THE BLOG

Texas Aims to Pollute the Nation

10/06/2011 04:03 pm ET | Updated Dec 06, 2011

It almost seems like Texas is proud of the fact that it has some of the worst air quality in the nation.  The state recently filed yet another lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- bringing the total number of recent lawsuits to more than 10 -- claiming in part that Texas should not have to comply with the common-sense safeguard known as the Cross State Air Pollution protection.

Texas's largest power provider, Luminant, has also staked out a position, claiming that the safeguard unfairly targets its three dirty, outdated coal plants all located in the Northeast corner of Texas. And now today, EPA has stated that it is making technical adjustments to the Cross State Air Pollution safeguard to account for new information in the data, some of which was self-reported by industry.

Yet these minor tweaks do not undercut the massive importance of including the entire Eastern United States in an air pollution safeguard aimed at improving air quality nationwide. Indeed, they demonstrate that EPA is responsive to new information, and that these are reasonable, flexible protections that also ensure all polluters have to play by the rules.

The Cross State Air Pollution safeguard is an update of a long-standing system that has been in place for decades, and has slashed deadly coal pollution across the eastern and central US. The standard closes loopholes, allowing coal plants to meet similar air quality standards as other regulated industries.


The Cross State Air Pollution safeguard affects 27 states and creates a cap and trade system for pollutants primarily responsible for the formation of smog. Smog has been scientifically linked to premature death, lung damage, and aggravation of asthma or other respiratory conditions. 

Because this protection is a cap and trade system, it offers a lot of flexibility to utilities to figure out how to limit pollution across their entire fleet of coal plants -- in fact any polluter can continue to pollute at the same levels as it does today, as long as that same entity purchases pollution allowances on the open market, which it buys from other utilities that are much less polluting.  

That's why this whole system has not been that controversial among the business community to date -- it's a sort of pay-to-play, recognizing that a business can be in the driver's seat, determining how best to improve air quality within its own fleet. 

Apparently, Texas doesn't see it that way. They are determined to stop these safeguards at all costs, no matter what.

We saw that today, when EPA announced it was making some minor technical adjustments to the standards in response to concerns raised by Texas utilities. But in spite of EPA's offer, Luminant -- and Texas -- have made the business decision to attack the EPA health safeguards via public-relations campaigns and the courts.

Why Should Cities Across the Nation Care?

Cities around the country should fight to defend the Cross State Air Pollution safeguard and level the playing field because it will improve air quality nationwide -- in fact, it has been doing so for many years. This updated safeguard means for the first time in years, the air folks breathe in a host of cities across the Eastern United States will meet minimum public health safety standards. [See page 30 and 31 here] This is also true for Texas.

But instead, Texas is ignoring the reality that this air pollution safeguard helps industry and its own citizens breathe a little easier.  And how does it help industry? Let's look at a Texas example.  Nearly 1,000 industrial facilities across Texas have had to install and operate air pollution control systems because those areas fail to meet basic public health safety limits for pollution.  But Luminant has not followed suit, deciding to shirk their responsibility by not installing air pollution controls.

The fact is that Luminant is an outlier, and they are threatening to drag down this entire set of clean air protections that have improved the health of millions of people, due to their own mismanagement and missed opportunities. In 2007, when the utility TXU became Luminant, the company promised to be cleaner and greener.  The facts demonstrate that Luminant has not made good on its promises.  The three old Luminant coal plants, Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake, are the top 3 industrial polluters in Texas among nearly 2,000 industrial plants. They are exceptionally dirty plants that, combined, spew more than 25% of the state's industrial air pollution and more than 46% of the state's coal plant pollution.

You can see why only Luminant has reached far and wide into the media, into state government, and into the courts in an effort to stop a safeguard that will drastically improve the lives of every day Texans -- and every day Americans.  Today's announcement from EPA does not change the fact that this Cross State Air Pollution safeguard is necessary for the nation, and necessary to clean up Luminant's big dirty three. 

It's time Texas started leading the nation in the charge forward to clean energy, rather than trying to preserve its position as the dirtiest and remaining mired in the past. 

Co-written by Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign, and Jen Powis, the state lead for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign working to transition Texas's electric system to cleaner alternatives.  The campaign is currently working to stop the construction of seven proposed coal plants, and retire older facilities in order to make room for cleaner and greener systems.