Texas Clean Air Matters

Selected tag(s): cleanair

American Electric Power v. Connecticut

The most important thing about this [Supreme Court] decision is that it buttresses the foundation for EPA to do its job,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp. “The Supreme Court strongly underscored EPA’s responsibility under the law to address climate pollution that threatens the health and well-being of our nation.”

The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday in American Electric Power v. Connecticut that because the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority and responsibility to regulate global warming pollution that endangers American health and welfare, a lawsuit asking for court-imposed limits on power plant emissions brought under the federal common law of nuisance must be dismissed.

The Court found that because Congress had granted EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas pollution in the Clean Air Act, EPA’s authority “displaces” the federal common law in this area. This ruling reaffirms EPA’s Congressionally mandated responsibility to tackle global warming pollution and power plant emissions that threaten the integrity of Texas climate and air and the health of Texas citizens.

The nuisance case was brought by the states of California, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as the City of New York and several land trusts against the nation’s five largest emitting power companies. These companies include AEP, Southern Company, Xcel Energy, Cinergy, and TVA. Power plant smokestacks are the single largest source of carbon pollution in our nation, responsible for nearly 40 percent of all U.S. emissions. Read More »

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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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Political Outreach Generates Mutually Beneficial Outcomes

Isabelle Silverman is an attorney in the New York EDF office and focuses on clean air, transportation and diesel issues.

Have you ever visited New York City and noticed black smoke billowing out of chimneys? Did you wonder why this was happening?

I work on a high floor in a New York City office building and a few years ago, began wondering just that. So I contacted a consultant and found out that about 10,000 residential, commercial and institutional buildings burn highly polluting grades of heating oil (No. 4 and No. 6 oil), which causes the black smoke. No. 6 oil is also referred to as “residual fuel” as it is the bottom of the barrel – leftover after the refining process.

Pursuing further, we at EDF decided to find out how much pollution was created by these 10,000 dirty oil buildings. After researching the issue, we wrote and released a 2009 report, The Bottom of the Barrel: How Dirty Heating Oil Harms our Health and Pollutes our Air, showing that the dirty oil buildings were responsible for more soot pollution than all the cars and trucks combined in New York City.

In addition, we launched a web page with an interactive map showing every dirty oil building’s address. EDF also approached Mayor Bloomberg personally and the Mayor’s Sustainability Office recommending that permits for the dirty oil boilers be phased out as fast as possible. These actions put the issue on the map – literally.

For the first time, building owners realized that they were burning dirty oil when they could be burning much cleaner natural gas or regular heating oil. Natural gas being significantly cheaper than oil even presented a business opportunity when switching fuel. When combined with efficiency measures, building owners can reduce their heating fuel costs by more than 40%. Read More »

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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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TCEQ Study Suggests that Flare Emissions Could be Larger Than Reported

EDITOR’S NOTE: The final draft report was released May 24. Download the PDF here.

A soon-to-be released key flare emissions report could help answer the question of why Texas air toxics concentrations are higher than those reported through industrial emission inventories.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVi-EMXprnU

Footage of flare emissions captured by advanced monitoring technology at facility in Texas. The video was presented by TCEQ at the Hot Air Topics Conference on Jan 13, 2011 in Houston, TX. Flare is described as being oversteamed, resulting in reduced destruction efficiency and increased emissions.


Across the state, there are 1,500 flares registered with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The “flaring” or burning of excess gases using these flares has been accepted industrial practice for combusting routine waste gases as well as for combusting large volumes of gases that may result from plant emergencies, such as those that could lead to a facility explosion. Air quality experts have long held that an increase in flare pollution has been a significant contributing factor in escalating smog levels and toxic “hot spots,” particularly in fenceline communities. Read More »

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Guest Author Says Education Key to Solving Air Quality Issues

Deiedre Wright volunteers for Environmental Community Advocates of Galena Park to improve air quality for its residents.

There are more than 10,000 people living in Galena Park, an area on the north bank of the Houston Ship Channel, just east of the Houston City limits. Having lived there for 30 years, I have seen and personally experienced some of the worst air pollution in our state.

Yes, we live in an area known for its toxic industrial emissions and no, many do not have the luxury of moving, even though we are exposed daily to air that may be harmful to our health (Note: The median household income is around $31,000 per year.).

I’m not an air quality expert, but have learned over time that more could be done to improve the air we breathe in our community. My thoughts include:

  • More monitoring: In our area, there is a great need more air testing sites directly across from the ship channel. The closest monitoring site to Galena Park is more than a mile away from offending chemical plants and 18-wheeler traffic. I’ve never really understood the logic for this. If there is a need to know about Galena Park air quality, shouldn’t the monitors be in Galena Park?
  • More city action: Our city needs to do more to deter industry from harming citizens. Perhaps 18-wheeler traffic could be re-routed from the main street going through Galena Park. The trucks use that street as an entry point to the Port of Houston. Particulate matter could be reduced significantly should they be diverted onto a different road within the Port of Houston.
  • More industry action: Many of us believe that the most-profitable petrochemical companies do the least to truly help the communities they occupy. Whatever happened to giving back to your community?
  • More soil testing: Another concern is for those who plant vegetable gardens in their backyards or elsewhere within the community. The soil is not being tested for contaminants prior to planting and the result could be a non-healthy solution to what people may think is a healthy alternative.

Finally, more education is needed to raise awareness of these air quality issues. When communities are more informed, they come together to help find and demand solutions.

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