ETECO reacts to ruling

From staff and wire reports

— AUSTIN — The permitting process for six coal-fired plants was pushed back four months Wednesday, as an administrative panel of judges granted a request from environmental groups who wanted more time to prepare their cases in opposition.

A day after a state court blocked Gov. Rick Perry’s order fast-tracking the permits, a panel of administrative judges set June 27 for the start of hearings over Dallas-based TXU Corp.’s proposal to build six coal-fired plants in North, East and Central Texas.
The process before the State Office of Administrative Hearings, which was to begin Wednesday, will be slowed to “provide a bit more time to allow all the parties to fully prepare, have their Ts crossed with response to testimony and that sort of thing,” administrative judge Kerry Sullivan said.

“We are delighted by Judge Stephen Yelenosky’s decision and hope that the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) will develop a schedule for the permit process that protects the rights of ordinary Texans to participate,” said Margaret Rands, president of the Athens-based East Texas Environmental Concerns Organization, which is a party to the suit. “Since power plants have a service life of 50 years or more, decisions should not be ill-considered or rushed through. We should take the time needed to protect our health and the environment.”

TXU’s five-year, $10 billion plan is considered bellwether and is being closely watched by industry analysts, lawmakers, competitors and environmentalists across the U.S.

“We’re disappointed in the SOAH judges’ action today,” said TXU spokeswoman Kim Morgan. “Texas needs reliable and affordable power, and we’re concerned that today’s action slows progress toward that objective.”
Lawyers for citizen groups opposed to the plants argued that Texas and Oklahoma residents didn’t have enough time to prepare for the high-stakes permit hearings.

Rands said the governor’s executive order has “resulted in rushing plants through the permitting process without regard to the rights of citizens.” The expedited process, she said, has made difficult ETECO’s efforts to use the legal system to fight the effort to “fast track” the permitting process for the power plants. The ruling to delay the case, Rands said, will better allow ETECO to prepare its case.
“We’ve had numerous problems with the process in this case, and we continue to have those issues,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Develop-ment Coalition.

Many of the experts and professionals approached by the environmental groups said they didn’t have enough time to adequately analyze the data, said Tom Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen.

“What a bunch of nonsense,” said TXU attorney John Riley, who argued that the groups had not made an adequate effort “in terms of preparing themselves with what was supposed to be a hearing today.”

A state district judge ruled Tuesday that Perry’s executive order to speed the permitting process for 19 proposed plants is not binding on the state hearing administrators.

The state can appeal that ruling, potentially putting the permitting process back on a fast track, but calls to Perry’s office inquiring about an appeal were not immediately returned.

TXU contends the coal plants will lower utility costs and help provide needed power supplies for the future.
TXU has argued that unless action is taken now, the electricity supplies in Texas will fall below reliable levels by 2009.

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