Texas’ Dirty Coal


The latest carbon dioxide emissions numbers from the Energy Department, listed by state, are out.

Not surprisingly, Texas topped the list of biggest polluters in 2003, the most recent year with available data. It holds steady as 7th in carbon dioxide emissions behind whole nations: the entire United States, China, Russia, Japan, India and Germany.

The co-star of the report was coal, Texas’ major power source, because although carbon dioxide emissions from car exhaust account for 25% of America’s greenhouse gasses, coal produces 50% of America’s electricity and burning coal creates more carbon dioxide than any other common fuel source.

Texas seems to be a house divided regarding its own place in the global emissions hierarchy. In 2005 the state’s Governor Rick Perry fast-tracked plans for 11 new TXU Corp. coal power plants after the company lined the war chest for Perry’s re-election campaign. But Robert Cervenka, a Republican rancher of Riesel, Texas, managed to organize 1,000 people to fight the governor and TXU Corp. in their effort to double the state’s already grossly high emissions. To Cervenka, clean air was not a political or partisan issue: It was just plain good sense. “We might not be out huggin’ trees,” he said, “but we’re real concerned about our land, our water, and our air. It’s our land, our lives.” Hotshot Houston attorney Steve Susman represented Cervenka’s group, pro bono, as they sued Governor Perry. An Austin judge did eventually rule that Perry had no authority to hop into bed with TXU Corp. so quickly, and the company actually ended up dropping most of its construction plans. It wasn’t Texas’ already high emissions ranking that fueled citizens to act; it was that no one wanted to live next to the plants, breathing the pollution.

Similarly, Texas’ own environmental monitoring agency refuses to track the state’s carbon dioxide emissions, instead claiming carbon dioxide is “not a regulated pollutant.” The Supreme Court ruled in April, however, that the EPA could no longer get away with failing to regulate greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide in general, and the emissions of automobiles in particular. Of course, Texas was one of the nine states sitting with the EPA during this case – right alongside other parties like the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The same day, the Court ruled 9-0 that coal power plants must meet current, cost-effective pollution control standards when renovated. So even if Texas’ own agency refuses to monitor carbon dioxide emissions, the EPA will be held accountable for doing so.

But by whom? Recently, in an effort to “green” the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi vowed to replace the incandescent bulbs in the Capitol’s 17,000 lamps with more energy-efficient corkscrew fluorescent bulbs and to begin buying from eco-friendly vendors; but Pelosi, whose effort is supposedly to make the Capitol, which already puts out over 340,000 tons of greenhouse emissions, carbon neutral, stopped her effort just short of calling for an end to burning coal in the Capitol Power Plant. Evidently Pelosi did not want to go any rounds with her Senate colleagues from coal states like Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who have both previously blocked plans to eliminate coal from the Capitol Power Plant.

President Bush surely won’t be forcing the EPA’s hand in getting that agency to follow the Supreme Court’s ruling by tracking carbon dioxide emissions. One has to wonder, though, when the rest of America — and even the world — will also stand up as those Texans did. For even though it’s hard for most people to conceptualize the affect melting ice caps will have on each of our lives, few of us want to live next door to a coal-burning power plant.

Need more convincing? Check out this carbon footprint calculator to see what kind of air you’re creating for the rest of us.

— Jessica Savage

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate