By H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. -
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is blaming power plants in Texas for Illinois air pollution and is using the accusation to justify restrictions on Texas power plants. EPA claims its cross-state pollution rule, intended to protect communities in one state from pollution drifting from other states, justifies placing restrictions on Texas power plants EPA claims are polluting Granite City, Illinois.
New EPA Authority
Several states have challenged EPA’s asserted authority to enact and enforce the cross-state rule, but two months ago the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it. Nevertheless, the Court ruled individual states can challenge specific applications of the rule if a state believes EPA is restricting emissions beyond what is necessary to prevent its contribution to another state’s air pollution.
Texas, Louisiana, and Wisconsin took the Supreme Court up on its offer and filed challenges to EPA applications of the rule.
Texas-Illinois Link Challenged
EPA’s assertion Texas power plants are causing Illinois pollution raised eyebrows for several reasons. Granite City is approximately 500 miles from the Texas border and even farther away from Lone Star State major metropolitan regions. Granite City is northeast of Texas, with prevailing winds rarely trekking in that direction from Texas. In addition, a local steel mill, which has been an important source of the town’s prosperity since the 1890s, has long been recognized as a primary source of air pollution in Granite City.
EPA, however, claims it has devised computer models that indicate some sulfur dioxide from Texas power plants may reach Granite City, which has a population of 30,000.
“Texas was only included in portions of the rule based on the projected impact on a single county in Illinois. And the air quality monitor in Illinois which EPA claims had the fingerprints of Texas pollution on it was located right next to a smelter. On this thin legal reed the EPA is imposing restrictions on Texas several times as severe as states with much more significant interstate pollution problems,” said Kathleen White, director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at Texas Public Policy Foundation.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) agreed, saying EPA failed to account properly for the steel mill's influence on Granite City's air pollution. Of the three air pollution monitors in the town and surrounding Madison County, the only one allegedly linked to Texas is the one downwind of the steel mill.
Even if the appellate court finds Texas does contribute to Granite City’s air problem, the TCEQ says EPA is requiring emissions cuts significantly greater than the state's contribution to the pollution problems.
Under EPA’s cross-state pollution rule, electric utilities will be forced to install expensive scrubbers to reduce emissions from smokestacks. Alternatively, they can join in a 28-state trading program in which they can purchase credits to cover their emissions. If neither of those two options are feasible, they can cut back production, mothball, or retire coal-fired power plants to achieve the limits. State officials and utility executives predict the final option will be the most likely outcome.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Dallas, Texas.