Wednesday, July 27, 2011

It's Time For Texas To Stop The Pollution

Texas has a long and not-so-distinguished history of putting tons of pollution into the atsmosphere -- much more than any other state (and all but six countries). This has been going on for many years, especially since the Republicans took over the state government. Much of this pollution comes from coal-fired energy plants, and these plants (along with chemical plants and refineries) have been getting a free-pass form the state government in the form of "flexible permits" (which allow them to violate pollution standards).

During the Bush administration the White House made sure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did nothing about the Texas pollution. But that is no longer the case. The EPA has taken over the issuance of permits for plants to stop the abuse of the so-called flexible permits. Now the EPA has gone further and demanded that Texas polluters (and those in 27 other states) clean up their act, because their pollution is crossing state borders and affecting the health and safety of people in other states.

This has upset Governor Perry and the Republican state leadership, who have been protecting the polluters for many years (and receiving campaign donations from those same polluters). They have not only objected to the new EPA rules and actions, but they have gone to court to stop them. These Republican leaders long ago sided with the corporate polluters, regardless of the environmental and health consequences of that pollution to the people of this country.

Now it has gotten so bad that even a conservative-oriented newspaper like the Dallas Morning News feels compelled to speak out. The paper has recently written an editorial (7/22/11) on the Texas pollution problem (and the lack of action by state leaders), and I find that I agree with the sentiments they express. Here is a part of that excellent editorial:

Texas should stop pretending EPA isn't serious

Texas' electricity grid operator issued a daunting warning when it said a tough Environmental Protection Agency rule on coal-plant emissions could spark power shortages and blackouts across the state.

Indeed, after a hard day at work, no one wants to return to a dark, sweltering house, or pay outrageously high electricity bills because power is in short supply. But it doesn't have to be that way. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas' warning creates a false choice that misses an important point, that Texas has plenty of alternatives - which it should get busy pursuing instead of pretending the EPA isn't serious about clean-air standards.

The false choice pits clean air against reliable power. Texas must have both, and can achieve both through a continued push to develop alternative energy, embrace forward-looking conservation policies, and reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants. The result would be fewer health problems from bad air, including premature deaths, and a stronger economic development tool. Plus, Texans would have the electricity needed to keep pace with a burgeoning population and economic growth.

The sad fact is that North Texas remains in violation of federal ozone standards, and after years of denial, Texas is among the least prepared to comply with the new rules. Fault for this rests squarely with state officials and coal-fired power plant operators who have tried repeatedly to delay the inevitable.

ERCOT, which is responsible for making sure the lights stay on statewide, says the Jan. 1 deadline for compliance with the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule to reduce sulfur-dioxide emissions is "unreasonable." To avoid emission violations after the deadline, coal-fired power plant operators would limit or shut down generation to levels that might cause serious power outages statewide, ERCOT says.

That's short-sighted. Owners of coal-fired power plants and ERCOT have had plenty of advance warning about the new federal rules. Complaining about the timetable gives operators another excuse to put off what they must do. Moreover, Texas isn't being singled out. The EPA's rule applies to coal plants in 27 states, which, like Texas, also will have to make major emissions cuts. In Texas, for example, the rule would require an annual reduction of sulfur-dioxide emissions to 244,000 tons, or by 47 percent from 2010 levels.

In reality, the problem resides with a just a few plants, whose compliance would make a difference in air quality. In a recent Viewpoints column in this newspaper, Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, noted that about 42 percent of emissions of soot-forming sulfur dioxide covered by the rule in Texas are produced at just three plants, which collectively account for only 13 percent of the state's electricity generation. McCarthy says that most operators will not face a heavy burden under this rule but that those not in compliance simply must step up and install the scrubbers and other technology to 
sharply reduce emissions as others have done.

We agree. It's time for Texas to stop complaining and start complying.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's absolutely incredible. I've mocked Texas for several other reasons and had no idea about this.


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