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The Texas Blue
Advancing Progressive Ideas

Fast-Track - But Not For Coal

Dr. Ken Dickson's picture

With Tom La Point, PhD

Governor Perry's executive order to fast track the permitting of TXU's 11 proposed new coal-fired power plants clearly shows that his energy policy disregards clean air and global climate change considerations. One has to question his motives for fast-tracking these "old style dirty plants" when clean coal technologies exist to significantly reduce air pollutants and to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Could Governor Perry's regulatory fast-tracking be to help TXU get the power plants permitted before carbon dioxide caps are legislated by the U.S. Congress to address the serious problem of global warming? If this is so, shame on the Governor and on TXU.

Recent encouraging developments seem to indicate that TXU permits will not short-circuit the environmental regulatory process. Last week a district judge in Austin ruled that the Governor does not have the authority to fast-track permitting. The judge placed a moratorium on the permit hearings. However, appeals are likely. Another development that is encouraging is a buyout of TXU that appears to be taking place by private equity firms. The New York Times reported Sunday, February 25 that the buyout would result in abandoning plans to build 8 of the 11 TXU proposed coal plants. It appears that the private equity firms have consulted with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense to include clean coal technologies in the remaining three proposed power plants to be built in return for their support. The environmental package also includes a goal of returning the carbon dioxide emissions by TXU to 1990 levels by 2020. These are encouraging developments, but the devil is in the details.

Texans need clean air. Air pollution adversely affects the health of people and degrades our environment. In addition, greenhouse gases emitted from power plants and vehicles are major causes of global warming. Ten of the hottest years on record have occurred since 1995. The U.S has less than 5% of the world's population but produces 25% of the world's greenhouse gases. Texas leads the nation in the release of toxic materials to the environment and in global warming emissions.

The Governor and other elected officials at all levels should be fast-tracking implementation of renewable energy alternatives and programs to rapidly decrease our use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) are non-renewable, cause global warming and are simply too valuable to be wasted by burning them! Texas can and should be a world leader in shifting our energy focus to efficiency, conservation, and wind, solar and biofuels and away from fossil fuels. Consider this fact: Texas has a wealth of renewable energy sources — enough to provide not only the energy needs of the state, but 40% of the needs of the whole country!

The United Nations International Climate Change Panel report, released in February of 2007, clearly implicated human activity as the major cause of global warming and burning fossil fuels as a major contributor. The wisdom of fast-track permitting of the 11 coal-fired power plants is further questioned by the results of a University of Texas study that predicts emissions from the 11 coal fueled power plants will prevent the DFW region from meeting federal ozone standards. The fast-track permitting also puts into jeopardy the abilities of Waco and Austin to meet air standards. It is a small wonder that Mayor Laura Miller of Dallas and Houston mayor Bill White, along with mayors from 25 other cities, created The Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition to oppose permitting of the TXU plants. The Texas Business for Clean Air coalition formed by Trammell Crow, Garrett Boone and David Litman, all prominent Dallas businessmen, also oppose permitting based on the concerns over clean air and adverse impact of the proposed plants on the DFW region's ability to meeting air quality standards.

It is true that a combination of coal, oil and natural gas are needed to provide some of Texas' future energy needs as the State transitions to renewable energy alternatives. However, energy suppliers such as TXU should be required to implement Best Available Control Technologies that minimize the release of air pollutants and sequesters carbon dioxide. After analyzing the technology proposed by TXU, the Environmental Defense Fund labeled the plantsproposed as "old style dirty plants" and encouraged TXU to implement clean coal technology such as coal gasification to reduce emissions. Opponents of the TXU proposed power plants point out that there are over 25 applications around the country to build new power plants using much cleaner coal gasification processes. The companies making this move to clean coal burning include among them American Electric Power (AEP), the largest power company in the nation. It is reported that the fourth largest power generator in the nation, Xcel, will be combining coal gasification with carbon sequestering in a plant in Colorado. However, TXU has refused to consider coal gasification and carbon sequestering as viable technologies to implement. TXU seems adamant in planning to implement "old style dirty plants" and ignoring or rejecting the consequences to public and environmental health caused by carbon dioxide, micro-particulate, mercury, and sulfur emissions. The 11 proposed TXU coal-fueled power plants using pulverized coal technology would add an additional load of 78 million tons per year of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Loading would be reduced to 7.8 million tons per year (a ten-fold decrease) if TXU used coal gasification technology. Pollutants such as nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and mercury would be dramatically reduced as well.

This is neither a "liberal" nor a "conservative" concept. It is an "up or down" concept concerning public and environmental well-being. Derail the fast-tracking of TXU's proposed power plants. Call, fax and/or email your state senators and representatives asking them to stop efforts to fast-track permitting of power plants using "old style dirty coal." Ask them to instead fast-track implementation of renewable energy sources to meet our future energy needs. It is time for the State of Texas to step up and lead the country by fast-tracking clean renewable energy.

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Environmentally pro-active Texas?

What a concept! What if, call me crazy, Texas could lead the nation in a field other than the most obese cities, top polluted cities, or lowest educated cities in the country? It would be a proud day for all Texans to be known for a pro-active measure that does good in the country. I remember Governor Perry doing the "I'm proud of Texas" tour to get re-elected, and I began to think, what if we had a real, progressive reason to be proud of Texas. It could change the image of our state all over and spark new companies and economic interest in our area, creating more jobs. It is up to progressive Texans to try and change the notion which makes people believe closing power plants is bad for the economy. By closing these plants and focusing on alternative measures, we create different job opportuntes. Let's get the word out!

Contact your elected officials now at the following address:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/

Timely

I think this is especially timely in light of the news today that TXU is getting sold and reordered to be more environmentally friendly.

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