(AP) — Federal regulators said Monday that the largest coal-fired power plants in Texas should invest more than $2 billion in new technology to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions, but the state's coal regulator said the plan would increase costs for consumers while doing little for the environment.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a report rejecting most of a 2009 plan from the state to reduce haze in national parks and other federally protected land. The state had proposed retrofitting some plants with air-filtering equipment, work that has since been done, and extending a timeline to return parks to their natural state. But the EPA said that wasn't enough in Texas, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and industrial pollution in the nation.
"Our proposed action would almost double the visibility improvements over Texas' proposed action," EPA spokesman David Gray told The Associated Press on Monday. Under the EPA's 260-page plan, 15 boilers at eight coal-fired plants would be retrofitted with high-tech filtering machinery known as scrubbers. The EPA said that would help clear the air near parks and refuges in Texas and Oklahoma, and annually cut about 230,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions. Sulfur dioxide is a toxic gas that is a primary cause of acid rain and linked to adverse effects on the human respiratory system, according to the EPA.
The plants would have five years to reach pollution reduction targets.
Half of the plants are operated by Luminant, Texas' largest electric utility and the biggest coal miner in the state. According to the EPA's cost analysis, Luminant would need to spend more than $1 billion in upgrades to retrofit its coal plants. Luminant spokesman Brad Watson said Monday that the company was "reviewing and analyzing" how the ruling would affect its plants.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which compiled the state's original sulfur dioxide plan, also is grappling with another EPA mandate to slash carbon emissions. Under that plan, unveiled in June, Texas would need to cut carbon emissions by 39 percent. The EPA's broader plan calls for a 30 percent nationwide reduction by 2030. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the electric distribution grid operator for most of the state, said earlier this month that the carbon-emissions mandate would shut down half the state's coal-fired power plants.
Both EPA proposals "could have consequential impacts on the state's power grid," TCEQ spokesman Terry Clawson said. Environmental groups applauded the action. Tom Smith, the director of the Texas office of environmental watchdog Public Citizen, said "these old coal plants are just too costly to continue."
The EPA will issue a final rule next year following a 60-day comment period. The federal plan would be in effect until a state plan is approved.