Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Environmental Groups Sue State Over Oak Grove Permit

While the national news headlines on our imperial presidency have been grabbing all the attention lately, the latest stories on TXU have been flying under the radar.

Via Pegasus News, the company is being fined $5 million for overcharging customers.

".....TXU is getting fined by the Public Utilities Commission of Texas once again, this time around for automatically renewing unrequested services for business customers."

But that fine is pocket change for a company that earned 2.5 billion last year and is preparing to offer its current CEO, John Wilder, a $270 million plus golden parachute for completing the buyout to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.

Meanwhile, as promised, suits have been filed against the state over its decision to issue a permit to TXU for construction of a lignite-burning coal-fired power plant. One suit is led by the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition and the Early Action Compact Task Force, which includes governmental entities, and a second was filed by the Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition, which includes Dallas and Houston.
Claiming the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality violated state health laws in granting the permit, a coalition of city leaders is asking a state district judge to reverse the decision that angered environmentalists and local residents.....

Environmental groups fear the Oak Grove plant will foul Austin's skies and pump 1,440 pounds of mercury into the air each year.

Two administrative law judges recommended last year that the air permit be denied, saying TXU failed to prove it could meet emissions limits.
In a related story, the Dallas Morning News says good riddance to Kathleen Hartnett White, chairwoman of the TCEQ. Ms. White announced that she would not be seeking re-appointment when her term expires August 31. Ms. White contends that the decision not to seek renewal of her term had been made months ago, and was not in response to public pressure.

Whether Ms. White jumped or was pushed, her exit is welcome news.

She has been an apologist for polluters, consistently siding with business interests instead of protecting public health. Ms. White worked to set a low bar as she lobbied for lax ozone standards and pushed through an inadequate anti-pollution plan. She also voted to approve TXU's pollution-intensive Oak Grove coal units, ignoring evidence that emissions from the lignite plant could thwart North Texas' efforts to meet air quality standards.

Ms. White's departure could signal the end of an era – but only if Gov. Rick Perry seizes this opportunity to reshape the environmental commission.

The TCEQ must take a more proactive approach to reducing pollution and enforcing environmental regulations. Ms. White's successor should not pick up where she left off.

.....Finally, we ask Mr. Perry to set aside outdated ideas about partisan politics and environmental issues.

Increasingly, bipartisan coalitions that include both business leaders and environmentalists are coalescing to address questions about power and pollution. Texas' Republican governor need look no further than North Texas to find corporate leaders (the high-powered founders of Texas Business for Clean Air, for example) and conservative politicians (Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck) with progressive ideas about balancing business interests and environmental issues.

With so much at stake for the state, Mr. Perry should appoint a commissioner who will bring a similar, forward-thinking approach to the TCEQ.

And echoing that sentiment, yes, any of these folks would make a fine chairman for the TCEQ.

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