Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dallas Coal Power Plants Targeted by the EPA

What is the status of Luminant Coal Plants in North Texas?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) has issued a preliminary ruling that three Luminant coal plants emitting sulfur dioxide do not comply with federal standards. This comes after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) told the agency there was insufficient data from the EPA tests and that the sites around the Big Brown, Martin Lake and Monticello plants should have met federal standards. For its part, Luminant believes the EPA's methodology was flawed.

EPA Requires Sulfur Dioxide Reductions

In December 2015, the EPA required several plants in Texas to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions which are said to cause respiratory problems. The new results might lead to quick enforcement of the EPA's reduction order. Proponents of the measure believe the new limits will push coal-powered plants across the state to "take responsibility for their pollution."

In a written statement, Luminant questioned the federal government’s latest testing, saying that the designations are based on computer modeling funded by environmental groups. Luminant also contends that EPA models do not accurately predict "actual emissions measurements."

The TCEQ's Position

The state regulatory body also believes the EPA is flawed and does not represent real world emissions. They contend the EPA models do not provide accurate data and that accurate monitoring shows that the emissions are within EPA guidelines for sulfur dioxide emissions. A spokesperson for the TCEQ said in a statement that no areas in Texas based on their assessment exceed the EPA standards.

"Our assessment is different from EPA’s because our assessment was based on monitoring and EPA’s was based on modeling supplied by a third party,” she said.

Other Issues Facing Luminant

Whether the EPA will prevail at this juncture remains unclear, but many observers believe the EPA's position will enhance the regulatory scrutiny of Luminant's plants. Ultimately, tougher air quality rules will force the plants to be upgraded. The EPA's crackdown on sulfur dioxide is part of an effort to require seven of the state’s old coal plans to make expensive upgrades, such as scrubbers in the smokestacks. The EPA created its plan after determining that the state’s plan to reduce haze was falling short.

It remains unclear what the timeline for implementing these changes will be as there is a 30-day public comment period and the TCEQ has 60 days to respond. The state will have 18 months to establish a plan to reduce the emissions which will require ongoing negotiations and the involvement of environmental and energy attorneys.

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