Slow Burn: Texas Cities Unite to Halt More Coal-Fueled Power Plants

In a show of clean-air solidarity, Houston, Dallas and 15 other Texas cities say they'll fight to slow the application and approval process for more than a dozen proposed coal-burning power plants across the state. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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The Texas Cities for Clean Air Coalition says it will file lawsuits if it has to in order to put the brakes on the so-called "fast track" approval process for 17 proposed coal-burning power plants. One of those plants has already been approved and another is in the process of getting approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Dallas Mayor Laura Miller says coal-burning power plants mean more dirty air in Texas.

"Coal when burned puts ash, sulphur, mercury, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxides into the air. The 18 power plants that are located here in Texas already contribute to the fact that Dallas, Houston, Fort Worth, Irving and other cities are in violation of federal air-quality standards."

Energy providers say the state needs the extra capacity and that Texas is close to maxing-out on available electricity, which could cause blackouts like the ones in California. Mayor Bill White says Texas has to be smart as it goes about creating more power.

"Sometimes in the past we've made compromises between air quality and economic growth, but that's not a good plan for the future of this state. In a world in which people can increasingly live wherever they want to live, people are attracted by places within this country, places within the world, that preserve the quality of their air and their natural resources."

Most of the proposed coal-burning plants would be in North Texas, where TXU plans to build 11 of the units. The company's Brad Jones says TXU will try to work with the cities to address their clean-air concerns.

"I think a lot of it still has to do with just improving our communications with them, making sure they understand our plan. It's a big program, so it's gotten a lot of attention."

The cities say the TCEQ is bypassing normal guidelines to approve the coal-burning plants, partly because Governor Rick Perry earlier this year encouraged an expedited process. This is the TCEQ's Andrea Morrow.

"The process is the same. It is somewhat quicker because we're devoting more resources to it, but the technical reviews are the same, the public comment is the same. It goes before the commission in the same way that any other permit goes before the commission."

Six other companies are also seeking approval to build coal-burning power plants in Texas. TXU says it will actually reduce pollution by at least 20 percent at its current plants as part of its plan to build even more power plants.

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