Ozone Crisis Was Unavoidable

TU Electric Sabotaging Clean Air Efforts

 (Dallas) - New data released by environmental groups shows that the number of ozone violations in the metroplex would have fallen by 70% if east Texas power plants were required to meet modern pollution control standards, according to modeling done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The number of ozone violations in Dallas-Fort Worth could have been cut in half and the area’s "serious" ozone non-attainment designation avoided in 1998 if industry and state officials had acted to reduce this pollution in 1995.

"It is clear that TU Electric sabotaged efforts to clean up DFW’s dirty air," stated Dr. Neil Carman, clean air program director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "This company has come out against closing the grandfather loophole, they have protested against improved air quality standards and they persistently refuse to clean up their dirty pollution. The Metroplex’s serious smog crisis might have been avoided if the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission under Governor George W. Bush and local industry officials had responded to information the EPA handed to them," Carman said.

Modeling done by the EPA’s Ozone Transport Assessment Group (OTAG) examined how ozone concentrations in the eastern half of Texas would be affected if power plants in the region had to meet a strict nitrogen oxide emissions standard of 0.15 lb/mmBTU. The result, found OTAG, would be a reduction of at least six to ten parts per billion (ppb) in ozone concentrations in the Metroplex. A one-hour ozone violation occurs when ozone monitors measure more than 124 ppb.

"TU is the single biggest air polluter in Texas, they are the biggest source of grandfathered emissions in Dallas/Ft. Worth and they are the biggest source of industrial emissions in east Texas," said Peter Altman, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. "The data confirms that TU’s pollution causes smog in Dallas/Ft. Worth. TU Electric makes such a big contribution to bad air quality their electric bills should come with a warning label that says   "CAUTION: This product is hazardous to your health."

In all, at least eighteen DFW area violations since 1995 might not have occurred if TU Electric and other utilities brought their older and grandfathered power plants up to modern state and federal standards.

In 1998 the area experienced seven ozone exceedances of the EPA’s one-hour standard. With the reductions in power plant pollution there only would have been three to five violations.

In 1997 the metroplex area experienced nine ozone exceedances of the one-hour standard. With a six ppb reduction in ozone, there would have been only five ozone exceedances and with a ten ppb reduction there would have been only three violations.

TU Electric has come under heavy criticism of late for refusing to make the necessary investments to clean up their dirty plant’s emissions. "What is appalling is that even when legislators offer to pay for TU’s pollution retrofits, the company has balked,"  said Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. "An electric deregulation bill passed by the Texas Senate included a provision to allow utilities to recover pollution-reducing investments at older plants, but utility officials indicated privately that they would not use the money to reduce pollution. Utility officials have also said that paying for the capital costs of pollution retrofits isn’t enough. They want us to pay them to operate the pollution controls too. What TU has agreed to do is far short of the 50% reductions that would have been required to meet today’s state and federal standards and which would have dramatically reduced the number of bad air days in Dallas/Ft. Worth.

"Two bills in the Texas legislature would end this reign of terror by TU Electric and end 28 years of umpermitted pollution," said Smith. "Both HB 2390 by Representatives Yvonne Davis and Glen Maxey and Representative Steve Wolen’s version of the electric deregulation bill SB 7 would close this loophole and require TU Electric to use Best Available Control Technology. For decades, TU has been profiting from pollution. They’ve made so much extra money they can afford to buy utilities in other countries. They should be ashamed of themselves."

State officials, including Governor George W. Bush, have also come under fire for refusing to take a tough stand on pollution from grandfathered power plants. "Governor Bush’s decision to "Let’s let the polluters decide" on grandfathered air pollution is dooming metroplex residents to continue breathing bad air," said Smith.

"Governor Bush wants to keep this air-poisoning grandfather loophole wide open," Altman said. "His so-called "voluntary program" is a perfect picture of failed and meaningless policy designed more to distract people from the problem than offer a solution. Anyone who values clean air should be concerned about Governor Bush’s failure to support closing the grandfathered air pollution loophole."

According to a recent study by the Public Utility Commission and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, TU’s nitrogen oxide emissions could be cut by 70% for only $0.98 per month per customer. That’s cheaper than the added cost of filling up with a tank of reformulated gasoline, and far less expensive than the cost of additional vehicle inspections, the environmental groups note.

"Its outrageous that grandfathered polluters will continue to risk the economic vitality and health of the citizens of north Texas by refusing to clean up their dirty plants,"  said Todd Main, Executive Director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment. "Its outrageous that they are asking north Texas residents to pay to get our vehicles inspected, to pay for cleaner burning gasoline and cover higher health costs when cleaning up their dirty plants would make such a dramatic difference and would cost the public far less money and inconvenience."

According to Federal law, the air is unsafe to breathe on days when the ozone level exceeds 124 ppb for over an hour. In 1998 the level was exceeded seven times. If the Metroplex continues to violate federal air safety requirements the area will lose federal highway funds and businesses will be limited in their ability to expand.

"TU Electric has decided that their bottom line is more important that your right to breathe. They are ignoring the impact they have on public health," Altman said. "Their refusal to clean up simply defies logic: Offer them a generous deal to reduce pollution, they reject it. Offer them money to clean up their power plants, and they want more. What will it take to get our leaders to stop TU from polluting your air and harming your health with their dirty plants?"