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Temporary Coal Moratorium Necessary To Protect Local Communities, Improve Air Quality

March 24, 2009

Temporary Coal Moratorium Necessary To Protect Local Communities, Improve Air Quality

State Sen. Rodney Ellis and Rep. Allen Vaught File Bill to Stop New Coal-Fired Power Plants

AUSTIN –State legislators, environmental activists and local community members who would be affected by proposed   coal-fired power plants met at the capitol this morning to call for a temporary moratorium on proposed coal plants. Halting the construction of proposed coal plants would help curb climate change, protect local communities from dangerous health impacts, and improve local air quality.

“The evidence is now abundantly clear: Climate change is already affecting Texans and impacts will only increase in severity if we fail to act quickly. Texas already leads the nation in global warming gases. If we were our own country, Texas would rank eighth in the world among carbon emitters,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “If all 12 of our proposed coal and pet-coke fired power plants were built, Texas would emit an additional 77 million tons of carbon dioxide. Capturing 90 percent of those emissions, which is feasible with current technologies, would significantly reduce the state’s carbon footprint and help fight global warming.”

Two bills have been introduced which would place a temporary moratorium on coal-fired power plants without carbon capture and sequestration: SB 126, by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, and its companion bill in the house, HB 4384 by Rep. Allen Vaught.

In addition to combating climate change, the proposed legislation would also help protect public health. Coal-fired power plants release many dangerous pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, mercury and lead. Emissions from coal plants complicate diseases such as asthma, cardiac pulmonary disease and many other circulatory and respiratory conditions, and studies have shown a statistically significant link between mercury and increased autism rates. Considering these health effects, last year the Texas Medical Association recommended a moratorium on the approval of old technology coal-fired power plants.

“My main concern is the potential influence of emissions from these coal-fired plants on childhood development. Our children are our future and their health and well-being should not be compromised. Both mercury and lead cause irreversible mental and physical health problems in children,” said Robert M. Malina, Ph.D, a Bay City resident representing a group opposing the White Stallion Pet-coke Plant. “What’s more, elevated mortality from lung cancer and increased prevalence of asthma are associated with coal-fired power plants emitting sulfur dioxide, nitrous dioxide and particulate matter. Everyone living near these plants or within reach of prevailing winds will be subjected to these health risks.”

“The Las Brisas Power Plant, which is slated to be built in the Corpus Christi Bay and has no plans to sequester the 10.4 million tons of carbon dioxide it proposes to put into the atmosphere each year, will almost double the EPA regulated air pollutants in our city. Corpus Christi is already dealing with the environmental and health effects of being a refining town and this addition would likely push our county into non-attainment for ozone and sulfur dioxide,” said Roger Landress, representing the Clean Economy Coalition of Corpus Christi. “Living along the gulf, I’m also concerned by the sea level rise and increased storm surges associated with global warming. This plant would be built right inside the bay, and would likely be swept away within the next 50 years. It doesn’t make sense to be adding fuel to the fire like this.”

“In my community of Sweetwater, Tenaska has proposed to build a pulverized coal plant with carbon capture and sequestration that might capture 85 to 90 percent of carbon emitted from the smokestack but the company refuses to include language about this addition in their permit. Without something specific in their permit and without legislation to hold them accountable, there is no way to make sure they will keep their promise,” said Patricia Broadwell, with the Multi County Coalition of Sweetwater. “The Tenaska plant would also consume between 1 million and 10 million gallons of water a day in a semi-arid desert.   Sweetwater frequently runs short of water as it is because we don’t have enough rain, and periods of drought will only increase as an effect of global warming.    It doesn’t look like there will be enough water to go around for both the power plant and residents.”

With carbon legislation likely to come down the pipe from Washington by Thanksgiving, the cost of coal and carbon dioxide emissions is likely to increase significantly. Other states such as California, Idaho, Maine, Kansas and Washington have already adopted effective moratoriums. An opinion poll conducted by the Civil Society Institute in October 2007 showed that 75 percent of Americans would support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was increased investment in clean, safe renewable energy and improved home energy efficiency standards. Moratoriums have also been recommended in Arkansas and New Jersey and bills have been introduced in Georgia, Utah, Congress and, most recently, Texas.

“Along with Sen. Ellis’ bill, which goes into committee today, I have a companion bill in the House that would put a two year moratorium on the permitting of coal-fired or petroleum-coke fired power plants that do not capture and sequester carbon dioxide,” Vaught said. “Emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute to public health problems and global warming. This legislation would address those problems while increasing demand for renewable energy, coal plants that capture and sequester carbon dioxide, and energy efficiency.”

While environmentalists applaud this legislation, many urge caution that the Legislature does not repeat mistakes from the past. Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, warned: “In 1971 the Texas Legislature allowed most existing plants to continue operating without adding then-current pollution control measures. It took until 2003 to end the ‘grandfathered plant’ loophole. As this moratorium is debated, many will attempt to grandfather plants currently in process. This legislation ought to apply to every plant currently proposed and not just those permitted after bill goes into effect. The fate of the world our children will inherit depends on it.”