Texas Leads The Nation In Air Pollution

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On Wednesday, the EPA released an extensive database that offers an unprecedented level of detail on greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in particular) in the United States.  It shows, among other things, that Texas is, by far, the greatest source of greenhouse gas pollution in the country.  Texas produces 294 million tons of these pollutants, more than the next two worst offenders combined (Pennsylvania and Florida).

These documents also clearly show that coal fired power plants are the single greatest contributor to greenhouse gas pollution in the US, accounting for 31.7% of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2009.  That is greater than automobile emissions, greater than all other forms of energy production combined, and greater than the output of every mine, refinery, and factory in the country combined.  

The largest concentration of “mega polluting facilities” in the US is a string of huge coal plants located to the east of I-35 from near San Antonio to Longview. These coal plants are aging (the most recent of these mega polluters were built in the 70’s), unreliable (coal plants were the cause of the 2011 rolling blackouts experienced by much of Texas), and undeniably nasty.  6 of these Texas coal plants are also among the top 10 worst mercury polluters in the country (Texas also has the dubious distinction of leading the nation in that form of pollution).  

While Texans need petroleum to fuel their cars (the second greatest contributor to greenhouse gasses), refineries to convert that petroleum into gasoline (the third greatest source), and the various industries that also contribute to greenhouse emissions, they do not need coal as their primary electricity generation fuel.  Texas leads the nation in wind power production.  It has abundant supplies of clean burning natural gas (though there are problems with extracting it from the ground).  Austin and San Antonio have both made recent strides in increasing solar power production with the opening of Texas’s largest solar plant in Webberville on January 6.

Thankfully, the consumers of this dirty coal fired energy are beginning to demand cleaner energy.  Austin and San Antonio have both made moves to retire aging coal plants, and the Lower Colorado River Authority has denied a water use permit to another major polluting plant.  If the rest of Texas joins this trend, we can get Texas off of the top of these terrible lists.


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