Monthly Archives: September 2011

Yawn. Rick Perry Sues The EPA…Again

Texas filed a petition in federal court last week to block the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) that will require states to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, most of which come from coal-fired power plants.  It’s a case of Texas versus the EPA, round eight and counting.

In a letter sent to President Obama on Sept. 26, Governor Perry said the implementation of the CSAPR will have an "immediate and devastating effect on Texas jobs, our economy and our ability to supply the electricity our citizens, schools and employers need."

Perry and his administration have yet to meet a health safety rule they like. This political banter is said to be pro-business, preventing Texans from losing jobs. Yet this comes from the same administration that cut 49,000 teacher positions and 6,000 state employee jobs earlier this year. Perry claims that the rule will kill jobs in Texas. Why doesn’t he care about the pollution that kills Texas’ children?

Earlier this month, Perry stated that “the Obama Administration continues to put up road blocks for our nation’s job creators by imposing burdensome regulations based on assumptions, not facts, that will result in job losses and increased energy costs with no definite environmental benefit."

No definite environmental benefit? The CSAPR will improve air quality, provide increased protection for sensitive ecosystems, and improve visibility in national and state parks. Nationally, this rule will save up to 34,000 lives, prevent 400,000 asthma attacks, and avoid 1.8 million lost sick days each year. In Texas alone, up to 1,704 lives will be saved each year. The state will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the 27 states to which this rule applies.

Perry went on to say, "yet again, this administration is ignoring Texas’ proven track record of cleaning our air while creating jobs, opting instead for more stifling red tape.”

I hope Governor Perry doesn’t break his arm when patting himself on the back for the air quality in Texas. A new report released by Environment Texas on Sept. 14 cites smog pollution in seven Texas cities among the smoggiest nationwide, putting residents’ health at risk. This report ranks cities in Texas and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe from 2010-2011.

Perry has stated, ‘I will always err on the side of life.’ His rhetoric certainly conflicts with his actions. The new air pollution rule will not only save the lives of Texans, but also bordering states that feel the effects of pollution from power plants here in the Lone Star State. It’s time that we make air quality a priority in Texas, and stop allowing coal plants to dirty our air and poison our families.

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, GHGs, Ozone / Read 8 Responses

Energy Producers Capture More Today Than In "Good Old Days" But We'll All Benefit If They Do Better

In the frontier days of drilling in the 1900s, discoveries such as Spindletop in Texas and the Drake in Pennsylvania heralded a new era of energy for America. Back then, the gaseous by-product produced at the wellhead was considered a nuisance and flared (burned) or released into the air. Today, it's considered a valuable energy source and routinely harnessed, which results in economic and environmental benefits. Capturing gas cuts emissions that contribute to ground-level ozone, cause cancer, and contribute to climate change.

Given that it’s 2011, we’re way past the conditions of the 1900s. But, whereas the process of capturing natural gas as an energy source has come a long way, many improvements must still be made to ensure producers capture the maximum amount of natural gas “upstream” at wellheads and throughout the gas processing and transportation network.

Just because the gas can’t be seen doesn’t mean it isn't hazardous. In the last three years, new data shows that natural gas leaks might be twice as high as previously thought. This means that a lot more air pollution is fouling the air we breathe.

The pollution comes from equipment on-site (tanks, valves, compressor engines, flanges), at processing plants (where raw natural gas is purified for residential and commercial use) and throughout the pipeline system.

If you know anyone that lives near drilling sites — such as the Barnett Shale in Texas, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, Piceance and big chunks of Colorado and Wyoming — you’ve likely heard stories about their public health and environmental impacts.

EDF sponsored a study showing that the emissions produced by natural gas operations around Barnett Shale rival those from 4 million cars and trucks in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. Around the country, those who live nearby drilling sites have reported higher incidents of health concerns including respiratory and skin irritation, neurological problems, dizziness and headaches. And in some instances, elevated levels of benzene — a known carcinogen — have been detected.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rules that would require use of technologies and practices to capture more of the natural gas now being allowed into the air. These clean air standards are sensible, which makes you wonder why it’s taken a century to put these rules into place at the national level. It also makes you wonder why industry would fight them when they can capture more natural gas and bring it to market. Indeed, in addition to the health and environmental benefits of the rule, there are economic benefits.

A number of natural gas companies already use the practices that the EPA is proposing to cut methane and are touting the resulting economic benefits.

Similar requirements to those the EPA proposed have been in place in Colorado and Wyoming without adverse affects on companies’ profits. Who isn’t for a win-win solution?

I’ll be blogging more about this proposal in the coming days. Please get involved by writing to the EPA in favor of updated clean air protections. We also invite you to join us and share your thoughts with the EPA at the upcoming public hearings in: Pittsburgh, Sept. 27; Denver, Sept. 28; and in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 29. If you can't make the hearings, you can submit comments online until Oct. 24.

There's no better time than now to make your voice heard and show your support for clean air.

Posted in Air Pollution, Barnett Shale, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural gas / Tagged , , , , , , , | Read 4 Responses

Playing Politics With Power

(This blog post is authored by Colin Meehan, EDF's Clean Energy Analyst and is being cross-posted from EDF's Energy Exchange blog.)

Source: The Lookout

Déjà Vu All Over Again
Listen carefully these days and you might think it was last year, 2009, or even 2006. Just a year ago, Governor Perry lambasted the EPA’s decision that Texas’ air permitting program was illegal and amounted to special treatment for a single state when all other states are in compliance with the law. In a statement at the time Perry claimed "The EPA's irresponsible and heavy-handed action …. threatens thousands of Texas jobs, families, businesses and communities throughout our state." Perry went on to claim that “it will also likely curtail energy supplies and increase gasoline prices nationwide." Last month the EPA announced that every former Texas permit holder is now successfully working with the agency on their new permits. No more claims of job losses or gasoline shortages, just companies working with regulators to abide by the law and protect the health of Texans.

In 2006, TXU (now Luminant), the largest power plant owner in Texas, announced that they needed to build 11 coal plants to make sure there weren’t any rolling blackouts in the next few years. A serious PR campaign ensued with TXU and Governor Perry trying to fast track the coal plants, but as it turned out, they weren’t needed, and that’s part of the reason TXU is now known as the Energy Future Holdings (EFH), the parent company of Luminant. In fact, the coal plants that Luminant did build, Oak Grove and Sandow, were a big part of the reason Texas experienced the blackouts in February – supposedly reliable, 24-hour coal plants tripped offline when it got too cold.

Repetitive Stress Injury
Raising the threat of job losses, blackouts or other specters has become so common for Perry and industry that it probably amounts to muscle memory at this point. It reached a new level this week, however, when Luminant decided that it would lay people off in order to make a statement. While Luminant may not like the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), it’s essentially a “Good Neighbor” rule and none of the clean air protections in the rule require any power plants to shut down. Companies like Luminant make the decision — either invest in common retrofits like scrubbers to clean up pollution or close down old and poorly controlled plants and replace them with cleaner more efficient generation.

Numerous companies, such as Houston based Dynegy, Exelon, PPL Generation and NRG Energy, have publicly announced that they are well-prepared to meet the updated clean air protections. As Dynegy’s CEO Robert Flexon points out: “Any efforts to delay or derail CSAPR would undermine the reasonable, investment-based expectations of Dynegy. In our case, CSAPR allows competitive markets to confer deserved economic returns on our investments in clean energy technology.” In his Houston Chronicle business column today, Loren Steffy muses: “Funny how much difference good financing and a little planning can make. After all, power generators knew that, sooner or later, stricter air standards were coming.”

Scare Tactics
This also means that claims of rolling blackouts are vastly overstated. While a study released by Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has received a lot of coverage, the headlines have focused far more on flash than substance. In fact, ERCOT admits that Texas has had 6 years to prepare for this rule, beginning with the passage of the Clean Air Interstate Rule in 2006, which included Texas. What’s even more troubling is that ERCOT seems to assume that neither the grid operator, nor any of the power companies, intends to learn from the lessons of this past year in terms of better preparations for extreme weather. ERCOT assumes that this time next year our power plants will again be unprepared for long periods of hot weather. In Texas.

In fact, a close reading of the ERCOT study actually rebuts the most popular arguments of state officials and industry that Texas had no warning that this rule was coming:

“The rule is a replacement for the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which was implemented in 2005. The CAIR was remanded to the EPA by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2008. In the CAIR program, Texas was regulated for particulate matter emissions (annual NOX and SO2 emissions).”

In their presentation to the Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC), ERCOT directly contradicted the claims of industry and officials protesting this rule. At the center of this argument is the idea that EPA’s modeling, which shows increased prices for low sulfur coal, is incorrect. ERCOT’s conclusions seem to support the EPA’s modeling, though, stating that the rule “will have impacts on national fuel markets, increasing demand for natural gas and low sulfur sub-bituminous coal.”

A Texas Tradition: Politicizing ERCOT
It would be much easier to take ERCOT’s study seriously if the organization hadn’t become so politicized over the last 5 years. In 2006 TXU (now Luminant) seized on a flawed ERCOT analysis to justify the need to build 11 new coal plants to boost reserve margins in 2009/2010. The plan stalled and 2010 reserve margins proved much higher than ERCOT’s original projections. Since then, using ERCOT studies to meet the needs of the moment has become a science, whether it serves the needs of someone running for President on a platform of clean air bashing or one of the companies running their committees.

In the latest example, the desired outcome of ERCOT’s latest study was made clear by a number of public statements from Texas PUC Chairwoman Nelson prior to the study’s release, including her August 4th letter to the EPA and her statement in late August: "I have no doubt in my mind that this rule will result in reliability issues and rolling outages in Texas." It’s a little like the boy who cried wolf, but this time businesses are laying off workers because their management team failed to plan accordingly to abide by the law. It’s an especially hard claim to swallow given that ERCOT’s own planning documents show over 12,000 MW of resources are expected to come online within the next few years.

Gambling Away Jobs
The truth is that Luminant, just like Dynegy, Exelon, NRG, the Lower Colorado River Authority, Austin Energy and San Antonio’s CPS made a choice in 2005. As other companies planned for compliance, Luminant chose to fight it, gambling with their shareholders’ money and their employees’ jobs. Think of this: In 2005, there were 32 other power plants in the nation that emitted more sulfur dioxide (SO2) than Luminant's Martin Lake coal plant. By 2010 there were only three. At the time, Luminant probably thought that by not investing in retrofits like scrubbers to clean up pollution, they could get ahead of the competition. Ironically, what they have found out instead is that they are actually behind the competition, and now their employees may suffer for poor decisions made by management.

Posted in Environment, Environmental Protection Agency / Read 1 Response

Why Luminant Shouldn’t Get a Free Pass to Pollute

Yesterday, Luminant filed a motion in the DC circuit court to fight vital clean air rules that other utilities in Texas have been able to meet. Instead of working with EPA on a path toward cleaner air, Luminant abandoned recent talks with EPA and issued a press release that recused itself of responsibility, threatened possible plant closures and blamed EPA for potential job losses. Luminant's recent statement highlights a simple fact: closing plants is a business decision, plain and simple. Luminant isn’t closing these plants because of EPA regulations – that’s just their cover story.  They’re closing the plants because they did not begin to make reductions to meet the rule that anyone could see was coming.  The EPA just gives them a convenient way to shift blame. Moreover, Luminant is ignoring other viable alternatives to plant closures just to save some money in the short-term.  If anyone loses their job, they can blame Luminant’s management team for failing to plan accordingly to abide by the law.  We feel very bad for the workers whose company let them down. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency / Tagged , , , , , , , , | Read 1 Response

TCEQ Doesn't Let Science Get in the Way of Political Rhetoric

What was even more disappointing than the press release from the White House last week on the national ambient air quality standard for ozone was the statement issued from TCEQ on the matter. The statement was riddled with false assertions and incorrect information and appeared to be another example of the agency’s politically motivated campaign against the EPA. While others have blogged on the madness of this recent policy decision, I felt compelled to call out our own state environmental agency, the TCEQ, on the egregious manner in which they attempt to trample science.  A few of the falsehoods are debunked here:

TCEQ Myth #1

TCEQ claims that there is no compelling scientific reason to revise the ozone standard.  

Truth #1

The truth is that independent scientists convened on the Ozone Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) have said for years that the current ozone standard fails to protect human health, and have unanimously recommended that the standard be set within the range of 0.060–0.070 ppm. Letters from CASAC on March 26, 2007,  April 7, 2008 and March 30, 2011 unambiguously call for a standard within the range of 0.060–0.070 ppm.

In addition, in a letter to the President, 14 major health groups pleaded for a standard that was protective of human health and cautioned of the harms resulting from the interposing delays in issuance of the ozone national ambient air quality standard (NAAQS).

Even EPA Administrator has stated publicly that the current standard is “scientifically indefensible.” Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone, TCEQ / Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Read 2 Responses