Earthjustice today filed suit on behalf of Sierra Club to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to step in and enforce the Clean Air Act in Texas. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is charged with implementing federal clean air requirements in Texas but Sierra Club contends it has failed to do so. The suit alleges that in the absence of adequate state action the EPA is legally required to intervene and implement federal air quality standards.
Current and proposed power plant pollution in Texas—nearly one million tons annually, according to TCEQ’s 2008 Emissions Inventory and draft permits for new plants—is contributing to pollution problems in Texas and downwind states. Texas has 21 operating coal plants and 7 proposed coal plants—the largest number of any state in the nation—which will further threaten air quality for Texans and residents of other states.
"We contend that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under Governor Perry’s direction has violated the Clean Air Act and allowed the state’s largest polluters to put Texans’ health at risk," said Jen Powis, Senior Regional Representative for Sierra Club. "The EPA has taken two positive steps to uphold Clean Air law in Texas. Now EPA must act decisively, take the next step, and create plans that will protect public health and the environment in Texas and our neighbor states."
The groups are seeking enforcement of three Clean Air Act mandates in Texas:
- A federally enforceable plan to prevent Texas air emissions from violating the Clean Air Act in other states
- A federally enforceable plan to implement the 1997 ozone health standards
- Final approval or disapproval action on Texas’ existing plan to implement the 1997 health standard for fine particle pollution
"We maintain that Texas’s continued evasion of its Clean Air Act obligations has unduly compromised the health of its own citizens, as well as those residing in downwind states, for far too long," said Khushi Desai, Earthjustice attorney. "Our suit says that EPA must, as the law requires, finally address Texas’s failures and take action to implement national air quality standards in the State."
The TCEQ is charged with regulating major sources of industrial air pollution: coal plants, oil refineries, chemical plants, cement kilns, and gas drilling. If the 7 proposed coal plants are allowed to go online, combined with emissions from the state's 21 older and new coal plants, the emissions would be an estimated 400,000 tons per year of ozone-forming pollution, more than 227 million tons per year of carbon dioxide, huge quantities of soot and other fine particle pollution, and almost 14,000 pounds per year of mercury.
"Texas has a long history of weak air pollution regulation so it’s crucial that pollution limits are strongly in place and enforced," said Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We’ve got to curb this reliance on dirty coal-fired power and continue our transition to clean energy. We’re building robust energy efficiency and clean, renewable wind and solar power and that’s the right track."