Author Archives: TexasBeyondCoal

Why I Protect Our Parks

REGIONAL HAZE – The last week in January I had the opportunity to travel to Oklahoma. As the apprentice focusing on regional haze, I found it important to actually lay eyes on one of the places that my work has been focused on over the past few months. 

Over the course of the week, I spent time with community residents, park lovers, and elected officials who all had a deep care and concerned for the Wichita Mountains National Refuge. I had the opportunity to present to the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce, the Lawton City Council and federal employees at the Wichita Mountains National Refuge, urging them to act and ask EPA to deny the do-nothing Texas plan and implement stronger haze pollution standards for the sake of their beloved refuge. Even when I wasn’t in a formal meeting, I spoke with everyone and anyone who would listen to me about the haze pollution and excitedly people were engaged and empowered to learn and do more.

William (Bill) Cunningham, is a resident of Meers, OK. A small town just north of the Wichitas. Bill has been aware of the haze pollution for many years now and welcomed the opportunity to do an interview with State Impact – a local Oklahoma NPR affiliate – on his experiences and the impact that the haze has on the beauty of the Refuge. Bill took me on a hike up Mount Scott, the highest peak in the Wichita Mountains National Refuge. From the top, I was able to see the haze pollution first hand. If you ever travel to the Wichitas, I highly recommend taking the time to visit Mount Scott.

Top of Mount Scott

It does not matter which federally protected land you visit, you learn something new and experience your own connection with nature and the environment. On my last morning I took a hike around Lost Lake and I tried to picture the views obstructed by a white, smoky filter. In those quiet moments, with the wind howling in my ear and the view of the bison huddled in the horizon, I realized even more, why these parks and refuges are worth protecting. They are American treasures.

Send your fondness memory to EPA Today! Click Here! A little love to our national parks and refuges goes a long way. 

Feel free to contact me if you wish to learn more and get involved on this issue! Written by Sarah Sharif – sarah.sharif@sierraclub.org – (650) 862-8779 – Follow me on Twitter @Sarah0Sharif

Read previous blog on Haze Pollution to understand what is keeping our parks in the dark! 

Read the article that Bill participated in here to get the local perspective! 

Find Out What is Keeping Our Parks in the Dark

Imagine a permanent haze smothering the panoramic view from the peak of your favorite hike at Big Bend in Texas, the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, or the Caney Creek Wilderness Area in Arkansas. Read on to learn how to prevent your childhood memories from being clouded over by pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is finalizing a decision on whether dirty Texas coal plants will continue to release their haze air pollution without regulation. This haze pollution damages our beloved National Parks (NP) and wilderness areas in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Image 1.1  - Pictures taken from Big Bend and Guadalupe on Clear and Hazy Days to illustrate the immense differences in visibility.Photo Credit: NPCA

Image 1.1 – Pictures taken from Big Bend and Guadalupe on Clear and Hazy Days to illustrate the immense differences in visibility.Photo Credit: NPCA

Haze is a visible and quantifiable measure of the levels of specific pollutants such as Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) that cause haze in the atmosphere (See image 1.1). These specific haze pollutants are released in large quantities from the northern and eastern Texas coal plants. The pollution travels from these locations into federally protected national parks in four surrounding areas: Big Bend NP, Guadalupe Mountains NP, Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, and Caney Creek Wilderness Area.

EPA is finalizing its decision for whether Texas coal plants have to follow the same kinds of rules for SO2 and NOx pollution that other out-of-state plants have to strictly follow. Strong standards would ensure the protection of our national parks and federal lands. The decision will play a pivotal role in propelling Texas towards a breathable future.

The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality (TCEQ),  the state environmental agency in Texas, proposed a do-nothing plan that would allow the biggest polluters to keep on pumping out visibility and health-harming pollution. With an obsolete plan that requires no changes, no progress towards clear skies, EPA should reject the TCEQ plan and take action to protect the our environment until the coal plants in Texas do their fair share like many other out-of-state power plants.

How do I get started? Call EPA and ask them to follow the law and protect the environment from old, dirty, unregulated Texas coal plants. Tell them that the law requires EPA to hold polluters accountable and that they need to implement a plan that protects our national parks and defends public health by reducing pollutant emissions. As other states like Oklahoma move forward by reducing their power plant emissions, Texas coal plants should not be the forgotten and left in the dark.

With just a few minutes of your day, you could have an impact that lasts through generations – Let’s work together to get EPA to make the right decision! Click Here! 

by Sarah Sharif

White Stallion Coal Proposal Cancelled

Local Advocates & Environmental Groups Declare Victory

BAY CITY, TX – After years of grassroots challenges, White Stallion Energy Center developers have chosen to suspend the proposed plant. When the project  was first announced, local residents joined together to question the air pollution, water consumption, and accuracy of the developers’ promises. More and more Matagorda County residents joined together to oppose the plant, along with business owners, land owners, members of the medical community, and local elected officials. The Sierra Club, Public Citizen, SEED Coalition, Environmental Integrity Project, and Environmental Defense Fund join the No Coal Coalition in celebrating the cancellation of the White Stallion Energy Center.

Houston Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Speaks out Against White Stallion in 2012

Houston Vice Mayor Pro-Tem Speaks out Against White Stallion in 2012

“The White Stallion developers came to Matagorda County, thinking they could lure us into supporting a project that would suck up our water, pump mercury into our bay, and pollute our air. Brave residents asked tough questions, and realized the White Stallion plant would harm our community and our economy. This plant is cancelled because we organized to protect our families and Matagorda County,” said Eva Malina, president of the No Coal Coalition, the local organization fighting the plant.  “I think they thought that since we were a small rural community, they would not encounter opposition.  They were wrong.”

Developers had trouble securing sufficient water to operate the plant and the necessary funding to develop the proposed plant in earnest. In November 2011, amid strong grassroots opposition, the Lower Colorado River Authority voted to deny a contract to provide water to operate the plant. In May 2012, local fishermen and business owners publicly announced their opposition to the plant because it would be a major new source of mercury pollution in a community whose economy is tied closely to the bay. The plant also suffered a blow when a court ruled against its challenges to Clean Air Act safeguards.

Since the plant was proposed in 2008, the Texas electricity market has shifted substantially, with wind power and natural gas driving electricity prices so low that huge, capital-intensive new coal plants could not compete. Wind power provided over 20% of Texas’ electricity on peak days in 2012, and new wind farms will bring more clean, low-cost electricity to the Texas grid in 2013 and the near future.

Matagorda County Landowner opposed to White Stallion Coal Plant

Matagorda County Landowner opposed to White Stallion Coal Plant

“Huge, dirty coal plants like White Stallion can’t compete with cheaper, cleaner fuels. Texas wind energy is booming, and will continue to grow. We haven’t begun to tap our solar and geothermal resources yet, which will further fuel a clean energy revolution in the Lone Star State,” said Lydia Avila, organization representative with the Sierra Club. “Ultimately, the White Stallion proposal didn’t match the values of the community or the direction of the Texas energy economy. This is a major victory for everyone fighting for clean air, clean water, and the health of our families.”

Texas utilities had proposed to build more than two dozen new coal boilers at new and existing plants over the past decade, yet in keeping with national trends, a total of 13 plants and 21 coal boiler proposals have failed and were cancelled. Recently, Chase Power, LLC., suspended the proposed Las Brisas plant in Corpus Christi, and  Tenaska’s proposed Trailblazer Energy Center near Sweetwater, TX, has been unable to secure the water needed to operate and has been stalled for more than a year. Nationwide, 175 proposed coal plants have been cancelled, and 139 existing plants are on the path to retirement. Coal is providing the lowest share of U.S. power in more than a generation as clean energy powers more homes and businesses across Texas.

whitestallion dead

We Did It! Americans Cheer EPA for First-Ever Protections Against Toxic Mercury

We Did It! Americans Cheer EPA for First-Ever Protections Against Toxic Mercury

Mercury hearing
People rallying at the Philadelphia EPA mercury hearing. Photo by SHARON GEKOSKI-KIMMEL / Staff Photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer

Are you one of the over 800,000 people who submitted a comment to the Environmental Protection Agency supporting proposed mercury pollution protections? Are you one of the hundreds who attended a public hearing in Chicago, Atlanta, or Philadelphia to support the draft standards? Are you one of the hundreds who attended a hair testing event to check your mercury levels, organized a stroller brigade with fellow parents, or joined a rally to get these protections across the finish line?

If so, then today you should celebrate, because you helped win a historic victory for our health. Today we are all applauding the EPA and the Obama Administration for issuing the first-ever nationwide protections against toxic mercury from dirty power plants. Hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke up for these vital safeguards via public comments, rallies, hearings, mercury teach-ins, and so much more. This is an epic victory we can all call our own.

No longer will the coal industry get away with poisoning our families. Mercury is a dangerous brain poison that can hinder children’s growth and development and cause neurological problems in young children.  Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, pumping more than 33 tons of this dangerous toxin into our air each year, and seeping into our water and the fish we eat.

As I reflect on this remarkable achievement, I also find myself thinking about the day I learned I was pregnant with my daughter Hazel, who is now one-and-a-half. It was a miraculous feeling, knowing that I was bringing a baby into the world. I pledged to eat right, exercise, and take care of myself, so that I could give her the best possible start in life. I also hoped I hadn’t eaten too much fish high in mercury in the months prior to getting pregnant, since I knew I would be passing all that mercury to my baby in the womb. Thankfully, my mercury levels were low and Hazel is a happy, healthy toddler.   

Mercury hearing2With these new protections in place, moms and dads of the future may have one less thing to worry about. Women and young children will be protected by these new safeguards – a critical move because each and every year, more than 300,000 babies are born who have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the womb. These protections against toxic mercury will slash mercury pollution by over 90 percent from every single coal plant in America, and will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and young children.

This historic announcement comes after more than two years of amazing grassroots work to raise awareness about mercury pollution and show support for mercury protections. I think of all the people who held or participated in mercury hair testing events, got postcards signed, attended or organized around a hearing, held or attended any of the dozens of other mercury awareness events organized nationwide, or submitted one of the more than 800,000 supportive comments received by EPA – the largest number of comments ever submitted to EPA on any issue.

Congress required reductions of mercury and other air toxics from power plants way back in 1990, when they passed amendments to the Clean Air Act, but the coal industry had succeeded in blocking the standards for over two decades. Now, the wait is over, and these long-overdue protections are finally in place.

I hope everyone will join me in thanking President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson for listening to Americans and for their leadership and courage in issuing these mercury protections. We are thrilled with today’s announcement – a historic victory for clean air, clean water, and healthy families. Congratulations to one and all!

— Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

Environmental Groups call on Luminant to Come Clean and Retire, Rather than Idle, Monticello 1 and 2

Groups Fear Luminant Will Simply Run Units Next Summer Without Cleaning Up the Air Emissions

Austin, TX – After receiving notice that Luminant Generation Company, LLC, has filed a Notification of Suspension of Operations for Monticello Units 1 and 2 with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), environmental groups called on Luminant to retire the units rather than idle them and be more forthcoming with long-term plans that will affect workers.  While Luminant and Texas have been in the headlines repeatedly for their opposition to the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the rule would effectively help Dallas/Fort Worth meet the minimum public health air quality standards for the first time in years. Yet, if Luminant only idles the plants, then chooses to run them at full capacity next summer, the implications for Dallas/Ft Worth’s air quality remain unclear.

“Luminant has been frightening Texans with claims that power will become scarce if the company is not allowed to continue polluting unabated.  But other Texas utilities are cleaning up their act without difficulty, and this summer’s successful growth of coastal wind demonstrates there are multiple ways to meet Texas’ electricity needs.” said Jen Powis, representative of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.   “Indeed, the Public Utilities Commission and ERCOT both have multiple tools in their arsenal that can be used to ensure grid reliability as Texas moves beyond coal.”

Luminant states that the rule unfairly targets their existing generation, yet a review of the 2009 self-reported emissions inventory maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality demonstrates that the three Luminant coal plants (Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake) are the top 3 industrial polluters in Texas among nearly 2,000 industrial plants. They are exceptionally dirty plants:

  • Combined they emit 25.5% of state industrial air pollution
  • Combined they emit 33.8% of state industrial SO2 air pollution
  • Combined they emit 11.4% of state industrial PM10 air pollution
  • Combined they emit 10% of state industrial NOx air pollution
  • Combined they emit 37.6% of state industrial CO air pollution

Comparing Luminant’s three coal plants only to other coal plants, however, shows an even more problematic tale.  Luminant’s Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake are:

  • 46.8% of all Texas coal plant emissions (19 existing coal plants)
  • 41.5% of all Texas coal plant SO2 emissions
  • 36.0% of all Texas coal plant PM10 emissions
  • 30.6% of all Texas coal plant NOx emissions
  • 71.7% of all Texas coal plant CO emissions

“We call on Luminant to move beyond posturing and sit down at the negotiating table with EPA in good faith to discuss responsible retirement plans for these plants, like CPS Energy in San Antonio is doing. This approach would be good for consumers, our health and the environment,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas office.

“In order to protect the health of Texans, Luminant must plan now to retire these old coal plants. Monticello has often been the worst emitter of toxic mercury pollution in the nation,” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “We don’t believe Luminant’s plans to retrofit these plants are economically feasible given the company’s poor financial health. Their plans rely on multiple expensive changes, any of which could simply fail to materialize. Luminant should commit to retire Monticello Units 1 and 2, and work with ERCOT, EPA, and public interest groups to prioritize clean energy generation.”

Public Citizen, Sierra Club and SEED Coalition call on Luminant to cease the use of scare tactics, and commit to a plan to retire its Monticello Units 1 and 2, paving the way for clean energy in North Texas. All three groups also call on ERCOT and the PUC to move forward by implementing new rules for energy storage, distributed renewable energy like onsite solar, energy efficiency, demand response, and a restructuring of the Emergency Interruptible Load System to assure there are maximum options available next summer.

“The Legislature has already granted broad authority to ERCOT and PUC to expand our use of these tools,” noted Cyrus Reed, with Sierra Club. “Now it’s time for them to step up to the plate, begin implementing these measures, and using their time to create solutions rather than fight clean air protections.”

Jen Powis, Beyond Coal Campaign, Texas Sierra Club

Public Interest Groups Applaud LCRA’s Decision to Postpone Water Vote

Sierra Club, Public Citizen, No Coal Coalition and other environmental organizations applaud the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) decision late Wednesday afternoon to indefinitely delay a controversial water contract for the proposed White Stallion coal plant.   The vote was indefinitely delayed for the water contract because attorney of the White Stallion coal plant requested changes to the proposed contract, some of which are unprecedented for an LCRA water contract.

This announcement from LCRA comes on the same day Travis County Court Judge Nora Livingston upheld a decision to remand the White Stallion air pollution permit back the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) because the company filed multiple and conflicting plot plans to different governmental agencies.   In July of 2010, Administrative Law Judges who originally heard the case on the air pollution permit recommended denial of the air permit because of the many flaws that did not meet the minimum Clean Air Act safeguards that every coal plant in the country is legally obligated, yet TCEQ granted an illegal air permit anyway.

“LCRA has already received over 2,200 letters and email in opposition to this plant from community members up and down the basin as well as from city, state and county officials.  LCRA manages the water for the State of Texas which meant the water belongs to the people and the people don’t want it to go to a coal plant, “said Tom “Smitty” Smith with Public Citizen Texas. “White Stallion is trying to take us for a spin, and LCRA should outright deny the water contract once and for all.”

The proposed White Stallion coal plant does not have any of the necessary permits in hand that are required.  Not only have they met multiple snags when applying for the flawed air pollution permit and the controversial water contract, they still do not have the required waste water permit from TCEQ, the 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers, nor the Greenhouse Gas Permit from the EPA.

“White Stallion doesn’t have the finances lined up to build a $4 billion coal plant. ,” said Allison Silva, President of the No Coal Coalition.  “First, White Stallion pulls a bait and switch with multiple site plans to multiple permitting agencies, and then asks for more time to pay for Texans’ water. If White Stallion cannot execute on a water contract, how can we expect them to execute on jobs?”

The proposed White Stallion coal plant faces these obstacles and may not be built:

  1. Air permit remanded back to TCEQ, judge upholds remand
  2. 404 Permit from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  3. Waste Water Permit from TCEQ
  4. Water contract from LCRA – delayed indefinitely
  5. Other economic obstacles

“It is highly plausible that we will see the same tricks and scams when White Stallion applies for the other needed permits from TCEQ, Army Corps of Engineers and EPA,” said Eva Hernandez with the Sierra Club, “but the writing is on the wall – coal plants are an outdated sources of energy.  In Texas we have a plethora of renewable energy alternatives like solar and wind that make more sense for the environment, for health, and for the economy.”

For more information on the flaws of the proposed White Stallion coal plant, visit www.nocoalcoalition.org.

-Posted by Eva Hernandez, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign

Still Wondering… What do we do When the Well Runs Dry?

Guest Blog post by Dean Speer, Abliene, TX local resident and student at University of California, Berkely College of Natural Resources.

***

In a state that is suffering through severe droughts and hosting numerous dry rivers and fading lakes, Water has become paramount. The fact is that 94% of Texas is in a current state of drought, with nearly 50% of the state experiencing what has been labeled “exceptional drought”. These droughts are expected to continue with the possibility of an increase in their severity. As if this wouldn’t be enough to get most Texans worrying, wildfires are raging across the countryside destroying homes and plaguing ranchers and farmers. This could make any person wonder what is going to be left of this great state for their children.

Don’t take my word for it, research it for yourself.

Personally I found an article devoted to Droughts within Texas and another about the the dwindling lake levels. With the ever increasing population of Texas I wasn’t surprised to find an article about the growing demand of water facing the shortage in supply of water. Sadly it gets worse, I also educated myself on how a lack of water threatens the growth of our state. The Hill country itself is in a harsh drought that is starting to affect more than humans..

In the heat of this disaster, while cities and individuals are coming together to try and secure what scarce water resources remain for the essentials of drinking, agriculture and local business, Tenaska has been behind the scenes trying to make thirty year contracts for thousands of acre feet of water per year to cool their coal plant facilities. Contracts that would even under the extreme conditions of drought provide water to the coal plant despite the possible needs of families. Tenaska is a business that operates for profits, not for the betterment and protection of the people it is taking its water resources from. Our children could go to bed thirsty while the Tenaska pipes surge with water.

After the coal plant failed to wrangle Abilene and Sweetwater out of their water, Tenaska has targeted Stamford. A recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) probe has shown that representatives of the City of Stamford and Tenaska have, without the public’s knowledge or input, been negotiating a water contract since 2009. This contract states that the city of Stamford would provide “firm supply and firm transportation of raw water from Lake Stamford for water demands” of the coal plant. The FOIA probe also showed that Tenaska is funding the lawyers who are advising the city of Stamford, over $65,000, on the contract. When people who are in charge of protecting the citizens are receiving advice paid for by the same company who is trying to take their water a person is left wondering whether or not their best interests are being protected.

The result is the rise of local citizens to protect their own best interests and futures. Grassroots organizations like Texans Against Tenaska and Abilenians Against Tenaska provide the information Tenaska does not to elected officials, their neighboring residents and the business and agricultural communities. Real people are coming together and building the momentum needed to save their right to water by stopping Tenaska.

The question Texans should be asking themselves is whether we need water or we need more energy? According to the “State of the market” report published by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas our supply of energy is outpacing our demand. The cherry on the top is that our energy reserves used to cushion major outages, required at 13% of total use, is at 21%. On one hand we have water (droughts, shortages, hazy futures) and on the other hand we have the Tenaska coal plant (water guzzling, dirty, surplus of energy). You decide, because if you remain silent Tenaska will decide for you.

For more information or to volunteer your talents,

see http://texansagainsttenaska.org/ or ‘friend’ Texans Against Tenaska on Facebook.

Send an email to the Stamford Mayor and city council members now before it’s too late.   You can send a message even if you don’t live in the city of Stamford.   Click here, and spread the word!

–Dean Speer