Deep in the Heart of Dirty Energy and False Solutions

posted by scott parkin

Photo from the Sierra Club

I just want Texas to be number one in something other than executions, toll roads and property taxes.
-Kinky Friedman

They say everything is bigger in Texas. And in the race to drive our environment and climate off a steep cliff, my home state of Texas is speeding ahead in a big ass Mack fucking Truck.

Big Oil and King Coal have found kindred spirits in the land of rugged individualism and right wing politicians. George Dubya Bush’s political spawn might think bombing Iraqis and Afghans for oil is a good idea, but polluting and killing communities for big corporate profits in their own state with filthy water, dirty air, mercury poisoning, hydro-fracking, offshore drilling, oil refineries, nuclear plants, coal mines and coal plants is seen as a God-given right under their perverse interpretation of John Locke’s natural law.

For starters, Texas is like the “Land Where Time Stood Still” when it comes to coal. Where we’ve seen frontline communities and national groups like Sierra Club successfully challenge and defeat existing and new coal-fired power plants all over the country, corporations and politicians in Texas keep marching forward towards the climate apocalypse.

Currently there are at least 40 dirty coal burning boilers in Texas.

Yeah, that’s right, four-zero! And they are some of the oldest dirtiest plants in the country.

Furthermore, at least another 12 proposed coal plants are in the approval process to be built in the next few years.

In 2006-2007, Dallas-based utility TXU tried to move 11 coal plants through an approval process that sparked massive resistance from all over the country (but especially inside Texas.) Now Luminant (formerly TXU, subsidiary of Energy Future Holding) owns four massive dirty plants in central and east Texas and have three others in various stages of approval and development.

Other companies are proposing coal plants throughout the state as well. It’s a dirty energy epidemic!

According to the Environmental Integrity Project, Texas leads the country in mercury emissions. In fact, five of the worst mercury-emitting coal plants make their home in Texas. The Martin Lake Stream plant (owned and operated by Luminant) is the nation’s worst mercury polluter.

You’ll also be surprised to find out that according to a March 2009 report by the NRDC, Texas is facing the largest increase in the production of toxic coal ash waste by power plants than any other state.

Then we have the Oil-igarchy.

When I organized in Houston, one of the many names my friends and I called our group was the “Belly of the Beast.” It’s because Houston, and Texas, are home to the all powerful Oil-igarchy, and those companies run the American empire. They have economies the size of mid-sized countries. They bring down governments with the stroke of a pen. They own politicians and fund climate denial front groups in the climate wars.

Here’s some quick facts about Big Oil in Texas:

  • U.S. headquarters to Shell, CononcoPhillips, BP and Exxon.
  • Operational centers to many other oil companies and oil services companies, from Chevron to Halliburton.
  • Home of the largest oil refinery in North America (Exxon-owned Baytown Refinery, Baytown, TX).
  • Big Oil’s dominant paradigm is reinforced in Texas by its gas-guzzling car culture.
  • The Keystone XL pipeline is coming down right through Texas carrying Alberta tar sands oil from Alberta to Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast (because polluting the Gulf with offshore-drilled oil isn’t quite enough.)
Photo from

I can’t say enough about Big Oil and Texas. It’s a source of pride and cultural tradition throughout the state. Fictional oilman J. R. Ewing is a hero to many, and Texans will defend their right to drive their big trucks and drain the earth of fossil fuels to the bloody end.

The other night, I saw a great lesson on fossil fuels on the new AMC show “The Walking Dead.” In a world destroyed by the Zombie Apocalypse, a scientist remarked (as power for their gasoline-fueled generators protecting them from the zombies was running out): “We based our whole society on fossil fuels, how stupid was that?

And Texas ain’t just full of out-and-out dirty fossil fuels, there are also plenty of False Solutions to climate change to go around as well. False Solutions are quick fixes that perpetuate inequities in our society and attempt to cash in on the climate crisis.  From nuclear power to “fracking” in north, central and south Texas to proposed “clean coal” plants, you don’t have to be burning oil and coal to be harming Texan communities.

For instance, the coal and utility industries are hell-bent on selling us “clean coal” technology, a.k.a. carbon capture and storage (CCS), and they want Texas to be the lab rat for this unproven technology. According to CoalSwarm, the Summit Power Group is currently developing a carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility in Texas called the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP). TCEP, also refered to as “NowGen,” is a carbon capture facility that will incorporate CCS technology in what the company calls a “first-of-its kind commercial power plant.” TCEP hopes to capture 90% of its carbon dioxide emissions. If accomplished, this would be more than any other power plant of commercial scale operating anywhere in the world. As a result, the company contends that TCEP’s carbon emissions will be far lower than those of any existing fossil-fueled power plant.

Gas companies have also decided to rapidly expand natural gas extraction from underlying shales by using a relatively new technique called hydro fracturing, or “fracking.” This “bridge fuel” — as some of the Big Greens call it — may be less carbon-intensive than coal or oil, but it’s still just a fossil fuel with a smaller carbon footprint. But furthermore, the fracking extraction method is poisoning communities from New York to Pennsylsvania to different parts of Texas.

Land owners are getting burned by eminent domain as gas companies are forcing their way onto their land to get to the gas and leaving lots of dirty byproducts. Everyone from suburban soccer moms to farmers are rising up against fracking in Texas. It doesn’t help that the Big Greens give a stamp of approval to its extraction. It does help when the soccer moms block the roads into the drilling sites with their mini-vans.

Nukes often get a hall pass from some clean energy advocates. According to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service: “The nuclear power industry and its governmental allies are spending tens of millions of dollars annually to promote atomic power as a “clean air” energy source and to encourage the construction of new nuclear reactors in the U.S. and worldwide.

The industry is fighting to make Texas the site of a resurgence for the nuclear industry, with at least seven proposed nuclear plants plus a proposal to make Andrews County, Texas a nuclear waste dump.

And the reason driving all these dirty energy and false solution projects in the great state of Texas?

Greed, pure corporate greed.

Unfortunately many Texan politicians are in the pocket of these greedy bastards, so it comes down to people power — and Texas has lots of it. Rising Tide chapters are sprouting up in Dallas and Houston. Suburban soccer moms are organizing against natural gas in North Texas. Local environmental coalitions and Sierra Club chapters are standing up to nukes and Big Coal. Texas-based direct action networks dating back to before the WTO shutdown in Seattle in 1999 have fought corporate and state power for over a decade.

Texas is going to be the next big battleground over our energy future. Struggles over polluting fossil fuels as well as corporate green washing solutions are clearly going to be entering a new phase in 2011. Hopefully, we’ll see a new fierce resistance take hold.