Clearer (and Healthier!) Skies Ahead in Texas’ National Parks – EPA’s Regional Haze Rule Finalized

big-bend-national-park-347397_640 pixabayYesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a rule aimed to address what’s known as “regional haze” that has been affecting visibility and health in Texas, as well as in our neighbors to the north (Oklahoma and Arkansas). The formation of haze occurs when sunlight interacts with particles in the atmosphere, and this interaction reduces visibility. A part of the federal Clean Air Act, the Regional Haze program requires that states and the federal government develop plans to address air quality in 156 national parks and wilderness areas.

For Texas, the program requires a plan to help improve visibility in Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. And the final Regional Haze Rule – released yesterday – will require certain outdated power plants in Texas to reduce pollution of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a hazardous pollutant associated with asthma and bronchitis and an important precursor for smog formation.

The finalized rule will allow us all to breathe easier – and better take in Texas’ natural beauty. 

Why was the rule needed?

The Regional Haze program’s goal is to restore visibility to our nation’s special natural areas by 2064 (almost 50 years from now). Last year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposed a Regional Haze plan that fell well short of achieving this goal; its strategy to address visibility in these areas would not have restored natural visibility until 2155 (140 years from now!). Moreover, emissions from Texas’ dirty coal-fired power plants were not staying within our border—they were also contributing to visibility and air quality issues in Arkansas (Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area) and Oklahoma (Wichita Mountains Wilderness Area).

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EPA stepped in last year to propose changes to Texas’ plan and held hearings to consider thousands of public comments, including the Austin-based one in which Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) participated. With that input, EPA just announced the final rule that will help ensure Texans, as well as our neighbors to the north in Arkansas and Oklahoma, enjoy clear skies and breathe healthier air in our national parks and wilderness areas.

What happens next?

In the end, the rule will require seven of Texas’ outdated coal-fired power plants to install pollution controls on certain pieces of equipment to reduce SO2:

  • Luminant’s Big Brown, Martin Lake, Monticello, and Sandow plants;
  • NRG’s Limestone plant;
  • GDF’s Suez Coleto Creek plant;
  • Xcel Energy’s Tolk plant.

At another coal-fired power plant, the San Miguel Electric Cooperative plant, the rule requires the plant to start operating with an already-installed control. These upgrades, retrofits, and usage of emission reduction technology are expected to reduce SO2 emissions between 80-90 percent. According to a Sierra Club analysis of regional pollution, SO2 emissions will be reduced by approximately 230,000 tons (equivalent to the total SO2 emissions from all the power plants in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana combined).

EDF applauds EPA for its leadership that will help make Texas skies bluer and the air cleaner.

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