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Texas Judge Invalidates Las Brisas Energy Air Pollution Permit




AUSTIN, Texas, July 26, 2012 (ENS) - A state air pollution permit for a petroleum coke-fueled power plant planned for a city on the Texas coast was struck down Tuesday by a state civil court judge.

In Austin, Travis County District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky sided with environmental groups and signed an order invalidating the permit for the proposed Las Brisas power plant in Corpus Christi.

The court order settles a legal challenge brought by Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project, and the Clean Economy Coalition to the permit issued in January 2011 by the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality, TCEQ.

Yelenosky ruled that the commission violated the federal Clean Air Act by not requiring the company to achieve maximum achievable control technology, MACT, related to the plant's main boilers.

"MACT is a pre-construction requirement," Yelenosky wrote. "Before commencing construction, Las Brisas must demonstrate that it will comply with the new MACT standard."

Sign on the site of the planned Las Brisas generating station in Corpus Christi, Texas (Photo by Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club)

The commission also violated the law by not requiring the company to show compliance with federal standards for the amount of air pollution the plant would emit every 24 hours through the storage and transfer of the petroleum coke that will be used to fuel the plant, according to the judge's order.

"The judge found several major legal errors, essentially gaping holes and inconsistencies, in Las Brisas' required air permit," said Erin Fonken, attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project.

"Las Brisas needed to demonstrate that, if the plant is built, the extra air pollution will not harm the people of Corpus Christi. Las Brisas failed to do that, and that is one of the key issues in the Texas state district court's ruling," said Fonken.

An executive with Houston-based Chase Power Development, which is developing the Las Brisas power plant, told the "Corpus Christi Caller" newspaper that the company is deciding whether or not to appeal the ruling. The company has until the third week in August to decide.

"The City of Corpus Christi is building a clean energy economy, and a dirty, new plant like Las Brisas doesn't fit in with those plans. It's time for Las Brisas to face reality, and say uncle," said Hal Suter, Chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and a Corpus Christi resident.

Suter said, "Corpus Christi residents have been plagued by industrial pollution for generations, yet the Las Brisas developers and the Texas Council on Environmental Quality were content to stick with the status quo. Today's court ruling sends a message public health must be a top priority for state officials."

Las Brisas is planned as a 1,300 megawatt generating station to provide enough low-cost electricity to power approximately one million homes in the south Texas region.

When the TCEQ issued the permit in January 2011, Las Brisas Energy issued a statement saying, the permit requires emissions limits that are "lower than any other solid fuel fired power plant" in Texas. "The power station will use environmentally advanced pollution control technology to drastically reduce emissions as compared to conventional coal plants," the company said.

"The overall environmental impact from LBEC will be among the most strictly regulated of any power generating unit, with the lowest emissions in Texas for key pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, filterable particualte matters, carbon monoxide and mercury," said the company.

A spokesman for the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality told an AP reporter the agency believes the permit struck down by the judge is protective enough.

The environmental groups complain that across the state, developers of new coal plants "have repeatedly failed to prioritize public health through reduced or minimum air pollution emissions," but regardless, the TCEQ "has issued air permits in most cases," even when the permits fail to meet the public health requirements of the Clean Air Act.


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