NEW ORLEANS – Lawyers for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently filed a brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that because of the national implications of Texas' regional haze plan, including coal-fired power plant emissions drifting into neighboring areas and states, any challenges to its rulemaking in the matter should be heard in the D.C. Circuit.
The EPA implemented the regional haze plan to clean up the air and improve the visibility in national parks and wilderness areas, including the Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Ben National Park in Texas.
Texas and Oklahoma submitted their state implementation plans (SIPs) as required by the EPA on March 31, 2009; however, in January the EPA rejected parts of the plans, arguing that they did not properly address reducing emissions or meet the full requirements of the regional haze plan.
Texas sued the EPA earlier this year, claiming that the costs involved with doing what is required under the regional haze plan -- particularly instigating pollution control measures at its power plants -- outweigh the benefits.
Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton said earlier this year that the EPA’s movement to provide better visibility in national parks is the Obama administration’s way of pushing an agenda that is only based on the beliefs of the environmentalists advising him and is not based on common sense.
“The steps Washington is demanding we take are extraordinarily expensive, will result in a less-reliable electric grid and ultimately have no significant effect on visibility in Texas,” Paxton said in his statement published in The Texas Tribune in February.
The Sierra Club, however, said there is ample solid evidence against Paxton's claims.
Vanessa Ramos, associate press secretary for the Sierra Club, told the SE Texas Record that cleaning the air began decades before President Obama was even in the White House. Furthermore, she questioned Texas' choice to implement no extra controls over its power plants' emissions.
“(The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's) own data showed that Texas power plants emit more sulfur dioxide pollution than any other state," Ramos told the SE Texas Record. "In addition, TCEQ’s own modeling showed that their do-nothing plan would not have cleared the skies at Big Bend for at least 156 years."
Ramos said that some of these plants’ sulfur emissions are actually violating air quality regulations and that cleaning up the air around these plants would ultimately save lives and government money.
“Indeed, a recent health impact analysis, relying on EPA-approved air quality modeling, found that the EPA’s regional haze clean-up plan would save more than 300 lives and more than $3 billion in avoided health care costs each and every year,” Ramos said. “Moreover, earlier this year, the EPA found that Luminant’s Monticello, Martin Lake, and Big Brown power plants are also violating clean air protections against sulfur dioxide around those plants. By definition, this means that those plants are emitting pollution at levels can make people sick—especially the elderly and children.”
Ramos also denied Paxton's argument that forcing the changes in the EPA's regional haze plan would provide an unreliable electrical grid and cost exceptional amounts of money.
“Indeed, two separate reports prepared by independent energy sector consultants and a former commissioner on the Texas Public Utility Commission confirmed that . . .despite similar ‘the sky is falling’ prognostications by Texas politicians in response to previous EPA regulations, the ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) system has repeatedly proven to be remarkably resilient and able to adapt to change without impairing reliability,” Ramos said.