Problems with ED in Texas!

August 20th, 2008

Yes, folks, the world, polar bears particularly, have a serious problem with ED.  Environmental Defense is at it again, selling out and allowing yet ANOTHER coal plant in Texas.  Remember that deal they did in early March 2007?  Here’s the Legalectric post about that:

Enviro TXU sellout

And now they’re at it again, the quote from Smitty says it all:

“While Environmental Defense Fund has done great work in cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the plant by as much as 50 percent, it’s not enough to assure viability of our climate,” said Tom Smith, the head of the Austin office of Public Citizen.

Here it is in the Austin Statesman:

Environmental group signs off on coal-fired power plant

Deal illustrates different philosophies among environmental groups on energy future

By Asher Price
Monday, August 18, 2008

When the Environmental Defense Fund signed a deal with utility NRG Texas late last month to end its opposition to a plan for a new coal-fired power plant in Limestone County, about 140 miles northeast of Austin, the advocacy group cheered that it had won concessions that will make a dent in the global warming problem.

Under the deal, NRG agreed to capture half of its carbon dioxide emissions or mitigate the emissions by investing in things that can absorb the carbon dioxide, as well as to limit emissions of other greenhouse gases.

However, other environmental groups declined to participate in the negotiation. Any coal plant, as far as they were concerned, would contribute to the world’s warming.

Reaction to the deal throws into relief differences between environmental groups — those that compromise and those that take a harder line — as they try to shape how Texas and the nation address global warming in coming years. And it illustrates how the regulatory climate in Texas, far from comfortable for environmental groups, shapes deal-making.

Under the agreement, the Environmental Defense Fund and a Dallas- and Houston-led group called Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition that includes Travis County will withdraw their opposition to a proposed 800-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Limestone County, east of Waco, that will feed the statewide electrical grid.

The utility says it will mitigate carbon dioxide emissions; reduce nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions at the plant site, where there are already two coal-fired units; cut its water use; and pay for the development of a utility-scale solar energy project or contribute money to an energy efficiency fund.

The plant, large enough to power 640,000 homes, should go online in 2013, said David Knox, a spokesman for the company. The plant will emit about 800 tons of carbon dioxide an hour, or about 7 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. By comparison, Texas’ coal-fired power plants collectively emitted just over 147 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2004, the most recent data shows.

The parties to the deal are not releasing the nitty-gritty details, such as how much NRG might pay toward the solar project or how carbon dioxide offsets, which have been faulted in the past for being a squishy term for all kinds of ways of mitigating emissions, were calculated.

“We wanted it to be real and not have an accounting trick,” said Jim Marston, head of the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund.

He said NRG had agreed to help pay for a pilot project of capturing carbon dioxide in grasses over the Ogallala aquifer and would finance carbon capture studies at the University of Texas. He would not say how much the utility will pay.

Marston said that without government regulations on carbon dioxide — neither Texas nor the federal government limits emissions of the greenhouse gas — it is up too groups like his to hash out details on offsets, which have included planting trees and building solar panels to cancel out emissions of carbon dioxide.

Groups including Sierra Club and Robertson County Our Land Our Lives, which counts as its members the watchdog environmental group Public Citizen, would not enter the deal with NRG. Officials with those groups said they will continue to contest the utility’s air permit application at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The commission is unlikely to decide whether to issue the permit before 2009.

“The reason Sierra Club and others are staying in this fight is that carbon dioxide emissions from this site are huge,” said Ilan Levin, a lawyer for Sierra Club.

Environmental groups have said the proposed plant, called Limestone 3, does not meet federal Clean Air Act mandates that require industries to use top-of-the-line technologies. The groups also say the impact on air quality in cities such as Dallas and Austin should be fully studied.

But those arguments have gotten little traction in Texas, where the demand for energy has grown as the population booms and where the environmental agency that issues air permits and the governor’s office have been sympathetic to energy industry arguments.

“I have less confidence in the regulators in Texas than in other states,” said Marston, who also played a role in brokering a deal that rolled back power plant plans by the utility TXU in 2007. “It does not make sense for me to ignore the regulatory climate I’m in. If I get two-thirds a loaf, I’m going to take it.”

The split between the environmental groups on the NRG deal is part of larger differences about how to address the energy crunch.

“The difference between us and some other groups is some are against all coal plants no matter what,” Marston said. “We’re not anti-coal, but we worry how much CO2 from the plant will get into the air. We think you can sequester it, and we think you can offset it.”

Representatives from Sierra Club and Public Citizen concede that the deal could offer “downside protection” if they are not able to block the plant but said they will continue to fight the deal.

“While Environmental Defense Fund has done great work in cutting carbon dioxide emissions at the plant by as much as 50 percent, it’s not enough to assure viability of our climate,” said Tom Smith, the head of the Austin office of Public Citizen.

Anatomy of a deal

NRG Texas already has two coal-fired power plants at its Limestone County site, and in 2007, the utility proposed a third. The Environmental Defense Fund and Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition, a group of 36 local governmental entities, dropped their objections to the plan in exchange for these concessions, among others. NRG says it will:

• Offset half of the carbon generated by the proposeed unit, making the carbon profile of this coal-fueled plant roughly equivalent to that of a gas-fueled plant. Those efforts could include ‘sequestration,’ using crops or other plants to absorb carbon dioxide; retiring older, less efficient power plants; and using wind or solar energy. NRG will not build another coal-fueled plant in Texas unless this condition is met.

• Use new technology at the new plant and improve the old plants, which will push nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions for all three units below the 2006 levels of the two existing units.

• Help pay for a large solar energy project in Texas, if economically feasible as determined by criteria in the agreement. If NRG does not build or participate in a utility-scale solar plant, it will contribute to a trust that would pay for Texas energy efficiency projects, such as getting schools to replace older heating and air-conditioning units with more efficient ones.

• Use special technology to cut water use. NRG says it will consume 1.3 billion more gallons of water annually at the site once the plant is built, not the 3.2 billion gallons typically required by an 800-megawatt coal plant.

• Help pay for experimenting with ways that grasses absorb carbon dioxide.; 445-3643

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