Stopping the Texas coal rush

Sarah Gardner Feb 21, 2007

Stopping the Texas coal rush

Sarah Gardner Feb 21, 2007

PHOTO GALLERY: Stop the Coal Rush

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: There’s a big battle raging right now in the state of Texas over coal. Utilities want to build 16 coal-fired power plants. A public hearing on six of them was set for today, however a district judge agreed to grant a temporary injunction after hearing from opponents yesterday. Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk that the power plant proposals are generating both heated opposition, but also some strange alliances.

SARAH GARDNER: Stop the coal rush. That was the plea at a protest rally this month outside the Texas State Capitol.

Plans for a slew of new coal-fired electricity plants — and the governor’s plan to fast-track the approval process — has created what a Dallas newspaper is calling the biggest environmental business war in Texas history.

But this time it’s not simply environmentalists versus big business.

DAVID LITMAN: Our group is Texas Business for Clean Air.

That’s David Litman, co-founder of He and more than a hundred business leaders oppose the coal-fired power plants, and not because they’re suddenly worried about global warming.

LITMAN: It stops growth.

Litman’s group argues more coal plants, especially the type proposed, will just aggravate pollution, putting Texas cities out of compliance with clean air laws. That, they argue, threatens federal funds for new highways and mass transit.

Litman says it could also trigger onerous federal regulation.

LITMAN: For example, a construction firm that releases dust in the air might be required to do their construction at night instead of during the day and have to pay their workers overtime. So that raises costs.

These Texas business execs are in unusual company. They’re joined not only by environmentalists but by big-city mayors, some ranchers and, most recently, a Baptist group talking about “honoring God’s creation.”

TXU, the Dallas-based utility proposing the majority of the new plants, is standing its ground.

[ TV commercial: “No one is more focused on meeting the energy needs of Texas than TXU power, including new state-of-the-art coal plants . . .” ]

TXU argues it can’t meet the state’s rapidly growing need for power without coal, and building 11 plants will give it economies of scale to help fund fixes on its oldest facilities. Changes, it claims, that will actually decrease the company’s total pollution output.

Ted Royer, a spokesman for Governor Rick Perry, says without these plants, the state is vulnerable.

TED ROYER: That would make Texas look very much like California did just a few years ago, where we have to suffer rolling blackouts or problems even worse.

Of course, there’s also the issue of global warming, not just dirty air. TXU has rejected new technology to capture carbon emissions as too costly and unproven.

The outcome of this Texas energy fight is uncertain. But one thing’s not: Lobbyists, lawyers and the folks who make political ads are seeing green.

I’m Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

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