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Red River air rivalry has Oklahoma and Texas battling over air quality and coal plants

The approval of about a dozen new coal-fired power plants in Texas has Oklahoma officials and environmental groups worried about the effects on the Sooner State's air quality.
BY MICHAEL BAKER Modified: December 24, 2010 at 9:58 pm •  Published: December 24, 2010

This Oklahoma-Texas rivalry — with a bit of Nebraska mixed in — has to do with what blows across the Red River.

Texas environmental regulators earlier this month awarded air permits to an Omaha, Neb., developer of a cleaner coal-fired power plant, allowing construction to begin on a facility near Sweetwater in west Texas.

It's the third such coal plant permit issued this year by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. There are at least a dozen new coal-fired power plants either planned or in some stage of construction south of the Sooner State's border.

“The health of Oklahoma residents is put at risk by air pollution crossing our state border,” said Bud Scott, president of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club. “But not only does Texas air pollution affect our health, it's an economic issue as well.”

In September, a number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club's Oklahoma Chapter, filed a federal lawsuit against a Texas power company claiming it had more than 50,000 violations of air pollution regulations during the past five years at a coal plant in the east Texas city of Longview.

And while that lawsuit continues, several environmental groups sent a notice of intent to sue Tuesday to a Texas company operating a Titus County coal plant in east Texas.

State officials object

It's not just environmental groups objecting to the Texas coal plants.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and state Department of Environmental Quality Director Steve Thompson have expressed in writing their concerns about the number of coal-fired power plants under construction in Texas.

Thompson wrote a letter in April to Texas officials claiming that the commission repeatedly has failed to notify Oklahoma as required by law about any agency action that adversely may affect air quality in neighboring states.

“If ODEQ is not afforded the opportunity to provide comment on all new or modified major sources located in Texas ... then ODEQ will be forced to pursue all available options to ensure that this legal requirement is provided,” Thompson wrote.

Edmondson wrote a letter to the regional director for the Environmental Protection Agency in May, saying “there appears to be a concerted effort to rapidly permit and construct additional coal-fired plants” in Texas.

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