These are troubling times. The fight for clean air is often a discouraging one. The back and forth between those who support, and those who oppose the EPA standards regarding Mercury and other toxics, and the cross-state emissions has been dizzying.
First, the EPA proposed standards that are right where they should be. And then, in the face of relentless opposition, they recently cut away at these much needed protections. The recent passage of the TRAIN Act by the House was yet another ominous indication that attacks on The Clean Act are not close to waning.
We mothers in Texas are watching and wondering if anyone really cares about us, our children and our health. We are working to keep our voices in the mix, but we need some hope and encouragement. Fortunately, good things are happening!
I recently visited with the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund, and talked with the lovely and sharp-as-whips folks, Elena Craft and Colin Meehan, who concern themselves with clean air matters. Among other things, I asked if there was any good news out there to hold onto. To my surprise and delight, they said, “Yes!”
Good News: “There are some corporate people who get it,” they assured me. The Texas EDF office, after all, is located in the City of Austin, the capital of Texas and the city most proactive in the state about clean air efforts. Austin Energy is municipally-owned, and can be counted among the companies that have expressed support for the Toxics rules and corporate compliance to them. Austin Energy joins the Clean Energy Group’s Clean Air Policy Initiative. The twelve members of this group include leading energy companies – Austin Energy, Avista Corporation, Calpine Corporation, Constellation Energy, Exelon Corporation, National Grid, New York Power Authority, NextEra Energy, PG&E Corporation, Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc., and Seattle City Light. In April of this year, the Initiative issued a statement in support of the EPA standards, and expressed their intention to comply.
Good News: Austin Energy has also instituted innovative ways to save on power and engage their customers with radio-controlled thermostats. These turned out to be crucial efforts in the face of Texas’ recent power shortages. Responsible, innovative companies? Yes!
Good News: The City of San Antonio, has embraced the value and importance of the EPA rules and standards. Early on, they committed to shut down the Deely Plant, one of their old coal-fired plants that was anticipated to be out of compliance with the new rules. CPS Energy, the San Antonio utility, has also entered into an agreement with the new “clean plant,” Summit Power Group’s Texas Clean Energy Project, currently under construction in central Texas. With this agreement, CPS Energy, the country’s largest municipally-owned natural gas and electric utility, has committed to a 25-year contract with what is touted to be the cleanest coal-fueled power project ever permitted in Texas.
Of the deal, EPA Administrator, Lisa P. Jackson said: “San Antonio is stepping up to lead Texas and our nation into a clean energy future –and proving that investing in innovative technology to protect our health and the environment is also a great way to create jobs.”
Good News: San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro has established a priority for his administration — to make San Antonio a hub for energy development, and a recognized leader in clean energy technology. As a result, several alternative energy companies have moved into the area.
Good News: Summit Energy’s Texas Clean Energy Project has made big news because the federal government, through the Department of Energy, has invested $350 million to develop the project, which is a gasification plant to be built in the ailing oil town of Penwell, Texas. The plant will convert coal to gas, clean the gas before burning, and then capture 90 percent of its carbon emissions.
According to Summit Energy and the Department of Energy, the plant is expected to capture 3 million tons of carbon dioxide annually – more than any commercial power plant now operating in the world. In addition, the plant will bring much needed jobs to the area. Given that Texas is already populated with more coal-fired plants than any other state, is construction of yet another new plant good news? Well, relatively speaking — yes. TECP’s commitment to be clean and to potentially ease the pressure to keep old dirty plants operational is decisively movement in the right direction.
Good news in Texas, and more work to be done…
It’s awesome to know that good things are happening in my home state. It’s comforting to learn that in a state that feels like air-pollution-ground-zero, companies are taking the lead, taking responsibility and doing the right thing. Sometimes this clean air fight feels like a massive going-against-the-tide effort to get our legislative representatives to pay attention; to do their jobs to protect their constituents over their donors; and think about the health and futures of our children. So even though there is major work to be done in this regard, it’s encouraging to know that progress is happening. And to all of the companies that are stepping up and embracing change and accountability, this Texas mother says, “Thank You!”