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Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Utilty Agrees to Reduce Coal Plant Emissions

(CN) - A Texas public utility reached a settlement with environmentalists that requires it to reduce emissions from its coal-fired power plant.

Check out Courthouse News' Environmental Law Review.

The Lower Colorado River Authority is a nonprofit public utility created by the Texas Legislature in 1934.

"LCRA plays a variety of roles in Central Texas: delivering electricity, managing the water supply and environment of the lower Colorado River basin, providing public recreation areas, and supporting community and economic development," according to its website.

The authority owns six dams and five power plants, including the Fayette Power Project, a coal-burning power plant in Fayette County near La Grange, Texas.

In a March 2011 federal complaint, the Environmental Integrity Project, Texas Campaign for the Environment and Environment Texas claimed that the authority had violated the Clean Air Act at its Fayette County power plant.

The Texas Campaign for the Environment, or TCE, filed its first amended complaint against the authority a month later seeking injunctive relief, and assessment of civil penalties, against the power plant it accused of violating federal emission limits.

By June, the city of Austin had intervened for the authority.

Eventually, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller dismissed three out of four claims that TCE had filed against the authority, but he ordered discovery on TCE's claim that the authority was violating particulate matter emission limits at the plant.

The parties reached a settlement Wednesday in the face of a June 2012 notice of intent by TCE to sue the authority over its plant's emissions.

Among the provisions of the deal, the authority must reduce emissions of mercury at its plant and use only clean fuels, either distillate oil or natural gas, to start up the plant's burners after a shutdown. It must also install a continuous emissions monitoring system for the plant, and conduct "particulate matter stack tests" on each of the plant's three units, while providing the environmentalists with copies of the results.

The authority does not have to comply with the emissions limiting measures until Dec. 31, 2013. An application for the plant's federal operating permit must incorporate all the settlement's stipulations on, or before, Sept. 13.

For their part, the environmental groups agreed to release the authority from all claims in their lawsuit, and not to sue them again over the allegations.

The settlement does however reserve the Environmental Integrity Project's right to oppose parts of the plant's operating permit not resolved in the settlement.

Any party can move to terminate the agreement once the authority incorporates its provisions into the operating permit. Otherwise the deal will automatically terminate on Dec. 31, 2018.

The authority's general manager Rebecca Motal recently gave an interview to the Fayette County Record about its operations.

Citing an Austin American-Statesman story that said the Fayette County Power Plant produces as much carbon as all the cars in Austin combined, the Record's editor Jeff Wick asked Motal if Fayette County residents should be concerned about air quality.

Motal responded: "No, and here's why. That is one of the cleanest coal plants in the state. A few years ago, we, and the city of Austin spent over $400 million to put scrubbers on the units. That plant is already complaint with rules yet to be enacted. We are committed to do the best for the environment."

The interview appeared in the Record's Feb. 12 edition.

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