Texas Clean Air Matters

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.

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Houston Chronicle to Rick Perry: “Stop Blowing Smoke”

This post was written by Colin Meehan, Clean Energy Analyst for EDF’s Energy Program

Houston (and the Rest of Texas) Benefit From the EPA’s Efforts

In an editorial today, the Houston Chronicle lauded the EPA for developing sensible rules that protect human health while keeping impacts to industry as minimal as possible. Specifically the Chronicle pointed out that EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) will save lives and improve Texans’ health with benefits that far outweigh the impacts to industry in the state.  Pushing back against Governor Perry and TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw’s unfounded claims of massive job losses, the Chronicle’s editorial board had this to say about Perry’s political posturing:

“We’re well aware that Perry is contemplating a presidential run, and that “federal overreach” plays well to some Texas voters, but clean air doesn’t stop or start at the state line. Texas emissions pollute the air of other states, including Louisiana, Illinois and Michigan, but our Texas air is in turn polluted by emissions from at least 12 other states.”

TCEQ: Fighting the EPA While the EPA Works with Texas Businesses

These issues were raised at a conference earlier this week, where I had the opportunity to sit on a panel with Chairman Shaw as well as former TCEQ Chair and current Texas Public Policy Foundation Fellow (a conservative Texas think tank funded in part by fossil fuel interests) Kathleen Hartnett White.   Both Shaw and White have long been critics of what they see as ‘federal government overreach,’ although noticeably neither were vocal on this issue when in 2007 the Bush administration declared TCEQ’s flexible permitting program was “in violation of the Clean Air Act.”  (See Appendix 5-6 of the link). Still, Shaw continued to use the EPA’s actions on flexible permitting as an example of federal overreach that in his opinion threatens jobs more than it helps the environment.  Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Ozone, Particulate Matter, TCEQ / Read 2 Responses

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. 

  Read More »

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Update On White Stallion Coal Plant

Back in May I issued a statement on our court win against the While Stallion coal-fired power plant being proposed in Matagorda County, Texas.  The motion we filed against White Stallion was regarding their use of two conflicting site plans for air permit applications with US Army Corps of Engineers and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. 

On Monday, June 20, 2011, Judge Lora Livingston of the Travis County District Court entered EDF’s proposed order to require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to take additional evidence on White Stallion’s coal-fired power plant air permit application.

This means our motion for remand is now formalized and has specific action associated with it. (See the order here)

The additional evidence will show that White Stallion played “bait and switch.”   We know that six days after TCEQ’s air permit decision White Stallion significantly altered its site plan in an effort to win a different permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.  If White Stallion waited until after TCEQ’s air permit decision to change site plans, it made a mockery of TCEQ air permit hearings – the air emissions evidence taken was not on the power plant White Stallion intends to build. 

It’s important to mention that the change in site plans warrants re-notice of the entire permit application under Texas Health & Safety Code § 382.0291(d).  Otherwise, as the District Court said, “the public will not be afforded meaningful participation in the permit application review process” of White Stallion’s actual proposed power plant.

As this process moves forward, we’ll keep you updated.

Special thanks to lead EDF counsel Tom Weber and Paul Tough of McElroy, Sullivan & Miller.  As well as Pete Schenkkan of Graves Dougherty who assisted in the district court briefing and argument.

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environment, TCEQ / Read 4 Responses

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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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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