Texas' power provider closing units over EPA ruleBy ANGELA K. BROWN , 09.13.11, 10:08 AM EDT
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The largest power generator in Texas said Monday that unless its lawsuits prevent a new EPA rule from taking effect early next year, it will close a large section of one power plant, which could lead to rolling power outages in the summer.
Dallas-based Luminant filed one federal lawsuit Monday to remove Texas from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which is to take effect Jan. 1. The company plans to file another suit later this week to try to block the rule completely, Luminant spokesman Allan Koenig said.
The rule requires Texas and 26 other states to reduce smokestack pollution causing smog and soot in downwind states - where it combines with other contaminants, making it impossible for those states to meet air quality standards. The new rule replaces a 2005 Bush administration proposal that a federal court rejected.Under the EPA's initial proposal, Texas' power plants were required to address only summertime smog-forming pollution. But in July, the EPA announced Texas must reduce sulfur dioxide, responsible for acid rain and soot, and nitrogen oxides, which contribute to both smog and soot.
The only way Luminant can comply is by shutting down two of three units at one plant and making other changes, which will eliminate 500 jobs and reduce generating capacity by 1,300 megawatts, Koenig said. The company has already reduced emissions with some of its previous projects, he said.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state's power grid operator, said residents could face rolling power outages during the hottest months of the year because officials don't have enough time to offset the losses before the EPA's deadline. The loss of 1,200 megawatts to 1,400 megawatts during the summer months is enough to cause "potential impacts," according to ERCOT.
Gov. Rick Perry, the frontrunner among Republican presidential candidates, said the Obama administration "continues to put up road blocks for our nation's job creators by imposing burdensome regulations based on assumptions, not facts, that will result in job losses and increased energy costs with no definite environmental benefit."
But the EPA said Monday that Luminant's decision to shut down units and lay off workers "represents an abrupt change of direction."
The EPA said the new rule will prevent premature deaths and asthma attacks and is similar to a 2005 rule that Luminant and other power plants followed, which didn't require serious investments in pollution controls at several facilities in order to stay within the limits.
The EPA has worked with Luminant extensively to ensure the company has options, including using technologies already installed.
"As recently as yesterday EPA offered to share additional information that shows the potential for a no-shut down, no-layoff solution for statewide compliance. It is unfortunate that company leadership rushed to a decision that needlessly puts their workers' jobs at risk," EPA spokeswoman Gina McCarthy said in a statement.
Some environmental groups praised Luminant's plans as a good first step in addressing serious pollution problems. Eva Hernandez, a spokeswoman with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Texas, called it a "victory for all Texans who care about clean air."
The nation's 594 coal-fired power plants provide nearly half of the country's electricity but also a significant share of its pollution. Texas is home to 19 coal-fired power plants, more than any other state, and plans to build nine more.
The EPA estimates that in the first two years, the new rule and some other steps will slash sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels, and nitrogen oxides will be cut by more than half.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution from power plant smokestacks react with other substances in the atmosphere to form smog and soot as they drift by the wind and weather. They have been linked to various illnesses, including asthma, and have prevented many cities from complying with health-based standards set by law.