AUSTIN– Texas’s power plants led the nation in smog-forming pollution from power plants in 2009, according to the new Environment Texas report, Dirty Energy’s Assault on Our Health: Ozone Pollution. The report found that power plants in Texas - such as Luminant Energy’s Martin Lake Power Plant and NRG’s Limestone Generating Station - emitted 138,576 tons for smog-forming pollution in 2009. The report comes as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is set to finalize a standard in July to help reduce smog-forming pollution.
“Taking a breath should not leave Texas children gasping for air,” said Luke Metzger. “Smog-forming pollution from power plants puts our children and our environment at risk, and the Texas Legislature and Environmental Protection Agency must act to reduce this life-threatening pollution.”
Power plants create the ingredients for dangerous smog pollution. They emit tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) into our air, which then chemically react with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight to form ozone pollution, commonly referred to as smog. Environment Texas’s report examined the latest research on the public health and environmental impacts of smog, and used data from the Environmental Protection Agency to determine how much smog-forming pollution was being emitted by power plants in Texas and across the country.
Our research found that:
• With the start of “ozone season” on April 1, ozone is a particular concern because strong sunlight and hot weather result in the build-up of dangerous smog concentrations. A recent report by the American Lung Association, gave failing grades to 21 of the 30 biggest counties in the state for their air quality.
• Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog pollution may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life. Additionally, children who are exposed to smog pollution in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation. Even for healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even kill.
• Smog harms our environment by negatively affecting species’ habitats in watersheds, impairing visibility in national parks, and damaging forests. Smog exposure reduces yields for economically important crops such as soybeans, kidney beans, wheat, and cotton.
The report also comes as EPA is set to finalize a standard in July to help reduce smog pollution. Environment Texas is calling on EPA to protect our health and our environment, and to establish an air quality standard for smog pollution of no higher than 60 parts per billion. This stringent air standard will adequately reflect how much smog can be in the air and still have it safe to breathe, and could save up to 12,000 lives per year according to EPA analysts. To achieve this standard, the United States should install and improve pollution control technologies for power plants and accelerate the transition to clean electricity sources—while also reducing smog-forming pollution from vehicles by expanding public transportation systems and putting cleaner cars and trucks on the road.
Yet while EPA is undertaking this rulemaking to protect public health, Congress and industry lobbyists are working to keep EPA from doing its job by threatening to block rules that limit dangerous air pollution. Late in the last Congress, Arkansas Representative Mike Ross circulated a letter asking EPA Administrator Jackson to uphold the 2008 federal smog standard of 75 ppb that puts public health at risk. While there have not been any similar attacks to prevent EPA from finalizing an updated smog standard in this Congress, it is likely that there will be more attacks as the EPA’s deadline to finalize the standard in July approaches.
“The Houston area has seen some tremendous improvements to our ozone levels over the past several years, but we are still a long way from crossing any finish line,” said Matthew Tejada, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston. “A big part of continuing to reduce ozone pollution to protect the health of everyone in the Houston region, and most importantly out kids, is to further reduce pollution from electricity production and to not further burden our air and health by building any new coal plants in our region.”
Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger testified this morning before the Senate Natural Resources committee, which considered legislation by Senator Troy Fraser (the committee substitute to SB 15) to identify “the ten percent of electric generating capacity that will most be impacted by compliance with environmental regulation” and “barriers to retirement” of those power plants.
Environment Texas’ report highlighted the following power plants for leading the state in emissions:
Company Power Plant NOx (tons) in 2009
Luminant Martin Lake Power Plant 15,702
NRG Limestone Generating Station 12,019
Luminant Monticello 11,938
SWEPCO/AEP Welsh Power Plant 10,145
Xcel Harrington Station 7,524
“All Texans have the right to breathe clean air,” concluded Luke Metzger. “It’s time to phase out our dirtiest power plants and replace them with cleaner sources of energy.”