Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Emissions

Environmentalists push for more regulation of chemical emissions

By GREG ROHLOFF

AMARILLO, Sept. 26, 2000 (Amarillo Business Journal)— An environmental coalition is calling for stricter standards on chemical releases by power plants, but a utility spokesman said the concerns were misplaced.

Peter Altman, citing statistics compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency, said Texas coal-fired power plants are the second-largest producer of toxic chemical releases in the state with more than 33 million pounds released in 1998.

“The EPA data confirms what we’ve suspected for years—that these coal-burning power plants are a major source of toxic pollution,” Altman said in a prepared statement at an Austin press conference in August. “Tens of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals from power plants are going into our air, our water and our land.”

Though the environmental group said health risks were the reason for stricter emission standards, SPS spokesman Bill Crenshaw downplayed those risks, citing previous EPA studies that he said concluded such emissions pose no health risks.

“The EPA report to Congress clearly established that there is no reason to further control emissions that these late-comers are challenging today,” Crenshaw said.

He said SPS and its parent company, New Century Energies, had previously posted its air-emission figures on its Web site, ncenergies.com.

Altman, though, contends that the EPA data indicates that power plants are the largest industrial source of acid gases in the atmosphere, including hydrochloric, sulfuric and hydrofluoric acid, and that power plants also release toxic metals into the air, water and land.

He called for Congress to set stricter standards to cut toxic emissions from power plants, and for the Public Utilities Commission at an Aug. 24 hearing to set tougher rules for existing power plants.

The proposed PUC rule would require that older plants be replaced if the cost of retrofitting older power plants to meet stricter air standards would be greater than building a new power plant.

SPS ranked fifth among state utilities for emissions, according to the figures.

Although the numbers are large—a combined 805,000 pounds from the Tolk and Harrington stations in 1998—most of that is trapped in the fly ash that the plants’ environmental system collects, Crenshaw said. The fly ash is used as a paving material in road beds.

Altman conceded that chemical wastes trapped in the roadbed material is relatively benign, but he said he was concerned about what percentage was not trapped in the fly ash, and how other chemical wastes are disposed of.

When natural gas cost about $2 per thousand cubic feet or less a year ago, it was viewed as a cheap source of cleaner burning fuel for electrical generation, but as those power plants have come on-line in recent months, the price of natural gas has doubled, placing in doubt the adequacy of gas supplies for this winter’s heating season.

Altman said the state should consider alternate sources of energy, such as wind power, and requiring greater energy efficiency in new homes and commercial buildings.

To see more of the Amarillo Business Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.businessjournal.net.

© 2000, Amarillo Business Journal, Texas. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.