On the northern end of the Corpus Christi ship canal, in the shadow of six major oil refineries, sit several large black mounds. They’re piles of petroleum coke, the carbon solids left over from the process of refining. Across the canal there are several hundred homes where locals live, known as Refinery Row. And until this week, the Las Brisas Energy Center was close to building a power plant that would burn that coke for energy.
In a letter Monday, Judge Stephen Yelenosky of the 345th Judicial District Civil Court said he intends to reverse the potential plant’s air permit. The Las Brisas power plant was given the permit in January 2011 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). But in his announcement, the judge found several things wrong with how the TCEQ processed the permit, and said it failed to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act, among other issues.
“The letter basically says that he found a number of legal errors in the TCEQ’s decision to grant the permit,” says attorney Erin Fonken with the Environmental Integrity Project, which was one of the parties that brought the case to court. “These aren’t just little things where they didn’t check a box. There are substantial analyses that [the TCEQ] failed to have the applicant do at all. These are some pretty serious errors.”
Without the air permit, which the company called “an important project milestone” when it was issued, things get set back significantly.
“They’d have to do the analysis of air toxin emissions, emissions from material handling,” says Fonken. “This puts them back into a much earlier stage of having to build the plant.”
Fonken says that once the judge issues his final order it, “will be a binding legal mechanism,” but that it could take a while to come out.
In an email to StateImpact Texas, the TCEQ responded to the judge’s letter by saying that “the TCEQ maintains that the technical review and issuance of the air quality permit was conducted in accordance with all applicable state and federal regulations and requirements and is protective of public health.” It added that the commission “continues to review the details of the judge’s letter and will review the order when issued to determine its course of action.”
The challenge was brought by a coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the Corpus Christi Clean Economy Coalition, and several Texas cities.
The Sierra Club says that if the plant is built, it “would emit approximately 12 million tons per year of greenhouse gases, as well as thousands of tons per year of dangerous pollutants that contribute to smog pollution and health impacts such as asthma attacks and heart disease.”
Even if the plant ultimately gets the permit re-issued by the TCEQ, it will still have to get a greenhouse gas permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Here is the letter in full: