Doctors petition state regulators to curtail emissions at three coal-fired power plants

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The Dallas County Medical Society is asking the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to force three East Texas coal-fired power plants to cut emissions that it says contribute to higher ozone levels in North Texas.

In a petition to the TCEQ in Austin, the physicians group cited a recent study that says the plants, all owned by Dallas-based Luminant Generation, produce an outsized share of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions, compared to other generating facilities. The plants are: Big Brown, near Fairfield, southeast of Corsicana; Martin Lake, near Longview; and Monticello, near Mount Pleasant.

NOx and sulfer dioxide combine with other emissions to help generate ozone, or smog.

The medical society and the Texas Medical Association sponsored the study, which was done by Rice University environmental scientist Daniel Cohan.

Luminant, a subsidiary of financially troubled Energy Future Holdings, said “the doctors’ diagnosis is wrong and misleading” and challenged what it called a campaign against coal plants. In a prepared statement, Luminant said mobile sources, including vehicles and airplanes, produce about 90 percent of NOx generated locally in the DFW region.

“But blaming the real cause doesn’t fit with these activists’ narrow agenda of trying to close coal plants and force Texans to pay higher costs for their electric power from less reliable sources,” Luminant said.

Cohan’s study noted that emissions from the distant power plants drift north and west, contributing to DFW’s ozone level.

“The Cohan Report identified these three very old coal-fired power plants south and east of Dallas, built in the 1970s, that have never been required to meet current emission limits and which contribute disproportionately to ozone levels in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” Dr. Cynthia Sherry, president of the Dallas County Medical Society, said in a prepared release.

Dr. Robert Haley, a Dallas physician and epidemiologist, said “a large body of medical research shows that more people of all ages develop respiratory illnesses and die prematurely in cities with high ozone levels, and we have among the highest ozone levels in the country.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DFW is one of three areas ranked as “moderate” in their failure to attain federal ozone standards. Just six other metropolitan areas, all in California, had worse rankings as of July 31.

The medical society’s petition to TCEQ asks the agency to adopt rules to reduce emissions from the three plants.

TCEQ is required to consider a petition within 60 days of its submission to the agency, and it said Wednesday it will handle the group’s petition like any other. A TCEQ spokesman said the agency can either deny a petition, which requires a statement of its reasons for doing so, or initiate rule-making proceedings.

Cohan’s study says that while the three contested plants emit NOx at about the same rate as other Texas coal plants built before 1992, “they emit at about three times the rate of power plants built in the last decade.” Federal emissions standards were tightened in 1992, the study says.

The study said the three plants account for nearly half the sulfur dioxide emissions by Texas power plants, many of which have improved their emissions in the past decade. As of 2012 the plants’ sulfur dioxide emissions were more than double that of all other old coal-fired plants per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, and about four times that of the 10 cleanest old coal plants.

Luminant said its plants meet or exceed “all state and federal emissions standards,” and noted that the three plants in question produce enough electricity to power about a million Texas homes during a period of peak demand, like a hot summer day. It said it has spent $850 million in the past five years “for environmental technology and other improvements to provide cleaner generation from our coal-fueled power plants.”

The state’s largest power generator, Luminant is already in court with the EPA over pollution control requirements at the Big Brown and Martin Lake plants. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit on Aug. 16 in support of the EPA’s position that changes at the plants have triggered requirements for new permits and additional emission controls.

Luminant is appealing the cases, saying it has “complied with all requirements of the Clean Air Act for these two plants and our other generation facilities.”

Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Twitter: @jimfuquay

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