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Best of SA 2013: 4/24/2013
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Lone Star Green

‘Clean’ coal sticks its snout under San Antonio’s tent

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In the slow-motion planetary train wreck that is fossil-fuel-derived climate disruption — whether you call it global warming, global ‘weirding,’ or a worldwide conspiracy of the labcoat class — no one factor ranks higher in the blame game than coal. Once burned, the dark rock we level mountains for releases a range of poisonous substances, including brain-addling mercury, lung-damaging sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, airborne radioactive materials, and loads of heat-trapping greenhouse gases such as the normally benevolent carbon dioxide.

Coal is killing us in the here and now and destabilizing the planet’s natural processes to such a degree that our survival as a species has become not an infrequent subject of scientific papers. And no state gets more of its electricity from coal than Texas.

Yet last month, San Antonio-owned CPS Energy became the first utility in the nation to make the prescient business decision to close our oldest coal-fired power plant rather than invest in costly pollution-reduction equipment. The fact that the utility promised to install these scrubbers on the J.T. Deely power plant years ago to sidestep a fight with environmentalists over a newer (and cleaner) Spruce Two coal plant now up and running is something regional enviros are willing to forgive and forget. After all, the injection of an expected half-billion in new equipment now would virtually guarantee the plant would be run until the bolts burst, if possible. Good luck getting rate hikes for that.

The Deely announcement was followed by a pledge from Mayor Julián Castro to turn San Antonio into the nation’s epicenter of clean-energy development. Those twin messages were echoing last week when CPS announced it is seeking up to 400 megawatts of solar power. The game here has clearly shifted.

And yet Big Coal is still waging war in the state.

Several new coal plants are lurching toward realization. While none would be as bad as ’70s-era “Dirty” Deely, an expanded Coleto Creek Power Station a couple hours downriver could soon start spewing several hundred tons of sulfur dioxide per year. Beyond that, Las Brisas, a proposed petroleum coke power plant, would emit more than 60 pounds of mercury annually. And White Stallion in Matagorda County wouldn’t be doing any favors for the already heavily polluted Houston area, a prime suspect in the smog that so often envelopes San Antonio.

Even as we celebrate the decision to close Deely by 2018, the EPA’s transport rule announced last week targeting coal plants in Texas and 27 other states suggests there wasn’t much of a choice to be made. The plant blamed for 14 premature deaths, 21 heart attacks, and 280 asthma attacks every year, according to a report commissioned by the nonprofit advocacy group Clean Air Task Force, simply has to go. Of course, every year that ticks by adds to the death toll — both in terms of heart attacks as well as the gathering storm that is climate disruption, forecasts for which suggest this year’s punishing drought and record-breaking temps are just a foretaste.

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