Sierra Club slams EPA for backing down on Texas regional haze plan

The Sierra Club in a Nov. 29 statement blasted a move the prior day by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to inform the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that the agency intends to voluntarily withdraw its regional haze finding that mandated emissions cuts from seven coal-fired power plants in Texas.

The EPA is withdrawing this rule, which is currently pending judicial review at the Fifth Circuit, so that it can reevaluate and reissue certain aspects of the plan focused on a requirement to achieve “reasonable progress” towards cleaning up haze pollution. 

Although the EPA is likely to withdraw the currently pending portions of the regional haze rule, several upcoming rules are expected to be issued that also address SO2 pollution, the club noted.

  • On Nov. 29, the EPA is due to finalize a nonattainment designation in certain Texas counties near coal plants where the air has such high levels of SO2 pollution that it is unhealthy to breathe.
  • Additionally, on Dec. 9, the EPA is scheduled to propose another aspect of the Clean Air Act’s regional haze program. This standard will determine the “Best Available Retrofit Technology” to reduce the pollution from industrial sources like coal-fired power plants that harms the views in national parks.

The Sierra Club said the seven power plants that would be cleaned up by the Regional Haze Plan for Texas account for more than two-thirds of Texas’s total SO2 pollution. 

Chrissy Mann, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said: “The emissions from these Texas coal plants not only create haze for our treasured national parks like Big Bend National Park but also have a high impact on public health for children and seniors with respiratory illnesses and asthma attacks in Northeast Texas. Texans should not have to wait any longer to have clear views and clean air. The Sierra Club will continue to fight to ensure that the EPA to addresses coal pollution and will work to build a future beyond coal in Texas that builds up a clean energy economy and supports a just transition for communities historically dependent on coal.”

EPA in its Nov. 28 filing at the court referred to a July 15 decision from the court to stay the haze plan while the court case was fought out. “In light of the Court’s July 15 Opinion and the fact that the parties’ settlement discussions were unsuccessful, EPA intends to seek a voluntary remand of the final rule in this Court,” said the agency. “EPA anticipates filing its motion for a voluntary remand this week. EPA intends to seek a voluntary remand to the extent the final rule disapproved elements of the Texas and Oklahoma SIPs and promulgated a FIP in place of the disapproved SIP elements.”

Industry parties – including power generators Luminant, NRG Texas Power and Southwestern Public Service – said in their own Nov. 28 report to the court on the failed settlement talks: “Petitioners and Petitioner-Intervenors hereby notify the Court that, despite good-faith settlement negotiations, a global resolution of this case has not been reached. Accordingly, Petitioners and Petitioner-Intervenors do not request a further stay of proceedings in this Court at this time for the purpose of settlement discussions.”

They added: “On Monday, November 21, 2016, counsel for EPA informed counsel for the other parties to the case that EPA intends to file a motion requesting that the Court, in lieu of proceeding with merits briefing in the case, vacate and remand for further agency proceedings EPA’s State Implementation Plan disapproval decisions and Federal Implementation Plans promulgated by the Final Rule. Counsel for EPA did not provide a copy of EPA’s motion to counsel for Petitioners and Petitioner-Intervenors prior to filing the motion. Petitioners and Petitioner-Intervenors do not join EPA’s motion. Instead, once the motion is filed, they intend to review the motion, including the bases cited by EPA for its requested relief and any representations by EPA about its intentions regarding remand proceedings, and they intend to file a response or responses with the Court as appropriate, including potentially a request for different relief. Thus, Petitioners and Petitioner-Intervenors respectfully request that the Court refrain from acting on EPA’s motion until that motion has been fully briefed to the Motions Panel.”

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.