Texas Groups Urge EPA to Break Up With Haze, Commit to Clean Air

Upcoming federal rule should require reduced pollution from TX coal plants

Lindsay Mader, lindsay.mader@sierraclub.org  

DALLAS, TX – Today speakers from environmental, public health, and community groups gathered outside the EPA Region 6 Office in Dallas and urged the agency to strengthen its federal rule on regional haze. Embracing the Valentine’s Day holiday, the groups advocated for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to show its love for people and parks and break up with the fossil fuel pollution that causes haze.

This smoggy-like substance forms when pollution, like sulfur dioxide from coal plants, mixes with other particles in the air. Because sulfur dioxide can travel long distances, it creates haze in far-off areas of the state and even across state lines in Oklahoma and Arkansas. It also causes serious health impacts in often-marginalized communities who live near pollution sources, like the Martin Lake coal plant near Dallas and the Parish coal plant near Houston. In fact, Texas has the third-most active coal plants of any other state, and our coal plants emit the most sulfur dioxide in the country. The federal Clean Air Act requires Texas to reduce regional haze and protect visibility in our two national parks, which would also clean the air for these impacted communities.

“Texas has proposed plans that would let the skies of Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks hang heavy with haze for decades,” said Emma Pabst, campaign representative with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “EPA must act now because Texas isn’t going to. Our national parks provide essential access to the peace and tranquility of the outdoors to all Texans. We have a mandate to clear these hazy skies and pass them to the next generation. The fact that this would save lives cannot be overlooked.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has consistently failed to put forth a plan that would meaningfully reduce haze, so the EPA stepped in to bring the state into compliance with the Clean Air Act. But while the EPA under President Obama proposed a strong regional haze rule that would have saved an estimated 600 lives every year, the Trump Administration significantly weakened it. Now, EPA under President Biden is due to release the updated proposed rule in late March, and groups are urging for it to be significantly stronger. 

“It’s unacceptable that so many coal plants in our state are allowed to operate without modern pollution controls,” said Paulette Goree, an East Texas resident. “Martin Lake is the worst sulfur dioxide polluter in the entire country. This lack of controls hurts people in our communities and benefits the fossil fuel industry and nobody else – not even ratepayers because we know that switching to clean energy is cheaper. Cleaning up these coal plants would reduce health problems for the next generation and would be in line with the law. It’s hard to argue against something that makes so much sense.”

“Some people say the regional haze rule is meant to clear hazy skies, not reduce people’s suffering,” said Alondra Torres, a climate justice organizer with Air Alliance Houston. “Well, Texas isn’t even doing that. The state is failing to reduce haze all while the Parish coal plant contributes to an estimated 177 premature deaths every year. The people of Houston and all Texans are worth more than this. It’s past time for EPA to make right what Texas has made wrong.”

“I was recently working in the ICU, admitting the sickest patients,” said Dr. Peter Kentros with Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Many of them had COPD, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and other diseases associated with sulfur dioxide. The hardest part of my job is sitting down with a patient and their family and explaining that we don’t think they are going to make it. It is gutting on so many levels: realizing all the people impacted by that person’s life, the absence it creates in our communities, and the grief it causes our own neighbors. What’s worse, I know that if pollution was properly regulated, I would be having less of these conversations. This suffering, which hurts poor communities the most, is partly preventable, and the EPA has the authority to prevent this harm.”

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 www.sierraclub.org.