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EPA calls for SO2 emissions upgrades at 14 Texas power plants

The U.S. EPA has proposed emissions cuts for 14 coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in Texas, which will now have to upgrade or install scrubbers to meet the regional haze rule for sulfur dioxide.

Issued Dec. 9, the proposed rule is the latest development in a legal battle centering on the EPA's decision to partially deny a regional haze plan for Texas and impose a federal implementation plan, or FIP, on the state. The regional haze rule requires states to develop plans to mitigate visibility concerns in national parks caused by pollution from power plants and other sources. The EPA may step in and promulgate a plan if a state fails to submit one or if some or all of a submitted plan is deemed insufficient.

This most recent regulatory action in the matter lays out the technology, called the best available retrofit technology, or BART, that the power plants will need to employ to lower emissions of SO2 that can move across state lines and impact visibility in national parks. The EPA's proposed FIP for Texas also addressed nitrogen oxides, or NOx, and particulate matter, but the agency is proposing that separate, existing rules will achieve the requisite emissions reductions to meet the regional haze rule's requirements for those pollutants.

In its newest proposed rule, the EPA singled out power plants owned by Luminant Generation Co. LLC, Engie, Xcel Energy Inc., CPS Energy, NRG Energy Inc., American Electric Power Co. Inc. and others. Some of those plants had been included in earlier editions of the EPA's FIP for Texas, which was challenged in federal court, but some are new additions.

The power plants that do not already have SO2 emissions scrubbers will need to install equipment in line with the EPA's four recommendations: coal pre-treatment, dry sorbent injection, spray dryer absorber and wet flue gas desulfurization. Some of the power plants have scrubbers, and the EPA will later determine whether that equipment can be upgraded. The gas-fired units will only need to make changes if they co-fire with fuel oil.

A public hearing will be held Jan. 10, 2017, in Austin, Texas, to accept comments. That puts the final version of Texas' FIP into the hands of the incoming Trump administration, which will have the last say on whether the plants will ultimately have to make any changes.

Luminant, a subsidiary of Vistra Energy Corp., had five power plants listed in the proposed FIP: Big Brown, Graham, Monticello ST, Martin Lake and Stryker Creek. This is the second time in as many weeks that the EPA has singled out Luminant's power plants for SO2 pollution. The agency also cited Big Brown, Monticello and Martin Lake in a Nov. 29 rulemaking that officially added those power plants to the list of facilities that will need to make changes for the 2010 National Ambient Air Quality Standards for SO2. With those finalized designations, Luminant likely will have to make changes to those three plants at least unless the new EPA administrator can withdraw or change the previous designations in some way.

The EPA offered to withdraw its federally mandated plan if regulators in Texas submit their own approvable plan. The state also could demonstrate that its emissions are not harming visibility in areas beyond its borders.

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