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Unplugging Texas’ Most Powerful Polluters

July 27, 2002

Unplugging Texas? Most Powerful Polluters

Report: Choosing Green Energy Boosts the Economy and Environment

AUSTIN, Texas ? Changing sources of electricity may be as effective as choosing a more fuel-efficient or low-emission vehicle in clearing the air, according to a report released today.

Unplugging Texas? Most Powerful Polluters, a report by Public Citizen and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, shows that by switching from traditional electricity providers to green power suppliers, consumers can prevent the release of significant amounts of air pollution. This information is particularly timely as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has just announced that Texas won?t meet federal clean air targets unless the state fully funds its air cleanup program.

“Imagine getting a delivery of nearly a ton of pollution each month with your electric bill. That?s how much a power plant emits each month to power one home,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen?s Texas office. “Green power, meanwhile, is practically pollution-free. Buying renewable energy is an important step that consumers can take to clear the air.”

Green power consists of renewable energy sources like wind, solar and biomass, in which gas emitted from landfills is captured and turned into electricity. Texans can buy non-polluting renewable energy for 50 cents to nine dollars more a month than traditional power ? less than what they pay for their daily cup of coffee or a Coke, Smith said.

The report finds that 50 percent of Texans breathe air that fails to meet the one-hour federal ozone standard, a rule that sets a maximum amount of ozone that may accumulate in one hour at a single monitor.

“With the power to choose comes the responsibility to choose wisely,” said Todd Main, the lead author of the report. “This report shows that your choice of power company makes a big difference in the amount of pollution you are responsible for. Dirty air affects everyone, so choosing clean, renewable energy can help unplug Texas? most powerful polluters.”

In the first six months of Texas? foray into electricity deregulation, tens of thousands of Texans were willing to pay more for cleaner power and cleaner air, the groups found. Of the approximately 5.6 million Texas families that have the option of choosing a new power company, approximately 5 percent, or 50,000 customers, have chosen to buy renewable energy. Since renewable energy is priced higher than other forms of energy, this 5 percent market share shows that renewable energy is very popular with consumers, Main said.

However, it also shows why Texas should not rely on voluntary purchases of renewable energy alone to clean up the air. The report estimates that only 233 megawatts of new renewable energy   enough to power 233,000 homes   has been purchased in the Texas retail market.

“Many more Texans might buy renewable energy if they were aware of the impact of their choices on the environment,” said Tim Morstad, environmental policy specialist with Public Citizen. The groups said that consumers should look at the percentage of coal used as well as emissions rates to determine the cleanest power providers. This information is provided by electricity providers in their “electricity facts” labels.

While state-level efforts to clean the air are failing in the country?s largest cities, a battle is raging in Congress that could either give green power additional support or doom Texas to more years of unsafe air. The Clean Power Act ? S. 556, introduced by U.S. Sens. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) ? would reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions by 75 percent, heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent and mercury emissions by 90 percent. But President Bush and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton of Ennis have introduced a bill that is much weaker and allows utilities to trade away their obligation to clean the air.

“The comprehensive Clean Power Act would save businesses and consumers $16 billion in net electricity costs in 2010 compared with business-as-usual,” said Peter Altman, executive director for the SEED Coalition. “By 2020, savings would reach more than $40 billion. With the problems in both the Dallas and Houston plans to clean up the air, this is not the time for another corporate giveaway for big polluters. The Bush proposal is little more than pollution fraud, using tricky accounting schemes applied to the emissions that make us sick.”

Environmentalists are not alone in promoting renewable energy. Religious groups across the country are providing the economic and moral leadership by purchasing clean energy.

“Many churches are providing leadership by choosing renewable energy,” said Bee Moorhead of Texas Impact, a faith-based advocacy group. “Renewable energy is good policy and it makes good business sense, but most importantly it?s good news. In a world where we are constantly reminded of all the mistakes we have made, renewable energy demonstrates the potential for us to undo damage and heal creation.”

Texas consumers can compare power prices and emissions from various retail electricity providers by logging on to the Public Citizen Texas office site, Texas Electric Choice?and the Cleaner and Greener Environment Program.

Click here to view the report on the Web.