Coal Plant Meeting Airs Environmental Concerns
Published: October 28, 2006 01:36 am

By Dick Dwelle

Concerns over the plans of utility companies in Texas to construct 19 new coal-burning power plants in the next few years drew 80 residents of this area to a meeting Wednesday at the Cain Center.

Among the proposed plants is one to be located in Fairfield, where there are two existing plants at Big Brown, which is owned by TXU.

The meeting was called by East Texas Environmental Concerns Organization (ETECO), a group of some 25 local, interested individuals.

The visitors heard from some of Texas’ best-informed people on the subject of emissions by the plants and the effect on the environment.

Carol Brinkman, vice president of the ETECO, opened the meeting and explained that its purpose was to provide those attending with information about the problems that coal-burning power plants cause. They were to hear, too, how people in the immediate area of a plant and those in affected areas can be a factor in possibly getting the maximum amount of emissions for proposed new plants reduced in advance of permitting and construction.

Robert Cervenka, a rancher from Riesel who founded Texans Protecting Our Water and Environment, said that there needs to be about a six- month delay in the issuance by the state of permits to build any of the 19 plants.

He explained that research is underway to better determine the harm that emissions from the plants are to people, land, water and plants. He said such a study is underway.

His group raised $30,000 as they opposed the standards proposed for a new plant in their area and were successful in securing a 28 percent reduction in emissions.

He explained that the local organizations that oppose the state’s issuance of coal-burning permits, have expressed concern about the long-term affect of permitting coal-burning plants which deliver huge amounts of dangerous chemicals into the air. These chemicals are known to be harmful to people of all ages and can ruin water supplies and contaminate lakes, so fish from them are not edible, he said. The organizations push the construction of gasification plants or the reduction of emissions in coal-burning facilities.

Tommy (Smitty) Smith, the second to address the gathering, said that the good news is that organizations like the one Cervenka and his wife, Jo, formed are being organized all over the state.

He said that plant emissions not only cause breathing problems but the carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming.

He said at the present rate Texas will see a big change in the weather in the next 20 to 50 years as a result of (coal) plant emissions.

The emissions are going into the atmosphere, not only from coal plants in Texas and the rest of the U.S., but from as far away as China.

“There are three means by which the energy problem can be lessened,” he said. “They are: energy efficiency, which we are all aware of; greater use of solar and of wind power; and, third, coal gasification in place of coal-burning power plants.”

Dr. Neal Carman of the Sierra Club pointed out that permits issued years ago were not good ones. They allowed for too much in the way of hazardous emissions.

It is almost impossible to get an existing, poor permit changed, he explained, adding that the way to help reduce pollution is to see that the plant is properly permitted in the first place.

Coal plants in the Midwest are causing pollution in areas 500 to 1,000 miles away, he noted, and said that Athens will be surrounded by plants.

“The problem with air standards is that they are weak,” Carman explained.

He said that it costs more to build plants when the restrictions are strong.

He encouraged the group to strive for stronger provisions in the permit for Big Brown at Fairfield. TXU plans to build a third unit there to go with the existing two.

He said that coal-burning plants release little particles that can cause heart attacks or make breathing more difficult.

Mercury is emitted along with lead and arsenic. He said that one gram of mercury, which is 1/454th of a pound, can contaminate a 20-acre lake to the extent the fish from it are not edible.

Four of TXU’s plants put out 25 percent of the pollution in the state, he said, but didn’t tell which plants made up the four referenced, except to say Big Brown is one of them.

Richard “Rich” Furman said that coal gasification came into use 35 years ago and is used successfully in many plants in the country. Utilities are slow to adopt the process, he added.

He explained that coal gasification is the process by which coal is turned into gas. The gas can be treated to reduce harmful parts before it is used. He said that the volume of gas versus what comes out of the stack is one to 160. At present plants are treating the much-larger emissions. It is easier to treat the gas before it is used, he said.

Gasification emissions are 90 percent lower than those coming from coal-burning plants, Furman explained.

“People in the North will not allow coal plants to be built,” he added.

Furman is a retired chemical engineer who specializes in the areas of new energy technologies, alternative fuels for power plants and pollution control for power plants.

A question came form the audience regarding the use of nuclear power.

They were advised that it reduces pollution by 80 percent, but nuclear is not practical because of waste. Furman said that it can take only 10,000 years or more before one could utilize areas where nuclear waste is placed. He compared this with possibly 50 years for waste from conventional plants. He said that nuclear waste is presently going to West Texas.

Before the meeting closed, Mrs. Brinkman told the gathering that she hoped the issue would not become politically partisan.

She said that this area needs the support of all the people to help see that pollution is kept to the minimum.

The point that Gov. Rick Perry had signed on to fast-track the issuance of permits had been brought up by one of those in attendance.

Brinkman said that the interest of the organization is to do what it can to limit the amount of pollution that will come from the proposed new plant at Big Brown.

Earlier, the matter had been discussed that Henderson County is in the path of prevailing winds coming from Big Brown.