Tag Archives: air emissions

Sierra Club turns up the heat in February in Texas with lawsuits and rate interventions against coal plants, oil refineries

Sometimes one doesn’t realize how active Sierra Club is throughout the state — from Houston, to Waco to West Texas. One only need look at February 2013 as an example. First,  the Sierra Club and Environment Texas is taking Exxon Mobil’s Baytown refinery and chemical plant to federal court in Houston, calling on the court to intervene by ordering the Irving-based oil giant to comply with its permits and issuing stiff penalties. Under a provision of the Clean Air Act that allows citizens to go to court to enforce the law in the absence of government action, Sierra Club and Environment Texas are claiming that the  company over an eight-year period illegally released about 5,000 tons of toxic pollutants into the air from its Baytown site. Previous filed Clean Air Act lawsuits against Chevron and Shell led to negotiated agreements that have cleaned up the air, but Exxon Mobil preferred to go to court. 

Second, in Waco, Texas this week, Sierra Club’s lawyers are alleging that Luminant’s large coal plants in East Texas are illegally spewing out far more pollution than is authorized by state and federal law and their permits. Essentially, Sierra Club is taking this “enforcement” action because our own regulatory agency — the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — and the EPA have refused to. A recent article in the New York Times makes mention of how groups like Environment Texas and Sierra Club are taking these legal steps because of the lack of transparency and enforcement activity by our regulators. 

Finally, just last week, Sierra Club filed to intervene in a rate case in West Texas, where Southwestern Public Service Company is asking the Public Utility Commission if it can raise its rates and tariffs by approximately 10%. One of the reasons they cite in raising rates in West Texas is the need to clean up their coal plant to meet environmental regulations. Sierra Club member –as our motion to intervene makes clear — “have a unique interest in avoiding imprudent expenditures on coal-burning power plants, and ensuring that lower-cost demand-side management and renewable energy resources are fully developed.” In other words, maybe efficiently retiring one or more of the coal plant units, while adding new resources would ultimately be cheaper and better for the customers of SPS. A copy of our motion can be found here

TCEQ goes one step forward, two steps back on air emissions from frackin’

Wednesday, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality finally approved new air emission regulations on permit-by-rules and standard permits for oil and gas facilities. That’s good news because the rules will mean new facilities will need to actually assess their air emissions, do some monitoring and follow best management practices and get this — even HAVE to register their information with our regulatory authority. Again, the new rules are much better than existing law, which is basically nonexistent on air emissions.

But here’s the bad news — after receiving untold pressure from the industry, they not only carved out an exemption for “Smaller” facilities, they decided to only apply the new rules in the Barnett-Shale, larger Dallas – Fort Worth area. While the Barnett-Shale in  Texas is where development is still growing — and the area where air emissions have already impacted both the health of people but also impacted the area’s ability to come into compliance with ozone standards — it is not the only place where air emissions are important.

So the rest of the state – South Texas’s Eagleford shale play, North Texas’s Woodford Shale Play, etc — gets nothing for now. TCEQ Commissioners did instruct staff to begin working on a new rule package for the rest of the state..soon.

Keep in mind that the rest of the state is developing rapidly. According to Texas Monthly Oil and Gas Statistics, the top ten gas counties include not only some West and Dallas-area counties like Tarrant, Denton and Freestone, but also south Texas counties like Zapata and Webb.. But apparently those people are not yet important enough to protect with the new rules…

Here’s an article in Fort Worth on the new rules adopted by the TCEQ

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director, Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club