Tag Archives: Coal Plants

Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club tells EPA: Protect Texas children by lowering the ozone standard

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began public hearings this week in North Carolina to consider whether to lower the national health standard on ground-level ozone. Formed on hot sunny days by emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxide emissions– primarily resulting from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, cars and industry – ground-level ozone directly impacts lung function and can lead to asthma, bronchitis, early death and a host of other health-related illnesses. Particularly at risk are the very young, the very old and those with preexisting health conditions.

Not surprisingly, filed public comments showed strong support among environmental and health advocates like Sierra Club and the American Lung Association for lowering the standard, while utilities, coal companies, the Texas Public Policy Foundation – an industry-funded conservative think tank – and even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the science does not support lowering the ozone standard. A full copy of the Lone Star Chapter’s comments can be found here.

At issue is whether or not the EPA should lower the level of pollution in the ambient air  at which an area would be considered to be in violation of the national air quality standard. The current standard of 75 parts per billion – measured as an average over eight hours — was developed in 2008 under former President Bush, while the new proposed standard would range between 60 and 70 parts per billion and has been under discussion in the public, in the White House, in Congress and in court ever since.

 The Sierra Club filed extensive comments supporting lowering the standard to 60 PPB based on hundreds of peer-reviewed health studies showing children and others do exhibit reduced lung function and real health effects at a level of 60.

 If a standard of 60 were adopted, it is likely that all major urban areas in Texas – based on the last three years of ozone data – would fail to meet the standard, including Houston and Dallas – which are currently out of compliance with the standard – along with Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Tyler-Longview, Waco, Beaumont-Port Arthur and El Paso. Even cities in the Lower Rio Grande Valley – generally far removed from large industrial sources – might violate such a standard. 

Though a new, lower standard would be challenging for most of the state to meet, no Texas citizen should have to breath outdoor air that is unsafe.  Fortunately, there are solutions. Within our cities, generally the largest amount of pollution that leads to high levels of ground-level ozone comes from vehicles. Texas can and should continue to clean up our cars and trucks by not only making sure we meet the federal standards for new vehicles but also by fully allocating the money from the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, which provides grants to clean up older mobile vehicles. There will be nearly $1 billion of TERP funds that could be allocated to clean up our mobile sources of pollution when the Legislature meets again in 2015.

We also must take strong action against major point sources of pollution. According to the TCEQ’s 2012 Point Source Emissions Inventory, about one-third of all nitrogen oxide emissions from industrial sources in Texas come from coal-fired power plants. Nonetheless, out of the 32 boilers in Texas that burn coal that are not scheduled for retirement, 24 lack basic control technology known as Selective catalytic reduction (SCR), a type of scrubber which removes much of the nitrogen oxide pollution. These coal plants without modern pollution control belched more than 78,000 tons of nitrogen oxide into our airways, leading to higher ozone levels throughout Texas. We would note that a special case are the coal plants owned by Luminant, which are large and located primarily in areas that influence ozone formation in Dallas and Waco. In 2007, they were purchased by a holding company known as EFH, which made a commitment to add SCR on many of their units, including Martin Lake, but have thus far failed to do so. Collectively, the Martin Lake units contributed more than 11,500 tons of nitrogen oxide in 2012, the highest single source in the state. Requiring that all such units install modern pollution control on their stacks – or retire – could significantly reduce these emissions.

We must also implement new regulations to clean up emissions from oil and gas fracking activities. The Railroad Commission of Texas is permitting some 20,000 oil and gas wells every year, the majority of which are being fracked. The well completions, flaring and venting of gas, plus their operation, processing, transportation and storage of the oil and gas and related materials is literally leaking thousands of tons of nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, leading to the creation of more ozone over our city centers. This problem is particularly pronounced in San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth due to the fracking boom. Yet our air quality regulations are outdated to deal with this new source of pollution. Finally, while many of our cement plants have updated their control equipment, about half have not, and they are major contributors to ozone formation throughout Central Texas, contributing about 16,000 tons of NOx per year.

Other solutions include making future buildings more efficient, growing renewable energy and energy efficient appliances and retrofitting existing buildings. These solutions have not been fully explored in Texas.

Yes meeting a new ozone standard would be challenging, but if our leaders at the White House, in Congress, at the Pink Dome and at our own agency – the TCEQ – will actually work on solutions rather than delay implementing a lower standard– we can reduce ozone levels, improve health, save lives and create jobs.

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

Hold that Horse—Houstonions demand an Environmental Impact Statement on White Stallion

As if the environmental impact on Matagorda county wasn’t bad enough, estimated tons of air emissions and chemical discharge from the White Stallion coal center of Bay City means that pollution contamination would reach miles beyond the plant’s physical location, affecting air quality in neighboring Houston, the most populous city in the southern US.  White Stallion’s emissions jeopardize public health and warrants the need for the EPA to conduct an overall Environmental Impact Statement, not just for the lives in for Bay City, but for Houston as well.

Air quality signboard indicating an ozone watc...

Image via Wikipedia

EPA Air Quality Index

The once embarrassing title, ‘smog capital of the nation,’ jolted Houston into lowering emissions to finally meet federal levels in 2009, but tighter standards imposed last year by the EPA has put Houston back in the struggle to make deeper cutbacks.  The Houston Chronicle reports, the White Stallion facility would push Houston past federal limits for smog and ozone, pumping more than 4,000 tons of nitrogen oxides into the air, the equivalent of 4.8 billion cars, and singlehandedly increasing Houston’s ozone level by 2 parts per billion.  At a time when the EPA has taken strict controls on air pollution to halt new emissions, the need for an EIS on White Stallion is especially dire.  Mayor Parker of Houston has already called upon the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to require an EIS for White Stallion, and for that we thank Mayor Parker.

— Tyra Ismail, Sierra Club Intern —

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Sierra Club Celebrates the BIG 1-5-0!

One-hundred-fifty coal-fired power plants defeated to this day!   With the true cost of coal coming to light, its unreliability proven throughout this freeze, and people speaking up on behalf of their health, we can look forward to some major change here in Texas.  Clean energy makes sense, coal doesn’t.

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February 4, 2010.

Plans for 150 New Coal Plants Scrapped
Transition to Clean Energy Picks Up Steam

Washington, DC: Purdue University has cancelled plans for a new campus coal plant, making the plant the 150th to be defeated or abandoned since the beginning of the coal rush in 2001. Thanks in part to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, in the last two years no new coal plants have started construction and the industry has announced the phase out of over 50 plants.

Purdue was the only university in the country planning to build a new coal plant. At the same time nearly a dozen other schools have committed to ending their dependence on campus coal plants by switching to cleaner sources of energy.

“The way people, businesses, governments and schools think about energy has shifted. The dirty coal status-quo is no longer acceptable,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “It is clear that clean energy technologies—ones that don’t spew life-threatening pollution into our air and water—are the way to a prosperous, secure energy future.”

At the beginning of the coal rush more than 150 coal plants were slated for construction. Today a majority of those projects have been defeated or abandoned because of tremendous grassroots pressure, rising costs and a slate of clean up requirements expected from the Environmental Protection Agency.

As major sources of life-threatening soot, smog and mercury pollution existing coal plants are coming under increasing scrutiny. Activists with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign are working on the ground in almost every state to phase out outdated coal plants and transition to cleaner, cheaper options for their area.

“The pollution from these coal plants is making us sick, worsening asthma, stifling childhood development and cutting short thousands of lives. Phasing out coal is essential to cleaning up our air and water, and protecting our families,” said Verena Owen volunteer chair of the Beyond Coal Campaign. “Making the switch to clean energy, like wind and solar, is good for our health, but it will also create jobs which makes it good for our economy too.”

For more, visit www.sierraclub.org/coal .

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http://action.sierraclub.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=195922.0&dlv_id=168222


Posted by Lydia D. Avila, Conservation Organizer.

Judges Find That Tenaska Fails to Meet “burden of proof”

The Administrative Law Judges (The Judges) who heard the case against the proposed Tenaska Coal Fired Power plant ruled Friday that Tenaska’s air permit should not be granted as it stands!

“The Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have concluded, based on their review of the evidence and applicable law, that Tenaska failed to meet its burden of proof to demonstrate that the emissions limits proposed in its Draft Permit will meet the requirements for Best Available Control Technology (BACT) and Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT).  The ALJs recommend that the Commission adopt more stringent emissions limits as indicated below.  Alternatively, the ALJs recommend that the Commission deny the Application or remand the matter for further evidence regarding BACT and MACT.”

While we all know there is no such thing as “clean coal” Tenaska claims that they would be one of the cleanest around, yet the judges recommended lower limits for almost every pollutant that Tenaska would emit.

The proposed Tenaska coal plant, if built, would be a 900 MW coal plant that would emit:

Citizens pack a town hall in Abilene - the majority are against the proposed plant.

Sulfur Dioxide: 2,183 tons/year; Nitrogen Oxide (forms Ozone): 1,819 tons/year; Particulate Matter: 1,092 tons/year; Mercury: 124 lbs/year.

This is one step in holding Tenaska accountable for the pollution they want to spew into the atmosphere.   The important thing to remember, folks, is that this is a “recommendation” to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), not a binding ruling.  So when the TCEQ commissioners make the decision on the Tenaska air permit they will have the opportunity to do the right thing for the health of Texans and deny the air permit!

We don’t need another coal plant in Texas.  Instead we should be investing in renewable energy technology like wind and solar which Texas is so ripe for!

Sunset-Ready Houstonians Give TCEQ an Earful

TCEQ Sunset Eco Town Hall

Citizens fed up with water, air, and soil pollution in a state where industry runs roughshod over our rights gathered on Wednesday at the University of Houston to address the first in a series of Town Hall meetings being organized by local environmental groups across the state.  And what a great kick-off it was with State Representative Jessica Farrar,  fomer TCEQ Commissioner Larry Soward and current TCEQ chief Mark Vickery on the panel

Righteous citizens ready for change see a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make pollution history in the Sunset Review process which is currently examining the functions of the Texas Rail Road Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 

Sierra Club is working with partner groups in the Alliance for a Clean Texas to assist some of the groups in having big and successful Town Hall meetings.   Find out more about upcoming Town Hall meetings and make sure you make your opinion known in this window of opportunity leading up to…PUT THIS ON YOUR CALENDAR…the December 15, 2010, TCEQ Sunset Review PUBLIC HEARING in Austin.  More details on that hearing to follow.  In then meantime, shake your booty out to the Town Hall Meeting nearest to you!

Congratulations to the Air Alliance Houston, Houston Sierra Club, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Alliance for a Clean Texas, and the League of Women Voters for an excellent big success at the first of the historic TCEQ Sunset Town Hall meetings!