EPA tells Texas agency to re-work air permit for Pirkey coal plant

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy in a Feb. 3 order partially granted a petition by environmental groups on a renewed air permit issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for the coal-fired H.W. Pirkey power plant of Southwestern Electric Power Co. (SWEPCO).

In 2014, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) revised a permit issued for the H.W. Pirkey plant, located about two hours east of Dallas in Harrison County, to include exemptions from particulate limits during startup, shutdown and maintenance. SWEPCO is a unit of American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP).

McCarthy, in a Feb. 3 written order received by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Sierra Club, which had filed this petition for review, objected to the plant’s federal clean air act permit and ordered TCEQ to revise and re-issue the permit. EPA objected to the permit, because it exempted the plant from health and nuisance-based emission limits established by Texas and approved by EPA.

The TCEQ has issued similar exemptions for nearly every coal-fired power plant in the state, said EIP in a Feb. 4 statement. So even though EPA’s decision impacts only one plant, it sets a precedent for the many other coal-fired power plants in the state that currently have flawed permits, the organization added.

“This is a victory for clean air,” said Gabriel Clark-Leach, the Environmental Integrity Project attorney who drafted the petition to EPA challenging the permit. “EPA’s objection is important, because it puts power plant operators on notice that the TCEQ’s illegal maintenance exemptions are ineffective and sends a clear message to Texas that it must actually enforce the rules it writes.”

The Pirkey plant utilizes one boiler to produce up to 721 MW, with SWEPCO, the plant operator, owning about 580 MW of that capacity.

McCarthy under Claim 1 of the complaint found that the petitioners have demonstrated that the 2014 Title V Permit and permit record are unclear regarding whether the State Implementation Plan (SIP) opacity and particular matter (PM) limits in state regulations apply during periods of planned maintenance, startup and shutdown, as required. EPA directed the TCEQ to revise Pirkey’s 2014 Title V Permit to ensure that it requires that the opacity and PM limits apply during these periods. 

Under Claim 2, the petitioners also said that the 2014 Proposed Title V Permit must be revised to ensure that any credible evidence may be used to demonstrate noncompliance with applicable requirements in the permit. McCarthy rejected that claim. 

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.