Court Tells Trump Administration to Get Busy With Texas Clean Air Plan

Houston, and Texas, have a lot of haze from air pollution and now a federal district court says the EPA has to do something about it.
Houston, and Texas, have a lot of haze from air pollution and now a federal district court says the EPA has to do something about it. Photo by Rick Kimpel via Flickr creative commons

Houston is known as a smoggy city and Texas has maintained its rep for years as a state that has a lot of air pollution, but now a federal district judge has ordered the federal Environmental Protection Agency to do something about it.

Considering the reports of strange smells and emissions from Houston alone in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, this ruling comes at a particularly good time.

A plan to cut back on haze from air pollution in the state has been in the works for nearly a decade, partly because it's bad for people to breathe smoggy air, partly because allowing the state to leave crud in the air unmitigated violates the federal Clean Air Act.

And this makes a certain amount of sense. After all, Texas’s power plants degrade air quality in at least 15 national parks, monuments and wilderness areas across seven states, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Coal plants in Texas emit more visibility-impairing, lung-damaging sulfur dioxide pollution than all of the coal plants in Oklahoma and Arkansas combined.

Initially, the plan was to let the state take care of the problem. Back in 2007 the state was ordered to submit a "haze plan" to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. However, Texas officials never submitted the plan, and in 2009 the EPA published a finding that the state, by failing to submit that plan, had given the EPA the authority to make a plan for Texas.

Then the EPA also failed to submit a plan.

In 2009, when the federal agency missed its second deadline, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and a slew of other groups sued the EPA for not finalizing the haze plan. Officials from the EPA and Texas repeatedly asked for more time because they wanted to conduct technical analysis and had some other issues that had to be dealt with to come up with an effective plan.

But then the EPA asked for yet another extension, but this time the request did not say that the agency could not meet its September 9 deadline, but that it simply would not meet it.

Last Thursday the court denied the EPA's request for 15 more months before finalizing a plan to comply with the Clean Air Act's standards and reduce air pollution in the region.

Instead of granting yet another extension, the court ordered the Trump administration to get a plan together and not to delay pollution cleanup any longer.

After nearly a decade of delay in developing a plan to curb Texas air pollution endangering public health and harming the region’s national parks and wilderness areas, a federal district court today told the Trump administration it cannot delay pollution cleanup any longer.

So yes, the court has spoken and the Trump administration is going to have to actually cook up a way to make Texas air less polluted. Of course, we won't believe it until it actually happens, but it's a start.

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Dianna Wray is a nationally award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Houston, she writes about everything from NASA to oil to horse races.
Contact: Dianna Wray