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Is a Houston-Area Coal-Fired Power Plant Emitting Too Much of a Deadly Pollutant?

Is a Houston-Area Coal-Fired Power Plant Emitting Too Much of a Deadly Pollutant?

It’s sort of overlooked here in Greater Houston amid a prominent oil and gas industry, but we do still have coal-fired power plants. And a recent report from the Sierra Club is singling out one such plant in Fort Bend County.

Today, we talk with the Sierra Club’s Chrissy Mann. She’s the Senior Campaign Representative with the organization’s “Beyond Coal” campaign. She talks about why the group studied this power plant and the health issues they say nearby residents are facing because of the plant’s pollution.

Then, we consider the present and future of coal in the Greater Houston area and across Texas with Loren Steffy, a writer-at-large for Texas Monthly, and a columnist for EnergyVoice.com.

One Deadly Pollutant Persists In A Fast-Growing Houston Suburb (News 88.7, Sept. 10, 2015)
Sierra Club Report on the W.A. Parish Power Plant
NRG Fact Sheet on the W.A Parish plant in Fort Bend County

Statement from NRG Spokesperson David Knox:

“First and foremost, WA Parish meets all EPA and state air permit and emission requirements for operation.


As for National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), the best way to demonstrate that the NAAQS for SO2 is being attained is through actual measurements of ambient air over an extended period of time.   At this time, there are no SO2 monitors in Fort Bend County.  Nearby monitors in Greater Houston, northeast of Parish, and in Freeport, TX,  south-southeast of Parish, show the air quality to be in attainment with the SO2 NAAQS.   In fact, even all monitors in the heavily industrialized Houston Ship Channel area are demonstrating attainment with the SO2 standard.   In the absence of monitoring data , air quality modeling can be used as an indicator of air quality.   Modeling is complex and requires a substantial amount of inputs and assumptions, related to meteorology, emissions, etc.


As the authors of the Beyond Coal campaign, it is not surprising that Sierra’s assumptions, interpretations and modeling would made to show Fort Bend County around the Parish plant to be over the standard.


NRG has provided detailed modeling to the EPA that shows that Fort Bend County and the area around Parish is attaining the SO2 NAAQS. The lead environmental agency for the state of Texas, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has also filed with the EPA that Fort Bend in in compliance.  The ultimate determination will be made by the EPA and we are confident that determination will show that Fort Bend County is in attainment.


I would also add that NRG is leading a $1 billion effort to build America’s first carbon capture facility on an existing coal plant at Parish.  In addition to capturing 90% of the carbon dioxide in the processed flue gas, it will also capture virtually all of the sulfur from that flue gas. Construction on that project is on schedule and on budget and the carbon capture system should be operational by the end of 2016.”

About the Author

Michael Hagerty

Michael HagertyMichael Hagerty is the Senior Producer for Houston Matters. He has a degree in journalism from Abilene Christian University and has served as news director for NPR and PBS stations around Texas and The West, including: KUNR-FM in Reno, Nev.; KNPB-TV in Reno, Nev.; and KWBU-TV/FM in Waco, Texas. He got his start on the air as a college student hosting Morning Edition at KACU-FM in Abilene, Texas. A native of the Chicago area and an avid Cubs fan, Michael spent four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.View all posts by Michael Hagerty →

  1. Neil CarmanNeil Carman09-28-2015

    As a scientist and former TCEQ inspector of large industrial facilities, I read with great interest Mr. Knox’s comments about NRG Parish’s SO2 emissions. Mr. Knox never acknowledged the fact that for the past 10 years of public data that NRG has been pumping out nearly 100 million pounds of toxic SO2 per year into the air over neighborhood schools and playgrounds where small kids with small lungs are running around.

    And while capturing carbon is very interesting, the “processed flue gas” that Mr. Knox refers to that would have CO2 and SO2 removed from it amounts to right around MERELY 10 percent of all the pollution emitted from the plant. I think 1 billion dollars should be able to buy the thousands of kids and families of Fort Bend County better than a 10 percent reduction in SO2. This is a big plant run by a big company. NRG needs to step up and clean up its act.