Articals of interest to the coal industry.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sierra Club takes legal action to stop TX power plants

Legal action filed to halt coal plants

Waxahachie Daily Light;

The Sierra Club, represented by the Austin office of Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), took legal action Wednesday to stop the “unprecedented, unreasonable, and illegal” plan by Governor Rick Perry to “fast track” administrative hearings for the construction of up to 18 coal-fired power plants in the state.Most of the plants in question are being proposed by Dallas-based TXU.EIP Austin Office Counsel Ilan Levin filed the petition on behalf of the Sierra Club to intervene in a state district lawsuit originally brought by Environmental Defense over the processing of coal plant permits.Wednesday’s legal action by Sierra Club stems from a recent state agency decision to consolidate six proposed TXU coal plant permits into one hearing and to set those permits for a speedy decision.The lawsuit seeks to halt Perry’s executive order of Oct. 27, 2005, directing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to accelerate consideration of permit applications and the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to issue decisions on air pollution permits for new electric power plants.According to a press release from the governor’s office on Oct. 27, 2005, the executive order was put in place to help cut the increasing costs of electric power. The order also called for a public information campaign regarding deregulation.
“This executive order will help empower Texas ratepayers to find the best price available to power their homes and businesses,” Perry said. “With energy demands continuing to rise in the state and the sharp increase in the costs of natural gas in recent years, it is imperative that consumers not only have choices in the marketplace, but that the state undertake conservation measures. And ultimately, in order to keep prices low, we must diversify energy sources for the generation of power.”Perry added that the state should develop wind energy sources and clean coal technologies to reduce the state’s dependence on natural gas for producing electricity.“There is no reason it should take more than six months for a state agency to resolve a permitting dispute concerning an electric generation facility,” Perry said. “This executive order reduces red tape, increases conservation, and empowers consumers as they choose their electric provider. It’s the right approach to rising prices.”
According to Perry, the directive to SOAH would cut in half, from one year to six months, the amount of time it takes the state to resolved contested applications for electric generating permits.Perry’s office could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.“Today, the Sierra Club is asking a judge to overturn a governor’s executive order that imposes unfair burdens on regular people simply trying to avail themselves of the common-sense environmental protections built into state and federal laws,” EIP Counsel Ilan Levin said. “We’re saying that speeding up the required decision process for major new sources of smog and other air pollution is illegal and unfair, especially to citizens trying to participate.”Rita Beving, Conservation Co-Chair for the Dallas Sierra Club Group, said the legal action is a critical step in “the fight by Texas citizens to assert their rights to protect their health and environment.”“The tragedy is that we could meet our energy needs through greater efficiency and renewable energy, without subjecting our cities to further air pollution from coal plants,” Beving said.The Sierra Club maintains that the Perry’s fast-tracking scheme has huge consequences. “To put the magnitude of the six TXU permits in context, it is worth noting the additional greenhouse gases associated with these new coal plants,” a spokesman for the Sierra Club said. “While not addressed in the permits, the new units will emit an additional estimated 51 million tons of carbon dioxide per year into Texas skies. In 2005, all existing Texas power plants emitted 255.4 million tons of carbon dioxide.”
With the lawsuit, the Sierra Club contends that a full and deliberate hearing process on each of the power plant applications is crucial due to “the serious health and environmental consequences associated with coal-fired power plants, such as increased sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury pollution.”According to the lawsuit, “Sulfur dioxide interacts with nitrogen oxides to form nitric and sulfuric acids, commonly known as acid rain, which damages forests and acidifies soil and waterways. Harvard School of Public Health studies have shown that SO2 emissions from power plants significantly harm the cardiovascular and respiratory health of people who live near the plants. According to U.S. EPA studies, fine particle pollution from power plants causes more than 20,000 premature deaths a year.”The lawsuit also contends that the plants emit harmful mercury and nitrogen oxide pollutants.
“The executive order imposes an unreasonable schedule to thoroughly develop the required technical and legal issues for one major air permit of the type being considered, let alone six of them,” the lawsuit reads. “The governor’s executive order RP 49 infringes on the rights of Texas citizens to participate meaningfully in the environmental permitting arena. The right of any affected party to participate in agency permitting decisions is rooted in the constitutional right to due process. The governor lacks authority to unilaterally alter this system. Further, the governor lacks the authority to dictate to an administrative law judge exactly how much time is allowed for a judicial administrative decision, and to do so violates the doctrine of separation of powers.”Early last month, a “rolling editorial cartoon” of Perry, which depicted him kissing a large industrial smoke stack as smoke billows out from a smaller industrial plant made it’s appearance in downtown Waxahachie as part of a seven-day trip through Central Texas.The float was built by Midlothian’s Downwinders At Risk “to bring attention to Perry’s inaction” over pollution from industrial plants.“We’ve been working on raising awareness of the pollution from the cement kilns and coal plants around the state,” Downwinders board member Jim Schermbeck said. “The governor’s own environmental agency produced a report saying the plants can economically cut their emissions by 80 to 90 percent. Yet Perry refuses to require the filters necessary.”According to Schermbeck, the latest draft in the clean air plan for the North Texas area only requires a 40 percent reduction in air pollution from the area’s cement kilns.“We’re not making requirements of industrial polluters,” Schermbeck said. “But at the same time we’re expecting personal vehicles to meet higher standards. These guys have been polluting the air for over 16 years without a catalytic converter installed. The new technology is not included in any of the state’s current clean air plans.”
Schermbeck said Downwinders At Risk is not hoping to close the cement kilns down, but as neighbors of the plants, the group wants Perry to require new pollution controls to be installed in each kiln.

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