Last summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put Dallas-based power generator Luminant on notice, warning the utility that its northeast Texas Big Brown and Martin Lake plants were in violation of the Clean Air Act. The company's coal-fired plants, EPA contended, had been modified, resulting in a "significant" increase in air pollution.
Apparently, nothing has been resolved. On Friday, the U.S, Department of Justice filed an enforcement action in federal district court on behalf of the EPA, ostensibly seeking a court order to force Luminant to clean up the emissions of plants that are among the dirtiest in the country.
The case is currently filed under seal. The Sierra Club's Jenna Garland tells Unfair Park this is because Luminant claims some of the information contained within is confidential. We do, however, know from last year's notice that if a power plant is modified in a way that increases its generating capacity or prolongs its life, it must receive a permit from the EPA and install up-to-date pollution-control technology like scrubbers and baghouses. EPA alleges Luminant did none of this.
The Big Brown and Martin Lake plants are members of a 70s-era generation of plants that Congress grandfathered from compliance with the Clean Air Act at its passage. After all, why subject plants to an expensive retrofit when they might only have a remaining useful life of a couple of decades or less? But that exemption evaporates if they're modified.
We've reached out to Luminant, and will include a response when we receive it.
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For Luminant, it might not be the best time to invest in pricey pollution controls. As we noted earlier this week, its parent company, Energy Future Holdings, could be pushed into bankruptcy as early as the end of the year, according to its senior creditors. The company was taken private by KKR and Goldman Sachs in the biggest leveraged buyout in history. It has been limping from quarterly loss to quarterly loss ever since.