Texas Organizations Challenge State Decision to Permit Up to 30 X More Soot than Allowed by Feds During Startup, Shutdown and Maintenance
Austin, Tex., July 1, 2016 — A coalition of nine organizations today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over its failure to respond to their petition to overturn Texas’ decision to exempt large coal-fired power plants from federal air pollution limits on particulates and other pollutants during startup, shutdown and maintenance.
The Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice filed the notice on behalf of Air Alliance Houston, Environment Texas, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Downwinders at Risk, Neighbors For Neighbors, Public Citizen, and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.
“Texas government officials issued sham air pollution control permits at the behest of lobbyists for coal-fired power plants,” said Ilan Levin, director of the Texas office of the Environmental Integrity Project. “The result is that many of the nation’s dirtiest power plants, which are right here in the Lone Star State, are allowed to spew more deadly fine particle pollution than federal law allows. EPA needs to intervene, and the public should not be forced to wait any longer for action on this issue.”
“It is well past time for EPA to take action,” said Charles McPhedran, an attorney with Earthjustice. “EPA knows soot is dangerous, and has the tools to protect Texans from this threat.”
In May 2015, the groups filed a petition with EPA that challenged actions by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to authorize up to 30 times more particulate matter (soot) per hour from power plants than federal standards allow for plant startup, shutdown and maintenance.
The state’s weakening of the permits of 35 generating units at 19 power plants across Texas violates the federal Clean Air Act because it rolls back standards that protect public health without the opportunity for public review as required by law. The state made the changes – inserting language into permits that was provided by industry lobbyists — without the public hearings open to all Texans that are guaranteed by federal law. Texans were shut out of the process, and are now facing more potentially deadly air pollution as a result.
Particulates are microscopic soot-like particles that trigger asthma attacks, heart disease and premature death. The 19 power plants in question are already responsible for 30 percent of all of the particulate pollution produced by large industrial sources in the state, as well as 31 percent of the nitrogen oxides (which contribute to smog) and 78 percent of the sulfur dioxide (which causes acid rain).
The state’s changes to the permits of these power plants would allow the plants to increase their total combined pollution by thousands of tons above today’s levels. Each additional ton of particulates results in about $1.2 million in public health costs, according to an EPA estimate for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Emails and correspondence obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project through a Public Information Act request show that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) from 2011 through 2013 revised air pollution control permits at the direction of the state’s electric power industry trade group. The revisions eliminated federal limits on particulates and made alternative state limits impossible to enforce.
The revised permits allow exemptions from federal particulate limits during startup, shutdown and maintenance for more than 1,000 hours a year (the equivalent of six weeks per year). The changes give the green light to far more particulate pollution than ever before reported by the power companies.
- In Limestone County, Texas, about 115 miles southeast of Dallas, the state’s revised Oct. 2, 2012, permit for NRG’s two coal-fired power plant units allow as much as 7,616 pounds of particulates per hour during startup, shutdown and maintenance. That’s more than 30 times the limit of 256 pounds per hour in the plant’s last permit.
- In Vernon, Texas, 189 miles northwest of Dallas, the state’s revised February 3, 2012, permit for the American Electric Power’s Oklaunion power plant allows up to 1,440 pounds of particulates per hour – seven times the 205 pounds allowed in its previous permit.
- In Rockdale, Texas, about 59 miles northeast of Austin, the state’s revised Dec. 16, 2011, permit for Luminant’s Sandow Unit 4 allows the release of 3,763 pounds of particulates per hour – more than six times the 569 pounds allowed previously.
The Environmental Integrity Project and its allies are asking EPA to re-open the revised permits and require Texas to eliminate the exemptions from federal pollution limits, allowing public input during the process. If Texas fails to comply within two years, the coalition is urging EPA to impose a federal air pollution control plan for the state.
THE GROUPS INVOLVED:
- The Environmental Integrity Project is a 12-year-old, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., that works to hold polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.
- Earthjustice uses the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health; to preserve magnificent places and wildlife; to advance clean energy; and to combat climate change.
- Air Alliance Houston advocates for Houston’s fenceline communities by working toward a future in which no one’s health or quality of life is adversely impacted by air pollution.
- Environment Texas is a statewide grassroots advocate for clean air, clean water and open spaces.
- Texas Campaign for the Environment focuses on local and state issues, organizing award-winning campaigns to protect public health in the state.
- Downwinders at Risk advocates for clean air in North Texas through community organizing initiatives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
- Neighbors for Neighbors is a Central Texas community organization working for clean air and water, sustainability of natural resources, and holding local polluters accountable.
- Public Citizen’s Texas Office works on environmental enforcement policies, global warming, promoting renewable/clean energy, improving state government agency operations, and other consumer, health and safety policies.
- The Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (“SEED”) Coalition works for clean air, and supports affordable energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions to meet our energy needs.
Ilan Levin, Associate Director, Environmental Integrity Project (512) 637-9479 office, (512) 619-7287 cell, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles McPhedran, Esq., Earthjustice, (215) 206-0352, email@example.com