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Alleged Martin Lake pollution violations focus of lawsuit

From Staff Reports
Sept. 2, 2010 at 7 p.m.

Several environmental groups led by the Sierra Club on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Texas-based power plant operator Luminant alleging it has been getting by with air pollution violations at the Martin Lake Power Plant without paying fines that should be attached to those violations.

A company spokeswoman said those allegations for the plant, about 25 miles south of Longview, are without merit.

The groups are seeking enforcement of federal Environmental Protection Agency air pollution rules they allege the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has failed to enforce, said Jen Jen Powis, Sierra Club spokesman. More than 50,000 air pollution violations during the past five years at the coal-fired power plant led to the action filed in Texarkana federal court, they said.

Although the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is charged with enforcing violations of the Clean Air Act in the state, its "enforcement policy and practice have ignored" Martin Lake's emissions, the environmental group said.

"While this legal challenge alleges over 50,000 violations for the last five years, TCEQ has not issued one enforcement notice, nor corrected any of the deficiencies at the plant through that same time period," the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter said in a prepared statement.

"Our intent is to seek strict enforcement of fines that should go with those violations," Powis said. "The purpose of those fines is to discourage future violations. We feel they should be held accountable."

Luminant spokeswoman Ashley Monts said the company has attempted to work with representatives of the environmental groups without success.

"We are disappointed that Sierra Club has decided to use litigation instead of continuing a dialogue with us that we initiated after receiving Sierra Club's expression of alleged concerns," Monts said late Thursday. "We have most recently reached out to Sierra Club through its lawyers in the last few months, but they expressed no interest in continuing discussions."

Monts said the company will now "shift some attention to demonstrating through the litigation process that Sierra Club's allegations are without merit and unsupported by the law."

The Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice and Environmental Integrity Project, filed the lawsuit alleging the plant "is one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation."

In a prepared statement issued by the environmental contingent, they said Martin Lake "is the worst power plant for mercury pollution among all U.S. coal plants, emitting 1,764 pounds in 2008." They said that information comes from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory.

"In Texas, Martin Lake ranked third for asthma-causing soot pollution and was responsible for 13 percent of all industrial air pollution in the state," the environment groups said, based on TCEQ's 2008 industrial Emissions Inventory database,

Monts said Luminant's 900 employees at the Martin Lake facility "will continue to focus on their daily commitment to rigorously following the Clean Air Act and responsibly." She said the company is founding member of the Northeast Texas Air Care group and has consistently worked with the community and implemented emission reductions.

The Sierra Club's Powis said the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has ignored years of repeated excessive soot pollution and other violations at the Martin Lake plant, "putting the health of nearby communities at risk." The lawsuit is based largely on company self-reported emissions data that indicates the coal-fired power plant is emitting far more fine particle pollution than it should.

The environmental groups said those fine particles from power plants have been linked to asthma attacks, lung ailments, and premature deaths.

Andrea Morrow, spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the agency typically does not comment on pending litigation.



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