HOUSTON (CN) – As Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt tells a Senate committee Wednesday why he is qualified to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which he has sued 13 times, two environmental groups are defending new EPA rules that would force some Texas power plants to reduce their pollutants.
Pruitt’s nomination by President-elect Donald Trump to lead the EPA has elicited outrage from environmentalists concerned he will roll back rules laid down by President Barack Obama’s administration aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Texas’ battle with the EPA over one such Clean Air Act regulation, the Regional Haze Rule, dates back to March 2009. The rule requires state and federal agencies to work together to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas.
In Texas, the regulation is meant to improve visibility in Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in southwest Texas.
Texas submitted a haze plan to the EPA in March 2009 that did not require any power plants to install equipment to reduce haze-causing sulfur dioxide. The plan had a widely derided goal of restoring natural visibility at the parks by 2155.
The EPA rejected the plan and implemented its own for the state that would force seven Texas coal-fired power plants to reduce pollutants by installing expensive “scrubbers” that filter sulfur dioxide, or shut down.
Joined by several power companies, Texas told the Fifth Circuit in December that the “program is about visibility only and the visibility goals set by EPA are already met.”
But environmental groups say the lungs of Texans, especially those in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, are at stake, because the area is downwind from coal-fired plants in East Texas.
Misti O’Quinn, 33, lives in Richardson, a Dallas suburb. She blames power plant pollution and pollen for the asthma two of her three children developed as toddlers.
Her 10-year-old daughter takes an inhaler to school that she uses when her physical education teacher makes her run outside, O’Quinn said in an interview.
On days when the air is really bad, O’Quinn said, she has “to pull out the big guns,” nebulizers that convert three liquid medications into steam that her children inhale through a facemask every four hours. O’Quinn said Medicaid covers her children’s asthma medications, which can be expensive for those without insurance.
One box of Pulmicort, a steroid and decongestant that goes into the nebulizers, costs $200. O’Quinn said her children can go through a box of Pulmicort in two weeks.
“If the power companies are using coal to run all of our homes, for us to be able to put our lights on … I'm funding them poisoning us,” she said.
But Texas and power companies told the Fifth Circuit in their motion for extraordinary relief from the haze rule, that the equipment upgrades would cost $2 billion and would likely force them to shut down power plants, shuttering 8,400 megawatts, enough to power more than 1.6 million homes.
The rule would require seven Texas power plants to install new scrubbers, and seven others in the state to upgrade their scrubbers, according to the state’s motion to the Fifth Circuit.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit sided with Texas and the power companies and stayed the rule.