The dramatic irony of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) decision this morning to grant the NRG Limestone Coal Plant an air permit (and therefore permission to begin construction on a third smokestack) is painful. At the very moment that leaders from around the world are meeting to come to an international agreement to save the world from catastrophic global warming, at the very moment that residents of developing nations are begging for the continued existence of their land and way of life, Texas gives the green light to build another mercury-spewing, asthma-inducing, planet choking coal plant.
Not exactly what I was hoping to wake up to this morning.
This decision also comes just days after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came out with its engangerment finding, which says that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases represent a significant threat to public health and welfare. Earlier this year, the EPA also ruled that TCEQ has not been adhering to the Clean Air Act in its issuance of new air permits. This is the first coal plant permit that TCEQ has issued since that warning (which TCEQ doesn’t seem to have taken to heart). AND, according to Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED Coalition,
The TCEQ is not following federal law (Maximum Achievable Control Technology or MACT) in issuing this permit and a result, mercury emissions will be higher.
So many hearts to break, so little time. But of course there’s always a silver lining. Next legislative session, the TCEQ (and a whole host of other commissions) will undergo the Sunset Review process — and as Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office mentions, that gives Texas a chance to reform the TCEQ permitting process:
This is just another example of why the Sunset Commission should take a good hard look at how TCEQ rubber stamps permits for coal plants in Texas.
In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for progress in Copenhagen, and stay tuned at Texas Vox for more information on how you can help fight global warming and a 2nd Texas coal rush.
Full breakdown of the good (NRG has agreed to offset 50% of their emissions, though there’s nothing in their permit to hold them to that), the bad, and the ugly after the jump:
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, December 9, 2009
For more information, contact: Neil Carman, Sierra Club Clean Air Program Director, 512-288-5772; Eva Hernandez, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer, 404-717-3328; Ryan Rittenhouse, Public Citizen Texas Community Organizer 512-477-1155
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Hands Air Pollution Permit to NRG Limestone Coal Plant
Texas Coal Rush continues as TCEQ Fails to Protect Air Quality in Texas
(Austin) – Today the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) issued an air permit for a third unit expansion of the NRG Limestone Coal Plant. This is the first coal plant air permit TCEQ has issued since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled that TCEQ has not been adhering to the Clean Air Act in its issuance of new permits.
“The new EPA is taking steps that make coal plants more and more obsolete,” said Eva Hernandez, Sierra Club Texas coal organizer. “The EPA has said that TCEQ is not applying certain provisions of the Clean Air Act; the EPA found on Monday that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases represent a significant threat to public health and welfare; and the EPA plans to announce its new ozone standard on December 21. These important decisions signal serious changes in coal plant regulation and point to smarter clean energy solutions.”
This week in advance of the global meeting on climate change in Copenhagen, Denmark (The conference runs from Saturday, December 9 through Tuesday, December 19), the EPA declared that greenhouse gases like CO2 are a danger to public health, a move that opens the door to new emissions regulations for United States power plants. If it goes into operation, the new unit at NRG Limestone would spew out more than 7.4 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) every year.
“While NRG has promised to offset 50% of the carbon dioxide emissions from the plant, adding any more fuel to the fire at this critical moment in the climate crisis is morally inexcusable,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “This is just another example of why the Sunset Commission should take a good hard look at how TCEQ rubber stamps permits for coal plants in Texas.”
Beside adding dangerous global warming emissions into the atmosphere, every year the new unit at NRG Limestone will release the following criteria pollutants into the air:
• 2,102 tons of SO2, which forms smog
• 1,752 tons of NOx, which forms ozone
• 1,226 tons of Particulate Matter, which causes respiratory illnesses
• 140 pounds of Mercury, which cause birth defects and developmental problems in children.
“The TCEQ is not following federal law (Maximum Achievable Control Technology or MACT) in issuing this permit and a result, mercury emissions will be higher. Mercury exposure puts children at risk for permanent brain damage and learning disabilities. High autism rates are correlated with mercury emissions as well,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “Texas is the worst in the nation in mercury for emissions from coal-burning power plants, which are also the largest airborne mercury source in Texas.”
The Sierra Club, (represented by Environmental Integrity Project) and Robertson County Our Land, Our Lives (represented by Attorney Wendi Hammond) challenged the NRG Limestone air permit in a contested case before the State Office of Administrative Hearings concerning health and environmental impacts.
“The TCEQ needs to rethink this Texas tragedy. At the very moment that leaders from the rest of the world are meeting in Copenhagen to figure out how to address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, Texas is giving the go ahead to another coal plant?” said Paul Rolke with Robertson County Our Land Our Lives. “Energy leaders and investors in Texas have to wise up and realize that clean power is the only rational solution. The planet can’t stand another coal plant.”
Texas, with twelve proposed coal plants (with twenty boilers total) in various stages of the permitting and/or construction and appeals processes, has more coal plants projects than any other state in the nation. You’ll actually see 14 proposed Texas coal plants on this coal plant tracker — http://www.sierraclub.org/coal/local.aspx however we are counting twelve since two appear to be deadlined.
For analysis of this list of existing and proposed coal plants in Texas, please phone Donna Hoffman, 512-299-5776, with Sierra Club for documents showing ‘good’ states (no to fewer coal plants) and ‘bad’ states (a lot of coal plants).
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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.