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Groups sue top Texas environmental regulator over air pollution permits

November 25, 2015

KXAN News Austin
By David Barer

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Several environmental advocacy groups have sued the state’s top environmental regulation agency for alleged inadequate handling of several air pollution permits, including one for a large coal power plant near Waco, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Travis County district court.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has a duty to take action on the permits within 18 months of receiving them. According to the lawsuit, the agency missed the deadline on eight facilities. By failing to act on the permits, the people of Texas are denied the protection of the permits and the right to challenge them, the groups state in the suit.


“These companies all filed their applications on time,” said Gabriel Clark-Leach, with Environmental Integrity Project, in a statement. “The state environmental regulators have been sitting on these applications for years.”

Those coal power plants, oil refineries and petrochemical plants create significant amounts of smog-forming pollution and ozone problems, said Neil Carman with the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, in a news release.

“We should not have to file a lawsuit simply to force the state environmental agency to do its job,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the environment, in a prepared statement. “By failing to act on these expired air pollution permits, The TCEQ is denying Texans our right to know how much air pollution industries are allowed to release into the air we breathe.”

A TCEQ spokesperson told KXAN the agency has no comment at this time.

Major sources of air pollution, such as a coal power plant, are required to get a “Title V” permit meant to “improve compliance” with the Clean Air Act’s pollution control requirements. Title V permit requires a company to consolidate emission limits and regulations on a single document and establish procedures for monitoring, recording and reporting emissions that comply with the law, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit alleges TCEQ did not take action on permits for these locations in a timely manner:

  • Sandy Creek coal power plant, near Waco
  • American Electric Power Company’s Welsh coal power plant in Titus County
  • BP’s Texas City oil refinery near Houston
  • Motiva’s Port Arthur oil refinery
  • ExxonMobil’s Baytown oil refinery near Houston
  • Koch Industries’ Flint Hills East oil refinery in Corpus Christi
  • BP Amoco’s Texas City chemical plant near Houston
  • Luminant’s (formerly TXU) Oak Grove coal power plant in Robertson County

Approval or denial of several of the permits noted in the lawsuit has been delayed for months or years, according to the environmental groups. The TCEQ executive director placed the Waco coal plant’s permit application on management delay in November of 2009 and has yet to approve or deny it, according to the suit. In other cases, Environmental Integrity Project submitted comments identifying problems in draft permits approved by TCEQ, but the agency has not responded to the comments or taken action on the permits, the lawsuit states.

Groups involved in the lawsuit include Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Air Alliance Houston and Texas Campaign for the Environment.

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