Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition
On June 30, 2006 Mayor Robert Cluck of Arlington held a meeting with a group of Texas mayors at UT-Arlington.
The purpose of the meeting was to organize a new group called Texas Cities for Climate Protection, with the help of a national group called ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA, based in California.
The mayors received presentations on global warming, Best Practices for cities on various environmental issues, and an issue overview from Richard Greene, Regional Director of the EPA.
One urgent issue discussed was the current request by seven different electric utility companies to build 17 coal-burning power plants in Texas. At the time, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had started reviewing the utility companies’ permit requests to build these plants.
The environmental consequence of building coal-burning plants has become a national issue. In Texas, according to environmental groups engaged in the issue, the 17 additional coal plants would add 30,000 tons of nitrogen oxides, over 115 million tons of CO(2), and nearly 4,000 pounds of toxic mercury each year.
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller began calling other mayors around the state to ask them to do something that had never been done before. She asked that they band together, as a group of concerned Texas cities, to formally intervene on this case before the TCEQ.
Formal intervention means providing the TCEQ with thoughtful alternatives, expert testimony, and sworn depositions of fact. This can be done, with the help of outside consultants who do this for a living, at an estimated cost of $300,000 to $1,000,000.
In a letter, Miller told the mayors “WE ARE NOT ASKING THE STATE TO DENY THE PERMITS. We know that the utility companies need to provide more electricity for people, and we know that they need to build more power plants to do that. But there are companies outside Texas that are using more modern, cleaner technologies than coal-burning to do it. And we would simply like to research this thoroughly and present all the alternatives to the TCEQ for its consideration. (Coal gasification, for example, is the cleanest technology available and could cut emissions by 60-90 percent, yet in a December ruling the TCEQ said Texas utility companies do not have to consider this option.)”
The goal was to get 40 cities to act jointly as one intervener, with each city’s participation level at $10,000 each to cover the cost.
Mayor Bill White of Houston immediately agreed to help with this effort. And so, the Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition was born. On August 31, 2006 at a press conference in Houston, the creation of the TCACC was officially announced with 17 cities signed on.
In the coming months another 20 cities, counties and school districts joined the effort to oppose the coal-fired plants as proposed. From cities as large as Houston to the small town of Uncertain in East Texas, population 150, they all had something in common when it came to the issues of clean air and public health.
Many small towns did not have the funds to join, but with the help of generous donors, including Don Henley, Eagles rock star/East Texas native/Dallas resident, enough money was raised to intervene in the case.
Through the TCACC’s efforts and the efforts of its pro bono law firm Susman Godfrey, the number of coal plants to be built was reduced. Of the 17 plants proposed in Texas, TXU had planned on building eight new coal-fired units. After battling it out with the TCACC, TXU and its new buyers reduced that number to three.
The coal debate in Texas continues, as does the permitting process for many of the remaining plants. The TCACC continues its efforts to protect the health of Texans and the air in the Texas skies.
More from Mayor Miller’s letter:
Most of the proposed coal plants are in East Texas. With established wind patterns, those emissions are headed straight for North Texas, especially the six counties around DFW. How can DFW, which is a significant non-attainment area, possibly clean up the air when 17 new coal-burning power plants are on the drawing board and the smoke headed our way?
But this is not simply a North Texas/East Texas problem. Our air is your air. And as we now know from the significant climate changes we are seeing around the globe, we are all in this together. And our constituents are worried.
At the worst, the TCEQ will approve the permits as submitted. But at least our voices would have been heard during this process, and with any luck, we might just get some of these plants upgraded to a cleaner technology. We will also be organized, statewide, for the first time on environmental issues – and ready to speak with one voice in the next battle, no matter where it is in Texas.
Three facts to remember:
- 17 of 150 coal-fired plants planned in the U.S. propose to use gasification (none in Texas)
- In Texas, power plants emit more pollution than chemical and refining plants combined.
- Texas power plants contribute a full 10 percent of the total mercury admissions in the U.S. (Mercury is a toxic heavy metal which can cause neurological damage, particularly in developing fetuses, infants, and children.)
Let’s band together and let our constituents know we are concerned about their health and welfare.