Coal-fired plants in Texas bypassing pollution controls, lawsuit says

Signage is seen at the headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • EPA's failure to act on Texas' plan for air quality standards amounts to an illegal exemption, green groups say
  • EPA hasn't responded to the proposal, which greens say is inadequate

(Reuters) - The Biden administration is letting eight Texas coal-fired power plants avoid pollution controls by sitting on a request to amend the Lone Star State’s plans for pollution reduction, according to a new lawsuit filed by environmental groups.

The Sierra Club and Environmental Integrity Project sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday, claiming the agency’s inaction is allowing the power plants to bypass controls for particulate matter emissions for hundreds or thousands of hours a year of operation during shutdown, startup and maintenance procedures.

The groups are aiming to force the EPA to make a decision on a 2020 request submitted by Texas to amend its State Implementation Plan (SIP) for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which are health-based pollution control standards for six common air pollutants including ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, particle pollution and sulfur dioxide.

By failing to approve or reject the request as required by the Clean Air Act, the groups say the EPA is essentially letting the coal plants operate under unsanctioned and less protective standards.

“The power plants will not do anything to reduce their emissions until EPA disapproves Texas’s SIP revision,” said Gabriel Clark-Leach, an attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project.

Texas proposed revising its SIP in July 2020 with a request that the EPA incorporate eight orders issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) relating to the operations at the eight coal-fired plants into the plan, according to the complaint. The environmental groups said those TCEQ agreements with the plants say that pollution limits don’t apply during those periods.

The groups claim that the orders essentially exempt the plants from EPA-approved pollution controls during shutdown, startup and maintenance at the facilities. Incorporating them into the SIP would undermine those protections, they said.

The TCEQ declined to comment. The EPA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Environmental Integrity Project et al v. Michael Regan et a., United States District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:22-cv-03063.

For the plaintiffs: Sanghyun (Sunny) Lee and Gabriel Clark-Leach of the Environmental Integrity Project

For the EPA: Not immediately available

(NOTE: This story has been updated to include a response from the TCEQ.)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.