San Antonio advocates call on federal action to reduce harm from CPS's Spruce power plant

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval and others called on the EPA to strengthen regulations on polluting power plants.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval speaks at Thursday's press event. - Michael Karlis
Michael Karlis
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval speaks at Thursday's press event.
San Antonio Councilwoman Ana Sandoval and other green advocates held a press conference Thursday raising the alarm about pollution from CPS Energy's coal-fired JK Spruce Power Plant but also acknowledged it will likely stay open until 2030.

Sandoval and others at the event called on the EPA — now holding a public hearing on the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which regulates pollutants produced by power plants — to strengthen existing rules and reduce harm created by the power station.

"In the coming months, the EPA will reconsider regulations that have the potential to reduce exposure to mercury and other toxic air pollutants released from coal-burning power plants," Sandoval said. Closing Spruce, she added, is "perhaps the most significant local action we can take right now to reduce our climate impact and make our air safer for all to breathe."

Since opening in 1992, Spruce, which produced 23% of the city's power last year, has been headache for environmentalists and a health risk to residents. Last year alone, the power station produced 6 million tons of CO2, and it's currently the sixth-highest carbon polluter in the state, according to environmental advocates. Worse, they allege the South Side plant has violated the Clean Air Act 74 times over the past five years.

Federal records show the JK Spruce Power Plant has been investigated by the EPA 74 times since 2017. Of these investigations, 19 either remain ongoing, or the outcome of the investigation is not available to the public. 

In a statement to the Current, CPS Energy officials said they remain committed to Spruce's 2030 closure, adding that the city-owned utility upgraded its power plants to cut air emissions and will continue to adapt to new environmental regulations. What's more, CPS has slashed emissions that contribute to ozone formation by about 80% since 1997, they added.

The gathering, held at Woodlawn Lake Park, comes days after the EPA proposed downgrading the San Antonio area’s ozone pollution designation to "moderate nonattainment." That would require the region to meet more stringent air quality standards and regulations to slash its emission levels.

During the presser, Dr. Adelita Cantu, associate professor at UT Health's San Antonio School of Nursing said coal-burning plants such as Spruce lead to premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma among residents who live near them.

Most of those who suffer from health problems caused by polluting power plants are people of color, said Chantelle Ruidant-Hansen, a representative from the Hispanic Access Foundation.

"Currently, two in five Latinos live in 30 miles of a power plant nationwide," Ruidant-Hansen said. "About 80% of the community living within 12 miles of the JK Spruce power plant comes from historically marginalized communities of color. We need to strengthen smog pollution standards and transition to clean energy to protect our communities and our planet."

A representative from Sandoval's office said CPS and the city remain committed to a plan to close the coal-fired plant by 2030. However, it remains clear what might replace the it.

CPS released an outline last year in which the utility considered converting part of Spruce to natural gas in only four years.

Until a definitive plan and timeline are hashed out, Sandoval, Ruidant-Hansen and Cantu said they hope the EPA moves to strengthen CSAPR regulations and constrain the plant's negative impacts on the environment and residents.

"I think it's really key that the local push also has that federal push to not only have a clear message but also to have more resources behind," Cantu said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comments from CPS and to add data on EPA investigations.

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Michael Karlis

Michael Karlis is a Staff Writer at the San Antonio Current. He is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., whose work has been featured in Salon, Alternet, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, Orlando Weekly, NewsBreak, 420 Magazine and Mexico Travel Today. He reports primarily on breaking news, politics...

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