Report Shows Martin Lake Coal Plant Kills People Across Texas and State Lines

Simple solutions to reduce death toll remain untapped

Dallas, TX A new report by the Sierra Club has revealed that soot pollution from the Martin Lake coal plant in Tatum kills 154 people each year, making it the fifth most deadly coal plant in the nation. Because the plant still has no modern pollution controls despite advocates urging for these, Martin Lake emitted 47,000 tons of sulfur dioxide pollution in 2019 – more than all other U.S. coal plants. 

When Martin Lake burns coal to produce electricity, it releases massive amounts of pollution that affect communities near and far. These contaminants include sulfur dioxide, which forms soot, a deadly mix of metals, chemicals, and acidic substances that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, leading to asthma attacks, stroke, heart disease, COPD, Parkinson’s disease, dementia, low birth weight, preterm birth, and infant mortality. 

“Who needs to grasp the weight of these mortality findings the most?” said Misti O’Quinn, Dallas Beyond Coal Organizer. “The people in East Texas already know that their air is unhealthy. Yet Luminant is allowed to continue operating Martin Lake with no modern controls to reduce the amount of soot pollution. This report should speak loudly to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which has allowed the plant to run at its current pollution levels, and the Texas Legislature that is voting on TCEQ’s sunset bill this session. But, by and large, the EPA needs to sit with these numbers and consider the impact of its failure to clean up this plant.”

Martin Lake is killing the most people in Dallas and Tarrant counties, because of their proximity to the plant and their high populations. Both counties made the report’s list of U.S. counties with the most total coal-related premature deaths. Meanwhile, in the less-populated towns surrounding the plant – like Tatum, Henderson, and Longview – there are fewer total deaths, but the impact and per-capita death toll is huge.

While the report, titled “Out of Control: The Deadly Impact of Coal Pollution,” focuses on just coal’s impact, the real human toll of soot pollution – which also comes from concrete batch plants, shingle manufacturers, and vehicle traffic – is undoubtedly much higher. And it is more severe for communities of color due to the longstanding racist practice of redlining, which results in many industrial facilities operating in these neighborhoods. Cleaning up soot pollution from coal plants in Texas is a simple first step to reducing these impacts. 

Texas kills the most people inside its own borders with coal than any other state. But the wind also imports and exports soot pollution. Texas has the second highest total deaths due to all U.S. coal plants and it kills the second highest number of people in other states from Texas coal plants. These wind patterns cause Martin Lake’s pollution to kill just as many people in Harris County as it does in Dallas and Tarrant counties, an addition to the massive air pollution that these Gulf Coast residents are already breathing from local sources.

“The people of Harris County – especially those who live across from the Houston Ship Channel – carry the immense burden of air pollution created in our own neighborhoods,” said Bryan Parras, a Healthy Communities campaign representative for the Sierra Club. “And now we know we are also suffering losses from plants that are hundreds of miles away. All of these risks are more than we should ever ask one community to bear. Yet the state of Texas, and the EPA, continue to let wealthy industrial corporations harm our residents for no other reason than profit. We need stronger rules from federal regulators and state leaders who are fed up with the myth that this industry is in any way good for our people.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has numerous opportunities to reduce soot pollution from Martin Lake. The Sierra Club sued the agency last week for EPA’s failure to implement a federal clean-up plan for the plant’s sulfur dioxide pollution. EPA also recently released an updated draft standard on soot pollution limits, which would bring several counties into “non-attainment” status and force pollution reductions. Overall, however, the draft standard was weaker than needed, and numerous people and organizations are urging the agency to strengthen it. EPA is additionally expected to soon release updated rules for pollution that travels across state lines.

Utilities like Luminant, and its parent company Vistra, can also save their ratepayers money, clean the air, and save lives. Building clean energy is more cost effective than continuing to run existing coal plants, and the newly passed Inflation Reduction Act has clean energy incentives as well as incentives to aid utilities in debt relief for their existing coal assets.

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