Sierra Club denounces the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s inadequate plan to address dangerous SO2 pollution at Vistra’s Martin Lake Coal Plant

TCEQ fails again to address the nation’s largest source of SO2 pollution at Martin Lake

AUSTIN, TX -- Today, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) voted to approve a weak and legally insufficient state implementation plan (SIP) to address the dangerous levels of SO2, or sulfur pollution, created by Vistra’s Martin Lake Coal Plant (Martin Lake) in Rusk County, Texas. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must now review the plan by this summer, as required by the Clean Air Act, and should reject the plan as insufficient and inadequate. 

TCEQ’s action today ignores the need for public health safeguards, like modern SO2 pollution controls, at Martin Lake, the nation’s largest source of SO2 pollution. Although Texas’s own certified air-quality monitors demonstrate that Martin Lake is causing violations of national safeguards for SO, TCEQ’s do-nothing plan relies on an unapproved modeling process and weak enforcement requirements in an attempt to show that the plant is not causing unlawful pollution levels.  But EPA’s approved modeling and the state’s own monitors make clear that TCEQ’s plan would not keep local  communities safe or meet the public health requirements of the Clean Air Act. As recently as last week, on February 5, 2022, the single TCEQ-approved SO2 monitor for Martin Lake reported a monitored value of 119 ppb, over 1.5X the public health standard of 75ppb. 

“Every industry and corporation deals with rules, regulations, and quality controls and Martin Lake should be no different. When regulations like a public health standard for SO2 are put in place, they should be implemented.” said Lacy Tuttle Beckman, longtime neighbor of the Martin Lake operations. “Leadership should strive to not simply meet rules but they should strive to exceed them.  That has not been done by Luminant (Martin Lake) and as a result many local people have been directly and unnecessarily exposed to the toxic pollution from the Martin Lake Plant for decades.” 

“TCEQ had to rely on unapproved and inaccurate modeling to squeak out a plan that didn’t require Vistra to upgrade the pollution controls on Martin Lake.”  said Chrissy Mann, senior campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.  “EPA has the opportunity and obligation to do right by the folks that live nearest to the largest source of SO2 pollution in the country, and to disapprove this plan. EPA should put in place a plan that will actually require real pollution reductions from this dirty, dangerous plant.”

Exposure to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide pollution for just a short time can make it hard to breathe, and prolonged exposure to persistent levels of sulfur dioxide can make it easier to get sick and harder to smell over time. Children, the elderly and people with asthma are most affected by high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution. Chronic exposure is associated with deadly lung and heart conditions. And sulfur dioxide pollution contributes to fine particulate matter which travels downwind, endangering families across Texas.

“I’ve lived out near the Martin Lake plant for as long as the plant has been around and have been exposed to the pollution for decades now,” said Paulette Goree, Panola County resident. “It's time for Martin Lake to clean up so that those of us that live near the plant can all breathe cleaner air and live healthier lives.”

Background on today’s action:

In 2017, EPA made the determination that the area immediately around Martin Lake is out of compliance with public health standards for SO2 levels. Texas was required to submit a plan to address this pollution by July 2018, but instead, Vistra allowed the pollution to more than double while joining state regulators to sue EPA. This happened even though TCEQ’s own air pollution monitor showed  and continues to show, harmful levels of SO2 pollution around Martin Lake. Finally, in July 2020, EPA directed TCEQ to propose a clean up plan. Unfortunately, TCEQ’s adopted plan continues to fail communities near Martin Lake.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit