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Environment Texas
Houston Chronicle
Jordan Blum

Texas' largest power plant - the W.A. Parish coal station near Houston - won't require additional monitoring because its sulfur dioxide emission levels fall within acceptable federal guidelines. 

The massive coal plant has long drawn the ire of environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Environment Texas because of air quality concerns. A Sierra Club study in September, which NRG contended used incorrect data, claimed the plant easily exceeded allowable sulfur dioxide emissions in isolated ares where the pollution was most concentrated.

NRG saw a level of vindication in the EPA ruling. NRG is completing its $1 billion carbon-capture project there to retain emissions of carbon dioxide and sell the gas to elsewhere in oil production. The carbon dioxide is injected into wells to help loosen up and release oil as part of a process called enhanced oil recovery.

"NRG is proud of the extensive emission control systems installed at the Parish plant that make it an exceptionally clean plant, and as this EPA designation proves, one that does not impact the health of our neighbors," NRG spokesman Dave Knox said in an email. "As we finish construction of the groundbreaking carbon capture system at Parish, the plant will continue to move in the right direction and become even cleaner.''

The Sierra Club, however, scoffed at the EPA findings. The national advocacy group contended the plant's pollution is equal to eight times the sulfur dioxide emitted by all the refineries in the Houston area combined.

Chrissy Mann, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Texas, said the federal agency came up short for Texas.

"It's our hope that NRG, which so publicly touts innovation, will understand its obligation to the communities where it operates by installing modern, life-saving and widely available pollution control technology at the W.A. Parish coal plant outside Houston, as well as all of its coal-fired power plants," Mann said in a statement.

Mann also noted in her statement that the pending carbon capture project will only trap carbon dioxide from 10 percent of the plant's coal generation.

Luke Metzger, the director for Environment Texas, faulted the way the EPA collected the data, arguing that NRG's own Parish emissions data is marginally acceptable and should have factored in additional pollution from other industries throughout the region.

"NRG should not be proud of this fact," Metzger stated.

The one area in Texas that will require additional monitoring is near Amarillo's Harrington coal plant, which is owned by Minnesota-based Xcel Energy.