DWELLE: A Conversation Long Overdue
Published: November 17, 2006 11:41 am
By Dick Dwelle
A handful of people in Athens and the surrounding area are addressing a
problem that should have had the entire community’s attention years and
It is pollution that comes mostly from coal-burning electric-generating
power plants in Texas.
We in Henderson County are surrounded by them. TXU plans to construct a
new one at the Big Brown Station outside Fairfield in adjoining Freestone
County. There are two plants in operation at Big Brown now. They have been
there for many years.
Unfortunately for us, Big Brown ranked sixth in 2004 in the United States
among coal-burning power plants in its emissions of mercury. Add to this
that in the summer months our prevailing winds, 68 percent of the time,
are from the southwest, the direction in which Big Brown is located from
us. The nation’s No. 1 plant for mercury emissions that year was TXU’s
Martin Lake Station and No. 4 was TXU’s Monticello Station.
One of my regrets is that as owner, along with other family members, of
the Review for many years we failed to recognize the possible hazard this
plant and all other coal-burning plants pose to the environment. We could
have brought this to the attention of the public years ago.
TXU has filed with the state for a permit to build a new unit at Big
Brown. This request is being considered along with seven others that have
been placed on a fast track for permitting. Instead of providing the
public with about 18 months to study possible effects and express
opinions, the period of time prior to permitting is expected to be
substantially reduced. Permits for the eight new power plants that are on
the fast track to permitting are likely to be issued in the coming spring.
The small group in this county that is addressing the permit issue is the
East Texas Environmental Concerns Organization (ETECO). They invite any
and everyone concerned about the effect a new plant at Big Brown and other
new coal-burning plants in Texas will have to join them. They want to get
emissions that owners of the new plants have requested reduced
substantially prior to the issuance of permits.
Mercury is only one of the emissions that are harmful. Others destroy the
ozone. Some are particles that affect breathing. There are others, as
well. All are harmful.
Texas power plants produce an estimated one-third of the pollution the
state contributes to global warming. With the proposed new plants, this
figure is expected to rise from 33 percent to over 43 percent.
There are many plants in the U.S. where coal is turned into gas which is
used to fuel plants. They have operated successfully and dependably for
years. Pollution is radically reduced. The difference in the cost of a
plant plus operating it is not great. But it does cost more. TXU refuses
to build plants using coal gasification. State agencies do little, if
anything, to encourage utilities to use the cleaner process. Thus, the
public needs to make every effort it can to get the amount of allowable
emissions from new coal-burning plants reduced before the plant receives
When mercury gets into lakes, it affects the fish. The amount people
should consume of two species of fish from five East Texas lakes is
already limited: for adults, two servings a month of eight ounces of
largemouth bass or drum, and for children, two servings of four ounces
each in a month. These lakes are Big Cypress Creek and Caddo Lake to our
northeast, and southeast of us Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Toledo Bend
Reservoir and B.A. Steinhagan Reservoir
Advisories are issued by the Seafood and Aquatic Life Group Texas
Department of State Health Advisories. Five other Texas lakes are listed
for some fish as well as mackerel from the entire Gulf of Mexico, and all
fish and crabs from the Upper Lavaca Bay.
What lake or lakes will be added to the above in years to come as
emissions are increased when 19 new power plants are on line? Requests
have been made to build this number of new ones in Texas with eight of
them to be permitted after only a minimal time for hearings.
The hearing for Big Brown will take place Nov. 28 in the high school
auditorium at 10 a.m. in Fairfield.
The matter of pollution from power plants may not be a problem for some of
you today. I assure you it will be a huge problem in years to come for
you, your children and their children. The pollution builds up. Mercury
doesn’t go away.
When will people in this county be advised they should limit the amount
they should consume of a certain kind of fish taken from one or more of
our lakes or ponds? Unfortunately, Texas does not have a planned program
for testing lakes. In Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes, the state tests
all lakes annually. Among those opposing regular testing in Texas are some
of the electric utility companies.
What about the effect on the water and on the fish in Lake Athens, home of
the Texas Fresh Water Fisheries Center where millions of bass fingerlings
are raised each year for distribution to public lakes in our state?
Who should be interested in this matter? I feel that every person who
calls Henderson County home should. One would think the Texas Parks &
Wildlife Department that operates the fish hatchery at the Fisheries
Center would want to be informed each year on the condition of the water
it is using from Lake Athens.
Among our residents, there is a group of people who can do more than any
other about this problem if they will only become involved. They are our
elected officials. They are elected to protect us from everything else.
Why not this? Elected city and county officials are among those we should
be able to turn to for leadership, research and help of every nature in
connection with our health.
The federal government is helping minimally. The State of Texas’ elected
officials show little concern as a whole and agencies are, for the most
part, idle about improving existing regulations or adopting new guidelines
to limit future problems.
We nearly always have to ask ourselves the question, “Who cares the most
and who ends up having to solve the problem?”
The answer is the people that live in the affected community. We’re those
Dick Dwelle is former owner of the Athens Daily Review.