EPA OKs the 'Most Important Air Pollution Rule for Texas That No One Has Ever Heard Of'

Dec 19, 2016

With little fanfare the Environmental Protection Agency released a new environmental rule last week that would limit sulphur dioxide pollution from power plants as part of the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

Public health advocates are cheering the proposal because sulphur dioxide in the air can cause asthma and even death. But there's some irony to the new proposed rule: It was proposed, in part, because Texas successfully fought back another emission rule saying it would raise electric bills.

“It’s actually because that rule got wiped out that in some ways these more stringent rules became necessary,” said Dan Cohan, a professor of environmental engineering at Rice University.

Cohan calls the rule “the most important air pollution rule for Texas that no one has ever heard of.”

He says it could force a lot of Texas coal power plants to simply close, because installing upgrades would be too expensive. That, in turn, would leave more room for renewable power and natural gas to come online significantly changing, and maybe greening, the Texas energy mix.  

But there’s a wrinkle in that scenario – a wrinkle called Donald Trump.

“I’m not naïve that the new administration will likely be hostile to regulations on energy,” said Chrissy Mann with the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign.

And that brings us to another the second ironic point: The EPA could be starting the rule process now, so that people will have grounds to sue about it later. Mann says if the EPA under Trump tries to withdraw or change the proposed rule, environmental groups and states would have legal standing to defend it.

“We intend to fight for it and support it, and we know that Texans out there and, quite frankly, folks in all of the other states are impacted by this pollution are going to be fighting for it too,” Mann said.

What would make the rule harder to defend is if the entire legal framework for it is removed by conservative lawmakers in D.C. Cohan says the House Freedom Caucus came out with a plan to eliminate hundreds of regulations and, maybe, wipe out the regional haze rule altogether.

“So, if the regional haze rule disappears, then these controls would be wiped out with it,” Cohan said.

The EPA plans to hold a public hearing on the rule in Austin Jan. 10.