said in a statement it wanted to balance environmental protection “with a regulatory environment that is fair and predictable.”
The EPA outlined several options for states to comply with its Monday announcement, including making power plants more efficient, reducing reliance on coal and investing in more renewable energy sources.
Texas and the EPA have a history of contentiousness.
Earlier this year, the state ended a long legal battle with the federal agency when the EPA gave the state oversight of greenhouse gases permitting. The EPA had taken over the state’s greenhouse gas permitting program after Texas refused to comply with new regulations designed to decrease air pollution that is believed to contribute to climate change.
Texas, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and industrial pollution in the nation, was the only state that refused to comply, arguing among other things that the regulations would be too costly for businesses.
Texas also leads the country in carbon dioxide emissions, pushing out 223 million metric tons in 2012, or 1,298 pounds of the pollutant per megawatt hour. The EPA wants the state to reduce that to 791 pounds per megawatt hour.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the flow of electric power to 23 million Texas customers — representing 85 percent of the state’s electric load — said it is evaluating how the proposed regulations may affect generating plants in its region.
“We will work with stakeholders and regulators to identify potential impacts and explore options to maintain electric grid reliability in the future,” it said in a statement.
Denton Municipal Electric, the energy provider to the city’s residents and businesses, is ahead of the state in reducing its reliance on coal.
The utility leads the nation in using more wind power per capita than any city in the U.S., according to the utility’s website. The local energy provider gets 40 percent of its energy from the Wolf Ridge Wind Facility in Meunster through a contract with NextEra Energy LLC.
A small portion of the city’s energy is provided through a power-purchase agreement with DTE Energy through a public-private partnership with the Denton landfill. The partnership authorizes a 1.6 megawatt landfill gas to energy project. The remainder of the city’s energy needs are met through power purchase agreement with Constellation Energy Commodities Group, a company that sells energy from nuclear, coal-powered, natural gas and renewable producers.
Al Armendariz, a former EPA regional director who was involved in some of the legal fights with the state and now works with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that closing the state’s five most polluting plants would eliminate 25 percent of the state’s emissions. Closing the top 12 most polluting coal plants would cut 50 percent, he said.
He noted that Texas also leads the nation in wind energy.
“We have to control carbon pollution or we’re going to leave a Texas to our grandchildren that looks very different from the one we inherited from our parents,” he said.
Denton Record-Chronicle staff writer Lucinda Breeding contributed to this report.