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Baby It’s Coal Outside

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Is Governor Perry’s executive order of last fall, calling for expediting the hearing process for new power plants, many of them coal-fired, showing up on polls as a possible threat to Perry’s reelection? That would explain why a piece explaining his decision appears in the Dallas Morning News today. Or maybe the governor just wants to educate his critics. The order called for hearings to begin within a week after the 30-day public notice period and for a decision to be reached after six months. Perry suggests that he did so to avoid California-style power blackouts and rationing of airconditioning.

I don’t buy that. The executive order might have saved a few weeks in a plant-building process that takes years. The governor is right that Texas needs more generating capacity, and soon, but his order was a gratuitious in-your-face gesture to potential opponents of the coal plants. It gave environmental groups less time to prepare, to hire experts. One opponent called it “a tremendous advantage for Texas Utilities,” which proposed to build eleven coal-fired plants that reduced emissions by 20%. A hearings examiner declined to award a permit for one TXU plant on the grounds that TXU did not use the best available technology or sufficiently consider the impact on the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s pollution reduction plan. This could be reversed by a vote of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, to which Perry recently appointed Martin August Hubert. I suppose it would be in bad taste to speculate how he will vote.

The last time I checked my messages, the governor had not asked me to edit his piece, but I would have suggested that he modify his truculent tone. Here’s a thinly veiled shot at Austin and perhaps other cities I didn’t recognize: “We can’t bury our head in the sand when it comes to building additional energy capacity and take the same attitude that some cities took toward building highways in the last 25 years, which was, ‘If we don’t build it, they won’t come.’ They came anyway, and traffic is a mess, and so will our electric grid be, if we don’t build additional generation capacity.” By the way, it’s been twenty years since Austin had an anti-highway mayor. Now we wonder why Tx-DOT builds interchanges that don’t interchange in the direction most of the traffic wants to go.

Then he took a swipe at environmentalists: “The fact is that there is an extreme element of the environmental community that opposes additional energy capacity no matter what. They are opposed to coal plants, shifting the focus of their protests from air emissions to global warming. They are opposed to nuclear power because they are concerned about the storage issues. And many are opposed to wind energy because the turbines disrupt the skyline and the migratory bird flight pattern. I would argue that they want to return us to the era of horse and buggy – except they would probably complain about the methane gas from horse manure, too.”

This is what drives me crazy about Perry. He doesn’t even make a pretense of trying to represent all the people.

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