An initiative by Texas regulators would allow the state to take control of regulating waste from its 17 coal power plants. This regulation currently resides with the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Advocates of the proposal argue the move will improve regulatory effectiveness. But critics say the plan seeks to prevent stricter rules that could come from the Biden administration.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality submitted its plan to the EPA after completing preparations to regulate coal in September. In December, the federal agency gave it the go-ahead. “It’s always better for the industry if the state has control instead of EPA,” explains Abel Russ, a senior attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “States are typically more favorably inclined to what the industry wants. That’s true not just in Texas, but across the country.”
The change would see a TCEQ team take over monitoring the disposal of coal ash by coal power plants. Coal ash is a by-product of burning coal that can release harmful substances into the environment if it is not stored appropriately. In 2019, an investigation by the Environmental Integrity Project found that all Texas coal plants released harmful substances into the water. These substances included arsenic, boron, cobalt, and lithium.
12 of the 16 sites examined by the investigators had unsafe levels of arsenic. This substance is known to increase the risk of some cancers. Boron was found in unsafe levels at nine sites. It is toxic to humans and aquatic life. Cobalt causes heart and blood problems and was identified in dangerous quantities at 13 locations. And at 10 sites, investigators found unsafe levels of lithium, which can trigger neurological problems.
The report stressed that these dangers could be removed by requiring storage sites to be cleaned up. The report also recommended stricter monitoring of groundwater and banning the burying of coal ash under the water table.