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Lone Star Green

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

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As our city struggles to stay in compliance with existing federal rules on smog — having made it this far into 2011 only by “our teeth, and our nails,” according to Peter Bella, natural resource director for the 12-county Alamo Area Council of Governments — new coal plants could make all our ride-sharing, efficiency measures, and pollution cuts at area cement plants for naught. And while CPS Energy is digging deep into renewables, they also hope to make up some of those lost Deely megawatts with … another coal plant.

Seattle-based Summit Power’s Texas Clean Energy Project is a new venture into the wilds of “clean” coal. Run right, the air emissions of the coal gasification plant planned for the Odessa area would be minimal, most of the carbon dioxide would be collected and injected in the West Texas oil patch. The group even plans to sell a nitrogen-rich urea byproduct — consider it new-generation coal pee — into the fertilizer market, and build its own desalination plant for its water needs. It is such a different beast that none other than Tom “Smitty” Smith, director for typically coal-adverse Public Citizen’s Texas office, admits his impression is still “pretty schizophrenic.” (“It’s far, far cleaner than any other coal plant in the country,” Smith says. “But it’s still a coal plant.”) Whatever carbon magic can be worked, the ravages of mountaintop-removal coal mining and stream-smothering toxic slurries must still be addressed. And if the CO2 doesn’t stay in the ground, if it leads to earthquakes such as one researcher suggests it will, than it still does nothing to arrest our sprint toward six-degrees (or more) of warming this century.

And yet leaking carbon dioxide doesn’t disturb Texans nearly as much as wasted water. If anything threatens to derail this little coal rush, it’s the EPA from above and water from below. Already, the Lower Colorado River Authority stalled a decision on White Stallion’s application, requesting more information and time to consider it. And Tenaska, another supposedly “clean” coal West Texas venture, is being fought at every turn in its hunt for water. With June entering the record books as Texas’ hottest yet, neighboring New Mexico just suffered through their driest to date. With the link between CO2 and such withering conditions secure, it’s past time the energy behind such water fights carried over into the realm of the greenhouse. •


Greg Harman is the editor of the San Antonio Current. His column Lone Star Green appears monthly.

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