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The war on coal is over in Texas

Coal lost, and good riddance.

Wind power capacity edged out coal for the first time in the Texas history last week after a new 155-megawatt wind farm in Scurry County came online. The farm in question is the Fluvanna Wind Energy Project, located on some 32,000 acres leased from more than 130 landowners.

Fluvanna pushed total wind power capacity in the state to more than 20,000 megawatts, while coal capacity stands at 19,800 megawatts and is slated to fall to 14,700 megawatts by the end of 2018 thanks to planned coal powerplant closures. Next year, Luminant will shutter three coal-fired plants—Monticello, Sandow, and Big Brown—and San Antonio’s CPS Energy will close J.T. Deely Station. Wind capacity in the state will reach 24,400 megawatts by the end of 2018, according to projections from Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at UT Austin’s Energy Institute.

But capacity is one thing, electricity generation is another. In the first ten months of 2017, wind generated 17.2 percent of power in the state, and coal 31.9 percent, according to ERCOT. But wind should soon see large gains there. “By our analysis, in 2019 we’ll have more energy from wind than coal,” Rhodes said.

Don’t anyone tell Donald Trump.

One for the road

How about one last lawsuit against the federal government, for old times’ sake?

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday announced he, along with 13 other mostly Republican-led states, would sue the federal government yet again to block a recently finalized federal rule limiting coal mining near waterways.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement finalized the “Stream Protection Rule” in December, President Obama’s last full month in office, “after an extensive and transparent public process that spanned multiple years.”

“This rule takes into account the extensive and substantive comments we received from state regulators, mining companies and local communities across the country,” Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider said in a statement last month announcing finalization of the rule.

The statement said it “updates 33-year-old regulations and establishes clear requirements for responsible surface coal mining that will protect 6,000 miles of streams and 52,000 acres of forests over the next two decades, preserving community health and economic opportunities while meeting the nation’s energy needs.”

But according to Paxton’s office, “the federal agency adopted the revised rule without the participation of the states.”

“By imposing a mandatory, one-size-fits-all rule regarding coal mining, the rule goes against states’ sovereign rights allowed by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act enacted by Congress in 1977,” Paxton’s office said in a statement Tuesday announcing the filing of a petition for review and injunction of the rule, which was just published in the Federal Register.

Sometimes I like to imagine a world in which Ken Paxton lives next to an industrial polluter and is unable to afford health insurance. It doesn’t change anything in this world, but one does what one must to cope.

Clean Power Plan’s day in the DC court

We’ll see how it goes.

Dozens of lawyers from the government, industry and public interest groups packed the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, to hear the divisive case that comes just weeks before a heated presidential election and illustrates how a President’s picks for the lower court might impact his own agenda.

The plan is currently frozen because last February, the Supreme Court voted to delay implementation until the appeals process could play out.

Opponents to the plan claim that the EPA went too far under the law to push the rule.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh at one point questioned EPA’s authority.

“This is a huge case,” he said and noted that it could “fundamentally” transform the industry. Kavanaugh said the administration’s policy is “laudable” but questioned under the separation of powers whether Congress, and not the EPA, had to speak clearly on the issue.

Judge Thomas B. Griffith chimed in asking, “why isn’t this debate going on in the floor of the Senate?” rather than before a panel of judges. But Judge Patricia A. Millet reiterated at one point that the Supreme Court “has already said” that the EPA has the authority to regulate in the area.

Other judges questioned whether by 2030, the rule would be any more transformative to the coal industry, for example, than market forces would be.

Judge David S. Tatel asked whether the agency was simply “invoking existing authority.”

While the morning session in court was dedicated to statutory arguments, in the afternoon the court heard arguments concerning whether it was unconstitutional. The challengers’ constitutional arguments did not appear to to get much traction with the judges.

[…]

During complex arguments before a multi-member court is dangerous to try to determine — based on questions posed at oral arguments — how a judge will ultimately rule. It’s worth noting however, that Tuesday’s case comes before an appellate court that has been transformed during the Obama administration.

Before Obama took office the appeals court tilted toward conservative appointees with six judges nominated by a Republican president and three nominated by a Democratic president. There were also two vacancies.

Currently, the active judges on the court consist of four GOP appointees and seven Democratic appointees. In 2013, Obama placed four judges on the court, three of them immediately after the Senate changed its filibuster rules. Tuesday’s case was heard by all the active members of the court except for Chief Judge Merrick Garland who has recused himself from hearing cases because he has been nominated to the Supreme Court.

“The party of an appointing president surely makes a difference in some types of cases — environmental for example — more than others,” said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute. “When the full court meets is when the party of appointing president is likely to matter most because the great majority of decisions are made by three-judge panels, randomly drawn and not necessarily reflective of the overall composition of the court.”

See here for the background. ThinkProgress agrees with the basic vote counting, with the possibility of a GOP judge siding with the Dems. The long and short of it is that we’ve seen this basic fight play out multiple times before – the Obama administration proposes a regulatory enforcement plan for the EPA, various Republican states led by Texas freak out and file suit, and the courts sort it out, usually with the feds winning. But do keep in mind that all of this is happening because 1) a Democratic President who cares about fighting climate change proposed this regulatory scheme, among others, and 2) an appeals court that has more Democratic appointees than Republican ones will make the decision that is likely to stand thanks to the current makeup of the Supreme Court. The fastest way to undo this is to not have a Democratic President in place after November. I’m just saying.

Back to court for the Clean Power Plan

Here we go.

One of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s final acts on Earth may have been to doom it.

Last February, on the final Tuesday of Scalia’s life, the Supreme Court handed down a 5–4 decision suspending the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. It was a surprising development — a lower court panel that included a conservative Republican judge previously denied a request to stay this plan — and a chilling development for anyone who cares about the planet. The Clean Power Plan is the Obama administration’s most ambitious effort to fight climate change. And it is difficult to exaggerate the consequences if these efforts fail:

In the relatively short term, the Environmental Protection Agency predicts that the Clean Power Plan will “avoid thousands of premature deaths and mean thousands fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations in 2030 and every year beyond.” In the longer term, major cities could be swallowed by the ocean. Displaced residents will trigger a worldwide refugee crisis. Entire regions of the United States could be converted into a permanent Dust Bowl. The sheer magnitude of the catastrophe will rival any tragedy that has faced humanity since the Book of Genesis.

Scalia’s vote to stay the Clean Power Plan was enough to delay it, but not enough to destroy it. Now, however, the effort to permanently kill the plan is about to face its first big test.

A ten judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit — arguably the second-most powerful court in the country — will hear arguments on the fate of the plan on Tuesday. With Scalia dead, and the Supreme Court evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, the D.C. Circuit’s decision could be the last word on the plan’s legality.

While Scalia did not live to cast a vote eradicating the plan, his ghost still haunts this case. It lingers over the parties’ briefs, casting doubt upon long-settled doctrines viewed as rock solid just a few years ago. West Virginia v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, the challenge to the Clean Power Plan, is the culmination of a years-long effort by conservatives to hobble the executive branch — an effort Scalia started to embrace during his final years on the Court. And, if the Clean Power Plan falls, it will be because this effort scored just enough victories during the twilight of Scalia’s life.

See here, here, and here for the background. Needless to say, Texas is leading the charge in this litigation.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Monday accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of trying to “force Texas to change how we regulate energy production,” through what he called an “unprecedented expansion of federal authority.”

“What we need is more reliable energy — not less, and the EPA is trying to stop that,” the Republican said while appearing on a panel in Washington, D.C.

Paxton specifically targeted the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s state-by-state effort to fight climate change by shifting away from coal power to cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable resources.

His appearance on the panel, organized by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, came one day before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is to hear four hours of oral arguments over the carbon dioxide-cutting rule. Those watching the litigation say the outcome could make or break Obama’s legacy on climate change.

[…]

The regulations would force states to slash carbon dioxide emissions from power plants however they see fit — accelerating a shift from coal that started years ago. Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas that directly contributes to climate change.

For Texas — the nation’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter by far — that would mean cutting an annual average of 51 million tons of emissions, down about 21 percent from 2012 levels.

Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas Republicans have argued that doing so would cost the state jobs, push electricity costs too high and threaten reliability on the grid. They say the regulations subvert state power.

Eighteen states and a litany of health and environmental groups have joined the Obama administration in defending the Clean Power Plan.

On Monday, one environmental group criticized Paxton for championing coal interests while challenging the regulation.

“Dirty coal just doesn’t make sense anymore, economically or environmentally, but Attorney General Paxton appears to want to go down with a sinking ship,” Luke Metzger, director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, said in an email. “Texans support transitioning to clean energy and the Clean Power Plan is helping make that possible.”

Proponents of the rules, backed by early analyses, suggest that market forces and existing policies alone would push Texas most of the way toward its target.

One study released in May predicted that coal generation would shrink from about 28 percent of state power generation to 6 percent by 2035 — not factoring in the controversial federal regulation.

Aside from inflation, Texans would see “virtually no price increase” if natural gas and solar prices continue to get cheaper as some expect, concluded the study by the Brattle Group, a global research firm that often crunches numbers for Texas regulators. Funding for that study came from the Texas Clean Energy Coalition, which supports natural gas and renewable energy sources.

boy, nothing says “forward-thinking” like protecting the interests of coal-burning power plants. The DC Court’s decision here is very likely to be the final word. If it comes down to a Supreme Court that has a ninth member that was appointed by President Trump, it won’t matter anyway since the EPA will cease enforcing environmental regulations because global warming is a myth. So, you know, no big deal. The Observer and the Chron have more.

Full DC Circuit Court to review Clean Power Plan

From ThinkProgress, an update on yet another federal lawsuit involving Texas.

The Clean Power Plan will get its day in court, but in September, not June — and by the full en banc D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, not the court’s normal three-judge panel that was scheduled to hear it in just over two weeks.

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency is one of the most important environmental cases in almost a decade. The case will decide whether the EPA violated the law when it finalized its carbon rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector under the Clean Air Act.

So Monday evening the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals announced it is bypassing its planned June 2 oral arguments over the Obama administration’s signature climate policy.

“It is ORDERED, on the court’s own motion, that these cases, currently scheduled for oral argument on June 2, 2016, be rescheduled for oral argument before the en banc court on Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 9:30 a.m.,” the D.C. Circuit’s announcement read. “It is FURTHER ORDERED that the parties and amici curiae provide 25 additional paper copies of all final briefs and appendices to the court by June 1, 2016. A separate order will issue regarding allocation of oral argument time.”

See here and here for the proximate events that led to this, and here for all prior blogging on the Clean Power Plan. The linked article explains what the court’s order is all about, but the nickel version is that this ought to speed things up a bit, since the full court’s eventual ruling would go next to SCOTUS instead of being a midway point between the three-judge panel and SCOTUS. Since it was a 5-4 SCOTUS ruling that suspended the CPP pending judicial review – the first time that had ever happened – it’s highly likely that today’s diminished SCOTUS would deadlock if this were now on their plate. One presumes the high court will be at full strength by the time this does come their way, but regardless of that, it raises the stakes on the DC court’s eventual ruling. Buckle up, and get ready for a bunch of briefs to be headed the DC court’s way. E&E Publishing and the WaPo have more.

Pity the poor utilities

Sorry, but low electricity prices, especially when they are aided by record amounts of wind power generation, are good news.

ERCOT

Texas’ national lead in cheap wind power, combined with near historically low natural gas prices, mild weather, an abundant power supply and slower growth in electricity demand, can work to the detriment of power companies.

The combination weighed down wholesale power prices last year to their lowest averages since 2002. And the effects are only becoming more dramatic in 2016, even creating bizarre instances when, in the abstract at least, providers are paying to put electricity on the market.

“It’s pretty dire,” said Michael Ferguson, associate director at Standard & Poor’s covering utilities and infrastructure. “It’s a bad situation for gas generators, but for coal generation, it’s even worse.”

Texas’ wholesale power prices averaged $26.77 per megawatt-hour last year, down nearly 35 percent from $40.64 per megawatt-hour in 2014. The cost was more than $70 as recently as 2008.

While now is a good time for consumers to lock in cheaper electricity prices, well more than 25 percent of the state’s power plants are operating at a cash loss, especially the older coal-fired plants, power executives and analysts estimated. That’s before more stringent federal emissions regulations go into effect in coming years

Until coal plants start shutting down or the state tweaks regulations to artificially inflate prices, power companies will struggle, executives said. A new Moody’s Investors Service report concluded that Texas “power prices are unlikely to climb out of their doldrums.”

Already, less than a quarter of Texas’ coal fleet is operating early this spring, as more generators simply take their coal plants offline until the summer heat brings more demand, analysts from Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. noted.

In March, wind added to the grid more than coal power for the first time ever for a full month. Wind contributed 21.4 percent of the grid’s overall power, compared with 12.9 percent from coal, which used to be the dominant source of the state’s electricity generation, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages about 90 percent of the state’s electricity load.

“Ultimately, something is going to have to give here,” said Thad Hill, president and CEO of Calpine Corp., the largest power generator in the Houston region and owner of the nation’s largest fleet of natural gas-fired power plants.

[…]

Texas is home to nearly 20 coal-fired power plants and the near future of at least six of them are considered at risk.

They will require expensive upgrades to meet federal standards, according to a recent ERCOT analysis, and the costs could outweigh the benefits of keeping them open. That’s not even counting the effects of the federal Clean Power Plan, which is pending in court.

“Ultimately, we think the market could be a lot tighter than people think, particularly if people start mothballing or retiring units,” said Hill, whose Calpine would stand to benefit because it doesn’t own any coal plants.

At-risk plants include Luminant’s Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake coal plants in East Texas, half of Luminant’s Sandow plant east of Austin, NRG Energy’s Limestone plant east of Waco, and Engie’s Coleto Creek plant near Victoria that’s being bought by Dynegy.

It’s fine by me if those coal plants go the way of the dodo. It’s long overdue, and their demise will make meeting the Clean Power Plan benchmarks even easier. More investment in solar energy will help mitigate the low-wind periods and ensure demand can be met in the summertime. What’s not to like?

SCOTUS allows mercury regulations to remain in effect

Good.

Martin Lake coal plant

Martin Lake coal plant

The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request from Texas and 19 other states to block a landmark federal rule requiring power plants to slash emissions of mercury, acid gases and other toxic metals — a setback for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a case where he saw earlier success.

Without offering an explanation, Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday denied the states’ request for a stay on the rules, according to media reports.

That decision followed a Supreme Court ruling last June — hailed by Texas Republicans — that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not properly weigh the cost of compliance for coal-fired power plants against the benefits to public health while setting the new standards.

The June ruling sent the Obama Administration back to the drawing board on the regulations, which had already gone into effect. But it did not halt them.

The states, led by Michigan, had asked the justices to block the rules during the revision process. Roberts said no.

See here, here, and here for the background. Any day where Ken Paxton loses a fight to enable pollution is a good day. Think Progress has more.

SCOTUS puts Clean Power Plan on hold

And in doubt.

ERCOT

In a major setback for President Obama’s climate change agenda, the Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily blocked the administration’s effort to combat global warming by regulating emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The brief order was not the last word on the case, which is most likely to return to the Supreme Court after an appeals court considers an expedited challenge from 29 states and dozens of corporations and industry groups.

But the Supreme Court’s willingness to issue a stay while the case proceeds was an early hint that the program could face a skeptical reception from the justices.

The 5-to-4 vote, with the court’s four liberal members dissenting, was unprecedented — the Supreme Court had never before granted a request to halt a regulation before review by a federal appeals court.

“It’s a stunning development,” Jody Freeman, a Harvard law professor and former environmental legal counsel to the Obama administration, said in an email. She added that “the order certainly indicates a high degree of initial judicial skepticism from five justices on the court,” and that the ruling would raise serious questions from nations that signed on to the landmark Paris climate change pact in December.

In negotiating that deal, which requires every country to enact policies to lower emissions, Mr. Obama pointed to the power plant rule as evidence that the United States would take ambitious action, and that other countries should follow.

The White House said in a statement that it disagreed with the court’s decision and remained confident that it would ultimately prevail. “The administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions,” it said.

[…]

The E.P.A., represented by [Solicitor General Donald] Verrilli, called the requests for a stay “extraordinary and unprecedented.” The states challenging the administration’s plan, he said, could point to no case in which the Supreme Court had “granted a stay of a generally applicable regulation pending initial judicial review in the court of appeals.” In a later brief, the states conceded that point.

Mr. Verrilli said judicial review of the plan, including by the Supreme Court, will be complete before the first deadline for emissions reductions in 2022.

“There is no reason to suppose that states’ duties under the rule will be especially onerous,” Mr. Verrilli wrote. “A state can elect not to prepare a plan at all, but instead may allow E.P.A. to develop and implement a federal plan for sources in that state.”

Less than three weeks before this, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the same request. As with everything the Roberts Court does, it’s hard not to read politics into their unprecedented granting of this request. I hope I’m wrong about that. The DC court will hear arguments on June 2, so one way or the other SCOTUS will be letting us know how they really feel in the near future. The Trib, Think Progress, SCOTUSBlog, Daily Kos, Slate, and the Observer have more.

Clean Power Plan can proceed for now

Good.

ERCOT

A federal appeals court has denied a request from Texas and other states to block President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, leaving the controversial climate change rules in place as a legal challenge winds through the courts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia wrote Thursday that the states — joined by the coal industry — “have not satisfied the stringent requirements for a stay.”

The two-page order was an early victory for Obama and others who support the state-by-state effort to combat climate change by slashing carbon emissions from power plants — largely through a shift from coal-fired power to natural gas and renewable sources.

Texas and West Virginia are leading a 25-state coalition challenging the plan, arguing that it could push electricity costs too high and threaten reliability. Beyond declining to immediately halt the rules, the court on Thursday set oral arguments in the case for June 2.

[…]

Texas must cut an annual average of 51 million tons of carbon to reach its federal target, a reduction of about 21 percent from 2012 emissions. The mandate rankles Republicans, but proponents of the rules — backed by early analyses — suggest that market forces and existing policies alone will push Texas most of the way toward its target.

As it stands, states have until Sept. 6 to submit a final plan or apply for an extension.

Texas leaders have refused to confirm whether they will create a carbon-cutting plan in case they lose in court. If the state flouts the rule, the EPA will impose its own plan on the state.

See here and here for the background. In addition to being not too hard a target to meet, the Clean Power Plan would have the ancillary benefit of saving water, and there are power companies in Texas who support it and oppose the lawsuit against the EPA. Not that any of that matters to Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton. FuelFix and Think Progress have more.

Some power companies like the Clean Power Plan

Not that you’d ever know it.

ERCOT

Thad Hill, in a split with many fellow power company executives, flatly opposes the lawsuits that Texas and 25 others states have filed to block the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

The plan, which the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled in the summer, seeks to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions at existing power plants. It would affect coal-fired plants most profoundly, because they emit the most carbon dioxide.

It’s no coincidence that the company Hill heads, Houston’s Calpine Corp., owns exactly zero coal plants.

While it’s intuitive that wind and solar power companies, which don’t emit greenhouse gas in generating power, support the Clean Power Plan, opinion within the traditional electricity generation sector is more nuanced.

Calpine, which operates the nation’s largest fleet of natural gas-fired generators, leads a relatively small group supporting the federal rule.

Most companies that generate power with coal oppose it, including Dallas-based Luminant, the state’s largest power generator. It also operates some gas plants and one of Texas’ two nuclear plants.

[…]

While the EPA has tightened other emissions regulations under President Barack Obama, the Clean Power Plan is the most sweeping overhaul, said Travis Miller, director of utilities research at Morningstar.

The plan is intended to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants 32 percent from their 2005 levels by 2030.

“The Clean Power Plan is going to have ripple effects throughout the entire energy system in the U.S.,” Miller said. “Utilities need a long runway to adapt, but they’re willing to adapt.”

In the lawsuit challenging the rules put forth by the Democratic Obama administration, Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton calls the plan a massive power grab by the EPA that would increase Texans’ electric bills significantly and threaten the reliability of the electric grid.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages 90 percent of the state’s power grid, has estimated the rule could force the closures of some Texas coal plants and increase electricity prices 16 percent by 2030.

Miller agreed that the Clean Power initiative would affect Texas, though he said that Midwestern, Great Plains and Appalachian states most dependent on coal would feel the greatest effects.

Some of the changes in Texas’ power landscape are occurring anyway, because of cheap shale gas and Texas’ ranking as the largest wind power producer in the nation.

“There’s an impressive pipeline of new gas generation and new wind generation in Texas,” Miller said.

That presents market challenges to coal plants, and could move the state toward compliance with the Clean Power Plan. “Texas might not have to do all that much,” Miller said.

See here for the background. Miller’s statement is consistent with what ERCOT itself has said, and the Clean Power Plan would help conserve water, too. But this is Texas, and our leadership has to do things the hard way. Just remember, they don’t speak for everyone, not even in the power generation business.

The inevitable latest lawsuit against the EPA

As night follows the day.

ERCOT

As promised, Texas is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over President Obama’s plan to combat climate change, Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Friday, just after the new regulation had been finalized.

The state is suing as part of a bipartisan coalition of 24 states — including Missouri and Kentucky, which are led by Democrats — that will jointly request a stay on the plan Friday afternoon.

The regulation, known as the Clean Power Plan, requires states to cut carbon emissions by shifting from coal power to natural gas and renewables over the next 15 years.

Paxton has warned that the Clean Power Plan would dramatically inflate the cost of electricity for consumers and imperil the state’s power grid, describing the regulation as a federal “power grab.”

[…]

The coalition will argue that the EPA “cannot force the states to regulate where the EPA doesn’t have authority to regulate itself,” Morrisey explained.

It filed a petition for review of the regulation Friday morning with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

“Petitioners will show that the final rule is in excess of the agency’s statutory authority, goes beyond the bounds set by the United States Constitution, and otherwise is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law,” the petition says. “Accordingly, the petitioners ask the court to hold unlawful and set aside the rule, and to order other such relief as may be appropriate.”

See here for the background, and here for the AG’s complaint. ERCOT has actually confirmed that Texas is well-positioned to comply with the Clean Power Plan, but what fun would that be? The ritual must be observed, like the playing of the National Anthem before a sporting event. Round and round we go, and when the Supreme Court ultimately settles it, nobody knows.

Not everyone wants Texas to sue the EPA again

It won’t mean anything to those that are hell-bent on suing, but it is worth keeping in mind.

President Obama is set to unveil the nitty-gritty of his sweeping, state-by-state plan to fight climate change this week — his most determined effort yet to tackle the effects of global warming by reshaping the nation’s power sector.

When he does, no one doubts that Texas will sue.

Taking the federal government to court over environmental regulations has been a palpable source of pride and political capital for Gov. Greg Abbott, who filed dozens of lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as attorney general. Both he and his successor, Ken Paxton, have promised the same approach with the so-called Clean Power Plan, which seeks to drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants.

But some of those who will bear the brunt of complying with the new regulations are calling that knee-jerk reaction shortsighted.

Some Texas electric utilities are joining environmentalists in hoping policymakers — after securing another campaign trail talking point — eventually will craft a strategy to meet the new requirements to avoid being slapped with a mystery plan devised by the EPA and to bolster regulatory certainty.

“I think it’s always better for the state to participate in the plan rather than having the feds do the plan and tell you how it’s going to be,” said John Fainter, president and CEO of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, referencing a similar situation in 2013 involving greenhouse gas permits. “So I hope when the litigation is concluded that there’s time and willingness to do so.”

[…]

Under a draft proposal outlined last year, Texas — home to about 20 operational coal-fired power plants — would have to slash roughly 200 billion pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in the next two decades. The state’s ultimate target will become known when the EPA unveils its final rule, expected as early as Monday.

The plan already has drawn one lawsuit from more than a dozen coal-friendly states. But a federal appeals court dismissed the challenge in June, concluding it was premature since the EPA had yet to finalize the rule.

While not part of that early lawsuit, the Texas attorney general’s office has spent $24,000 devising another that it has yet to file, according to information obtained by the Tribune under a public records request.

Initially, states were to submit plans by next summer detailing how they would reach compliance with the new standards by 2020. Word on the street, said Fainter, is that the EPA may give states extra time, responding to concerns from some utilities and states.

An EPA spokeswoman would not confirm or deny that change, but if true Fainter said it would make even less sense for Texas not to come up with a plan. Some utilities agree.

“If, in fact, the states are afforded more time to craft their (implementation plan), it seems logical that they would want to avail themselves of this time to develop a solution which addresses the individual and unique situation of each state,” said Brett Kerr, a spokesman and lobbyist for Calpine, the largest independent power producer in the nation.

Texas doesn’t “necessarily have to stand alone” and could team up with other states to craft a compliance plan if it makes the process smoother, Kerr said. “We believe that the state would be best served by participating in the process.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. It would be nice to think that Texas could participate in the process rather than file another pointless lawsuit, but then it would also be nice to think I could eat pizza and ice cream every day while losing weight. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Texas AGs gotta file lawsuits against the public interest. It’s the way of the world. The plan has now been released, so cry havoc and let slip the lawyers of war. We’ll know in a couple of years if this is going anywhere or not.

Texas sues the EPA again (and again, and again, and…)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday filed a lawsuit over the agency’s rejection of parts of a Texas clean air program, launching the state’s second battle against EPA regulations in less than two weeks.

Texas has sued the agency 21 times since President Obama took office in 2009.

This challenge centers on how Texas handles pollution that spews from industrial plants during facility startups, shutdowns and equipment malfunctions.

Historically, regulators exempt pollution from those events from overall limits, letting plants to emit more than their federal permits allow. But environmental groups have protested this policy, claiming it has let plants discharge millions of extra pounds of dangerous air pollutants each year.

A federal appeals court in April 2014 found some of the environmental groups’ points valid, prompting the EPA in May to require Texas and 35 other states to revisit how they deal with such events.

The new state plans are due in November 2016.

But Paxton said that because the EPA had approved Texas’ plans in 2010, before the environmental challenge, the agency’s latest directive amounted to “an abrupt and unwarranted about-face.”

Whatever. I guess Paxton has to get all those lawsuits in quickly, before defending his own butt becomes his main job in life. As the story notes, Texas was one of several states to file suit over the EPA’s Clean Water Plan, and there will be another suit coming next month when the EPA’s Clean Power Plan rules get released. Too bad all this litigation isn’t an economic catalyst, we could use a little help on that front.

SCOTUS gives polluters a win

Alas.

Martin Lake coal plant

Martin Lake coal plant

t emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, but it may only be a temporary setback for regulators.

The justices split 5-4 along ideological lines to rule that the Environmental Protection Agency failed to take cost into account when it first decided to regulate the toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants.

The EPA did factor in costs at a later stage, when it wrote standards that are expected to reduce the toxic emissions by 90 percent. But the court said that was too late.

The rules, which took effect in April, will remain in place while the case goes back to a lower court for the EPA to decide how to account for costs, environmental advocates say.

They were supposed to be fully in place next year. The issue was whether health risks are the only consideration under the Clean Air Act.

[…]

Writing for the court, Justice Antonin Scalia said the EPA was unreasonable in refusing to consider costs at the outset. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan said it was enough for EPA to consider costs later in the process.

“Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants,” Kagan said.

She was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The EPA said it is reviewing the court’s decision and will determine any appropriate next steps once a review is completed.

“EPA is disappointed that the Supreme Court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said.

Indeed, more than 70 percent of power plants already have installed controls to comply with the rules, said Vicki Patton, an attorney at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund.

“EPA already has an economic analysis that it can rely on to demonstrate that the public health benefits of the standards far outweigh the costs,” Patton said.

See here and here for the background. I would obviously have preferred a win here, but at least the EPA will get another shot at this. As noted in the story and acknowledged by ERCOT, most power plants are already there, and there are (in Texas, at least) no new coal-fired plants about to come on line. As Vox explains, the national effect of this ruling is likely to be minimal as well.

That’s the only thing at stake here: how long these 22 plants get to keep spewing [hazardous air pollutants, HAPs]. That’s not nothing — especially to the vulnerable populations exposed to those toxic pollutants — but it amounts to a mopping-up operation.

You might note an irony here. The entire Supreme Court case is premised on the fact that [mercury and air toxins, MATS] regulations are “the most expensive ever.” Industry claims it’s outrageous that EPA didn’t consider these extraordinary costs, which it says could cause blackouts and destroy the power sector and leave the US a smoking ruin.

Oh, but, by the way, while we were debating this, the power sector went ahead and complied with the regulations. Notice any blackouts? Any big bankruptcies in the power sector? Any economic devastation? No. As usual with air pollution rules, when the power sector quits complaining and starts complying, the costs turn out to be much lower than anyone anticipated. This case was a fight over a question that’s already been settled by facts on the ground.

So there’s that. The bad news is that the coal-fired plants we have now in Texas are chock full of mercury and other toxins, which they release into the atmosphere every day. So every extra day we have to wait for the new rules means that much more poisonous filth in our environment. Isn’t that nice? Daily Kos, Kevin Drum, and Ed Kilgore have more.

Texas plans to sue over EPA’s latest clean air plan

So what else is new?

ERCOT

Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that he plans to sue the Obama administration over the proposed “Clean Power Plan,” its plan to combat climate change by slashing carbon emissions from power plants.

“Texas has proven we can improve air quality without damaging our economy or Texans’ pocketbooks,” the Republican said in a statement, claiming the rules would threaten the power grid and increase electric prices. “I will fight this ill-conceived effort that threatens the livelihood and quality of life of all Texans.”

Using those arguments over the past year, the state’s Republican leadership has loudly panned the proposal, which would require the state to cut close to 200 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next two decades however it sees fit.

Environmental and health advocates say limiting the greenhouse gas would help fight climate change, bolster public health and conserve water in parched Texas, and they suggest that opponents are exaggerating the economic burdens.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency suggests that Texas could meet its goal through a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, adding more renewable resources and bolstering energy efficiency. Under the proposal, Texas could also adopt a “cap and trade” program – a scheme in which companies bid on the right to pollute.

The federal proposal is scheduled to become final in June, and Texas would have one year to submit its plan. But some watching the debate expect the EPA to push back the deadline amid pressure from states and other critics.

If Texas ignores the rules, the EPA will construct its own plan for Texas, though the agency has not said what that might look like. Democrats and others call that approach risky and suggest it would beckon more stringent requirements.

Bills that would direct Texas regulators to adopt a plan are nearing their death in the Legislature.

Fossil fuel interests and 15 U.S. states – not including Texas – have sued the EPA over the proposed rules in a case heard last week in federal court. Judges appeared skeptical of a challenge to rules that haven’t been finalized.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have to say, if Paxton managed to deliver that line about Texas improving its air quality on its own with a straight face, it will be the most impressive thing he ever does in office. Texas has fought the EPA multiple times in recent years with little to show for it, with another fight currently before the Supreme Court. Doesn’t mean they’ll lose this time, but it does give one some hope. It would of course be cheaper and easier and better for everyone if they would give up this fight and adopt rules that the state is already most of the way towards meeting anyway, but like most things in life that comes down to winning elections, and we know how that has gone around here.

Meanwhile, if you don’t like the idea of the EPA wielding power over Texas, you won’t like this, either.

Texas appears poised to enact environmental legislation that could trigger an unintended consequence: more federal oversight.

Fast-moving bills that would curb opportunities for public protest so state environmental permits can be issued more quickly have drawn the attention of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, long the state’s political punching bag.

The agency says it has concerns about the legislation, and may need to review whether it jeopardizes permitting authority the EPA has granted Texas.

Senate Bill 709 would scale back contested case hearings, a process that allows the public to challenge industrial applications for permits at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) — such as those allowing wastewater discharges or air pollution.

Similar versions of the bill pushed by Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, have sailed through the House and Senate, rankling consumer and environmental groups.

[…]

The EPA says it shares concerns about the bill, which would overhaul the hearings process in a variety of ways. It would give the agency sole discretion to determine who is an “affected person” who could ask for a hearing; set an 180-day time limit for the proceedings (with potential exceptions); narrow the issues the public could argue; and arguably shift the burden of proof from the company to the public.

“EPA is concerned that as currently drafted, [the legislation] could be read to impact the applicability of federal requirements to federal permitting programs being implemented by the TCEQ,” David Gray, director of external affairs for the EPA’s Dallas-based regional office, recently wrote to Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who had asked for input.

Gray called the shift in the “burden of proof” as particularly problematic, adding that the EPA should review the legislation to ensure that it doesn’t “interfere with federal requirements or alter the basis for one or more program requirements.”

See here for the background. It’s like we can’t help ourselves sometimes, isn’t it?

And finally, on a related note:

Kansas and Texas will file amicus briefs supporting Florida in its lawsuit against the federal government over Medicaid expansion, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday.

Scott filed suit last week, alleging that the federal government is “coercing” the state into accepting Medicaid expansion by witholding the extension of a different Medicaid program. The Low Income Pool brings $1.3 billion in federal funds to the state to pay hospitals for care for the poor and uninsured and is set to expire June 30.

“I am glad Kansas and Texas are joining our fight against the Obama Administration for attempting to coerce Florida into Obamacare expansion by ending an existing federal healthcare program and telling us to expand Medicaid instead. The US Supreme Court has already called this sort of coercion tactic illegal,” Scott said in a released statement.

In granting a one-year extension last year, federal officials stated they would not extend it again without significant changes. A recent letter from federal officials to the state clearly suggested the fate of LIP was tied to Medicaid expansion but officials with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services have also said Florida is free to expand Medicaid or not as it wishes.

See here for the background. Daily Kos has characterized the Florida lawsuit as being about refusing federal Obamacare dollars while demanding federal non-Obamacare dollars, which strikes me as apt. Easy to see why it was irresistible to Texas to join in. Ed Kilgore has more.

Yes, we can cut back on coal

It won’t be that hard, and it will come with a lot of benefits.

Texas burns more coal than any other state in part because of its large and growing population and industrial base. But the carbon-intensive fuel accounted for less than 40 percent of the state’s power use last year.

The federal proposal calls for Texas to reduce its carbon emissions 39 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. In contrast, West Virginia and Kentucky, which generate nearly all of their power from coal, would be required to make cuts of 20 and 18 percent, respectively.

Some Texas officials have questioned whether the proposed reduction is even possible without a radical shift in generation toward natural gas, wind and solar and a stronger push to use energy more efficiently. Texas’ power grid operator has said about half of the state’s coal-burning capacity might be retired under the federal plan.

But some experts say Texas wrongly views the rules as an existential threat to its energy-heavy economy. Instead, they argue, the state could achieve the federal targets without a lot of new initiatives.

The disconnect persists because “this regulation hits the status quo harder than any other, and we have powerful economic interests in this state wanting to maintain the status quo,” said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas at Austin law professor who specializes in government regulation.

The combination has caused some operators to decide whether to retire their coal plants or retrofit them with expensive new pollution controls.

In its formal comments on the proposal, the Sierra Club said Texas could achieve the EPA’s proposed target by retiring 10 coal-burning power plants that are more than 40 years old and replacing them with natural gas-fired plants.

“We talk about how there is a war on coal, and that’s true,” said Victor Flatt, a professor of environmental law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But there isn’t a war on fossil fuels. This rule is favorable to natural gas. In the end, I don’t think it will have the huge economic impact that people say it will.”

But there are concerns that the EPA will require states to make emissions cuts too quickly, leading to unintended consequences.

See here and here for the background, and remember again that reducing the use of coal for power generation would also greatly reduce water usage, which would have ancillary benefits for Texas. The crux of the complaint by the TCEQ seems to be that it’s not fair to ask more of Texas than some other states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, which produce the most coal but which use much less of it since they’re so much smaller than we are. I guess “Texas exceptionalism” stops when the discussion turns to responsibilities. I don’t know about you, but I think the great state of Texas is more than up to the task of being a leader in reducing coal consumption. Too bad the TCEQ – and I presume more than a few Republican officeholders – think so little of our state’s abilities.

ERCOT acknowledges that meeting EPA clean air requirements won’t be that big a deal

From Texas Clean Air Matters:

ERCOT

Well, it didn’t take long before the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released, at the request of Texas’ very political Public Utilities Commission, another report about the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rules designed to protect public health.

This time ERCOT, which manages 90 percent of Texas’ electric grid, looked at the impact of seven EPA clean air safeguards on the electric grid, including the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the Regional Haze program (all of which go back before the Obama administration), the proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, and others. What was surprising to learn, though, is that after power companies in the state start complying with EPA’s other clean air protections, the proposed Clean Power Plan poses a minimal incremental impact to the power grid. We would only have to cut 200 megawatts of coal-fired generation, which equates to less than one coal-fired power plant.

For as much doom-and-gloom we heard last month in ERCOT’s report about the Clean Power Plan, they certainly seem to be singing a different tune this go-around. The new report shows that Texas can go a long way toward complying with the Clean Power Plan by meeting other clean air safeguards, for which Texas power companies have had years to prepare.

Very soon power companies in Texas will install control technologies to reduce multiple – not just one – pollutants, thereby making compliance with EPA’s subsequent regulations easier and more cost-effective. In the end, Texas will only need to take a minimal amount of additional aging coal plants offline by 2029.

Plus, other energy resources, like energy efficiency, rooftop solar, and demand response (which pays people to conserve energy when the electric grid is stressed) are gaining ground every day in Texas. They have proven to be vital resources on the power grid that help reduce electricity costs for Texas homes and businesses.

Energy efficiency, in particular, provides significant reductions in power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone-forming pollutants, and has a four-to-one payback on investment. This is the type of performance worth investing in.

See here for the background, and click over to read the rest. In addition to what the EDF says above, complying with the new regulations would also save a ton of water, which is a pretty big deal in and of itself. So let’s have less whining – and fewer lawsuits – and get on with the compliance. It’s a win all around.

EPA climate change plan would save water

Well, what do you know?

ERCOT

As state regulators fret about how President Obama’s effort to combat climate change would affect the Texas power grid, a new study says the rules would be simpler to adopt than those regulators suggest – and that it would save the state billions of gallons of water annually.

In an analysis released Wednesday, CNA Corporation, a nonprofit research group based in Arlington, Va., said the federal proposal – which requires states to shift from coal power to cut carbon emissions – would slash water use in the Texas power sector by 21 percent. That would save the drought-ridden state more than 28 billion gallons of water each year.

“It’s a surprising finding,” Paul Faeth, the report’s author, said in a statement. “People don’t often associate water conservation with [carbon] cuts, but for Texas, they work together.”

[…]

CNA Corporation’s analysis comes two days after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, said the proposal would threaten reliability and raise energy costs by as much as 20 percent by 2020 – not including the cost of new power lines needed to keep the grid running.

The CNA report, which relied on a model ERCOT has used in the past, said shifting away from water-guzzling coal power plants and boosting energy efficiency would ease Texas’ water woes.

Compared to Texas’ grid operator, CNA painted a rosier picture of price and reliability effects. With big investments in natural gas and wind power, Texas is already on pace to meet 70 percent of its target by 2029, according to the study. Improving energy efficiency could move the state the rest of the way.

The federal proposal would increase the per-megawatt cost of electricity by 5 percent by 2029, but cut total system costs by 2 percent, the group said.

“We find that the state will be able to meet the final and interim targets with modest incremental effort,” the study said.

See here for the background. The CNA report page is here, the press release is here, the executive summary is here, and the full report is here. It’s not clear to me if CNA was invited by someone to review the EPA plan as it affects Texas or if they did it on their own, but this is a strong argument for going along with what the EPA recommends rather than filing another frivolous lawsuit. The considerable water savings is enough by itself to make this worthwhile.

Texas will do just fine under the new EPA clean air regulations

Unless it wants to fail, of course, which is always an option under the likes of Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

Greg Abbott approves of this picture

Texas could lead the way into a less carbon-intensive future under the Obama administration’s plans to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Or the state could have trouble keeping the lights on.

The competing views underscore the exquisite complexity of the rules scheduled to be unveiled Monday. The proposed regulation represents the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda – one that could lead to the shuttering of hundreds of coal plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.

Already Texas officials are lining up against the plan, with 29 members of the state’s congressional delegation – Republicans and Democrats – voicing concern in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency. They say the rules could drive up electricity bills, threaten reliability and lead to job losses in a state that pumps far more carbon dioxide into the air than any other.

But environmentalists note that Texas already is shifting closer to Obama’s goals. Last year, 63 percent of the state’s electricity came from sources other than coal.

“We will hear a lot of complaining about the rule, but we have a lot of options in Texas that other states do not have,” said Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.

Oh, there’s plenty of complaining, all right. The hot air generated by Rick Perry and Ted Cruz alone might be enough to offset whatever gains the Obama administration hopes to make via these new regulations. Just remember, when you hear the usual assortments of gasbags start to bloviate about this, we’ve heard it all before, and they’ve been wrong every single time. Consider this, for example:

Let’s flash back to an article from the Van Nuys Valley News, dated Sept. 10, 1970 — when the Clean Air Act was young and eager and taking aim at unchecked, noxious emissions from U.S. cars. “Ford Motor Co. said yesterday in Dearborn, Mich.,” the item begins, “that some of the proposed changes in the Federal Clean Air Act could cut off automobile production in just five years, lead to huge price increases for cars even if production were not stopped, do ‘irreparable damage’ to the American economy — and still lead to only small improvements in the quality of the air.”

Sound familiar? Are you driving a car nearly half a century later? Yes, those controls had a cost — and so too will future efficiency mandates that the Obama administration has put in place — but in the long view, the view that matters, life will go on and be cleaner for it. Not so sure? Consider that between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants dropped by 68 percent, even as U.S. gross domestic product grew by 212 percent and vehicle miles traveled increased by 167 percent. The number of private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during that same period.

So yeah, pay them no attention. And remember as well, they’re vastly out of step with public opinion:

* Among Americans overall, 69 percent say global warming is a serious problem, versus 29 percent who say it isn’t. Among Americans in the states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, those numbers are 67-31. Among Americans in states carried by Barack Obama, they are 70-28.

*Americans overall say by 70-21 that the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing plants to reduce global warming. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 68-24. In 2012 blue states, they are 72-20.

* Americans overall say by 70-22 that the federal government should require states to limit greenhouse gases. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 65-23. In 2012 blue states, they are 73-21. Even in red states, then, support for the feds stomping on states’ rights (on this issue at least) is running high.

* Americans overall say by 63-33 that the government should regulate greenhouses even if it increases their monthly energy bill by $20 per month. In the 2012 red states, those numbers are 60-35. In 2012 blue states, they are 64-32.

On every one of the above questions, in red states, large percentages of independents and moderates favor action. And more broadly, as you can see, those just aren’t meaningful differences between red and blue states on these questions. This applies even in nearly two dozen coal states [emphasis added].

Who wants to bet the Trib will come out with a poll showing the opposite in Texas? I can see it coming from here. Unfair Park and the Rivard Report have more.

Court rules for the EPA against Texas again

Another win for the environment.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Obama administration’s new rules that for the first time limit emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

In a split decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a Texas-based challenge to the regulations, saying the federal government acted reasonably to protect the environment and public health from poisonous gases and cancer-causing chemicals released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels.

Developers of the White Stallion Energy Center, a proposed power plant about 90 miles southwest of Houston, challenged the federal regulations, arguing that the new limits would be too burdensome and thus prevent them from securing financing for the project. Several industry groups and 22 states, including Texas, joined the fight.

But a divided three-judge panel ruled that federal law and previous court decisions do not require the Environmental Protection Agency to consider cost when imposing new regulations on electric utilities.

[…]

At the time the EPA finalized the rules in 2012, Texas was home to seven of the top 16 mercury-emitting coal plants in the nation, an Environmental Defense Fund analysis found.

“There is no other state that is going to get as much public health benefit than Texas from the mercury rule,” said Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in the state.

See here and here for some background. I’ve long since lost track of which lawsuit by Texas against the EPA is about what, and I don’t think I have any previous blogging on this specific case, but it doesn’t matter. It’s all of a piece, and it’s all about whether we make the polluters be responsible for their actions or we give them a free pass. The EPA counters claims that these regulations are too costly for business with evidence that the health benefits for everyone else will outweigh those costs. That will never satisfy the polluters, of course, and I presume they’ll appeal this first to the entire DC court, then to SCOTUS. It’s a nice win for now but it’s far from over. The LA Times, the DMN BizBeat blog, the Texas Green Report, and the EDF, which has a separate statement beneath the fold, have more, while Wonkblog reminds us of the disproportionate effect of industrial pollution on minority neighborhoods.

Environmental Defense Fund applauds today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., denying legal challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Today’s court decision rejects flawed legal claims by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of the opponents of EPA’s vital clean air safeguards for our communities and families.

Attorney General Abbott has sued the federal government 31 times since 2004, needlessly costing Texan taxpayer’s nearly $4 million.

The EPA emission standards at issue establish the first nationwide emission limits on the mercury, arsenic and acid gases discharged from the U.S. fleet of existing coal- and oil-fired power plants, the single largest source of these toxic airborne contaminants.

Mercury exposure can impair the brain development of infants and young children. According to the EPA, each year more than 400,000 infants are born with elevated mercury levels in their blood, but the MATS standards will eliminate 90 percent of mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants. In Texas, the rule will annually prevent up to 1,200 premature deaths, while providing between $4 billion to $9.7 billion in health benefits in 2016 and each year thereafter.

“Today’s decision comes as an unquestionable victory for Texans who care about vital clean air safeguards and protecting our most vulnerable citizens – young children and pregnant women. Rather than waste taxpayer’s money and protect the interests of big fossil fuel companies, Greg Abbott and other state leaders should champion life-saving measures that protect the health and well-being of Texans.”

White Stallion coal plant deep sixed

I mentioned this in passing the other day, but the news that White Stallion has been shelved deserves its own post.

Developers have dropped plans for the White Stallion Energy Center about 90 miles southwest of Houston, signaling the end of a once heady rush to build several new coal-fired power plants across Texas.

White Stallion is the latest abandoned coal-burning project amid record low prices for natural gas and increased environmental scrutiny. The decision announced Friday means that Texans might not see another coal plant built after an 800-megawatt unit near Waco comes online in April.

The demise of the White Stallion project “hopefully represents the last dying gasp of ‘new’ coal plants in Texas proposing to employ technologies from the last century,” said Jim Marston, who leads the energy program for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Texas now has 19 coal plants, but once had plans for more. In 2005, Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order that put their permits on the fast track, but most approved projects were never built.

The natural gas boom, driven by low prices on natural gas, is the single biggest reason why White Stallion and many other proposed coal plants were scrapped, and the main reason why there are no new coal plants on the horizon after the Waco plant was built. But that wasn’t the only factor – the Environmental Protection Agency did its job, too.

White Stallion had run afoul of new federal limits on emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants. The project’s developers had asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review the regulations, but the case is on hold.

The project also faced the EPA’s first-ever limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming from new power plants.

And it did not have the support of many locals.

See here for the last update I had regarding litigation over the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases. As State Impact notes, White Stallion was in danger of seeing its state permit expire before getting an answer one way or another from the courts, and that would have meant needing to start over, which wasn’t going to happen. Pulling the plug was their only choice. While this is very good news for clean energy proponents, it’s not all good:

“The only downside of this shift to natural gas is that it has made the challenge for renewable energy to be competitive without subsidies even greater,” Rep. [Mark] Strama says. “Because any time that lower-priced natural gas power electricity displaces coal, for the same reason it tends to displace wind and solar. I think this story highlights again the need for a renewable strategy in Texas.”

To that end, Strama has advocated for state incentives and subsidies for more solar and coastal wind projects, which could help the state during hot summer days when demand for electricity is at its peak. He has filed legislation to that end, and is more hopeful that it stands a chance this legislative session.

“Let me put it this way,” Strama says. “We were really close in 2009 to passing meaningful legislation around renewables. [Then] we didn’t come very close in 2011. But this year feels a little more receptive to having a discussion.”

Some of what needs to be done to promote renewable energy in Texas is regulatory and not legislative, but either way there are things to do. In the meantime, let’s celebrate a win for a cleaner tomorrow. The Environmental Defense Fund has more.

We’ve got mercury, yes we do

Once again, Texas overachieves at something bad.

Martin Lake coal plant

Even though mercury and other hazardous air pollution from U.S. power plants are declining, the progress at the coal-fired power plants are uneven, leaving in place a significant remaining risk to the health of the public and environment, according to a new report by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

Coal-burning power plants release millions of pounds of toxic pollutants into the air every year, including mercury and carcinogens like arsenic and chromium. US EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) can be used to identify the largest sources of these dangerous pollutants based on annual reports the electric power industry submits to the Agency under federal Right to Know laws. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, especially harmful to developing fetuses and young children.

Available online at http://environmentalintegrity.org/news_reports/01_03_2013.php, the new EIP report uses TRI data for 2011 (the most recent full year available) to identify the 10 largest sources of power plant mercury emissions – five of these are in Texas, of which four are owned by Luminant Generation.

[…]

EIP Attorney Ilan Levin said: “Nationwide, equipment has been installed over the years to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. That has helped cut down on the release of mercury, toxic metals and acid gases from power plants over the last ten years. However, that progress is uneven, and the dirtiest plants continue to churn out thousands of pounds of toxins that can be hazardous to human health even in small concentrations. For example, emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants have actually increased in the last decade in the state of Texas.

Levin added, “Emissions from local power plants deposit mercury and other toxic metals in nearby rivers and streams, where these pollutants concentrate in aquatic organisms at levels that can make fish unsafe to eat. The fact that so few plants are responsible for so much of the mercury pollution makes the solution less complicated; the dirtiest sources need to clean up their act.”

You would think, given his deep and abiding love for fetuses, that Rick Perry would be all over this. You would, of course, be wrong. The full report is here; note that not only does Texas have five of the top ten, we have four of the top five. And as the report notes, the news just keeps getting better.

Fortunately, mercury emissions from coal-fired electric power plants have declined over the past decade, from 88,650 pounds in 2001 to 53,140 pounds in 2011. States like Maryland have cut mercury emissions from coal plants at least 80 percent through tough new state standards, while reductions in other states are a byproduct of pollution controls installed to meet other federal standards. For example, scrubbers that reduce sulfur dioxide to comply with acid rain or fine particle standards will also remove mercury. These reductions have not been evenly distributed; for example, mercury emissions from Texas power plants have actually increased since 2001. That matters, because rivers and lakes closest to power plants are the most likely to be the hardest hit by power plant mercury pollution.

The EPA’s long-delayed Mercury and Air Toxics (“MATS”) rule, which gives power plants until February of 2015 to comply, would level the playing field by requiring the industry’s laggards to catch up with companies that have already cleaned up their plants. EPA estimates that the rule will cut annual power plant mercury emissions to just over 13,000 pounds by 2016, about 75 percent below current levels. But the rule is being fiercely challenged by Luminant and other companies seeking to avoid the cost of the pollution controls needed to meet the new standard.

Yes, they are fighting it fiercely. See here, here, and here for some background. After that story about the connection between lead contamination and crime rates, we should all be very, very afraid of anything that dumps large quantities of heavy metals into our air, water, and soil. There is one bit of genuine good news in all of this, and that is that the proposed White Stallion coal plant has been cancelled, and with the boom of natural gas there’s no new coal-burning plants on the horizon. That won’t do anything to help mitigate the effects of the plants we have now, but at least it won’t get any worse.

Desalinization and power plants

The Trib has another story about desalinization in Texas, and reading it brings up a point that I don’t think gets enough attention.

KBH Desalinization Facility

Interest in desalination surged more than a decade ago, when the technology became more efficient and cost-competitive, according to Jorge Arroyo, a desalination specialist with the Texas Water Development Board. But the severe drought of the past two years has triggered extra calls to his office. Texas holds 2.7 billion acre-feet of brackish groundwater — which translates to roughly 150 times the amount of water the state uses annually — in addition to some brackish surface water. The state water plan finalized this year envisions Texas deriving 3.4 percent of its water supply from desalination in 2060. (It is less than 1 percent now.)

Environmentalists argue that desalination is not a silver bullet because it is energy-intensive and requires disposal of the concentrated salts in a way that avoids contaminating fresh water. Texas should first focus on conservation and the reuse of wastewater, said Amy Hardberger, a water specialist with the Environmental Defense Fund.

“What needs to be avoided is the, ‘Oh, we’ll just get more’ mentality,” she said.

But getting more is what many Texans want. Odessa, which draws water from dangerously low surface reservoirs, is considering a desalination plant that could ultimately become bigger than the one in El Paso. (Odessa’s deadline for proposals is next week.)

Separately, a planned power plant near Odessa is studying prices for the technology. John Ragan, the head of Texas operations for NRG Energy, envisions natural gas power plants along the coast that desalinate water overnight when they are not needed for electricity. Residents near the half-full Highland Lakes in Central Texas say that desalination could reduce the water-supply burden on the lakes. Texas Tech University aims to begin wind-powered desalination research later this year, in the West Texas town of Seminole.

See here for previous blogging about desalinization. Coal-fired power plants use a lot of water. Natural gas plants use a lot less than coal plants, though they still use a lot. Renewable energy – wind and solar – pretty much don’t need water at all. See this Texas Water Development Board report about power generation and water usage through the year 2060 for more. Desalinization needs to be part of the mix in Texas – we have more than enough brackish water to supply the entire state – but desalinization requires a lot of power, and power generation, at least as we do it today, requires a lot of water. Everybody understands that greenhouse gas and climate change implications of renewable energy versus coal and gas, but the water use implications are as important. The more we invest in renewable energy the better off we’ll be in more ways than we might think.

Matagorda smog

I feel like there are some pieces missing in this discussion.

Matagorda County, 1920s map from the General Land Office

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to add Matagorda County to the list of Texas’ smog violators because Gulf breezes that blow through the area send air pollution toward the sprawling metropolis.

Local leaders are pushing back, saying the dubious distinction would lead to stricter regulation of industry at a time when unemployment is at 11 percent in the county.

“We have two plants, and they are minute by Houston’s standards,” Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald said. “We are not the problem, so do not throw us under the bus because we are in a two-county proximity.”

McDonald is asking other public officials in the region for support in his fight against the EPA. Houston Mayor Annise Parker, for one, said through a spokeswoman that the federal agency has not made a scientific case to add Matagorda County to the smog list.

The move signifies the first change in geography in the federal efforts to clean Houston’s air. The list long has included Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties.

[…]

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says EPA data overstates Matagorda’s emissions. Also, federal regulators cannot directly link the pollution to bad air in Houston using models of wind paths, the state agency contends.

“There is nothing we have seen that shows these emissions are contributing to ozone in Houston,” said David Brymer, the TCEQ’s air quality director. “It is just a possibility.”

Carl Young, a scientist for the EPA’s Region 6, which includes Texas, said there is “no bright line” that ties Matagorda’s emissions to Houston’s dirty air, but the “weight of evidence” suggests a connection.

The TCEQ is sufficiently Perry-ized that I don’t trust it in these matters. However, it doesn’t sound like the EPA has (if you’ll pardon the expression) a smoking gun to point to. I doubt Mayor Parker would question the evidence if it were conclusive. So, I don’t know what to make of all this right now. There is an elephant in the room that the story doesn’t being up, though, and that’s the proposed White Stallion Coal Plant in Bay City, which was approved by the TCEQ but is still on hold and recently was unable to get a contract for water. There’s no question that it would have a negative effect on Houston’s air quality. I don’t know what if anything one may have to do with the other, but I’m a little surprised it wasn’t brought up in the story. Whatever the merits of including Matagorda County on the EPA smog list now, they’re surely greater if White Stallion gets built.

Sierra Club sues over coal permits

Remember how four coal plants were granted permits to pollute more in December? You probably don’t, because it basically happened under cover of darkness. The Sierra Club found out about it and has filed a lawsuit to call a halt to it.

Martin Lake coal plant

The environmental group is appealing permit amendments approved Dec. 16 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality that allow increased emissions from the plants, in East and Central Texas, during periods of planned startup, shutdown and maintenance.

The issuance of the permits is “invalid, arbitrary and unreasonable,” according to the lawsuit filed in state District Court in Travis County.

The lawsuit comes as coal plants across the state apply for permit amendments for emissions produced during startup, shutdown and maintenance, which were not previously regulated, said Ilan Levin, an environmental attorney representing the Sierra Club.

Environment commission spokesman Terry Clawson said the agency has not received the lawsuit and will not comment on it, but he said the four permits questioned in the lawsuit were issued legally.

Coal plant operators were required to apply for the amendments to authorize increased emissions by Jan. 5, 2011 . The four plants involved in the suit, all owned by the state’s largest generator, Dallas-based Luminant Generation Co., applied for higher emission ceilings and were approved in December.

“We were surprised to find out that, really, just by trolling the agency’s website, that right before the holidays, the TCEQ had issued these permits to Luminant without any public notice or any sort of opportunity at all to file some formal comments,” Levin said.

I wish I could tell you more about this, but the Sierra Club webpage has no information on the suit, and I have been unable to get a copy of it for myself. So this is all I know for now. Texas Vox also wrote about this, but they don’t have anything more than the Statesman did.

How gassy are we?

I’m talking about greenhouse gases, of course. And the answer is, now you can find out for yourself.

Martin Lake coal plant

The greenhouse gas wars are about to heat up again in Texas. Next month, a federal court hears oral arguments in lawsuits that Texas has filed to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency, which began regulating heat-trapping emissions a year ago.

The EPA is hardly backing down. On Wednesday, the agency released an easily searchable database of big greenhouse gas polluters across the nation, prompting Texas environmentalists to immediately list the largest polluters in the state. Topping the list is the 1970s-era Martin Lake coal plant (pictured) in the East Texas city of Tatum. In 2010 it emitted nearly 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, about 13 percent more than the runner-up, the W.A. Parish coal plant in Thompsons, southwest of Houston. In third place is the Monticello coal plant in Northeast Texas, which narrowly avoided a shutdown when a federal appeals court issued a last-minute stay to an EPA pollution rule last month.

“This will be the first time that this data is publicly available and will inform Americans about the heat-trapping greenhouse gases emitted in their communities,” wrote Elena Craft, a health scientist with the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund, in a blog post. Power plant data has always been available, she said, but now industries like pulp and paper and landfills must also report it.

The photo above, courtesy of Think Progress, is of the Martin Lake plant in Tatum, TX, which has the distinction of being the nation’s top mercury emitter in 2009 (click the TP link for the chart) as well as Texas’ top greenhouse gas emitter last year (the Trib has that chart). No wonder the Sierra Club has targeted it for closure. Note that the other two plants named in that report appears on each of those lists I mentioned – Texas had four of the top five mercury polluters in the country in 2009, with Martin Lake #1, Big Brown #2, and Monticello #5. And as Patricia Kilday Hart reminds us, we have Rick Perry to thank for a lot of this.

Remember in 2006, when Perry issued an executive order fast-tracking permit requests for the construction of new coal-fired power plants? (This occurred, not surprisingly, while he was accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from power and coal interests.)

Back then, Perry predicted the new plants would be an economic boon. Well, yes, says one of his toughest critics, Environmental Defense Fund attorney James Marston.

Wyoming, Marston says, sends rail cars full of coal south to Texas power plants, and we refill them with cash and send them home. To the tune of $1.9 billion a year. This, at a time when Texas is awash in cheap natural gas, a cleaner alternative for the production of electricity.

[…]

Meanwhile, Marston said, Perry’s policies in Texas mean “we have dirtier air and we’re sending money to Wyoming. Both were avoidable if we had better leadership and better vision.”

And about the promise that coal plants would create new jobs? We were hoodwinked. According to a national study by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, proponents claimed the $2.3 billion Oak Grove project in Texas’ Robertson County would produce 2,400 construction jobs. But total construction employment for the entire county increased by only 329 during the peak construction year, the researchers found.

Similarly, in Milam County, the construction of the Sandow project was supposed to produce 1,370 jobs, but only 463 positions materialized.

The researchers concluded: “These findings strongly suggest that the economic development argument for coal plants is relatively weak, especially when compared to the job creation potential of alternative means of addressing demand for power.”

And yet Perry and his henchman Greg Abbott keep up their crusade to let these polluters have free rein. It’s clear whose interests they have in mind.

Even in the absence of enforcement, publishing these data may have a positive effect, as Brad Plumer notes.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Gina McCarthy, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, compared the new greenhouse-gas reporting law to the agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a database that was passed by Congress back in 1986 to measure and publicize the release of more than 320 toxic chemicals from industrial facilities around the country. “[The TRI] had a tremendous impact in terms of providing opportunities for reduction, and we’re really hoping this information will do the same,” McCarthy said. And, in fact, a variety of analyses suggest she might be onto something.

One recent book, “Coming Clean: Information Disclosure and Environmental Performance” charts the impacts that the Toxics Release Inventory had on polluters. As Mark Stephan, a professor at Washington State University, Vancouver, explained to me, he and his co-authors conducted interviews with a variety of companies about their responses to the new public database. Many companies didn’t even realize they were spewing out so much pollution until forced to start keeping records. And that proved to be a big deal.

For instance, when the inventory was first disclosed in 1987, Monsanto executives realized that the company was one of the largest emitters in the country and pledged to reduce its toxic air releases 90 percent by 1992. This wasn’t in response to any new laws — Monsanto wasn’t legally required to do anything. The company was simply reacting to public information. Stephan adds that many other companies soon followed suit, in response to a fusillade of newspaper stories about toxic waste and pressure from community groups and local environmentalists.

That’s good news, but I have a feeling we’re going to need more than just bad publicity to get some real action around here. Still, forewarned is forearmed. At least we know what we’re up against.

It’s hard to get beyond coal

The city of Austin is trying, but there are many obstacles along the way.

Fayette County coal plant at dusk

In Austin politics, it’s almost an article of faith that the city must aggressively curb its contribution to global climate change, regardless of what transpires across the rest of the country. That philosophy has led environmentalists to target the Fayette Power Project, a coal-burning plant 83 miles east of downtown Austin.

The plant’s fate is sure to be among the city’s most hotly debated political topics this year. A major rate increase for Austin Energy customers is coming regardless of what the utility does with Fayette, and Republican legislators already skeptical of Austin-style environmentalism have indicated they would not look kindly on additional increases.

But after failing to persuade Congress to enact coal restrictions in recent years, the Sierra Club has focused its lobbying efforts on local decision-makers — a change that includes targeting Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Leffingwell won environmental plaudits when he pledged to move Austin off coal during his re-election campaign kickoff in November. Other council members have also committed to the idea in the abstract. But their statements are carefully parsed, and they have avoided committing to a time frame, particularly the 2016 date sought by the Sierra Club.

Many details — most notably the cost to the average customer — will probably remain murky until Austin Energy finishes a comprehensive study next fall.

But ahead of the heated debate that is sure to come, another question has emerged: How environmentally ambitious should Austin be?

Should activists push Austin Energy to shut Fayette down? Should they push for the city to sell? Should the city stick with a plan already in place to begin weaning Austin off coal over the next decade?

All of those plans have advantages — and significant drawbacks.

That picture is of the Fayette Power Project, which you’ve seen if you’ve driven along Highway 71. Part of the problem is that the Lower Colorado River Authority, which jointly owns the FPP along with Austin Energy, plans to continue to use it even if Austin Energy pulls out, meaning that just getting Austin weaned off coal won’t actually reduce coal consumption. It’s cheap energy, so someone will buy it if Austin won’t, and Austin will need to figure out how to pay for energy sources that are more expensive, at least for the foreseeable future. There are legal issues as well, not to mention the possibility of legislative meddling. It’s a noble and worthwhile goal, one at which I hope they succeed, but the path forward is long and unclear.

Luminant and the CSAPR

I have not followed the dustup between energy producer Luminant and the EPA very closely. What I know is that like most other disputes between those who want cleaner air here in Texas and those who don’t is that someone in the latter group is complaining about a new federal regulation that will force them to clean up their act a bit. (It’s always a federal regulation, because our state never makes them do anything it doesn’t have to make them do.) Fuelfix summarized the situation last month:

Texas’ largest energy producer, Dallas-based Luminant, has launched an online campaign against a new federal rule that the company says will force the closing of units at one of its coal-fired power plants and three nearby mines.

Luminant’s new website, reconsidertherule.com, takes aim at the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which requires aging power plants in 27 states to install modern pollution controls to sharply cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide by Jan. 1. The company filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the Environmental Protection Agency to block the rule, saying the deadline is impossible to meet.

The EPA, to its credit, pushed back aggressively against Luminant’s allegations, which you can see in that post. I still wanted to know more, so I turned to Jennifer Powis of the Sierra Club and asked her to write something for me about this that I could run here. This is what she sent me:

Texas Can Do Better

Let’s start focusing on the road ahead instead of the road behind

Every time a new environmental rule comes down, industry proclaims the sky is falling, and that compliance will be too expensive. Yet, all of our major environmental standards—the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act to name a few—are roughly over 30 years old and all the while, the United States has seen clear economic growth and a cleaner, safer, healthier environment for workers and citizens alike.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR, pronounced “Casper” even though the acronym is missing a few letters) is no different but here, only Luminant, Texas’s largest power provider, is crying and carrying on as if one rule would be decisive for any regulated business. In truth, as Tom Sanzillo’s recent op-ed in the Houston Chronicle pointed out, poor financial choices, made worse by lower natural gas prices, and rising competition from renewables, made business tough for Luminant long before any new air quality rule was finalized.

CSAPR closes loopholes, allowing coal plants to meet similar air quality standards as other regulated industries

The Rule affects 27 states and creates a cap and trade system for pollutants primarily responsible for the formation of ozone. Ozone, as every Houstonian has dealt with and knows, is smog and has been scientifically linked to premature death, lung damage, and aggravation of asthma or other respiratory conditions. But because the rule is a cap and trade system, any polluting entity can continue to pollute at the same levels as it does today, as long as that same entity purchases pollution allowances on the open market. It’s a sort of pay to play, recognizing that a business can be in the driver’s seat, determining how best to improve air quality within its own fleet. For this rule, every power provider in the state has known something like this was coming since 2005, when then-President George Bush’s administration promulgated a similar transport rule across state borders.

Why should Houston care?

Nearly 500 industrial plants in the Houston/Galveston/Brazoria area, 120 in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area, and 342 in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area have had to install and operate air pollution control systems because those areas fail to meet basic public health safety limits for pollution – the areas are all in non-attainment. But Luminant has saved hundreds of millions of dollars by not installing air pollution controls compared to the more than 900 other industrial plants that have done their part in cleaning up dirty smoke stacks and attempting to clean up Texas’s awful air quality.

Realize the three old Luminant coal plants (Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake) are the top 3 industrial polluters in Texas among nearly 2,000 industrial plants. They are exceptionally dirty plants:1

Combined they emit 25.5% of state industrial air pollution
Combined they emit 33.8% of state industrial SO2 air pollution
Combined they emit 11.4% of state industrial PM10 air pollution
Combined they emit 10% of state industrial NOx air pollution
Combined they emit 37.6% of state industrial CO air pollution

Comparing Luminant’s big dirty three coal plants only to other coal plants, however, shows an even more harrowing tale. Luminant’s Big Brown, Monticello, and Martin Lake are:

46.8% of all Texas coal plant emissions (19 existing coal plants)
41.5% of all Texas coal plant SO2 emissions
36.0% of all Texas coal plant PM10 emissions
30.6% of all Texas coal plant NOx emissions
71.7% of all Texas coal plant CO emissions

You can see why only Luminant has reached far and wide into the media, into state government, and into the courts in an effort to stop a rule that will drastically improve the lives of every day Texans.

It’s Time To Move Beyond Coal

Mayor Parker and Houston industry should fight to defend this rule and level the playing field. But unfortunately, while this rule will create real and substantive improvements in air quality — eliminating multiple non-attainment regions across the country — the Houston/Galveston/Brazoria non-attainment region will still have major air quality concerns after this rule is implemented. (See page 30 and 31.) And in truth, so will Texas.

But the path forward is a go local argument for the state. Texas leads the nation in wind production, has huge untapped solar and geothermal resources, and generally has the most underutilized natural gas capacity of any state in the nation. Instead of capitalizing on this potential, all of the state’s power is focused on overturning this rule. Unfortunately, what scores points in party circles doesn’t often make good policy.

Jen Powis is the state lead for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign working to transition Texas’s electric system to cleaner alternatives. The campaign is currently working to stop the construction of seven proposed coal plants, and retire older facilities in order to make room for cleaner and greener systems.

1 All data is compiled from the self-reported emissions inventory in 2009 and maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

My sincere thanks to Jen Powis for writing that. The one thing I will add is that if you read that Tom Sanzillo op-ed, it references a report he wrote for the Sierra Club regarding Luminant’s finances. A little Googling led me to that here. It’s a bit technical for me, but the basic gist of it is that Luminant is way overleveraged; the op-ed summarizes it succinctly. The bottom line is that you should keep all this in mind when the pollution apologists complain about what that bad ol’ federal guvmint is making them do now.

Federal court clears the way for greenhouse gas rules to be enforced in Texas

Apparently, Texas is subject to the same laws as those other states. Who knew?

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected pleas from Texas, some other states and industry allies to block nationwide rules on greenhouse gas emissions slated to start next month.

The states, industry groups and free-market groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its first attempt to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from automobiles and large industrial sources. The rules, they argue, would harm the economy.

But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the request to freeze the new regulations while the lawsuit is pending, ruling that the challengers failed to show that the harms they allege are certain, rather than speculative.

The decision of the three-judge panel clears the way for the rules to take effect Jan. 2, as planned. The federal rules require new controls on emissions from vehicles and industrial sources, such as power plants and refineries.

Bear in mind, the DC circuit appeals court has a reputation for being very conservative. It’s the venue that Texas Republicans plan to use instead of the Justice Department to preclear its redistricting plans, with the hope of getting a more lenient interpretation (or an outright overturning) of the Voting Rights Act.

In challenging the EPA, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has argued that the underpinnings of the new rules — that the gases blamed for global warming threaten public health — are based on faulty data. The new rules also will hurt business, he told the court.

But the Texas lawsuit had a “see- through problem,” said David Doniger, director of climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the new rules.

“You can say anything you want in a press release or a two-page lobbying letter to Congress,” Doniger said. “But when you go to court, you have to prove your case, and they didn’t. These cases were brought to dress up a political argument.”

Imagine that. Facts are stubborn things.

Baby, you can charge my car

Plug it in, plug it in.

The city of Houston will make it easier for locals to buy and own electric cars, including speeding up permitting of home charging stations and opening up HOV lanes to the vehicles.

Mayor Annise Parker announced some of the measures Thursday at an event introducing power plant operator NRG Energy’s plans for a citywide electric vehicle charging system.

“I recognize that Houston is a car city,” she said. “But let’s make sure if you have a particular type of car you want to drive, and it’s an electric vehicle, let’s make sure it’s supported.”

The NRG network, branded eVgo, will begin with 150 charging stations throughout the city at retailers and offices.

Walgreens will have chargers at 18 of its local stores, HEB at 10 of its H-E-B or Central Market stores, Best Buy at up to 10 locations and Spec’s at eight.

Fifty of the public stations will be rapid chargers that can charge a vehicle fully in about 30 minutes. The other 100 chargers can do a full charge in about four hours.

OK, I think I’ve run out of cheesy musical allusions. It’s a small step towards a greener planet – it would be nice if we were doing more on the back end, to make sure that the electricity powering these cars comes from green sources and not just more coal-fired plants, for instance – but every little step is needed and helpful. Swamplot has a map of where you can go to get your recharge on, and Hair Balls has more.

Bay City coal plant gets TCEQ approval

Great.

Texas’ environmental agency granted air pollution permits for a proposed coal- and petroleum coke-fired power plant in Matagorda County over the objections of local officials and residents Wednesday.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality voted 3-0 in support of the permits for the 1,320-megawatt White Stallion Energy Center, which would be built about 90 miles southwest of Houston.

[…]

The plant would be built less than 20 miles from the boundary of the eight-county Houston region that is in violation of federal limits for ozone. Rules on industrial pollution — in particular, new sources – are tighter inside such areas than outside, even though ozone, or smog, isn’t bound by county lines.

[…]

The decision came nearly three months after two state administrative law judges ruled that the permits should not be granted because of problems with the application, saying the developers used faulty data in their air quality analysis and failed to consider the impacts of coal dust.

The judges’ findings were not binding on the TCEQ, which has final authority on permits. The commissioners said the project’s developers had addressed the concerns.

TCEQ’s Public Interest Counsel also recommended denial of the permit, saying the agency did not require the developers to use the lowest-polluting technology for their coal plants.

That’s the TCEQ for you. Of the polluters, by the polluters, for the polluters. The interesting thing was just how deeply unpopular this project had become.

The man from Kentucky came to this coastal prairie town two years ago with a vision for a new energy future: His company would build the cleanest coal-fired power plant in Texas, generating new jobs and new money for a place in need of both.

The idea had undeniable power at first. But now, with the White Stallion Energy Center about to receive an air pollution permit from the state, many local officials and residents are having second thoughts — even in the face of 12 percent unemployment in Matagorda County.

The proposed power plant may be a chimera, critics say. It may drain precious water from the Colorado River, foul the air and harm wildlife in an area known for ranches and rice, beaches and birds.

In and around Bay City, the county’s hub, opponents are planting roadside signs showing a menacing monster billowing from smokestacks, with the rallying cry: “Stop White Stallion Coal Plant.”

“It’s a bad thing,” Michael Ledwig said as he posted one of the signs on the front gate of his property on FM 2668, about a mile from the site of the proposed plant. “It’s a lot of pollution for a small amount of jobs.”

I am in general skeptical of the concept of “clean coal”. And I believe that any time a new coal plant is being built, or even contemplated, instead of something genuinely green, it represents a missed opportunity. Coal is yesterday. We need to be thinking about tomorrow. The TCEQ’s decision will be appealed, but I can’t say I have any faith that will make a difference. Forrest Whitaker has more.

Solar power

As you know, I’ve been a big advocate for wind energy on this site. Texas has done a lot to make itself a leader in that industry, and I believe it will pay many long-term dividends. But just as we have a lot of wind in this state (insert your own joke here), we also have a lot of sunshine, and as we do with wind, we ought to take advantage of that. Fortunately, there’s a lot of action on that front in the Lege, with much of it taking place this past week in the Senate.

Altogether, according to David Power, the deputy director of Public Citizen Texas, a consumer and environmental advocacy group, there are 69 renewable energy bills before the legislature, and over 50 of them promote solar power — far more than ever before.

“There are senators and representatives that are talking about solar that have never mentioned the word probably in their lives,” he said. “We’ve actually heard the term ‘global warming,’ and two years ago that was called ‘the G word’ — you didn’t talk about it.”

Mark Strama, a state representative who is a leading promoter of renewable energy, has introduced at least five green bills this year (including a measure that would allow local governments to create a property tax financing program for solar, along the lines of several California cities).

“It just seems like everybody recognizes our leadership in wind, and that government policy got us where we are today in wind,” he told me last month.

In solar, he added, “We need to catch up.”

BOR has more on this.

With over 60 bills in the House and over 30 in the Senate all pertaining to green energy initiatives, the Solar Alliance has targeted 6 major criterion needed in in any solar package in order to trigger the kind of job growth a widespread solar industry can create.

1. 3,000 total megawatts of installed solar over a 5- to 10-year program;
2. At least 1,000 of these megawatts dedicated to distributed generation;
3. Statewide application, with every region, every electric provider, and every customer class included, because if everyone benefits, everyone should participate;
4. Rate impact for residential consumers of less than $1.00 per month;
5. Provide an average of $250 million annually in incentives for the life of the program;
6. Program expires when the goal is reached.

This is an interesting tactic. Instead of advocating for a package of bills, the Solar Alliance has focused on specific policy positions.

If nothing else, that may help the rest of us evaluate the progress made in terms of what did and did not get passed. The Solar Alliance and the Alliance for a Clean Texas are good resources to visit if you want more involvement.

Finally, along similar lines, there’s a push for a coal moratorium. Maybe these things can happen this session, and maybe not. But the chances for any of them are better than they’ve been in recent memory, perhaps in forever.