Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said a pollution rule adopted this month that has infuriated many Texas officials is "not onerous" and could be enacted "cheaply and efficiently."
Jackson visited Austin today, and after she emerged from an afternoon meeting with green energy leaders at the Driskill Hotel, The Texas Tribune asked her about concerns voiced this week by Trip Doggett, the head of the state grid operator, that the timing of the rule was "unreasonable" because it goes into effect in January 2012. Doggett also said it could cause "many" Texas coal plants to close or limit their operations.
Jackson's response is as follows:
Wel, three points. I'm happy to talk to ERCOT and we're going to reach out to them to understand their concerns. But three things. Remember, the cross-state pollution rule is really the next generation of CAIR, which was proposed under Bush administration. Texas is a part of it. There is no surprise here for facilities. Don't forget the extraordinary public health benefits. We're talking about between 670 and [number unclear on tape] lives each year starting in 2014. That's Texans. And that equates to billions, between $5 and $14 billion in health costs.
Last but not least, this is not an onerous rule. Our modeling shows that over 50 percent of the pollution, the particle pollution, the soot that we're worried about, comes from three plants. This is technology that's out there that other plants have. Actually much of Texas's generation is quite clean, and so our model shows this can be done cheaply and efficiently.
Jackson was joined at the afternoon event, billed as the White House Green Cabinet Forum, by Martha Johnson, the administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, and Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Sutley, who also visited Houston recently, said that the cross-state pollution rule "is an important step forward for public health, and [we] think it's a smart and sensible approach."
Asked about the purpose of the trip to Austin, Sutley said, "It's helpful to get out and talk to folks." In the morning, the group unveiled an initiative to promote recycling of electronic waste.
An EPA official traveling with Jackson, Jose Lozano, said that "no state officials were present," when asked via email whether Jackson had met state officials during the Austin trip. Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator, said she did not even know Jackson was in town, and that Doggett was traveling. Andy Saenz, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state environmental agency, said in an email that TCEQ was not "afforded an opportunity to meet one on one with administrator Jackson during her visit to Austin today," and that TCEQ officials are "disappointed that she has repeatedly turned down our requests to discuss Texas environmental issues with members of the TCEQ."
Texas officials from the governor on down have spent months blasting the agency for what they see as burdensome rules. Gov. Rick Perry called the pollution rule finalized this month "heavy-handed and misguided." The rule will require cleaner technology in some of the state's dirtiest coal plants because of the potential impact of their pollution, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, on other states. Texas officials say that Texas was included in some aspects of the rule at the last minute, and they argue that the rule could cause some coal-fired power plants to close, raising electricity costs and jeopardizing electric grid reliability. Coal provides nearly 40 percent of the power on the Texas grid.
Russel Smith, executive director of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, said the afternoon meeting at the Driskill of the Green Cabinet Forum included a lengthy discussion of working to increase the efficiency of federal buildings, as well as the impact of coming federal budget cuts. "It was expressed that this gives them the opportunity to do more with less, taking a positive look at it," Smith said.
The administrators, he added, "offered some encouragement to the renewable energy sector, that they're always looking for ways to try to be supportive of renewables and efficiency, and from all three agencies there's always opportunities. So we're pleased with that clearly."