TCEQ Approves Air Permit for Texas Coke–Fired Project, Despite EPA Objections

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) last week voted 2-0 to approve an air permit for the 1,300-MW Las Brisas Energy Center. The approval for the $3.2 billion petroleum coke–fired project planned for Corpus Christi, Texas, comes despite objections from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and recommendations by two administrative law judges against the permit’s issuance.

The plant will still need to obtain a wastewater permit—under review by the TCEQ—and a greenhouse gas permit, which will be handled by the EPA. The plant’s construction is expected to begin later this year, and the plant should be commercially operational in 2015, the Las Brisas Energy Center said in a statement last week.

The company filed for the air permit in May 2008, which places emissions limits on the plant that are “lower than any other solid fuel fired power plant in the state of Texas,” it said, adding: “The power station will use environmentally advanced pollution control technology to drastically reduce emissions as compared to conventional coal plants.”

The plant is the first facility in Texas to receive an air permit since federal regulations on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions took effect on Jan. 2. After a drawn-out sparring match between Texas and the federal agency concerning GHG permitting, the EPA finally seized the state’s GHG permitting authority last month.

In a statement, Las Brisas Energy Center said simply that it would employ “Best Available Control Technology for greenhouse gases, satisfying all EPA proposed requirements.”

EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Lawrence Starfield in a letter to the TCEQ last week urged the state agency to delay issuing the permit based on concerns regarding particulates, mercury, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide emissions. “We continue to have strong concerns about the public health and environmental impacts of this project based on our review,” he wrote.

But during their hearing on the permit last week, TCEQ commissioners focused more on the recommendations by two state administrative law judges, Tommy Broyles and Craig Bennett, who had twice recommended that the TCEQ not issue the permit.

According to the Corpus Christi Caller Times, the judges decided that the plant met regulations only after TCEQ staff “changed some aspects of the company’s computer models showing how its emissions could affect the area’s pollution levels.”

Sources: POWERnews, TCEQ, Las Brisas Energy Center, Corpus Christi Caller Times, EPA

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