Proposed settlement requires agency to act
Tatum, Texas – Yesterday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to settle a lawsuit with the Sierra Club over the agency’s failure to act on a Texas plan to reduce harmful sulfur dioxide pollution in East Texas. As part of the proposed settlement, EPA must either approve the Texas plan or reject it and issue a federal plan, as required by the Clean Air Act, no later than Dec. 31, 2024.
“This settlement is the next step in a long process of getting EPA to bring Texas into compliance with the law,” said Misti O’Quinn, senior field organizer for Sierra Club. “The people of East Texas have been breathing Martin Lake’s pollution for far too long while Luminant and Vistra avoid installing effective pollution controls that are standard and TCEQ stacks the cards against ordinary people in favor of wealthy industry. A federal plan requiring the coal plant to clean up would level the playing field.”
Rusk and Panola counties have been designated as being in “nonattainment” for national air quality standards since 2017, due to their high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution, which largely comes from coal power plants and industrial facilities. The Martin Lake coal plant in Tatum is the worst sulfur dioxide and mercury polluter in the entire United States. According to federal law, the nonattainment designation requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), whose commissioners are appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, to submit a plan on pollution reductions for the area. TCEQ submitted an inadequate plan for Rusk and Panola counties in 2022. EPA was required to reject or approve the plan, but it failed to act by the statutory deadline so Sierra Club sued in February.
Sierra Club is urging EPA to reject the TCEQ plan and issue a strong federal plan requiring reduced pollution coming out of the Martin Lake coal plant in Tatum. Residents living near the coal plant have shared experiences of health problems and reduced quality of life, as SO2 pollution is known to harm human health.
Interested stakeholders can submit comments on the proposed settlement by Aug. 16, after which the settlement will get final approval. Sierra Club expects to learn in early 2024 if EPA will reject the plan and issue its own federal plan or if it will approve the TCEQ plan.