EPA plans to withdraw pollution regulations for seven Texas power plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it plans to voluntarily withdraw a requirement that seven Texas coal-fired power plants reduce pollution, according to a filing with a federal appeals court.

The so-called regional haze rule is part of the Clean Air Act and was proposed two years ago with the goal of cleaning up the air in national parks. The act requires states to craft a plan to address air pollution, or else be forced to implement a plan compiled by the EPA. Texas declined to create a plan, and along with power plant owners took its objections to the EPA’s plan to court.

The EPA said it plans to soon file a motion to withdraw the regional haze rule with U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is reviewing it. The agency is not expected to scrap the rule, but  rather to reevaluate its requirements  come back with a reworked  rule, according to the Sierra Club, a national environmental advocacy group. The original rule targeted sulfur dioxide pollution in national parks, and required that coal-fire power plants use scrubbers, air pollution control devices, to reduce emissions.

The rule would apply to seven power plants that the EPA claims affect air quality in Big Bend National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the only two national parks in Texas. Big Bend is along the state’s western border with Mexico and the Guadalupe Mountains run along the Texas-New Mexico border.

Texas-based electric utility Luminant owns four of the power plants, Big Brown, Monticello, Martin Lake and Sandow, which are in north or east Texas. The other power plants are in southern and central Texas, including Coleto Creek, soon to be owned by the Houston-based energy company Dynegy, and Limestone, owned by NRG Energy. One West Texas power plant was also on the list, Tolk, owned by Xcel Energy.

Luminant and NRG declined comment. The other companies could not be immediately reached.