[UPDATE] TCEQ – Don’t Fast Track Las Brisas

Corpus Christi Clean Economy Coalition, Sierra Club, and Public Citizen Point out Dangerous Flaws in Air Pollution Application

Perry’s Commissioners of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) have scheduled for this afternoon at 1:00 PM Texas time — Friday, October 15, an unusual ‘status update’  on the controversial Las Brisas air pollution permit.   The “status update” is scheduled for the Friday before a week-long State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) contested case hearring is set to begin—a proceeding that was ordered by the TCEQ Commissioners.

The week-long hearing that begins on Monday October 18, is Las Brisas’ second major hearing on their air pollution permit application.  The two Texas administrative law judges assigned to the case found that Las Brisas failed in its first, November 2009 hearing, to prove that the proposed pet coke power plant would meets all applicable public health and environmental standards.

Corpus Christi’s Clean Economy Coalition, the Sierra Club and Public Citizen call on the Commissioners to allow SOAH adequate time to fully review the Las Brisas application for a pollution permit, as required for all major industrial facilities proposing to emit air pollution in the state.

Jen Powis, Sierra Club’s Senior Regional Representative in Texas (Jen’s based in Houston) had this to say:

The status update set by Perry’s Commissioners is highly unusual. We are concerned because the TCEQ has a well-documented record of bending over backwards to help the industry it is supposed to regulate.  The TCEQ has attempted to fast-track other power plant permits in the past.  Las Brisas has asked the TCEQ to take unprecedented and extraordinary steps to issue an air pollution permit before the end of the year, in order to avoid greenhouse gas regulations that become effective early next year.

The remand contested case hearing on the Las Brisas permit begins at the State Office of Administrative Hearings, in Austin, on this Monday, October 18, 2010, at 1:00 p.m.   The Administrative Law Judges who will hear the case have agreed to an  accelerated schedule that will require them to work during the Thanksgiving holiday to return a Proposal for Decision to the TCEQ Commissioners by December 10.

Eva Hernandez asked —

Why the sudden rush to work through Thanksgiving on a permit application? The Commissioners gave Las Brisas a second bite at this apple already, now its time to allow the process to proceed as it always has and hopefully, Sierra Club and the other parties will demonstrate once again that Las Brisas is a bad deal for the people of Corpus and this state.

Based on allowable emission levels in the Las Brisas draft permit and reported emissions from the Industrial Criteria Emissions Inventory data for Nueces County from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for 2007, the Las Brisas plant would be authorized to emit roughly the same amount of air pollution – approximately 21,166 tons per yearas all of the Nueces County refineries combined, approximately 21,100 tons.

Corpus Christi MDs Greg Silverman, Bruce Taylor, and Lorraine Stehn at the Las Brisas Preliminary Hearing

The Nueces County Medical Society and the tri-county San Patricio, Aransas, Refugio Medical Society, representing physicians from the counties surrounding the proposed plant have publically opposed Las Brisas since it was first proposed.

Dr. Wes Stafford, Corpus Christi allergist and immunologist said:

Data from the Texas Medicaid program shows that children in Corpus Christi are already twice as likely to require emergency care for asthma as children in the rest of Texas. Clearly our community is already suffering the ill effects of industrial pollution.  Allowing Las Brisas to nearly double the pollution in this area is unconscionable.   When this information was presented to the TCEQ, it was summarily dismissed.  The impression of the public is that the TCEQ is there to protect the citizens of Texas from the health effects of industrial pollution.  Unfortunately, that is not true.  It is clear from any of us dealing with the current commissioners that they feel it is their job to ensure that any industry that requests a permit can get one.

State and federal law protect human health by restricting the amounts of air pollution from industrial sources.  In Texas, TCEQ is responsible for enforcing the federal and state Clean Air Acts.  However, recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that TCEQ’s air permitting program fails under a number respects.  Significantly, TCEQ’s ‘New Source Review’ program has failed to meet minimum public health and environmental standards.

Ryan Rittenhouse with Public Citizen summed up the situation:

The permitting process at TCEQ is completely broken. This permit would not be appropriate even if Las Brisas were meeting TCEQ’s lax and inadequate standards. Corpus Christi is already overburdened by air pollution, and the people living near the proposed Las Brisas plant are already exposed to too much toxic pollution from the refining and petrochemical plants.  TCEQ has glossed over, and barely even looked at, the impacts of toxic emissions from this plant on people and the environment.  The Las Brisas air permit should be sent back to the drawing-board.

UPDATE

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