Proposed Texas power plants could harm Oklahoma's air

TEXAS - Several coal-fired power plants a Texas utility wants to build could damage air quality in Oklahoma, the Department of Environmental Quality has told a Texas agency considering applications by TXU.

Texas utilities want to build about 18 plants operated with coal, 11 to be owned by TXU.

"Any time that this number of facilities are built, it raises concerns that the air quality may deteriorate from them," said Matthew Paque, environmental attorney supervisor with DEQ. "We just have some concerns of what impact those facilities may have here in Oklahoma."

A spokesman for TXU finds Oklahoma's involvement in the case unusual, and the Texas environmental agency said it knows of no requirement to notify Oklahoma's DEQ.

The proposed plants have been challenged in Texas state and federal courts by several organizations and coalitions, many of them objecting to the potential pollution the plants may produce. The mayors of Dallas and Houston are leading a coalition of governmental and other groups against the plans.

Several of the TXU plants would be in East-Central Texas. However, two would be in counties particularly close to Oklahoma. Fannin County is bounded on the north by Oklahoma and Titus County is one county south of the Oklahoma-Texas border.

DEQ has sent several letters and other documents to the Texas Office of Administrative Hearings and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality expressing its concerns.

One letter to two administrative law judges expresses concern about what effect the proposed facilities might have on the already- high concentrations of ozone DEQ has monitored along the Red River.

It also points out that the federal Clean Air Act requires states to prohibit emissions that contribute significantly to another state's air-quality non-attainment status or that interfere with another state's maintenance of national ambient air quality standards.

DEQ is also asking that that TXU's stated commitment to voluntarily offset emissions from the proposed plants be made a required part of the approval process.

"The utility company that's asking to build these facilities has publicly come out and said that they're going to take offsets, so that the impact of the new facilities won't be as significant," said Paque. "But in the permitting of the facilities, they haven't actually shown where the offsets are going to come from."

Paque said that when a company is proposing to build a new facility or add equipment that would increase emissions, it may reduce emissions on another piece of equipment or at another facility to "make up for the new one."

The Oklahoma agency has also asked that appropriate federal agencies have an opportunity to consider the proposed plants' potential effect on the Wichita Mountains wilderness area, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in southern Oklahoma.

"The Wichita Mountains, south of Lawton, are considered a federal Class I area, which means that the air quality in that area is especially heavily looked at to ensure that there won't be impacts on those areas," said Paque. "Our federal land manager here in Oklahoma had commented on the permits. So we just ask that TCEQ take their comments into account."

The administrative law judges recently ruled that Oklahoma should have been notified of the coal-fired plant applications, and said DEQ's comments should be considered part of the case.

DEQ's request to participate as a party in the proceeding is being treated as a motion in the case.

"They will decide whether or not TCEQ properly considered all the factors that go into issuing an air quality construction permit, the adequacy of those permits," he said. "We just wanted to ensure that they did all the things they need to do to assess air quality permits, and that all of those considerations were made in the permitting process."

He said it has not been decided whether Oklahoma's environmental quality agency will appear at the hearing.

Thomas Kleckner, a spokesman for TXU Power, said he finds Oklahoma's involvement in the case a bit unusual.

"The funny thing is, you've got the Hugo plant being built in Oklahoma, and we weren't asked to comment on that, nor do I think the TCEQ has commented on that," he said.

In a Jan. 12 letter to the Texas administrative hearings office, TCEQ senior attorney Booker Harrison said he knows of no requirement that the Texas agency notify Oklahoma about the Valley Stream plant application.

Kleckner said that is the plant that would be closest to Oklahoma.

Harrison also said TCEQ does not think Oklahoma would be adversely affected by the plant's emissions.

However, the Texas agency's attorney said TCEQ has no objection to the judges receiving comment from Oklahoma's environmental agency.

Kleckner said TXU's plan is aimed at providing Texas with reliable, affordable energy.

"The thing that's driving our program is the fact that Texas has a growing demand for electricity," he said. "Our plan addresses that demand."

He said the comprehensive plan includes nuclear power at some point in the future.

Kleckner said the proposed plants would move away from higher priced, more volatile natural gas generation and mean cleaner air.

"We're offsetting all the new emissions that will be produced and achieving a 20-percent reduction on top of that," he said.

Kleckner said the plants would use the best available technology.

"These coal plants will be 80 percent cleaner than the average U.S. coal plant of today," he said.


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