Texas Clean Air Matters

Selected tag(s): air permit

Goodbye Flexible Permits! We won’t miss you.

Today, the EPA announced that all 136 of the industrial facilities across the state that had flexible permits committed to bring them into compliance with federal law. While it seems only logical that air permits issued to facilities comply with the Clean Air Act, this has not been the case in Texas.  Since 1994, when the first flexible permit was issued, many facilities in Texas have been operating under permits that make it nearly impossible to track facility compliance.

 What was wrong with flexible permits?

As we’ve said many, many, many times before, here is a summary of a few of the problems with flexible permits:

 1.      Flexible permits eliminate pollution limits designed to protect public health.   Flexible permits eliminate federal, unit-specific, pollution limits that are intended to assure that public health is protected from industrial pollution.

 2.      The flexible permit pollution trading system is unenforceable and fails to protect public health. Flexible permits allow sources to lump hundreds of pieces of polluting equipment under a single pollution limit, or cap. Because most of the equipment is not monitored, it is almost impossible to determine whether or not companies are complying with their pollution caps.

 3.      Flexible permits prevent the public from their right to know.  The federal Clean Air Act protects neighbors’ right to know about, and voice their concerns with, pollution increases that may affect the safety of the air they breathe.  The flexible permit program allows industry to move emissions around, and increase pollution from some units, without notifying neighbors, or even state and federal regulators.

 4.      Flexible permit emission caps allow so much pollution that they aren’t limiting industry emissions.  The pollution caps in flexible permits are so high that they don’t serve as a real limit on pollution, and certainly don’t reflect the best that industry can do.   The same companies that operate in Texas operate in other states under permits that meet federal requirements and include significantly lower emission limits. 

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Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency, TCEQ, Texas Permitting / Also tagged , , , , , , , | Comments are closed

White Stallion Air Permit: Setting the Matter Straight

Earlier this month, guest blogger Allison Sliva expressed approval for a court decision that effectively withdrew an air permit application to build a proposed coal plant (White Stallion) in Matagorda County.

EDF had filed a legal document called a “Motion to Remand” based on White Stallion’s use of two different site plans in applying for permits with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The plans differed vastly in the locations of emissions sources, and changing emissions sources can affect the permits compliance with Clean Air Act standards and TCEQ rules.

Now, even though White Stallion “intends to move forward with its construction plans,” new approval from TCEQ should not be considered automatic as one might infer from an article this week in the Houston Chronicle:

“The plant’s developers, Houston-based Sky Energy, already have a permit from the state for air pollution and need one from the Army Corps of Engineers to deepen the Colorado for barge traffic.”

Yes, White Stallion received a permit from TCEQ. Yes, it was remanded. And yes, even so, TCEQ rules allow developers to depart from an approved site plan with the “submission of an ‘as built’ report” that does not require public notice.

However, the people’s right to know is the crux of the matter at hand. As State District Judge Lora Livingston wrote in her legal decision, “meaningful public participation in the permit approval process would be effectively eliminated” should the permit not be sent back for review given the site changes.

People have a right to know what’s going on in their backyards, especially those in Matagorda County and nearby Houston, where hazardous coal plant emissions will impact air quality. TCEQ should give the application review due diligence, with a fair and open process. The court has decided, not to mention that fundamentally it’s the right thing to do.

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