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Researchers Say Texas Regulations Ignore Most Harmful Pollutants from Coal

A new study says sulfur dioxide is the most dangerous pollutant coming from Texas coal plants.

Travis Bubenik/Houston Public Media

Researchers say regulators in Texas are basically ignoring the most harmful kinds of air pollutants that come from Texas coal plants.

A new study from Houston’s Rice University found that sulfur dioxide emissions from the plants, which lead to particulate matter pollution, pose greater health risks than the pollutants that cause ozone smog.

But Texas mostly focuses on tackling smog because the state has had a harder time meeting federal limits on it, says Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineering professor who led the study.

“And so even though particulate matter is deadlier, our focus has been more on the pollution that we fail to attain, rather than the pollutant that we do barely attain, but that is still causing substantial health damages,” he said.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality does monitor for particulate matter pollution, but because the state doesn’t violate standards for the pollutant set by the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency doesn’t conduct computer modeling that would predict its concentrations in the air.

The study is set to be published in the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. The researchers came to their conclusions by looking at the potential air quality and health effects of further power plant closures in Texas. The state has already lost three coal plants in 2018 and is set to lose another by the end of the year.

Cohan says the good news for public health is that Texas coal will likely continue to be edged out by cheaper natural gas and renewable energy sources.

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