Panel delays process for coal plants permits

Panel delays process for coal plants permits

AUSTIN ”” A coalition of environmental groups and local governments won more time Wednesday to prepare their case against TXU Corp.’s efforts to build six coal-fired power plants.

A panel of administrative judges slowed the permitting process a day after a state district judge blocked Gov. Rick Perry’s executive order fast-tracking the permitting process for the plants.

The judges set the next hearing for June 27, more than four months after testimony in the case was slated to begin.

“This decision gives the entire state time to take a deep breath, and it gives the Legislature a chance to decide whether we need all these coal plants,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas chapter of Public Citizen, a public interest watchdog group. He added that some of the 10 or so environmental groups opposed to TXU’s plan to build new power plants had insufficient time to prepare their case.

TXU, which wanted a 30-day delay, is seeking permits for 11 plants. The State Office of Administrative Hearings had been scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday on permits for six of them.

Opposing TXU is a loose coalition comprising 10 environmental groups and three dozen cities, counties and school districts centered in North, East and Central Texas, where the plants would be built. The Chickasaw Nation, an American Indian tribe that occupies 7,600 square miles in south-central Oklahoma, joined the coalition Wednesday.

TXU said new plants are needed to meet Texas’ growing energy needs. Building them and enabling older ones to be shut down would result in cleaner air, the company said.

“We’re committed to reducing key emissions by 20 percent,” said company spokeswoman Kim Morgan.

She faulted environmentalists for having a “knee-jerk reaction” to coal. “Our new units will be 80 percent cleaner than the average U.S. coal plant,” Morgan said.

But opponents say the technology is outdated and would contribute to unhealthy levels of mercury and nitrogen oxide ”” which combines with other chemicals to produce smog ”” and would contribute to global warming.

Smith argued the state should explore meeting energy needs through conservation before considering new plants.

Barring court appeals, three commissioners with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will make a final decision on whether to issue the permits. The commissioners are Perry appointees.

The two sitting commissioners are apparently deadlocked on the issue, Smith said. A third Perry-backed nominee has yet to go before the Texas Senate for confirmation.


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