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Texas Coal Plant’s 50,000 Air Pollution Violations Lead to Legal Challenge

Dirty power plant highest in mercury emissions in U.S.; Action taken after Texas agency ignores problem and fails to act
September 2, 2010
Texarkana, Texas —

More than 50,000 air pollution violations at the massive Martin Lake coal-fired power plant led the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project, to file a lawsuit today in federal court against plant owner Luminant (formerly TXU).

The Martin Lake plant, located near Longview, Texas, is one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation. It is the worst power plant for mercury pollution among all U.S. coal plants, emitting 1,764 pounds in 2008, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory. In Texas, Martin Lake ranked third for asthma-causing soot pollution and was responsible for 13 percent of all industrial air pollution in the state.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has ignored years of repeated excessive soot pollution and other violations at the Martin Lake plant, putting the health of nearby communities at risk.

The lawsuit is based largely on company self-reported emissions data that indicates that the coal-fired power plant is emitting far more fine particle pollution than it should. Fine particles from power plants have been linked to asthma attacks, lung ailments, and thousands of premature deaths a year.

Like all coal-fired power plants, Martin Lake emits a toxic soup of air pollution in enormous volumes each year, especially soot particles, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. These chemicals combine in our air to create dangerous levels of ozone, acid rain and smog that worsen asthma and other respiratory diseases. Carbon dioxide causes global warming.

"Luminant's Martin Lake coal plant is consistently among the dirtiest in the entire nation and one of the worst polluting coal plants in Texas every year," stated Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. "Martin Lake has the highest total air pollution (168,000 tons) among more than 2,000 industrial plants statewide. In fact, Martin Lake accounted for 13 percent of all industrial air pollution in Texas in 2008 and 20 percent of all coal plant pollution. That’s a huge amount of pollution from this one source."

Pollution from the Martin Lake power plant and its smokestack plumes can drift for hundreds of miles over communities in East and North Texas and all the way into Oklahoma, putting the health of the several million Texans and Oklahomans who live downwind at risk. Martin Lake’s emissions make it particularly problematic for areas to achieve minimum air quality standards. It particularly contributes to the Dallas-Ft. Worth area’s air quality problems and federal ‘non-attainment’ status. Non-attainment refers to a region’s inability to meet minimum public health safeguards for amounts of pollution in the ambient air surrounding citizens. Non-attainment affects the region's eligibility for federal funding.

"The egregious amount of air pollution from Luminant’s Martin Lake coal plant is highly dangerous for the health of people living in Rusk and surrounding counties,” said Ken Kramer, Director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. “Martin Lake’s massive plumes of smog-forming nitrogen oxides are also one of the reasons the Dallas-Fort Worth area experiences high ozone levels and does not meet the Clean Air Act’s standards for human health. The pollution from Martin Lake also drifts across state lines into Oklahoma and Arkansas.”

“Sadly, sometimes only a citizen lawsuit, like the one filed today, can clean-up a dirty facility like the Martin Lake coal plant,” said Suma Peesapati, an attorney with Earthjustice who is representing the Sierra Club in the action. “The time has come for Luminant to come into compliance with federal air quality laws that it has been able to avoid, until now.”

Ilan Levin, senior attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project said: "This coal-fired power plant is consistently in the top 10 highest carbon dioxide emitters in the nation, the top 50 highest sulfur dioxide emitters in the nation, and is shamefully ranked number one as the highest power plant mercury polluter in the U.S. There is no “safe” level of exposure to fine particles according to EPA—in other words, emissions from this Luminant power plant will continue to damage the environment and the public’s health regardless of whether the surrounding area meets federal air quality standards. Our goal is to stop illegal air pollution through strict enforcement of the law."

Although the TCEQ is charged with enforcing violations of the Clean Air Act, its enforcement policy and practice have ignored Martin Lake’s emissions. While this legal challenge alleges over 50,000 violations for the last 5 years, TCEQ has not issued one enforcement notice, nor corrected any of the deficiencies at the plant through that same time period.

Read the legal complaint.

Contacts

Suma Peesapati, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700

Ailis Aaron Wolf, Environmental Integrity Project, (703) 276-3265

Dr. Neil Carman, Sierra Club, (512) 477-1729

Jen Powis, Sierra Club, (713) 984-4824

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.