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Texas challenging EPA's finding on greenhouse gas

DALLAS — Texas became the first state to challenge the federal government's finding that greenhouse gases are dangerous to people, claiming Tuesday that the ruling is based on flawed science and would wreck the state's economy.

The EPA in December issued an "endangerment" finding about carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, setting the stage for future rules restricting such emissions.

Texas — which leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions and is frequently at odds with the EPA — is asking a federal appeals court to review the endangerment finding. The state also asked the EPA to reconsider it.

"The EPA's misguided plan paints a big target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers and the hundreds of thousands of Texans they employ," Gov. Rick Perry said. "This legal action is being taken to protect the Texas economy and the jobs that go with it, as well as defend Texas' freedom to continue our successful environmental strategies free from federal overreach."

Al Armendariz, the EPA's regional director over Texas, said the agency is confident the finding will withstand any legal action. He also said the move isn't surprising considering Texas' pattern of opposition to the EPA.

"Texas, which contributes up to 35 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by industrial sources in the United States, should be leading the way in this effort," he said. "Instead, Texas officials are attempting to slow progress with unnecessary litigation."

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said it's the first legal challenge by a state, though industry groups have also challenged it.

Texas says the EPA's research should be discounted because it was conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore in 2007 for its work on climate change but has since been embarrassed by errors and irregularities in its reports.

"With billions of dollars at stake, EPA outsourced the scientific basis for its greenhouse gas regulation to a scandal-plagued international organization that cannot be considered objective or trustworthy," said Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Many climate scientists disagree with such assessments. Gerald North, a Texas A&M University scientist who headed a 2006 National Academy Study on climate change and works with the IPCC, said only a handful of scientists truly understand the data and almost all of them agree it's solid.

Tuesday's legal action was met with swift criticism from Texas environmental activists who've long felt Perry's decisions are based on his ties to the heavy industry groups that support him. Texas has more oil refineries, chemical plants and coal-fired power plants than any other state, leading the U.S. in industrial pollution.

"Not only is it legally unsound, it puts Texas on the side of the 1950s economy, against the clean energy economy of the future," said Jim Marston, Texas regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Perry, Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples appeared at the Austin announcement, saying the state has a strong record of improving air quality by cutting emissions without federal intervention. They said the state's crucial energy and agriculture industries would be hit hard by greenhouse gas limits, costing jobs and raising energy prices.

"I believe the EPA endangerment finding is fundamentally flawed, and I have serious problems with the process underlying EPA's action and the harmful implications it will have on the lives of Texans and the Texas economy," said Buddy Garcia, one of the three Texas Commission on Environmental Quality commissioners.

The endangerment finding classified six greenhouse gases as pollutants that threaten health: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. The finding allowed the EPA to for the first time to make rules restrict greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2007 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants that the EPA could regulate if found to endanger public health. The Bush administration never acted on the court order.