Tag Archives: clean air

EPA Wins Yet Again — Soot Standard Upheld

In yet another win for the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental protection, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit sided with the government that it acted appropriately in making the health-based standard for soot pollution more restrictive in 2012.

At issue was the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for Particulate Matter of 2.5 Microns or less. In 2012, the EPA lowered the standard from 15 micro-curies per year to 12 micro-curies per year based on a preponderance of evidence that these tiny bits of soot can severely impact the heath of those with preexisting breathing conditions, particularly the very young and very old. Particulate matter, or PM, refers to combinations of fine solids, such as dirt, soil dust, pollens, molds, ashes and soot, that are formed in the atmosphere as a byproduct of gaseous combustion from such diverse sources as utility and factory smokestacks, vehicle exhaust, wood burning, mining, construction activity, and agriculture. 

According to the EPA, the revised standard would save between $4 billion to $9 billion annually by 2020 because of lower health costs and more productive employees, while costing just between $53 million to $350 million to implement. The vast majority of the country, or 99% of U.S. counties, would meet the revised air standard by the 2020 compliance date without taking additional action beyond what already is required under other clean air laws.

And who disagree? Well the US Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers did, arguing the EPA lacked the scientific evidence to lower the standard.

Fortunately, good judgement prevailed, and once implemented these new regulations will make it a bit easier to breathe.

In Texas, the only county that currently violates this health-based standard is an area of Harris County. While TCEQ argues that this is due mainly to dust and sand from outside the area — including some from as far away as the Sahara — is is clear that local emissions from the port of Houston and from nearby refineries and motor vehicles also contribute to the pollution. Whether or not Harris County is ultimately declared non-compliant there are clearly actions that can be taken locally to lower soot pollution.

Sierra Club will continue to work to clean up the Port of Houston and also attempt to prevent new export terminals for coal and natural gas, which can also contribute to pollution.




November 21, 2013                                         Luke Metzger, Environment Texas 512-743-8257

Neil Carman, Sierra Club 512-288-5772

Josh Kratka, NELC 617-747-4333




Shell Deer Park and Chevron Phillips Cedar Bay ou Cut Major “Upset” Emissions by 95%


$7.8 Million in Penalties Funded Local Environmental Health

and Pollution Reduction Programs



                HOUSTON – Sierra Club and Environment Texas announced today that Shell Oil Company and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company have each cut illegal air pollution from major “upset” events at their Gulf Coast plants by about 95%.  Those reductions are even more than was required by their settlements of federal Clean Air Act lawsuits brought by the environmental groups, and have contributed to recent efforts to improve air quality in the Houston metropolitan area.


Motions to officially mark the successful completion of the consent decrees in each case are being filed this week in federal district court.


                At issue in the cases were illegal air emissions arising from so-called “upset” events – equipment breakdowns, malfunctions, and other non-routine occurrences – at Shell’s Deer Park oil refinery and chemical plant and Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown. The illegal emissions included carcinogens, smog-forming chemicals, and other hazardous air pollutants discharged in excess of limits in the facilities’ Clean Air Act permits.


       ;          “The results achieved through these settlements show that polluters can make dramatic reductions in air pollution if someone requires them to make the effort,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas.  “Shell and Chevron Phillips are to be commended for moving quickly to achieve compliance with the Clean Air Act after being sued, rather than choosing to pay armies of lawyers to drag things out in court.”


                “Houston’s air is cleaner today because of the reductions in illegal emissions at these two large Harris County plants,” explained Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter.  “Many other large industrial facilities in the area have yet to upgrade their operations to prevent upset events, but have escaped meaningful enforcement by state and federal regulators.”


                The Clean Air Act contains a “citizen suit” provision that allows private citizens affected by violations of the law to bring an enforcement suit in federal court if state and federal regulators do not.  In addition to the two cases against Shell and Chevron Phillips, Environment Texas and Sierra Club filed a similar Clean Air Act citizen suit against ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery and chemical plants.  That suit is scheduled for trial early in 2014.


                The groups’ lawsuit against Shell, initially filed in 2008, was resolved in 2009 by a first-of-its-kind settlement mandating emission reductions, extensive physical and operational upgrades, and imposing a citizen suit-record $5.8 million penalty. The penalty payment was used entirely to fund environmental, public health and education projects in Harris County, including a solar energy demonstration project by the Houston Advanced Research Center and the replacement of scores of polluting school buses with cleaner burning engines. The Houston-Galveston Area Council implemented the school bus project, which benefited the Pasadena, Goose Creek, Sheldon, Pearland, Clear Creek, and Humble Independent School Districts.


                In 2010, the environmental groups negotiated a similar settlement with Chevron Phillips, requiring stringent emission cuts, operational upgrades, and a $2 million penalty.  The penalty provided essential seed money to start a multi-year environmental health project in the Ship Channel area, in which Baylor College of Medicine is collaborating with existing clinics and hospitals to provide clinical services (including a mobile health clinic) to underserved populations.


                More specifically, both settlements required and achieved:


  • Mandatory emission reductions:  Shell cut its emissions from large upset events – those releasing enough pollutants to trigger the State’s public reporting requirements – by about 95%, from an average of approximately 1 million pounds per year before the lawsuit to about 45,000 po unds in the third year following the settlement.  Chevron Phillips cut total upset emissions from nearly 200,000 pounds per year before the lawsuit to less than 9,000 pounds for all of 2012, more than a 95% reduction.


  • Plant upgrades that improved performance and safety:  Shell Deer Park went from 67 reported upset events per year before the lawsuit, to just 19 three years later.  At Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou plant, annual reported upsets dropped from about 30 per year before the lawsuit to just 6 in 2012.


  • Enhanced monitoring of dangerous pollutants in key areas of each facility to detect leaks and other releases.  Unpermitted emissions of the carcinogens benzene and 1,3-butadiene have dropped to almost zero at Cedar Bayou and to a few hundred pounds per year at Deer Park.


                Shell and Chevron Phillips are filing motions in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas certifying that they have fulfilled all requirements of their respective consent decrees. 


                Additionally, the groups’ lawsuit against Shell triggered scrutiny of the facility by the U.S. Environment al Protection Agency.  That scrutiny resulted in a separate EPA enforcement action, which was settled this past summer and mandated additional upgrades and pollution reductions at the Deer Park complex.  



                Sierra Club has approximately 24,000 members in Texas who are dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting Texas’ environment and natural resources.

Environment Texas advocates for clean air, clean water, and preservation of Texas’s natural areas on behalf of approximately 5,000 members statewide.

                The groups are represented by the Boston-based non-profit National Environmental Law Center, attorney David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts, and Houston attorney Philip Hilder.



Keep the momentum moving in Texas

There is a story behind everyone, including people who stand for a better environment and clean energy. What’s your story?

For me, seeing the devastating effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf set off a chain reaction of thinking that piqued my interest in energy issues and led me to take action.  Everyone’s story is different, but it is important to remember that there is an entire nation waiting to see “greener” pastures.

The decision by the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline may seem like a temporary victory, but it is a victory nonetheless.  It’s important to rejoice in our efforts, and to use the momentum to continue our fight against climate change.  When you see what the efforts of many can do, it becomes easier to remain optimistic, and to continue to push the envelope.

The EPA has been pushing for stricter air standards, which reflects the sentiment of many Texans who want clean air.  Unfortunately, exemptions would allow Texas coal plants to continue to pollute one of the crown jewels of the nation: Big Bend National Park.

These exemptions would allow Texas to purchase emissions allowances from other states.  You have to ask yourself, does that make sense?  Texas coal-fired plants pollute Texan’s air, so we must put pressure on these polluters.  When we band together, we see results.  Let’s make Big Bend National Park a cleaner place for generations to enjoy.  Please take action and bring a victory to the Lone Star State.

– Kat Herrera, Beyond Coal Intern

Houstonians speak up against White Stallion coal plant and for clean air!

Last Tuesday, October 18th Houstonians sent a message to Mayor Parker and city council: we want clean air!  Sixteen clean air supporters showed up at the city council meeting to deliver hundreds of petitions to Mayor Parker and the council against the White Stallion coal-fired power plant, proposed just 20 miles outside of a region with some of the worst air pollution problems in the country, including Houston. 

Roughly half of those present spoke to the council about their concern over the possibility of this coal plant being built so close to Houston where thousands of people already suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases.  Houston leads the state in asthma rates and many must look out for “bad air days” which often determines whether or not they  will spend time outdoors.   It is evident that the last thing Houston needs is another major ource of smog that will emit the equivalent pollution of 1.7 million cars.

It was a great day at city hall and below are accounts from some of the folks who came out and stood up for air quality.  Stay tuned for updates on whether Mayor Parker takes action against this proposed coal plant.

I thought our being at the council meeting and the talks we delivered made an
impact on the council members.  My best moment was when one of the council members starting asking questions about White Stallion Power Plant after one of our speakers, showing that he had paid attention and now wanted more information!  That’s how it starts to change.  One by one.”
– Don

“Highlight of the city council visit was seeing the concern on the Council regarding the White Stallion plant, especially Councilman Ed Gonzalez.” – Bette

“I signed up to be a last minute speaker. Having not planned on speaking, I had nothing prepared. (Scary!)  While waiting for my turn to speak, I flipped through the notes packet the team prepared for the Council Members and found some key points that I realized I could use to help deliver “my story” to the Council. Worked out GREAT! So my lasting memory from this event will be a lesson – ‘even when it appears the odds of proving useful may be remote, don’t refrain, you may well end up being a big help’” – Joe

CELEBRATE! Clean Air Coming to Noses and Lungs Near You!

Texas Environmental Community Welcomes EPA Cross StateAir Pollution Rule announced today — New EPA Safeguard will Improve Health & Lives of Millions of Americans

Austin, TX Today, Texas environmental groups Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and Environmental Integrity Project welcomed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement of a new Cross State Air Pollution Rule — a new safeguard to protect Americans from dangerous air pollution from coal-fired power plants. The new protections will reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) in 27 states including Texas. SO2 and NOx form soot and ground-level ozone smog which contributes to poor air quality days and respiratory illnesses affecting millions of Americans.   

Dr. Neil Carman, Sierra Club’s Clean Air Program Director in Texas, a chemist and former Air Control Board investigator celebrated the announcement:

The Sierra Club applauds EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s landmark Cross State Air Pollution safeguard announcement today.  EPA’s actions today will help save lives and reduce dangerous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.  Air pollution does not respect state boundaries.  As a result, air pollution created in one state can burden surrounding states with harmful pollution.  Texas coal plants are known to produce pollution that has negative consequences for the health of people both in Texas and surrounding states, particularly in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.  We are especially pleased with EPA’s decision to include Texas in its proposal and to include sulfur dioxide, as Texas coal plants are at the top of the list of worst polluters in the nation.

According to the EPA, in 2005, 17 Texas coal plants emitted 531,059 tons of SO2 and 134,234 tons of NOx. By 2014, the new safeguard will reduce from 2005 levels — 303,467 tons of SO2 or 57% of SO2 and 49,814 tons of NOx or 29% of NOx.  90% of these reductions will occur at Texas coal plants.  EPA Chief Administrator Lisa Jackson today said that this rule will prevent 670-1000 premature deaths in Texas beginning in 2014.

Carman concluded, “This will result in a leap forward in reducing ozone in Texas non-attainment areas where urban areas have been struggling to clean up the air.  People living near the coal plants will definitely enjoy living with cleaner and safer air.”


Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas office spoke about the economic implications of the new EPA safeguard saying,

 Concerns about meeting Texas energy needs are unfounded.  ERCOT’s most recent state of the market report along with its 2011 Report on the Capacity, Demand, and Reserves in the ERCOT Region show that we have sufficient generating capacity to meet summer peaks.  With cost effective energy efficiency measures, we can meet the electrical demand and clean the air.  Concerns about costs of this protective measure are also unfounded.  EPA found that this protection will result in a less than 1% increase on electricity bills.

We believe – and, the Texas PUC’s own Itron report, the “Assessment of the Feasible and Achievable Levels of Electricity Savings from Investor Owned Utilities in Texas: 2009-2018” shows that we can cost effectively reduce the energy needed in Texas by 23% using energy efficiency measures that are far cheaper than the cost of burning coal.   Today Texans are paying almost $6 billion a year in health care costs resulting from power plant pollution, and the insignificant cost increases that might result to consumers will be more than made up in lowered medical costs for all.  It’s time the utilities do their fair share to clean the air. The emissions controls that the utilities will be required to use are very similar to those put on every new car since the 1970s. Besides health benefits, the EPA’s safeguard supports Texas transition to a clean energy economy and green jobs.

Texas officials should convene a panel to analyze the cost of pollution upgrades at the coal plants and look at whether there are more cost-effective ways to meet our energy needs in the future.


San Antonio’s public utility, City Public Service recently announced the phase-out of its dirty old coal plant, Deely in favor of clean energy solutions and just yesterday announced a call for bids for a 400 Megawatt solar power plant.

Smith concluded, “The costs of solar are plummeting as this clean renewable energy source comes to scale.  San Antonio is leading the way to Texas clean energy future and the rest of the State should get with the clean energy program.”

A recent report published in March of 2011 by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that a significant investment in energy efficiency in homes and businesses and investments in new combined heat and power capacity within the industrial sector found that some 98,600 jobs would be created over the next 20 years in Texas. An American Center for Progress Report study found that a 25% renewable energy standard by 2025 coupled with increased spending in energy efficiency through the monies earmarked for Texas through the ARRA would produce some 150,000 jobs in Texas by 2030, while a 2009 Blue-Green Alliance study found that a nationwide Renewable Energy Standard would create 60,000 new jobs in Texas over the next 10 years, including 20,000 in solar energy.

Next week, Texas environmental groups will release new data that details pollution problems at existing coal plants and underscores the importance EPA’s inclusion of Texas in this new Cross State Air Pollution rule.. 

For More Information Contact:   Neil Carman, Sierra Club, 512-288-5772 or 512-663-9594, Tom ‘Smitty’ Smith, Public Citizen Texas, 512-797-8468, Ilan Levin, Environmental Integrity Project, 512-637-9479

Posted by Donna Hoffman, Sierra Club, 512-477-1729 or 512-299-5776

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