Texans and coal plants

Posted: Dec 26, 2006 12:00 AM
Texans and coal plants

Here's a wish for the new year. When we say we need more energy, may we mean it!

In my own great state of Texas, where the modern oil industry was born more than a century ago, one strains to see honest, open discussion of the energy choices that lie before us. Such as: Shall we allow the construction of 11 new coal-fired plants, or shall we, ah, hmmm ... shall we just turn up the thermostat and think about that one tomorrow?

TXU, the state's major utility, wants to build the new plants because energy supplies, even here, are tightening. The mayors of Dallas and Houston say no way. Environmentalists rally opposition by portraying the proposed plants as foul and dirty, in spite of the utility's pledge to reduce overall emissions by 20 percent.

A recent poll seems to fortify the inference that Texans, after profound experience with messy oil wells and smoky refineries, are content to let lovely countries like Iran call the tune on energy supplies and prices.

Here's the summary of the poll, from the Austin chapter of the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington-based, Rockefeller-funded environmental lobby: "Fast-tracking more dirty coal-fired power plants for Texas is opposed by nearly all Texans. Texans do not want to see their state shortchange the deliberate review that should take place of these needlessly dirty power sources. To say that Gov. [Rick] Perry has no mandate for his plan to rubber stamp these dirty power plants may be the understatement of the year."

For background: EIP commissioned a telephone poll of 600 adults, two thirds of whom supposedly want no new plants. Eighty-one percent supposedly want no fast-tracking of plant permits, a procedure approved last year by Perry.

Note the allusions neatly slipped into the findings: "more dirty coal-fired power plants," "these needlessly dirty power sources." EIP takes as proved the contention that TXU proposes to befoul our state. "Why, these utility guys, we oughta take 'em out and …" That's apparently what EIP would like us to think, while angrily biting the tabs off our Lone Star cans.

Take it a step further: All this rhetorical nonsense points us toward the conclusion that, not only does TXU propose to befoul our state, but, hey, there's no problem. The poll put to responders the option of relying on "conservation" before attempting befoulment. The responders naturally liked that option. Just one problem: the poll's failure to ask "conserve what?" and "how?" and "at what cost?"

The most scandalous aspect of the coal-plant controversy is the refusal -- yea, the inability -- of coal-plant foes to describe just how they'd go about providing for Texas' large and growing energy needs at a time of shrinking natural gas supplies and deep opposition to nuclear power. We hear about "conservation." We hear about wind power, solar power; we sometimes even hear about coal gasification. We never hear coal-plant foes explain how that's going to happen, and what it would mean and cost. Coal gasification, for instance: The technology is (at present) expensive and still under development. Wind? A nice little supplement, but a major source? Show us where and how much.

What a huge help these polltakers are in addressing energy needs -- living proof that it's easier to tear something down than to build it. Ironic that the money and inspiration for this disinformation campaign should come from the Rockefellers -- who were never known, in days of yore, for tender feelings toward the environment. Or much else.

That's where we are as 2007 begins -- nursing fantasies of pleasant, morally enriching solutions to the latest energy crunch; unruffled, for now, by the power of overseas exporters to determine how much we'll pay for energy.

Texas, being Texas, likely will get its coal plants eventually. But I ask you, Texas: If Texans must wrestle this hard with rock-bottom questions such as how we keep the lights on, what does that say about the nation's capacity to engage in the same wrestling match? Nothing particularly cheerful, I'd venture.

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