Environmentalists are cheering the EPA’s designation of several areas in east Texas near coal-fired power plants as being out of compliance with clean air standards. The EPA said it had identified high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution in Luminant’s Martin Lake, Big Brown and Monticello coal plants.

In a statement, the Sierra Club said the move will protect communities near the plants from unhealthy contaminants. “This preliminary decision is an important step in compelling the state to create a plan to address the problem and also helps communities living in the designated areas better understand the dangerous pollution.”

“The designations are a crucial first step to pushing Luminant and other big polluters across the state to take responsibility for their pollution,” said the Sierra Club’s Chrissy Mann, who added that the action would “help reduce small particle pollution that can be dangerous for those who breathe the air downwind in places like Dallas.”

Exposure to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide pollution for just a short time can make it hard to breathe, and prolonged exposure to persistent levels of sulfur dioxide can make it easier to get sick and harder to smell over time. Children, the elderly and people with asthma are most affected by high levels of sulfur dioxide pollution. Chronic exposure is associated with deadly lung and heart conditions. And sulfur dioxide pollution contributes to fine particulate matter which travels downwind, endangering families across Texas.

“For too long Luminant has made the rules, never being put to task for the deadly pollution it’s coal plants pump into our air,” said Mann. “We hope that Texas officials will take today’s recommendations seriously and create a plan to address the areas with dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide pollution. It’s time for our state to put the health and safety of Texans before the profits of Luminant -- a bankrupt, Wall Street owned coal company.”