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July 27, 2012

Clean Air Victory for Texas as Coal Plant Permit Struck Down

Petcoke piles
Piles of petroleum coke sit uncovered on the ship canal in Corpus Christi. Photo by StateImpact Texas.

This week Texas residents cheered when a judge invalidated the state air pollution permit for the proposed Las Brisas coal plant in Corpus Christi.

The Las Brisas proposal is only the second new power plant proposed to be built within city limits anywhere in the United States (Chicago's Leucadia is the other), and a coalition of concerned residents, business owners, and elected officials have fought the plant since it was announced in 2008, arguing that the petroleum coke-fired power plant will be a major new source of toxic air pollution in a city already plagued with industrial pollution. In addition to burning petcoke, a nasty waste product from oil refineries, Las Brisas would also be able to burn coke derived from coal.

“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,” said Hal Suter, Chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and a Corpus Christi resident.

Thursday’s ruling from a district court judge found that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality failed to require that Las Brisas demonstrate that it would meet standards designed to lower emissions of toxic pollutants, like mercury, from the power plant. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, which is especially threatening to young babies and children.

Las Brisas also failed to demonstrate that soot and fine particulate pollution from the plant – which cause a whole litany of health problems including heart attacks and asthma attacks – would not significantly diminish air quality for families in the area. 

This is a victory for parents, public health advocates, and everyone who cares about clean air. Corpus Christi residents are fighting hard for a clean energy economy in the city and are doing all they can to move the city beyond coal – be it the proposed Las Brisas plant or the possibility of coal exports from their ports.

“Our community said no to Las Brisas and we will say no to exporting coal from our ports, too,” said Danny Lucio, a Corpus Christi resident and activist. “Our families, business leaders, and public officials are working to build a clean future for our city and a clean economy for long term growth. Coal has no role in this vision of our city.”

Residents are tired of their city being a polluted industrial zone.

 “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,” said Suter. “This week’s court ruling sends a message – public health must be a top priority for state officials.”

While Texas continues to lead the country in clean, affordable wind power, the future of the Las Brisas power plant remains unclear. Originally proposed in 2008, the plant currently lacks the required permits under the federal Clean Air Act to begin construction.

Sierra Club Texas will continue to help fight the proposed Las Brisas coal plant and help the community create a clean energy economy.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign

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