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Archive for January 26th, 2011

Chairman Bryan Shaw, Ph.D.

Commissioner Buddy Garcia

In a completely un-shocking and saddening display of administrative arrogance, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) commissioners Bryan Shaw and Buddy Garcia granted an air permit for the proposed Las Brisas coal plant. Commissioner Carlos Rubinstein abstained from voting due to being briefed on the permit when he previously served as deputy executive director.

The two commissioners who voted to approve the permit did so despite the fact that this permit has been recommended against twice by the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) judges who presided over the contested case hearing and deliberated for months on the specifics.

Again today at the TCEQ hearing both judges recommended against issuance of the permit, and the TCEQ’s own Office of Public Interest Council also recommended denial of the permit.

In addition there were lawyers speaking for the thousands of members of the Clean Economy Coalition (based in Corpus Christi where the Las Brisas plant is proposed), Sierra Club, and EDF, all of whom are against issuance of this permit.  But after only 45 minutes of testimony during the public hearing, TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw recommended granting the permit application stating that he didn’t  believe the merits of the facts before the commission would require or warrant (the state agency to remand it), based on his understanding of the rules in place.

Earlier this week, the EPA had asked the Texas commission to not issue the permit until the two agencies could work together to resolve various issues, stating that they were concerned about a lack of consultation with them and that the plant could violate federal clean air standards.  They further wrote that they had “strong concerns about the public health and environmental impacts” the plant would pose.

Commissioner Shaw said the EPA’s letter could not be considered because it was not part of the official record of Wednesday’s proceeding so it had no impact on their decision.

This permit is illegal, and the TCEQ commissioners have broken both federal (Clean Air Act) law as well as Texas law in granting it. The EPA also now requires greenhouse gas permitting for any new facilities permitted after January 1, 2011 – but the TCEQ commissioners wouldn’t consider any comments regarding this important factor. Still, Las Brisas will need to acquire such a permit from the EPA before they can begin construction, much less operation, of their proposed coal plant.

The facts in this case are clear. The permit does not meet the minimum standards necessary to protect human health and the environment, and the people who have actually investigated the particulars of this case have consistently and continually recommended against this permit.

Nevertheless, those who have the power to make the decision (the TCEQ commissioners) continue, as they have in the other coal plant cases, to ignore the concerns of the public, the medical communities, environmental groups, and even their own staff.  Instead they make these permitting decisions based on politics and act as a rubber stamp for pollution.

TCEQ is up for “sunset” review at the Texas legislature this year.  When asked at the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission hearing if the TCEQ had the authority to deny a permit, they answered yes, but given the history of new coal plant permits approved over the past decade, one would be hard pressed to determine what, if any, criteria would cause the state agency to exercise their authority.

In the months leading up to this decision, citizens from around the state have been letting the Sunset Commission know that they believed the TCEQ was broken, and they believe the agency that is supposed to protect our health and environment does the opposite.

The CEC and other people closely affected by this plant are outraged at this decision, but the whole state of Texas needs to be.

Although Las Brisas is the worst of the most recent coal plant permits to be issued by TCEQ there have been other, deficient coal plant permits granted within the last few months throughout Texas near Bay City, Sweetwater, and Victoria.

Please call your Texas legislator and ask them to ensure that TCEQ Commissioners will have to follow the decisions of the administrative judges who rule on these cases, instead of simply ignoring their concerns and the concerns of the public.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We arePublic Citizen Texas.

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“Gasland,” the documentary film by Josh Fox, that examines whether hydraulic fracturing of shale formations threatens water supplies and poses other environmental hazards, was nominated today for an Academy Award.GasLand

The movie is a cross-country tour that included visits to people who live near several drilling sites, including North Texas’ Barnett Shale.

If you want to see this documentary before the Oscars it is probably not going to be shown in a theater near you anytime soon, but it is available on Amazon or through the movie’s website, or you can even rent it through netflix.

Of course, the gas industry is getting verklempt!  They would prefer you talk amongst yourselves about any other movie, and they’ll gladly give you a topic . . . The Prince of Tides was about neither a prince nor tides. Go!  

However, if you still want to talk or watch something about fracking check out some of our earlier posts that talk about the fracking issue being addressed in the popular medium of TV in both a 60 Minutes segment and an episode of CSI.

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Windmills south of Dumas, TX

Windmills south of Dumas, TX -by Wikipedia

When Texans turn on their lights, run their air conditioning, charge thier cell phones or even plug in their plug-in hybrid cars, they are getting an increasing amount of power from the wind. 

Figures released by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the pseudo state agency that regulates the Texas electric grid, earlier this month show that last year, nearly 8 percent of the power on the state’s electric grid was generated by wind. That’s more than three times the national average.

Wind-generated power has been growing rapidly in the state, and Texas now has nearly three times as much wind capacity in place as the next-closest state, Iowa,  The state also broke the 10,000 megawatt barrier for the first time last year, according to the American Wind Energy Association.  The rapid growth (from 6.2 percent of the Texas grid’s generation in 2009 to 7.8 percent last year) came despite transmission-line constraints in West Texas, which has the vast majority of the state’s wind capacity. This limitation has resulted in some wind turbines having to be shut down even when the wind is blowing, because there is not enough room on the wires to move the power hundreds of miles away to the urban areas that need it.

Much of the new wind has come from a different part of Texas — along the Gulf coast in the south, especially Kenedy and San Patricio counties. The Public Utility Commission, says there are now about 1,100 megawatts of wind in ERCOT’s south zone. That translates to roughly one-ninth of the total wind capacity in Texas.

In addition, a privately owned transmission line built by a Florida-based renewables company, connected an enormous wind farm in Kendall and Taylor counties to the grid. That line began operating in fall of 2009, so the wind farm’s contribution showed up more fully last year.  The state has planned $5 billion worth of other transmission lines to remedy the congestion in West Texas, and just last week approved the route for transmission through the Texas hill country.

The big loser in the newest figures was natural gas. While natural gas is abundant in Texas, less polluting than coal and substantially cheaper than it was jut a few years ago, it is also easily replaced by the wind.  Lt. Governor Dewhurst has talked recently about providing incentives for new natural gas plants in an effort to slow or even halt the construction of new coal-fired plants.

The gas industry has talked of trying to shift more costs to wind to make up for the wind’s intermittency, arguing that other types of power plants pay penalties if they go offline unexpectedly, but wind is allowed to come and go in accordance with the whims of nature. However, there is no particular legislation right now that would change those dynamics.

Meanwhile, wind will continue to grow, and when the state-planned $5 billion transmission line is built-out, that should nearly double the wind-energy capacity that’s currently on the Texas grid.

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