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Home | Tag Archives: epa

Tag Archives: epa

Groups Sue EPA to Enforce Texas Regional Haze Plan

A coalition of conservation groups is taking the Environmental Protection Agency to court over changes to the Texas Regional Haze Plan.

The suit maintains that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt violated the agency’s own regulations by replacing the plan with a new agreement that allows coal-fired power plants in Texas to emit higher levels of pollutants.

Michael Soules, a staff attorney with Earthjustice, says Pruitt’s cap-and-trade program would allow the plants to continue to produce pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, known as SO2, at a high rate.

“We found out that under Mr. Pruitt, EPA did a complete about face and issued a plan that, instead of leading to credible reductions in SO2, would actually permit them to increase SO2 above the levels that they emitted in 2016,”

Soules says Earthjustice sued the EPA on behalf of the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and National Parks Conservation Association, challenging the revised plan.

He says the battle over pollution from more than a dozen coal-fired plants in Texas has been going on since the state missed a 2007 federal deadline for implementing a haze reduction plan.

EPA officials did not comment on the lawsuit.

After a decade-long battle, the EPA issued a final plan requiring Texas coal-fired power plants to install pollution control equipment, called scrubbers, to reduce emissions that affect national parks and other areas across the region.

But Soules says in October, the Trump administration made major changes to the plan without allowing the required period of public comment.

“The benefits of cleaning up literally the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the country – it’s not limited just to people that go and visit national parks like Big Bend or Guadalupe,” he states. “This is something that is impacting people in communities all across Texas and in other states that are downwind.”

Soules says pollution from the plants particularly affects people suffering from asthma and other health problems and can cause premature death.

The suit aims to force the EPA to abide by the January 2017 version of the plan and to hold a public comment period before finalizing any rule.

Author: Texas News Service

Young Sentinels Watch Over NM Water

VALDEZ, N.M. – “Water Sentinels” is a volunteer monitoring program started by the Sierra Club to survey rivers and streams the Environmental Protection Agency has neglected. And in rural New Mexico, its membership is increasingly made up of school kids.

They inspect the Rio Hondo, Rio Fernando, Rio Pueblo and Red River for toxins that result from agriculture and mining and which can have serious health implications to humans. Retired organic chemistry teacher and program coordinator Eric Patterson leads and inspires these kids into keeping an important natural resource safe for all people to use and enjoy.

“Valdez, the town I live in, is right on that Rio Hondo, and I just love that river,” Patterson said. “It’s a beautiful mountain stream – it has cascades, it has rapids, it has trout. The biggest thing we check for is E coli bacteria, and we are concerned about aluminum.”

Waste runoff from grazing lands is the main contributor of E coli, according to Patterson, and they are monitoring aluminum from a mine in the town of Questa that extracts molybdenum, an element used for computer chips and in fossil fuel production.

There is some contention between the state environment department and the Sierra Club regarding the toxicity of aluminum as well as the necessity to test for it. That’s where the Water Sentinels come in.

With Patterson at the helm, his young apprentices monitor the waters where people fish, raft and play, especially at confluences of the Rio Grande which supplies irrigation and drinking water to millions. He said with the way environmental protections are being deregulated, it’s more important than ever to get kids into water issues.

“If people don’t love to love the outdoors and the environment when they’re young, they won’t fight to protect it when they’re old,” Patterson said.

The Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club is on the lookout for more students across New Mexico who want to learn about and protect water in their state. Interested parties can find more information at RioGrandeSierraClub.org.

Brett McPherson, Public News Service – NM

Senator Cornyn Issues Statement on Administration Repealing Obama EPA Regulations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) released the following statement after President Trump signed an executive order repealing the job-killing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations put in place by the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan:

“For eight years the Obama Administration’s draconian regulatory regime hindered job growth and hit Texans at the pump and on their utility bills.

Rolling back the Obama Administration’s unnecessary, job-killing, and oppressive EPA regulations is another promise kept by this President.” 

“I’m glad President Trump continues to prioritize job creation over catering to environmental activists, and I look forward to working with him to harness our state’s energy potential for the benefit of the entire nation.”

In Texas, EPA Proposing more Emissions Restrictions

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to withdraw a plan aimed at reducing haze in Texas’ national parks and tamping down on toxic air emissions. But it’s also quietly proposing another.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton celebrated this summer when the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a federally crafted plan aimed at reducing haze in Big Bend National Park and other wilderness areas in the state. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is still moving ahead with another rule that might have the same effect — prompting utilities to shutter some of the state’s coal-fired power plants.

The plan Paxton challenged was one prong of the Regional Haze Rule and would have required seven of Texas’ coal-fired power plants to install equipment to lessen visibility-reducing emissions. According to Paxton’s office the plan “would have imposed $2 billion in costs without achieving any visibility changes,” at least in the near-term. And it appeared the Fifth Circuit might agree.

Facing the possibility of losing the legal battle against Texas, the EPA is seeking permission from the court to voluntarily withdraw the plan, saying it wants to re-work it. The state and utilities are expected to respond to the agency’s request by Monday and will likely challenge it. Environmental groups also say they will see that the EPA eventually finishes the job.

But two weeks ago the EPA quietly proposed another regulation addressing a second prong of the Regional Haze Rule — something the agency was required to do under a 2012 consent decree struck with environmental groups after they sued to encourage the agency to speed up the process.

The new rule is expected to have a similar impact as the withdrawn haze plan — assuming it is implemented.

Released late on a Friday, it would require 14 older power plants across the state — nine of them coal burning — to implement “best available retrofit technology” (BART) to reduce emissions of both sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. Both pollutants are known to impact not only visibility but also human health.

Texas has the highest sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants in the country.

The Sierra Club called the rule “an important next step in fully implementing the requirements of the Clean Air Act’s Regional Haze Rule.”

“Right now, haze pollution clouds the views around the Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks,” Chrissy Mann, a senior representative for the group’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said in a statement. “This same pollution hurts people all across Texas and our neighboring states where they live, work and play.”

Rice University environmental engineering professor Daniel Cohan estimates the rule would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 53 percent statewide, which he says would lead to significantly lower levels of particulate matter and have an “enormous benefit to air quality.” (The haze plan the EPA is seeking to withdraw would lead to a 64 percent reduction statewide, he estimates.)

Particulate matter often doesn’t get much attention in Texas because major cities struggle more with ozone levels. But he said particulate matter is actually more deadly, estimated by the World Health Organization to kill about three million people worldwide annually.

“We’re probably going to get more health benefits from these controls than from any of the measures that aim to control ozone,” Cohan said, noting that residents in the Houston and Dallas areas would benefit especially, with several of the targeted plants in those regions.

A big part of the benefit assumes many of the plants will have to shut down. That’s because the “scrubbers” or other equipment they would have to install to meet requirements under the rule are expensive, and many of them are already losing money as coal is far more expensive than abundant and cleaner-burning natural gas.

Industry insiders say those factors are already expected to force many coal plants to close in the coming years, but Cohan said the BART rule, which would take effective five years from now, might speed up the process.

Luminant, a major electricity-generating company that owns several coal plants in Texas, confirmed the potential impact of the rule and said it “looks forward to preparing and submitting extensive comments on this BART proposal.” (It also has sued the EPA over the haze issue.)

A 60-day comment period will begin once the EPA has published the rule in the federal register. It has scheduled an open house and public hearing for Jan. 10 in Austin.

The cost of compliance “will challenge the long-term viability of Luminant’s units targeted in the proposal,” the company said in a statement that bashed the EPA for “once again going beyond its authority under the Clean Air Act and seeking to impose billions of dollars on Texas EGUs [electric utility generating units] for what would be no perceptible improvement in visibility.”

Closure of several plants could impact reliability of the electric power grid in Texas, the statement said. A major study published this year challenges the notion that the grid isn’t prepared to handle a slew of coal plant retirements.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Attorney General’s office said its environmental protection division is reviewing the rule, declining to comment further.

Whether the BART rule will be finalized by the EPA’s September 2017 deadline is a major unknown, particularly given President-elect Donald Trump’s promises to roll back environmental regulations and his choice of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA.

The Republican waged an unsuccessful three-year legal battle to block a related EPA haze plan for his state, arguing that it represented federal overreach and would drive up electricity rates, according to E&E News. He has also joined in lawsuits challenging EPA’s latest ozone standard and other air quality rules, the publication reported.

Mann, of the Sierra Club, said Trump may certainly try to unwind the rule but that there are plenty of court rulings establishing the EPA’s right to impose such a regulation.

“This is a pretty by-the-book set of analysis that EPA did, and so you couldn’t just wipe away this set of findings,” Cohan added.

The EPA actually hadn’t planned to apply a BART rule in Texas because the state had been covered under another regulation designed to lessen emissions from coal-fired power plants. That changed after yet another court ruling.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • In the state’s first lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2016, Texas sued the agency for rejecting parts of a seven-year-old state proposal targeted at reducing haze in wilderness areas. 
  • Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is helping to lead a 28-state effort to strike down the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s landmark effort to fight climate change.

Author: KIAH COLLIER – The Texas Tribune

New Methane regulations could improve NM Air Quality, Revenues

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Proposed new regulations for oil and gas producers on federal and tribal lands could not only clean the air, but also could pump millions of extra dollars into New Mexico’s economy.

The Bureau of Land Management last week issued a draft rule that would require energy companies to install new technology to avoid the venting, leaking or flaring of methane at well sites.

Jason Libersky, co-founder and owner of Quantigy Engineering, says capturing the methane from wells could mean an economic boost in a down oil market.

“When oil is, say, $100 a barrel, your associated gas will be between 3 and 5 percent of the return on the well,” he points out. “And then when you’re around $30 a barrel, the associated gas can be north of 20 or 25 percent.”

The BLM is planning a series of public meetings on the draft rule in February and March. The proposal is part of President Barack Obama’s overall plan to reduce methane pollution by nearly half over the next decade.

Libersky, whose company engineers parts and systems for drilling rigs, says much of the methane released on New Mexico lands is from older wells and equipment.

He says for many producers, the cost of installing equipment to capture the methane could be quickly recovered.

“For a well that’s been out there in the elements, producing for 20 or 30 years, it can be as easy as re-plumbing the piping and then replacement of a few valves,” he explains.

The EPA reports that, as a greenhouse gas, methane is 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

In addition, the loss of methane has cost New Mexico taxpayers almost $43 million in royalties since 2009. Nationally, oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands waste upwards of $330 million worth of gas.

Author: Mark Richardson/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service – NM

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