HOUSTON (CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule this week that will force eight coal-fired power plants in Texas to install equipment to reduce their pollutants at an estimated cost of $2 billion.
The rule requires eight Texas power plants to install expensive "scrubbers" within three to five years. Scrubbers filter sulfur dioxide from exhaust emitted by coal-processing units.
Neil Carman, Clean Air Director for the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter, told Courthouse News the coal plant owners have resisted paying for sulfur-pollution controls that have been installed in every Houston-area refinery.
He said the plant operators can opt for the cheapest compliance strategy, which in some cases could mean retiring coal-processing units rather than spending money to install scrubbers.
In Texas, the regulation is meant to improve visibility in Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The parks are in southwest Texas, hundreds of miles from the targeted power plants, seven of which are in central and east Texas. One is in the panhandle near Lubbock.
The EPA lumped Texas and Oklahoma together under its "Plan For Regional Haze" after determining that wind blows pollutants from Texas power plants to the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.
The rule is meant to bring the states into compliance with the Clean Air Act.
Texas and the EPA have been haggling over the air quality regulations since 2009 when the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality submitted a state plan.
Under the Texas plan, no one alive today would be around to see "natural visibility" in Big Bend Park because the state's goal was to clear the haze dogging the park by 2155.
Guadalupe Mountains Park would see natural visibility return by 2081 under Texas' plan.
Carman said the air quality for residents throughout the state will improve, not just for national park visitors. He said sulfur dioxide binds together into fine particles in the atmosphere. "They're very microscopic, but they are very toxic," he said in a phone interview. "There are millions of people in Texas breathing this stuff and they don't even know it."
He claims the mandated plant upgrades will save lives and keep people out of the hospital.
"Although these plants will have to spend money to upgrade their coal units, there will be $3 billion in avoided health care costs and 300 mortalities avoided each year," he said, citing a study by NYU School of Medicine professor Dr. George Thurston.
Dallas-based Luminant owns four of the Texas plants that are subject to the new EPA rule. Its spokesman told the Longview News-Journal it appears the EPA didn't listen to opposition to its plan and the agency is abusing its authority with this unnecessary red tape.
"The visibility benefits the EPA seeks for Texas and Oklahoma are already being met as evidenced by the federal monitors for these parks," spokesman Brad Watson told the newspaper.
It wasn't all loggerheads for the EPA and Texas, however, as the agency did approve part of the state's plan "as meeting certain requirements of the regional haze program" on Wednesday.Follow @@cam_langford
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.