Category Archives: Texas Permitting

One Year Later: Texas Environmental Agency Fails to Address Public Comments on Pollution in Texas City

This post was co-authored by Adrian Shelley, Air Alliance Houston Executive Director. 

rp_Estimated-Distribution-of-Benzene-Annual-Concentration-Based-on-Retrieved-Primary-Source-Location-and-Wind-Direction-Frequency-300x179.jpg

Estimated Distribution of Benzene Annual Concentration, Based on Retrieved Primary Source Location and Wind Direction Frequency

One year ago this week, EDF, along with Air Alliance Houston (AAH), submitted comments to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding its proposal to remove Texas City from the state’s Air Pollutant Watch List (APWL). We believe the agency’s proposal to remove Texas City from the Watch List for benzene and hydrogen sulfide, two lethal air pollutants, was premature.

To date, the TCEQ has not addressed our public comments on the Texas City proposal, though it has found time to analyze and recommend two other areas for removal from the APWL. We believe that this reflects TCEQ’s misplaced priorities. The agency seems to prefer removing areas from the APWL — thereby lifting a burden on industry— rather than ensuring adequate protection for public health. Read More »

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One Year Later: Calls for Common Sense Oversight in the Wake of West Tragedy Go Unanswered

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

Source: AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez

This past Thursday marked one year since a fire caused a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas to explode, killing 15 people, injuring over 300, and scaring a small Texas town forever. Since the West tragedy shocked Texas and the nation, it has become increasingly clear that the explosion could have been prevented had common-sense regulations—like a statewide fire code—been in place. Nevertheless, Texas leaders and state officials have failed to propose, much less adopt, a single common sense safeguard to prevent future tragedies. The anniversary of the West explosion reminds us of the urgent need for proactive measures to prevent a disaster of this magnitude from happening again.

Even before the West explosion, there were a string of industrial accidents across the state over recent years, reminding us that Texas should be doing a better job at managing the industrial sector. Read More »

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Time for Texas to Work With EPA To Secure Cleaner Air For All Texans

Elena QuoteLast Wednesday, I traveled to Washington D.C. to testify at a House Science, Space, and Technology hearing entitled Examining the Science of EPA Overreach: A Case Study in Texas. It was my first time testifying on Capitol Hill and I was grateful for the opportunity to connect with some of our Texas lawmakers on issues concerning the relationship between the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Texas.

One item of discussion focused on the greenhouse gas permitting authority in the state and the fact that Texas’ legal actions have thwarted industrial facilities in the state from conducting business. A recent article in the Texas Tribune, titled “Anti-Regulation Politics May Have Hurt Energy Industry,” highlights the burden that a dual permitting process places on businesses seeking greenhouse gas permits.

The process, which requires industrial facilities, such as power plants and refineries, to apply to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for criteria air pollutants permits and separately to EPA for greenhouse gas permits, has proved onerous for industry. In the article, the Texas Pipeline Association says, “more than 50 planned projects since early 2011 have been significantly delayed by the [Texas] permitting process, putting 48,000 jobs at risk.” Read More »

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The Irony of Texas Taking Over GHG Permitting Authority

This blog post was co-written by Adrian Shelley, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Source: National Geographic

Source: National Geographic

Last week, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held its only public hearing regarding the agency’s proposed plan to take over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Neither the TCEQ commissioners nor the executive director attended the hearing.

TCEQ’s move to issue GHG permits is quite a departure from the extensive actions the Texas government has taken NOT to regulate greenhouse gases in the state. In fact, in a letter dated August 2, 2010 to then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw used aggressive and robust language, declaring that:

“On behalf of the State of Texas, we write to inform you that Texas has neither the authority nor the intention of interpreting, ignoring, or amending its laws in order to compel the permitting of greenhouse gas emissions.” Read More »

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West Strong: We Will Not Forget

Last weekend, The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media publication that covers public policy, politics, environmental issues and other statewide matters, hosted its annual Texas Tribune Festival. As always, the festival did an amazing job of bringing folks together from around the state to discuss the most important policy issues of the year. I was lucky enough to participate on a panel titled “After West” as part of the environmental track. The panel was dedicated to lessons learned after this year’s terrible tragedy in West, Texas that took the lives of 15 people and devastated a small town.

Other participants on the panel included: Chris Connealy, Texas State Fire Marshall; Tim Herrman, State Chemist of Texas Tommy Muska, Mayor of West; Kyle Kacal, State Representative; and Alana Rocha, reporter, The Texas Tribune (panel moderator) Read More »

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Abbott Fails In Fight Against Clean Air Protections

On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed lawsuits filed by Attorney General Greg Abbott and a group of power companies that could have undermined the Clean Air Act and hurt efforts to reduce climate pollution.

The Clean Air Act requires that large sources of pollution, including greenhouse gases (GHGs), obtain permits when they are constructing or making a major change to their facility.  These permits require facilities to use modern emission control technologies to cost-effectively reduce their pollution.

Some states, including Texas, didn’t have the authority to issue these clean air permits for greenhouse gases under their state laws, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took the limited actions challenged here to ensure that sources in these states could get the permits they needed to begin construction.  Every state – except Texas – worked with EPA to make sure sources could get the permits they needed (either under state or federal authority).

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has been quoted as saying, “What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration,” took the EPA to court over the agency’s efforts to ensure sources in Texas could get the permits they needed to construct.  All of this despite the fact that most facilities in Texas were already working to reduce their emissions and comply with the new federal standards.  On Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Clean Air Act unambiguously requires large GHG sources, like coal-fired power plants, to obtain permits.  As a result, the court dismissed Texas’ lawsuit, finding that EPA’s actions didn’t cause Texas any injury.  Much to the contrary, they were necessary to ensure GHG sources could obtain permits that they otherwise could not obtain at all. Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change, Coal, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Renewable Energy| Tagged , , , | 1 Response, comments now closed

Lessons Learned From West

Source: KVUE

At 4:00 p.m. today, the State Fire Marshal's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives plan to announce the results of their investigation of the West, Texas fertilizer explosion that killed 14 people and injured over 200.

Information leaked to The Dallas Morning News indicated that investigators have three possible explanations for the explosion fueled by ammonium nitrate: ignition from a faulty golf cart, ignition from the fertilizer and seed building’s electrical system or an intentional act.

No matter what the conclusion, we’ve learned some very important lessons from this tragedy:

  • There is not enough coordination among state agencies covering the oversight of facilities like West;
  • Current penalties and fines don’t seem to be a deterrent to the those who violate safety and environmental laws;
  • There is a need for more thoughtful consideration as to appropriate locations of schools, hospitals and nursing facilities; and
  • There is a critical need for local emergency responders to have the best possible information regarding hazardous materials and potential health and safety risks in their communities.

As we begin to wrap up the legislative session in Texas, we are hopeful that our elected officials will do the right thing and strengthen environmental and safety protections instead of weaken them.  Over 400 people a year lose their lives in Texas from occupational injuries.  We can and should do better.

On a personal note, I’d like to give a shout out to my favorite Texan, Willie Nelson, 80 years young, who hosted a birthday concert benefitting the community of West and raised over $120,000. Thank you Willie!

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GHG Permitting Program Running Smoothly In Texas, Thanks To EPA

This is the second of a two-part series on greenhouse gases and the part Texas plays.

(Source: NRDC)

Last month, we wrote about The Convention on Climate Change conference (COP18) and the importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in Texas, a state whose GHG emissions are comparable to those from “131 railcars worth of burning coal.”

Indeed, such emissions increasingly have the potential to threaten our way of life as the climate continues to change. Just this month, a draft report from the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee says that evidence of climate change can already be seen around the world, including Texas. According to the report, there is “strong evidence to indicate that human influence on the climate has already roughly doubled the probability of extreme heat events like the record-breaking summer of 2011 in Texas and Oklahoma.”

Because it’s been well documented that Texas contributes a disproportionate share of the nation’s GHGs when compared to other states, we welcome the news that after one year, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GHG federally implemented permit program is on its way to becoming a national model and a good starting place for Texas should the state ever regain management of the program.

Background

Under the federal Clean Air Act, states have the authority to regulate facilities that emit air pollution, including GHGs. In December 2010, after Texas refused to issue GHG permits to facilities in the state, EPA stepped in and created a federal implementation plan for GHG permits whereby facilities could apply to EPA directly for their GHG permits. Had EPA not stepped in to issue the permits, several new facilities across the state would have not been allowed to operate.

Unsurprisingly, industry leaders and even Texas officials balked at the move and filed lawsuits in retaliation. The biggest criticism was that such action would hurt business. However, since EPA began issuing GHG permits in 2011, most facilities have begun the process of reducing emissions to comply and business as usual continues.

Update

According to EPA staffers, the GHG permit program is well under way and shaping up to be a national model. The program includes agency transparency, public participation, scientific rigor and solid process. Since EPA took over the program, such elements have ensured the approval of numerous facility applications in Texas.

Another positive outcome of EPA’s management of the program has been the establishment of best emissions control technologies. EPA staffers say that a number of the approved permits could easily be considered some of the best model permits in the country. Sometimes, stronger controls are implemented than a company may have proposed on day one. Implementing this program has been a learning process and ultimately has the potential to benefit similar programs around the nation, as well as safeguarding public health through improved air quality.

The process hasn’t been perfect – the biggest issue so far has been that incomplete applications can delay the permit. EPA is working to educate applicants on the process, and delays have been reduced coming into the new year.

They said it couldn’t be done. When EPA first took over the program, critics predicted the move would shut down business. That didn’t happen. Permits are being issued. There haven’t been any closures. Facilities are up and running and bringing forward the best control technologies.

Bottom line: Companies are able to do the job they need to do while reducing harmful emissions. EPA stepped in to issue air permits when the state would not, enabling businesses to comply with federal regulations, and ultimately helping Texas to thrive economically while also doing its part to help combat climate change.

 

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs| Comments closed

Judge Follows Law And Overturns Air Permit for Dirty Power Plant in Corpus Christi

(Source: Corpus Christi Caller)

State District Judge Stephen Yelonsky recently ruled that Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) failed to follow the law when it issued an air permit to Las Brisas Energy Center for a 1320 MW power plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. Judge Yelonsky found that the permitting was “flawed”, “misleading” and “wrong” and that it violated the Clean Air Act air toxics standards for particulates, sulfur and hazardous air pollutants (HAP). The Las Brisas power plant would run on petroleum coke, a dirty solid byproduct of oil refineries that contains heavy metals and other hazardous impurities. Judge Yelonsky also pointed out that TCEQ failed to require Las Brisas to account for the storage of petroleum coke fuel before combustion.

Quintana Capital Group has provided much of the $3.2 Billion in funding for the project. Quintana is not only is trying to build this dirty plant, but it is also leading efforts to roll back health laws that protect our children.

Electricity providers, like Las Brisas, should understand that cheap electricity is not cheap. We pay for the dirty power in sick kids and medical bills.  This power plant would be located in downtown Corpus Christi—within a mile of local schools, churches, and neighborhoods.  The fact that Las Brisas tried to avoid complying with the law through legal technicalities shows an extraordinary degree of disregard for the most basic standards of health, safety, and community in Corpus Christi. 

Here are the plant’s annual emissions according to their own TCEQ and EPA applications:

  • Approximately  13 million tons of CO2 equivalent
  • 68 tons of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)
  • 3,823 tons NOx
  • 8,154 tons CO
  • 283 tons VOCs
  • 3004 tons PM
  • 2901 tons PM10
  • 10,480 tons SO2
  • 1996 tons H2SO4141 tons ammonia
  • 47 tons HCl

The electricity we need to power our homes and businesses should not come at cost of breathing clean air. This is a trade-off we do not have to make.  We applaud the courage of State District Judge Stephen Yelonsky to apply and follow the law fairly, and call on TCEQ to fulfill its mandate, and protect Texas’ environment for our children and grandchildren.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Coal, TCEQ| Comments closed

Once Again, Texas Cries Wolf Over the Issuing of Permits

Just last year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Chairman Bryan Shaw accused EPA's finding on the illegality of Texas’ flexible permitting process as an example of federal overreach that would kill jobs more than it helps the environment. However, in July 2011, the EPA reported that all ‘flexible permit’ companies in Texas agreed to apply for approved air permits and not one job was lost.  Now, we hear another similar tale. When the EPA attempted to enforce the Clean Air Act and regulate Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, Texas filed several lawsuits against the EPA and Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote a letter where he called on Obama “to end job-killing regulations and rescind the EPA rules that Texas has challenged.”

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first Texas GHG permit for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant in Llano County, Texas. LCRA is modernizing and expanding its plant by replacing its 37 year old unit with a new more efficient and reliable natural gas powered unit.

Credit- www.horseshoe-bay-tx.gov

LCRA is the first company in Texas to complete the GHG permit process and obtained a final permit in about 8 months. Without the EPA stepping in, this process wouldn’t have happened and the facility wouldn’t be able to operate, given that Texas flat out refused to issue GHG permits. Therefore, by stepping in on permits related only to greenhouse gas emissions, EPA provided authority for certain large Texas emitters of greenhouse gases to obtain permits that are legally required by the Clean Air Act.  EPA had offered to allow Texas to administer the program, but Texas refused.   For a state that barks loudly about state’s rights, it is shocking that Texas is unwilling to issue these permits.

What was TCEQ’s response to the LCRA permit? Andy Saenz, a spokesman for TCEQ said, "we see no need for — or any environmental benefit from — EPA's greenhouse gas permit.” Not one word about job killing or it being impossible to get greenhouse gas permits.

It’s important to note that Texas, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and industrial pollution in the nation, is the only state that refused to work with EPA to ensure that large greenhouse gas emitters could get the permits the law requires.  

“We appreciated EPA’s work on our project,” said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal. “We believe that replacing our aging Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant with this new combined-cycle natural gas plant benefits everyone. The region will benefit from the latest environmental controls and our customers will benefit from our ability to better manage costs with a plant that will use about 35 to 40 percent less fuel than traditional gas-fired plants.”

The EPA is currently reviewing ten additional GHG permit applications for Texas companies.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, TCEQ| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed
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