Rice Farmers in Matagorda County United over Water Supply Concerns, Fight White Stallion Coal Plant’s Proposed LCRA Contract

Rice farmers in Matagorda County, Texas have united to stop the development of the White Stallion “clean” coal plant in Bay City. As Heather Menzies reported in the Bay City Tribune, local farmers have formed action groups with Public Citizen Texas’ Ryan Rittenhouse and Tom “Smitty” Smith to rally public  opposition to the plant’s extensive environmental hazards and intensive water usage.

The coalition plans to write and call state Senators Glenn Hegar and Joan Huffman in order to demand that their community’s interest be protected. If built, the coal plant will consume a substantial portion of the remaining water supply from the river basin. If there isn’t enough water, the rice farmers won’t get any, and there won’t be a rice crop. And when the Lower Colorado River Authority is already prepared to declare the 2009 drought the worst in 50 years, should significant water supplies be given to new coal plants?

Yet many local politicians and candidates feel that the coal plant’s construction and operation will create much needed jobs in a county that is starving for economic development.  On Wednesday, February 10th, the State Office of Administrative Hearings will began adjudicating the contested air permit case of White Stallion Energy Center, LLC. The hearing offers another case indicative of the greater fight against fossil fuel industries that money and muscle their way to booming profits at the expense of everyone. White Stallion first filed for an air quality permit application in September 2008 for a 1,320-megawatt station. In order to open the new facility, White Stallion needs two things: (1) an air permit from the TCEQ and (2) a water contract with the LCRA. Considering that the TCEQ is a rubber stamp for dirty money projects instead of an environmental steward–and the SOAH judges actually dismiss testimony related to climate change introduced in air permit cases–the current arguments focus strictly on water supplies.

Menzies, citing the LCRA, states “there are only 43,000 acre-feet of unreserved firm water in the river basin, [and] White Stallion would remove 36,000 acre-feet alone.”

This concerns the rice farmers because, unlike White Stallion, they only have temporary water contracts with LCRA–contracts that need to be renewed every year. That means during the next drought their contracts might not be renewed, while White Stallion would continue pumping millions of gallons to heat the earth and spew toxins into Texas’ air and water.

Legal representation from both sides will present their cases in the contested case hearing, including testimony from expert witnesses. You’ve heard both perspectives before. White Stallion will offer evidence of how much cleaner their coal burning is than typical industry standards and how much money and jobs they will claim they will generate for the local economy. Counsel for the opposition will produce a litany of studies condemning the effects of coal burning, no matter the method, and the projected water shortage for Texas amongst other arguments.

After two weeks of hearings the office will make recommendations, with no legal binding, to the TCEQ. And this is in light of the fact that the EPA has found that the TCEQ’s air permitting process violates the federal Clean Air Act. That leaves us in the same place: at the grassroots of government bureaucracy.

The hope is, like always, in people. It is in those farmers’ ability to discover their own political power. The citizens of Matagorda County must look to each other to protect their air, their land, and their right to representation that reflects the community’s long-term interests.

This is a fight Rittenhouse knows well, organizing Public Citizen’s Coal Block against the industry’s constant campaign money and dirty influence. “We always challenge the air permit,” Rittenhouse said. “Dragging out the permit process in public hearings generates strong community opposition and keeps the costs high for companies that ignore the voice of voters. By extolling the economic burdens of coal permitting, we are sending the signal that this is only going to get more expensive [for coal corporations].”

When the total hidden costs of a coal plant are quantified, no one can afford to build another.


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 are Public Citizen Texas.