“There are days when the pollution is so bad it blocks out the sun,” says Carol Taylor a Texas resident living fifteen miles from a TXU operated power plant. TXU, a “political powerhouse” and the operator of four coal-fired power plants in Texas and owner of three of the five worst polluting plants in the country has been inaccurately reporting its sulfur dioxide emissions to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 1997, reports the Center for Public Integrity. A review conducted by CPI showed that from 1997 to 2006, “TXU’s coal-fired plants exceeded federal emission limits nearly 650 times, spewing more than 1.3 million pounds of excess sulfur dioxide into the Texas air.” How has TXU over-emitted for ten years with one $720 violation penalty? Joaquin Sapien from Fort Worth Weekly reports that enforcement is not adequately regulated on the federal level: “Although the EPA keeps records, it relies on state agencies to enforce federal air pollution standards. In Texas, state law requires companies to file deviation reports to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality when a power plant exceeds federal emissions limits.” The TCEQ has allowed power plants to “self-report” their emissions levels and has failed to compare filed reports from the plants with federal data from the EPA.
Sapien reports that:
Prominent doctors in the east Texas medical community are concerned that TCEQ may have failed to force TXU to adhere to its federal emissions limits. “The tools I have to help people suffering from chest disease and respiratory ailments are fairly limited, and if they [TCEQ] are letting polluters exceed their limits, then they are counteracting what we are trying do here, as physicians,” said Dr. David Coultas, a pulmonologist at the University of Texas Health Center at Tyler, one of the nation’s most prestigious lung and chest disease research institutions, located about 25 miles west of Martin Lake. He said many of his patients complain that their symptoms are intensified on days when air pollution is particularly bad.
Texas citizens are addressing health and environmental threats through grassroots activism, lawsuits and lobbying. Records gathered by the Center for Public Integrity show that, “air quality enforcement came at the point of a citizen lawsuit, not from the agency (TCEQ).” However, citizens are facing a “formidable opponent” in their efforts to ensure clean air.
According to Texans for Public Justice, TXU and two investor groups spent approximately $17 million during the 2007 Texas legislative session on lobbyists, advertising, food and beverages, entertainment, and gifts — including sending 2,400 tacos to legislators and their aides on the first day of the session. TXU is never a slouch when it comes to lobbying. During the 2006 election cycle, according to another Texans for Public Justice report, TXU gave contributions to all but seven members of the Texas Legislature.
In addressing the causes of reporting discrepancies that have allowed TXU, other coal-fired power plants and oil companies to over-emit, “Eric Schaeffer, the former EPA official, said the findings show the need for TCEQ — and the legislature — to rethink whether TCEQ’s self-reporting system actually works.”