US EPA Backs Off Haze Rule for Texas Power Plants

Published December 28, 2016

Even before President-elect Donald Trump takes office with his promise to revive the fortunes of the beleaguered coal mining and power industry, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered an early Christmas present to operators of several coal-fired power plants in Texas, announcing it plans to withdraw its mandate which would have required seven Texas coal-fired power plants to either install expensive scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions or shut down.

Texas has more than a dozen coal-fired power plants in the state, with the capacity to generate 19,000 megawatts of electricity. In March Texas sued the EPA to block a regional haze plan it implemented in January that was expected to result in the closure of seven coal fired power plants in the state.

Under the 1999 Regional Haze Rule the federal government and states governments were supposed to work together to improve visibility in the U.S.’s 156 national parks and wilderness areas. The January rule offered by EPA was intended to improve visibility in Texas’s Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The power plants targeted by EPA’s haze plan were located hundreds of miles from the parks in question.

Costly Upgrades Cost Power

Texas, joined by several electric power producers, claimed the equipment upgrades were so costly the power plants would have to shut down rather than be retrofitted resulting in the loss of 8,400 megawatts of power, enough to power more than 1.6 million homes, for little or no gain in visibility or public health.

In July, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Federal Court sided with Texas and the power companies, staying the rule.

Unable to work out its differences with Texas since July, on November 29, EPA filed a motion in court to end the lawsuit while it remands the rule back to the agency to work out a new plan to limit the region’s haze.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.