The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved an air permit for the $3 billion Las Brisas petroleum coke-fired power plant in Corpus Christi against the recommendations of two state administrative law judges and the Environmental Protection Agency. (Read the story from KUT.)
The EPA sent a letter to Commissioners this week asking them to deny the permit until the two agencies can resolve issues with it.
The two administrative judges recommended against the permit because on one instance, the company failed to show that the facility would not emit pollution beyond air quality standards. On the other instance, the TCEQ executive director helped the company prepare pollution forecasts in the application.
The TCEQ's Office of the Public Interest Counsel (OPIC) also recommended against the permit. The Counsel, created by the Legislature, represents citizen concerns in cases before the Commission. Scott Humphrey, assistant counsel with the TCEQ's OPIC told commissioners that the modeling used to show air quality standards was not the most "conservative" and the help received from the staff of TCEQ's executive director, while said to be unintentional, was still inappropriate.
"We think the appropriate role for the executive director in a case was to go ahead and review the applicants modeling and say we find all these problems in it, which is in the record, and stop right there," Humphrey said during today's commissioners' meeting. "And say the applicant failed to meet its burden of proof because the modeling doesn't show compliance with the NAAQS (National Ambient Air Quailty Standards)."
"By going one step further and doing it's own work, from our point of view, it almost appears that the ED (executive director) would be saying, 'If we were the applicant, this is the way we would have proven the case ourselves,'" he said.
The Commissioners went ahead and approved the permit. But Las Brisas still faces challenges. It must still get a greenhouse gas permit from the EPA, and environmental groups say they intend to challenge the legality of the plant. Jennifer Powis with the Sierra Club said the organization plans to file an appeal within the next couple of weeks.
"By all means will appeal this process and we will appeal at the state district court noting that this application failed under numerous criteria," Powis said today during a teleconference with reporters. "For example, recently, EPA rules and regulations that have already gone final on the one-hour NOx and SOx rules, those were not addressed at all in that application."