Stop the Dirty Dozen: Tell the Texas Legislature, Don’t Create Another Generation of Grandfathered Coal Plants

If you live in the Waco, Sweetwater, Corpus Christi, or Victoria area, you may have seen this op-ed run in your local newspaper under a variety of titles such as “Stop the Dirty Dozen”, “New generation of grandfathered polluters?”, and “Don’t create another generation of grandfathered power plants.” If not, you should give it a read.

smitty-mug2In the early 1970s, when it looked like the passage of the federal Clean Air Act was inevitable, power companies in Texas went on a building boom to construct 12 dirty, old-technology power plants before legislation went into effect. It was more than 30 years before the Texas Legislature addressed pollution from these “grandfathered” plants. Today, just as Congress and the Obama administration are poised to pass a series of tougher air pollution laws and cap global warming gasses, a dozen applications for additional coal fired power plants in Texas have been permitted or are pending. If built, this dirty dozen of coal plants would add an astounding 77 million tons a year of global warming gases to our already overheated air, 55,000 tons of acid rain forming gases, 29,000 tons of ozone forming chemicals and 3,800 lbs of brain damaging mercury. Your call to your state senator this week can help stop another generation of coal plants from being built.

Two years ago, 19 new coal plants were proposed for the state of Texas. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief when TXU withdrew applications for eight of those plants. But other companies are still building their proposed plants, and the cumulative impacts will make it harder to breathe in the DFW, Houston, Tyler- Longview, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, Victoria and Corpus Christi areas. Seven of the plants have already been permitted, but five more are still in the permitting stages and can be more easily stopped.

Sen. Kip Averitt took a strong stand on this issue by adding a provision in his aggressive air qualtity bill, SB 16, to require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to look at the cumulative impacts of any proposed new plant along with any others that have already been permitted or are being proposed. This amendment would have gone a long way to protect our air and climate.

Unfortunately the electric companies out-lobbied him and took a red pen to that provision of the bill. What’s left is too little and too late. The amendment won’t take effect until 2011, too late to stop the permits for the dirty dozen, would not address carbon dioxide emissions, and only looks at permitted plants and not the other five being proposed.

Representative Warren Chisum, who closed the first grandfathering loophole in 2003, is the House sponsor of a similar bill. As the Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Environmental Regulation, Chisum is in a key position to prevent that loophole from being re-opened once again.

If these plants are permitted, we’ll all have to work harder to reduce air pollution. The Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said we need to reduce ozone to levels 12 percent, and the Obama administration may set an even lower target. This could mean more restrictions on new businesses, retrofits on old ones, and far more pressure on each of us to get rid of old cars and buy cleaner ones.

These new plants would add 13 percent more global warming gases to Texas skies at a time when Congress is poised to require that we reduce emissions by 80 percent by 2050. If Congress fails to act, Obama’s EPA has begun rulemaking to do the same thing. We’d all have to work 13 percent harder to reduce the 77 million tons of global pollution these plants will generate. Sen. Rodney Ellis and Rep. Allen Vaught have bills that say that no new coal plants can be permitted unless they control their carbon dioxide emissions. This language should be added to SB 16.

Recent studies for the state have found we could save 23 percent of the energy we are currently using at half the cost of building any new plants. The Energy Information Agency has also recently released its Annual Energy Outlook report, which says that Texas has no need of the numerous coal plants currently being proposed. Almost a hundred bills have been introduced in the Texas legislature to increase the efficiency of our appliances, homes, apartments, offices, and new buildings and promote renewable energy. With all these energy efficiency measures and new renewable energy, we won’t even need the power that these plants would produce.

The only way to beat the organized polluters is with organized people, and now is your chance to have your voice heard. SB 16 is expected to hit the Senate floor soon. It barely passed out of committee, specifically because of controversy over the cumulative impacts issue.

Our legislators need to hear an outcry of public support for this legislation to hold up against the pressure they are getting from industry lobbyists. Call or write your state Senator and Representatives, and ask them not to approve any more coal plants without looking at the cumulative impacts and global warming.

Tom “Smitty” Smith is director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.