Texas plans to reduce haze in national parks without pollution limits
Texas’ proposed plan – which is required by the federal government to improve visibility in national parks and other federally protected areas – would not require Texas coal plants to do anything differently to reduce haze. on lands managed by the federal government. Environmentalists were hoping Texas would force power plants, one of the biggest contributors to the haze, to install pollution abatement technologies, such as scrubbers, that most other states have needed for several years.
Texas has long fought the federal government over how far its pollution regulations need to go to comply with the Clean Air Act requirement to reduce haze and increase visibility in National Park. Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and other federally protected areas affected by Texas pollution.
The first phase of the Texas haze plan, which is revised every decade, has become entangled in court after environmental groups sued a plan they called too weak. The second phase – which was approved for submission by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Wednesday before the July 31 federal deadline – lacks new pollution regulations.
Public documents show some federal agencies do not believe the Texas plan approved by commissioners on Wednesday is adequate.
“The National Park Service has welcomed the various briefings and discussions held with the state of Texas since March 2020,” Michael Reynolds, regional director of the National Park Service, wrote in a November letter to TCEQ. “However, after reviewing the state’s draft implementation plan, the Park Service continues to have many of the same concerns.”
The National Park Service and the US Forest Service wrote that Texas overestimated the cost of new pollution controls on power plants and ignored concerns that some federally protected sites were excluded from TCEQ’s analysis.
In a statement, a spokesperson for TCEQ said the agency had examined the costs of new pollution controls in response to these criticisms from federal agencies and found the Texas analysis to comply with federal regulations.
The TCEQ argues that it is unreasonable to impose regulations that would improve visibility “to a degree imperceptible to the human eye at the costs described”. State regulators said on Wednesday that previous measures to reduce haze in national parks had already set Texas on track to improve visibility, and no new regulations on more than a dozen sources of pollution identified by TCEQ as causing haze on federal lands is not necessary.
Two of the sources of pollution identified by TCEQ included an Oxbow Calcining petroleum coke plant (petroleum coke is used by the aluminum industry) in Port Arthur. Oxbow, in comments submitted to TCEQ on the plan, agreed with the agency’s reasoning that new pollution controls were not needed to reduce haze.
But the National Park Conservation Association said many other plants were excluded from the analysis. The nonprofit group has identified 58 Texas facilities that could contribute to the haze on federally protected land. TCEQ, however, has only identified 18.
“None of our concerns were addressed or incorporated by TCEQ,” said Cary Dupuy, Texas and Oklahoma regional director for the NPCA.
Some environmental experts have said that presenting a plan without new pollution controls would likely prompt the federal government to step in again. Under President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency rejected the first phase of the Texas haze plan and imposed one of its own, which would have required seven of Texas’s coal-fired power plants to install equipment to reduce emissions. reducing visibility.
The EPA’s decision was blocked in court after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued. The EPA under the Trump administration subsequently turned the tide and said Texas could instead use a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, an air pollutant that contributes to acid rain, causes haze and is often emitted by coal-fired power stations. plants.
“By adopting a plan of doing nothing, TCEQ will almost certainly attract a lawsuit and see that plan rejected by the EPA, just as the EPA rejected the previous plan as part of the first phase,” Daniel Cohan, a Atmospheric scientist at Rice University who has previously worked on regional haze plans, said at the TCEQ meeting on Wednesday.
Cohan told commissioners he was “stunned” that the proposal would not take any new steps to reduce air pollution. A 2018 study by Cohan and other researchers found that pollution from Texas coal-fired power plants can contribute to more than 100 premature deaths in Texas each year. He said not increasing the requirements is a missed opportunity to save lives.
But state regulators say these health issues are irrelevant to the law.
“I think what we have here is just a fundamentally different view of the purpose of this provision of the Clean Air Act,” said Niermann, the TCEQ commissioner. “It’s about visibility – it’s an aesthetic standard.”
Texas environmental groups, frustrated by the state’s lax attitude to climate change, also opposed the plan in part because of the haze’s impact on climate change, but received the same answer: the agency said climate change was “out of reach” of the regulation.
For more on this story, keep reading from our ABC13 partners at the Texas Tribune.