Judge Rules Texas, EPA Can’t Delay Air Cleanup

The Trump administration cannot put off a plan to curb air pollution from Texas power plants until 2019, a federal judge recently ruled, refusing to further delay a process that’s dragged on for nearly a decade, Courthouse News Service reported.

Texas and the EPA had asked U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, in the District of Columbia, to give Texas until Dec. 31, 2018 to submit a plan. Jackson declined, and in her Aug. 31 ruling, gave the EPA until Sept. 9 to submit a plan of its own.

The EPA’s Regional Haze Rule requires state and federal agencies to work together to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas by reducing pollution.

Texas has more than a dozen coal-fired power plants, with the capacity to generate 19,000 megawatts of electricity. In Texas, the haze rule is meant to clear the skies above Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, both in West Texas near El Paso.

Texas’s battle with the EPA started in 2009 when the agency rejected a plan submitted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

According to Courthouse News Service, the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conversation Association and other environmental groups sued the EPA in August 2011 in District of Columbia Federal Court. They claimed the agency had missed its Jan. 15, 2011 deadline to complete a Federal Implementation Plan “to prevent and remedy unhealthful, scenery-impairing pollution” in Texas. The EPA finally finished a haze-control plan for Texas in January 2016, prompting the state and several power companies to sue the agency in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in March 2016.

Texas claimed that the federal plan would require pollution-control upgrades at 15 power plants at a cost of $2 billion, making the state’s power grid less reliable because some operators would find the upgrades too expensive and would shut down, Courthouse News Service reported.

After a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit sided with Texas and the power companies and stayed the rule, the EPA said in December it would work out a compromise plan.

With Pruitt in charge, the EPA lets states take the lead in pollution-control plans. Texas and the EPA signed an agreement on Aug. 14 in which the EPA endorsed Texas’s proposal for an interstate cap-and-trade program rather than power plants upgrades, Courthouse News Service reported. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA asked Berman Jackson to give Texas until Dec. 31, 2018 to submit its plan, but the judge said she’s unwilling to wait another 15 months.