HOUSTON (AP) — State environmental regulators did not follow federal guidelines when they issued an air permit for a proposed coal-fired power plant on the Gulf Coast, and a Texas judge indicated the paperwork is too flawed for construction to begin.
District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky sent the letter Monday in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, who challenged the air permit issued for Las Brisas Energy Center last May by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Yelenosky indicated he would not back the state agency, saying parts of the permitting process were "flawed," ''misleading" and wrong.
The TCEQ issued the air permit for the proposed $3 billion Las Brisas Energy Center after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had made it clear that it opposed the plan and feared it would cause more air pollution in the Corpus Christi area than allowed under federal regulations.
Yelenosky backed the TCEQ on a few points, but criticized it in major areas, including a failure to account for petroleum coke that will be held on site before it is burned.
"To issue a permit that does not specify the location, control and method of material handling is flawed," he wrote, lambasting some of the environmental modeling done for the permit.
The TCEQ said in a statement it maintains "the technical review and issuance of the air quality permit was conducted in accordance with all applicable state and federal regulations and requirements and is protective of public health. The TCEQ continues to review the details of the judge's letter and will review the order when issued to determine its course of action."
Las Brisas did not immediately comment on the judge's letter.
The EPA is still considering a request by the power plant for a greenhouse gas permit. Without that, construction cannot begin.
Texas is home to 19 coal-fired power plants — more than any other state — and is considering proposals for several more.
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