Environmental Groups Sue EPA Over Pollution From Eight Texas Coal Plants

Texas’s Environmental Regulator Seeks Permission To Allow Plants To Spew Excessive Amounts Of Fine Particle Pollution.  

AUSTIN, Texas –  Two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to ensure that fine particle emissions from eight coal-fired power plants in Texas meet federal standards meant to protect public health.

The lawsuit filed by attorneys with Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) on behalf of the Sierra Club seeks to reduce emissions of particulate matter (soot), which can trigger asthma and heart attacks. 

The lawsuit comes after the EPA allowed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to exempt eight coal plants, including in East Texas, and outside of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio (see list below) from constraints that federal and state regulations place on fine particle emissions. The changes would allow these coal plants to bypass pollution controls and to exceed emission limits established by Texas to prevent nuisance conditions and protect public health. 

“The EPA already knows that federal law requires it to deny this exemption request for some of the largest sources of pollution in the state because Texas failed to show that uncontrolled power plant pollution releases are safe” said Gabriel Clark-Leach, Senior Attorney with Environmental Integrity Project.  “And of course they’re not safe.  We hope the lawsuit will finally resolve this situation and move power plant operators to install basic controls that will reduce this pollution and protect public health. 

The lawsuit targets pollution from the following coal-fired power plants: 

  • AEP Southwestern Electric Power’s H.W. Pirkey Power Plant in Harrison County. 
  • Lower Colorado River Authority’s Sam Seymour Fayette Power Project in Fayette County. 
  • Luminant Generation Company’s Martin Lake Steam Electric Station in Rusk County. 
  • NRG Texas Power’s Limestone Electric Generating Station in Limestone County. 
  • San Miguel Electric Cooperative’s San Miguel Electric Plant in Atascosa County. 
  • Southwestern Public Service Company’s Harrington Station in Potter County. 
  • Texas Municipal Power Agency’s Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station in Grimes County. 
  • Public Service Company of Oklahoma’s Oklaunion Power Station in Wilbarger County. 

EIP and Sierra Club are seeking stronger controls on the emissions of particles — a tenth the diameter of a human hair or smaller – that are released during coal combustion. This particulate matter can irritate the respiratory tract, worsen long-term health conditions such as asthma and heart disease, and contribute to premature death.  

After the TCEQ made its exemption decision, NRG Texas’s Limestone coal plant increased the  particulate matter emissions from one of its power units (boilers) from 236 pounds per hour to 8,000 pounds per hour – a more than 30-fold increase. The Martin Lake plant’s emission limits went from 853 pounds per hour to nearly 3,000 pounds per hour, a more than seven-fold increase. At the San Miguel plant, the increase was four-fold –from 437.5 pounds per hour to 1803 pounds per hour.
The language used in the TCEQ’s exemption request came directly from industry, drafted by lobbyists during a series of closed-door meetings with the TCEQ in 2010, according to public records. 

Read the full text of the lawsuit, which includes figures on pollution increases at all eight plants, here.

Related Documents:

Read EIP’s May 26, 2020, letter to Ms. Bridget C. Bohac, Chief Clerk, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, here.

Read EIP’s August 18, 2021, letter to David Garcia, Director, Air & Radiation Division (Region 6), EPA Region 6 Main Office, here.

The Environmental Integrity Project is a 20-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., and Austin, TX, that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment. 

Media contact: Brendan Gibbons, Environmental Integrity Project, (202) 263-4458 or bgibbons@environmentalintegrity.org