EPA revisions may keep Luminant plants open

Dallas-based Luminant, the largest electric power generator in Texas, is reconsidering its decision to idle two coal-fired power plants after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed revisions Thursday that would ease the requirements of a new rule designed to curb air pollution.

But Luminant spokesman Allan Koenig said that the company is studying the EPA’s 97-page statement of proposed revisions and that “there’s just no way we know” without further analysis whether the changes might allow the power generator to keep the Monticello units operating near Mount Pleasant.

The revisions to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule allow power plants greater latitude in emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The emissions contribute to unhealthy levels of particulates and ground-level ozone, the primary ingredients in smog.

Even with the revisions, the rule would still take effect Jan. 1, and generators would have to begin taking steps to reduce plant pollution substantially. But the EPA said it is proposing to amend the rule’s penalty provisions “to make them effective beginning Jan. l, 2014, rather than in 2012.”

The EPA said the revisions would slightly increase allowable emissions in Texas and nine other states, and “ease limits on market-based compliance options.”

But the agency said “the significant health benefits of the rule — saving up to 34,000 lives a year” — would be maintained.

The EPA rule, announced in July, drew an angry response from Texas politicians, who claimed it did not allow adequate time for compliance and could lead to plant shutdowns that would risk power blackouts and sizable job losses. Gov. Rick Perry, a leading Republican presidential contender, has been among the EPA’s harshest critics.

EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz said most of the additional pollution resulting from the rule revisions would come from Texas.

Armendariz said the changes are being proposed as a result of further evaluation of data provided by utilities, including Luminant, and not for political reasons.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, said in a statement Thursday, “I am pleased to see that the EPA has admitted that they were wrong in their assumptions in the first place. Hopefully, the second time around they will look at the true facts and act accordingly.” Texas has challenged the rule in court, and Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state would continue to pursue its lawsuit seeking to block implementation.

The restrictions “threaten job losses for hardworking Texans, undermine electric reliability for Texas families and violate federal law — and minor technical corrections cannot make these regulations lawful,” Abbott said in a statement. “By making the minor changes … the Obama administration effectively concedes that its rules were flawed — but inexplicably refuses to resolve the real defects.”

The Sierra Club, a leading environmental group, said Thursday that Luminant should retire the Monticello plants, not temporarily idle them. The Monticello units employ 473 people and have a combined generating capacity of about 1,200 megawatts, Luminant said.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen, an environmental and consumer group, said the revisions would give “Texas power companies additional [sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides] allowances and allow them to buy more emissions allowances from out of state for a limited time.

“The bad news is these dirty old plants will continue to emit lung-searing acid gases that will damage the lungs of Texans living downwind of the plants,” he said. “The good news is Texas companies will have more time to comply and keep on running over the next several summers, reducing short-term threats to [electric power] reliability.”

This report includes material from The Associated Press.