Donna Hoffman, Sierra Club, 512-477-1729 or 512-299-5776 cell
Ailis Aaron Wolf, for EIP, (703) 276-3265, or
LEGAL ACTION FILED TO HALT "FAST-TRACKING" OF TEXAS COAL-FIRED POWER PLANTS
Major New Challenge to Governor’s Attempt to Short-Circuit Full Public Review of Health, Environmental, and Pollution Control Issues in the Permitting Process
(Austin, TX) –The Sierra Club, represented by the Austin office of Environmental Integrity Project (EIP), took legal action today to stop the “unprecedented, unreasonable, and … illegal” plan by Governor Rick Perry to “fast track” administrative hearings for construction of up to 18 dirty coal-fired power plants in the state. Most of the plants in question are being proposed by the Dallas-based utility giant TXU.
EIP Austin Office Counsel Ilan Levin filed the petition on behalf of the Sierra Club to intervene in a state district lawsuit originally brought by Environmental Defense over the processing of coal plant permits.
Today’s legal action by Sierra Club stems from a recent state agency decision to consolidate six proposed TXU coal plant permits into one hearing, and to set those permits for a speedy decision.
The lawsuit seeks to halt Perry’s controversial executive order of October 27, 2005, directing the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to accelerate consideration of permit applications and the Texas State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to issue unusually fast decisions on air pollution permits for new electric power plants.
EIP Austin Office Counsel Ilan Levin said: “Today, Sierra Club is asking a judge to overturn a Governor’s executive order that imposes unfair burdens on regular people simply trying to avail themselves of the common-sense environmental protections built into state and federal laws.
We’re saying that speeding up the required decision process for major new sources of smog and other air pollution is illegal and unfair, especially to citizens trying to participate.”
Rita Beving, Conservation Co-Chair for the Dallas Sierra Club Group, whose area’s air quality would be impacted by coal plant emissions, said: “This legal action is a critical step in the fight by Texas citizens to assert their rights to protect their health and environment from an ill-considered rush to permit these polluting coal-fired power plants, whether we need them or not.
The tragedy is that we could meet our energy needs through greater efficiency and renewable energy, without subjecting our cities to further air pollution from coal plants.”
The lawsuit notes: “The executive order imposes an unreasonable schedule to thoroughly develop the required technical and legal issues for one major air permit of the type being considered, let alone six of them….
The Governor’s Executive Order RP 49 infringes on the rights of Texas citizens to participate meaningfully in the environmental permitting arena. The right of any affected party to participate in agency permitting decisions is rooted in the constitutional right to due process.
The Governor lacks authority to unilaterally alter this system. Further, the Governor lacks the authority to dictate to an administrative law judge exactly how much time is allowed for a judicial administrative decision, and to do so violates the doctrine of separation of powers.”
The Perry fast-tracking scheme has huge consequences. The Sierra Club petition notes: “To put the magnitude of the six TXU permits in context, it is worth noting the additional greenhouse gases associated with these new coal plants.
While not addressed in the permits, the new units will emit an additional estimated 51 million tons of carbon dioxide per year into Texas skies. In 2005, all existing Texas power plants emitted 255.4 million tons of carbon dioxide.”
The Sierra Club contends that a full and deliberate hearing process on each of the power plant applications is crucial due to the serious health and environmental consequences associated with coal-fired power plants, such as increased sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury pollution.
The legal filing points out: “Sulfur dioxide … interacts with nitrogen oxides to form nitric and sulfuric acids, commonly known as acid rain, which damages forests and acidifies soil and waterways. Harvard School of Public Health studies have shown that SO2 emissions from power plants significantly harm the cardiovascular and respiratory health of people who live near the plants. According to U.S. EPA studies, fine particle pollution from power plants causes more than 20,000 premature deaths a year.”
On the topic of mercury pollution, the EIP/Sierra Club petition notes: “Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury air pollution, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all mercury emissions nationwide.
Mercury is a highly toxic metal that, once released into the atmosphere, settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans. The Centers for Disease Control has found that roughly 10 percent of American women carry mercury concentrations at levels considered to put a fetus at risk of neurological damage.”
Another major pollutant – nitrogen oxide – is a major contributor to ozone smog-forming pollution, which has been a major problem for ambient air quality in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin areas.
Usually each power plant application would be considered separately with a full review of the risks associated with its additional pollution impact.
The new plants also would be examined to verify that that are using the best available technology in order to not degrade air quality.
ABOUT THE GROUPS
Sierra Club is one of the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organizations in the country. The Club has more than 700,000 members nationwide, and roughly 23,000 Texas members. The Sierra Club is dedicated to preserving and enhancing the natural environment and protecting public health, among other goals.
The Sierra Club has the specific goal of improving outdoor air quality. The Sierra Club is a party in administrative proceedings that are at issue in this litigation.
With offices in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, the Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP was founded by Eric Schaeffer, who was director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Regulatory Enforcement. He resigned in 2002 after publicly expressing his frustration with efforts of the Bush Administration to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other laws.