Jim Boston: Living in the West with Tenaska

I’m very impressed with this op-ed from Jim Boston, which refers to the Tenaska coal plant proposed near Sweetwater, Texas.  It was originally published Monday, December 13th in the Abilene Reporter News.

Why live in West Texas when it is somewhat a hostile environment? Faced with frequent droughts, sandstorms, hail, constant wind, tornadoes, rattlesnakes, scorpions, feral hogs, mesquite trees and house cat-snatching coyotes, why do our people insist on staying here? West Texas people after a while begin to resemble, in spirit perhaps, the somewhat undesirable native species. They are gnarled and bent from leaning toward the prevailing wind direction like mesquite trees, gritty (perhaps from the sandstorms), tenacious and tough, like feral hogs, and even deadly when protecting their home turf, like the rattlesnake.

Why do we live in West Texas? I guess it is because we like it. We like seeing if we can “hang in there” and survive all that Mother Nature can throw at us, and ultimately even prosper. We appreciate seeing the horizons and breathtaking sun risings and settings (you know the good Lord made a lot of country, and what he was ashamed of he put trees on). We enjoy observing the night sky with stars and constellations invisible in a lighted urban environment. Meeting our neighbors, or even local, unknown strangers, we gratefully acknowledge their presence with customary four finger salute in the windshield of our beloved pickups or SUVs, without our hand leaving the steering wheel. We shut down our towns to enjoy Friday night football, rooting for our home teams, yet exhibiting our stubborn independence with a politically incorrect prayer before game time. Traffic, or lack thereof, is another benefit we cherish, and hope it stays that way. The same feeling goes for the absence of a lot of heavy industry, usually located near urban areas. Finally, we appreciate our wide open spaces, and relative few people per square foot. We realize the people here are special, and we revere their sense of right and wrong, and generosity.

Considering all the good things we value in living in this area, why would we want to bring in something that might degrade the quality of our existence here. I’m speaking, of course, of the controversial Tenaska project. Why do we need it? Have we done enough to further the “green cause” by supporting the largest wind farm in the world to supply power to urban areas? If selling electricity to metropolitan areas is the goal, why not locate nearer to the sales point and closer to lakes that could supply the necessary water? The same goes for if the sequestering CO2 is the goal, why not locate nearer the oil patch?

Water, of course, is the big issue with Tenaska, who have never ruled out the possibility of a “wet process” requiring some 10 million gallons per day, as opposed to the “dry process” requiring a million gallons a day. We realized our frequent water problem when we established a groundwater conservation district in Nolan County. Both Sweetwater and Abilene have struggled to maintain a water supply to the public during our always recurring drought situations by imposing restrictions on lawn, yard and car washing activities. Waste water supply and availability is less during drought times also.

As a farmer, and along with my colleagues, we share the platonic goal of turning the land over to the next stewards in as good, but hopefully in better, shape than when we were charged with operating the land. Even an infinitesimal amount, or the “government allowable” quantity of toxic waste, such as mercury, placed in the air or on the soil violates this goal. Perhaps because of my age, I’m not as willing to blaze new trails as when I was younger. I like the way things are, and as they were.

Hopefully, if Tenaska accomplishes its goal of building their first “state of the art” plant here in Nolan County, the jobs (local?) and tax revenue (even after tax abatement and depreciation of the plant) will overcome at least some of the negative aspects of their locating here. Do the positives outweigh the negatives and align themselves with why we want to live in West Texas? I think not.

Jim Boston, Ph.D., was vice president with Southwestern Drug Corporations in Dallas before returning to Roscoe to take over a family farm.


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