Texas Clean Air Matters

No Coal Coalition Weighs in on White Stallion Court Decision

Allison Sliva is board chair of the No Coal Coalition/Matagorda County.

When I heard the news that EDF’s Motion to Remand was recently granted by Travis County Court Judge Lora Livingston, I was pleased on several fronts.

First, the decision halts, even if temporarily, a process of approving building facility plans that has tried to circumvent air quality laws designed to protect public health. Building this coal plant would bring with it serious air quality impacts for people in and around Matagorda County, not to mention the greater Houston area. Projected emissions from the plant will include 10 million tons of carbon dioxide, nearly 5,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, more than 4,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, nearly 1,800 tons of particulate matter and nearly 100 pounds of mercury.

This pause in the process should make everyone involved – especially the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – think twice about the air impacts to present and future generations.

Second, the decision exposes a White Stallion action that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. TCEQ granted White Stallion an air permit after reviewing air dispersion modeling and testimony based on a site plan that White Stallion changed six days after the permit was issued. As EDF’s Jim Marston said, White Stallion “should be upfront with regulators about their intentions.”

Third, the decision renews public confidence in our legal system. As Judge Livingston wrote in her decision letter, “Without remand, meaningful public participation in the permit approval process would be effectively eliminated.”

Myself and members of the No Coal Coalition of Matagorda County thank you EDF for your due diligence in helping to set the record straight.  Our call to action now is to help gather the evidence needed to prove that the air pollution coming from White Stallion would violate the law as well as harm human health.

WHITE STALLION TIMELINE

Here is a timeline of the community efforts that Matagorda County residents and others have undertaken over the years to prevent a poorly planned, poorly placed and poorly designed coal-fired power plant from coming online. – Elena Craft

September 2008 – White Stallion files for an air quality permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It proposes a 1,320 megawatt coal and petroleum coke-fired power plant to be located along the Colorado River eight miles south of Bay City in Matagorda County, in an ecologically sensitive area known as the Columbia Bottomlands. The proposed location is also 20 miles southwest of the Houston-Galveston-Brazoria region.

November 13, 2009 – In a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wetlands Section Chief Sharon Fancy Parrish recommended that an Environmental Impact Statement be conducted “for the proposed project to better access the substantial change to the human environment.” Read More »

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Medical Community Responds to Ill-Worded Comments

Perhaps you read about Representative Joe Barton last month criticizing Environmental Protection Agency scientific projections that stronger mercury and air toxics standards could prevent 17,000 premature deaths each year.

Rep. Barton had countered during a Congressional hearing that such estimates were “pulled out of thin air.” He also confessed that while he was not a medical doctor, “to cause poisoning or a premature death” he believed one had to “get a large concentration of mercury into the body.”

These comments were meant to thwart support of EPA’s new proposed Air Toxics standards intended to greatly reduce power plant toxic emissions. [Note: As I wrote after the proposed standards were announced, Texas stands to greatly benefit since it houses seven of the nation’s top 25 mercury-emitting coal plants.] Read More »

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A Polluter Puppet Show In Houston

The Texas EPA Task Force will be visiting Houston tomorrow to examine the environmental protections being employed and to “[talk] to industry representatives about the affect of over bearing EPA regulations on jobs in the Houston area.”

While Rep. Barton and his colleagues might be quick to apologize for what they feel is government overreach, EPA regulations haven’t stopped ExxonMobil ($10.6 billion) or Shell ($6.29 billion) from making enormous profits in the first quarter of this year.

We have a few suggested stops and notable facts for the “Task Force” to consider while touring the Houston-area:

And when they’re done touring the ship channel, they should visit Texas City, where when the power goes out, the residents stay inside to avoid the tons of pollution flared from the local refineries and chemical plants.

In an instance this week, during a power outage, Valero alone pumped a reported 43,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide into Texas City air.  The outages were caused by soot buildup due to a lack of rainfall.  The emissions were so high in Texas City, residents were told to take “shelter in place,” meaning stay where they were.  The emissions from the plants exceeded the air monitors ability to measure their levels.

If this “Task Force’s” only answer to extreme weather, deplorable air quality and health conditions for Texans and a total absence of meaningful state regulation is to attack the Clean Air Act and pray for rain, then Texas is in trouble.

When our citizens must take shelter from literal pollution attacks, our farmers struggle to find water to irrigate their crops and our children struggle to breath, we must help ourselves.  Now is not the time to play the role of puppet to polluters.  We need real leadership, we need real solutions.

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While Texas Fares Better in Air Report, More Work Still Ahead

State of the Air ReportTexas air quality improved slightly last year, but more than half of the nation still suffers pollution levels that are often dangerous to breathe, according to the Annual State of the Air Report released today from the American Lung Association. The report reviewed levels of ozone and particle pollution found in monitoring sites across the United States in 2007, 2008, and 2009.

Key National Findings:

  • More than 154 million people (over half the nation) suffer from pollution levels that exceed health-based federal standards.
  • Each of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality over the past year’s report, however people living there still breathe air that reaches dangerous levels.
  • Particle pollution declined due to coal-fired power plant emission reductions and a transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines.

Texas Findings:

  • Houston moved down from 7th to 8th place among the most ozone-polluted cities in the country, while Dallas-Fort Worth moved up from 13th to 12th place. (Note: There appears to be a correlation between rising ozone levels in DFW and increased levels of natural gas drilling. A Fort Worth report looking at gas drilling environmental impacts is due for release in June.)
  • 14 of the 38 Texas counties studied in the report received an F for having too many high ozone days (compared to 21 Texas counties receiving an F last year).
  • Harris County, with more than four million people, topped the Texas county list with 66 orange ozone days (unhealthy for sensitive populations), and 10 red ozone days (unhealthy for the general population). Tarrant County, with 1.7 million people, came in second with 59 orange ozone days, 4 red ozone days and one purple ozone day (very unhealthy for the general population). Read More »
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Texas Officials Spreading Cow Pies

Today Texas Congressmen Joe Barton and John Carter along with a number of members of the Texas Legislature, Chairman Bryan Shaw (TCEQ) and others stood up for pollution. They announced their intent to prevent actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from enforcing the Clean Air Act to protect public health.  They relied on tired arguments and misrepresented statistics to paint a picture of doom for Texas industry.

Congressmen John Carter went as far to say that those who question the quality of Texas air “don’t think much of Texas.”  Well I resent that remark, I was born and baptized in Ft. Worth, attended Texas Christian University and have lived in Texas for 33 consecutive years.  Real Texans care about our state’s future and wouldn’t try to gut protections that save lives and create jobs in clean energy.

We have a multi-billion dollar state budget shortfall and have yet to pass a federal budget for a fiscal year we are already in, yet two Congressmen, multiple members of the Texas Legislature as well as two state agency commissioners feel it necessary to waste time debating the merits of a regulation that most Texas companies are already willing to follow.

The EPA warned the State of Texas that the Flexible Permit Program implemented by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) did not meet federal standards for almost a decade.  After a lot of grandstanding and political posturing last year, 71 of the 74 companies holding flexible permits in the State of Texas have agreed to meet EPA regulations. It seems that industry is ahead of the politicians.  Read More »

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New Rule Expected to Dramatically Reduce Hazardous Power Plant Emissions

Perhaps next week we’ll all be able to breathe just a little bit easier with the much- anticipated Wednesday, March 16 announcement of a new Air Toxics Rule.

The Environmental Protection Agency will announce a rule that will, for the first time, limit hazardous emissions from our nation’s power plants. These pollutants threaten the health of every American with annual emissions of more than 386,000 tons of dangerous air pollution like mercury, acid gases, heavy metals and even radioactive materials.

Unlike criteria air pollutants – like ozone and particulate matter – there are no current national ambient air quality standards for air toxics. This means that there’s no regulation on the amount of harmful air toxics that can collect in our air, water, or wildlife. Once in the environment, many of these toxic compounds are there forever.

While we have yet to learn all of the implications from harmful exposures to air toxics, we do know that some of the most serious health effects are most severe in infants and young children and include brain damage, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and impaired vision and hearing. We also know that reducing exposures can reduce risk, and that reducing risk is the best and most immediate way to protect human health. Read More »

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