EPA rejects Texas plan to cut haze-causing pollution from coal plants

EPA rejects Texas plan to cut haze-causing pollution from coal plants

Photo: Dallas Morning News

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday rejected parts of a key Texas clean-air plan, setting up a conflict that has deep implications both for the state’s electricity mix and for air quality across much of the country.

The partial rejection of Texas’ regional haze plan, a federally required strategy for reducing pollution that causes hazy skies, would require 14 coal-burning generating units at seven Texas power plants to install or improve controls that limit emissions of sulfur dioxide. An eighth plant, with one unit, could comply without new equipment.

The plants are mostly upwind of urban North Texas, meaning their emissions often drift to the metropolitan area and further on to Oklahoma. They include Luminant’s Big Brown plant south of Dallas and the company’s Monticello and Martin Lake plants, northeast and east of Dallas.

There were conflicting predictions about what the federal action would mean for Texas. EPA officials said a proposed order from the agency would help make skies clearer and people healthier by eliminating about 230,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, or SO2, each year.

The EPA said its plan would mean faster progress and broader action to curb SO2 than Texas had proposed. The state’s mid- and long-term goals were too weak to meet legal requirements, the EPA said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which prepared the state plan, disagreed, saying in a statement that the plan complied with federal law. The commission suggested that the EPA’s demand for quicker action would harm the economy.

The EPA requirements would cost “more than $2 billion, for a negligible increase in visibility” in national parks and wilderness areas, the TCEQ statement said. “These costs would invariably be passed on to consumers, either directly or indirectly,” it said, “and could have consequential impacts on the state’s power grid.”

The federal Clean Air Act requires states to submit plans for limiting the types of pollution, mostly from power plants, that cause hazy skies. The same emissions can harm human health.

Texas’ regional haze plan does not do enough to curb pollution to meet minimum legal requirements, the EPA said. By law, the federal agency must act on its own authority to regulate pollution sources when a state has failed to do so, the EPA said.

The EPA also found that Texas had not done enough to limit the effect of its pollution on downwind states, Oklahoma in particular. Texas power plants were adding about twice as much to the haze at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge as Oklahoma’s plants, the agency said.

The EPA is proposing a federal plan in place of the disapproved parts of Texas’ plan. Typically, a federal plan stays in effect only until federal and state officials resolve differences and a state plan can take its place.

The EPA will take public comments on its proposals for 60 days, with a final decision expected next year.

The agency’s ruling came two days before a Wednesday deadline for the agency to approve or reject Texas’ plan.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has sued the EPA frequently over clean-air rules, takes office as governor in January.

Luminant, the generating arm of Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings, might face the biggest bill for complying with the EPA plan. Eight of the 15 affected generating units are at Luminant plants. Energy Future Holdings, meanwhile, is in bankruptcy.

The EPA estimated that the ordered work on each Luminant unit could involve capital expenses of $17 million to $259 million, depending on the options chosen. Annual operating costs would be additional.

Luminant offered no immediate reaction. “Since this proposed rule that just came out is more than 260 pages and contains a lot of technical data, we are reviewing and analyzing the EPA’s proposed rule and the effect it would have on our plants,” spokesman Brad Watson said in an email.

Coal plants already face economic and environmental pressures from cheap natural gas and from rules on emissions of mercury, carbon dioxide and other pollution. In addition, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy must propose revisions to the nation’s standard on urban ozone by Dec. 1.

Coal plants are a major source of ozone-causing emissions, although vehicles are the biggest source in urban North Texas.

Although the required regional haze plans also have to reduce pollution linked to a wide range of health and environmental problems, they specifically are meant to protect the nation’s wildest places, labeled Class 1 areas.

They are 156 national parks and wilderness areas that Congress designated for protection from air pollution that obscures horizons — key factors in harming tourism and outdoor experiences.

Texas has two,……..more here.

 
rloftis@dallasnews.com

Environmental Writer

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