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Houston Matters

Should Health Risks From Coal Plants Be A Higher Priority For TCEQ?

Rice environmental engineering professor Daniel Cohan discusses who’s responsibility it is to insure Texas coal plants comply with federal emission standards.

The recent closure of Martin Lake and other coal-fired power plants is one reason the state's grid operator is concerned that demand for power could outpace supply this summer — or at least come very close to it.


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A new study from Rice University finds sulfur dioxide emissions from Texas coal plants pose greater health risks than pollutants that cause ozone smog. And yet, the state mostly focuses on tackling the smog. Why?

According to Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineering professor who led the study, it's because the state has a harder time meeting federal limits on smog.

As it stands, the environmental benchmark limits set by the federal government don't exactly match health priorities.

How can we change that? Is it up to the EPA? Or TCEQ? And since coal plants have been closing in Texas (three so far in 2018 with another set to close by the end of the year), is this a short-term problem, or is the Trump administration's effort to prop up coal extending the health damage done by coal plants in Texas?

We ask Cohan to walk us through his study and discuss whose responsibility it is to fix the problem, and how TCEQ could use computer modeling to predict concentrations of particulate matter in the air.

Promulgation of Air Quality Implementation Plans; State of Texas; Regional Haze and Interstate Visibility Transport Federal Implementation Plan: