Standing under the long shadow of an oversized inflatable coal plant erected this morning in Downtown's Tranquility Park, members of the Sierra Club and local environmentalists said it's time for the EPA to put its money where its mouth is and stop permitting coal-fired power plants.
This comes on the heels of the EPA's announcement in early September that many of the air pollution and permitting rules used by the state's environmental agency, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, do not comply with the federal Clean Air Act. The EPA said that it would most likely reject portions of the state's permitting process.
"TCEQ is issuing permits to coal plants that should be thrown out," said Eva Hernandez of the Sierra Club. "It is permitting plants illegally. This [EPA] ruling creates an opportunity."
She, along with members of the advocacy group Public Citizen, called for the EPA to take "bold action" by halting any new air pollution permits being issued by TCEQ, putting a moratorium on the operation and construction of any new coal-fired plants and by making the energy companies clean up their older plants.
Currently, said Hernandez, there are 11 coal-fired plants being proposed or under construction in Texas, the most in any state across the country. One of those is the White Stallion plant, about 90 miles southwest of Houston near Bay City. Construction of the plant is expected to begin next year.
Ryan Rittenhouse of Public Citizen, however, fears that those 11 plants, including White Stallion, will be grandfathered in and avoid tougher emissions standards currently being proposed in the U.S. Senate. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, which calls for new coal plants to capture and store 50 percent of their carbon dioxide by 2025, currently allows plants in development to escape the new rules.
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"The new construction of these coal-fired power plants is designed to avoid global warming legislation," Rittenhouse said. "The Senate version still has grandfathering provisions and we're asking citizens to contact their U.S. senators to prohibit grandfathering."
He said that if the White Stallion plant gets up and running, its emissions would be comparable to putting more than 1.6 million new cars on the road
The EPA has said that is plans to reject Texas' flexible permits, which allow plants to exceed emissions limits in particular areas so long as they stay within an overall emissions average, along with Texas' rules that allow plants to make changes without first having a public hearing.
"The EPA started in January talking the talk, and in the past few weeks they've been walking the walk," said Matthew Tejada of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention. "Now we'll have to see how stiff their spine is."