Texas coal wars

01/28/10 Joshua Lee Holton
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

Texas has some of the worst air pollution in the country, but some Texans have been working to change that. Last night a local church showed the documentary Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars. The film shows how politicians and CEOs joined faith based and community groups in opposing the construction of 19 power plants in Texas. Coal company TXU would have built 11 of those plants, but with pressure from the community groups, the company built only three.

There’s about 15 coal plants in the state of Florida. A group of Florida locals opposed to the growth of coal plants in their communities showed the film, supported by Interfaith Power and Light, a coalition of congregations that campaign to address climate change through promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency, and conservation. Terri Willingham is with The Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalist Church, and organized a discussion of the film.

Key moments of the struggle shine through the film, like when former Dallas mayor Laura Miller said that never in the history of Texas had so many cities banded together to fight for the environment, and especially for coal. An excerpt from the film targets one particular coal company called TXU.

Miller brought Houston Mayor Bill White as well as mayors from cities across Texas to join the Texas Cities for Clean Air Coalition, which fought the new coal plants.

The public health effects of burning fossil fuels are a major concern, as is how that energy is obtained.

In his state of the union address last night, President Barack Obama emphasized the need for diversifying energy sources, which would also create new jobs:

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

But at a watch party in Ybor City sponsored by Organizing for America, the Obama supporters WMNF spoke with all opposed drilling for oil off the coasts of Florida and were mixed about Obama’s support for nuclear energy.

Obama calls clean coal a safe solution, but many environmentalists say clean coal is anything but. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that a typical coal plant has annual emissions of 10,000 tons of sulphur dioxide, a leading cause of acid rain. Alec Craig, a minister, said his congregation has been unsuccessful in resolving their issues with a Progress Energy coal plant on the Anclote River in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

Rob Serenbetz live only two miles from the Anclote power plant, and has complained that the EPA won’t properly regulate the smoke stack emissions.

Although only about five people attended the film, Willingham says the message may bring a larger audience in the future.

The film frames the global energy challenge, and seeks to empower communities to protect public health, while supporting the local economy through clean and renewable energy. Since February 2008, 1000 coal plants are in development worldwide. To learn more about the film, go to http://fightinggoliathfilm.com.

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