Giving Oklahoma a say in coal plants sets bad precedent, group says

TEXAS - A decision by Texas administrative law judges allowing Oklahoma to intervene in a utility firm's coal-fired-plant permit case sets a bad precedent, says a Texas business organization.

"All Texas stakeholders should have a say in the permitting process, but allowing an out-of-state party into the debate is bad public policy," said Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business.

He said that erecting barriers to permitting in Texas makes it more difficult for firms to do business in Texas and makes Oklahoma and other states more attractive for businesses looking for new facility locations.

"The construction of this and other electric-generating facilities is essential to the future of economic development in Texas," said Hammond. "Oklahoma doesn't have a dog in this hunt."

Matthew Paque, environmental attorney supervisor with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, said Hammond is wrong.

"The assertion that Oklahoma 'doesn't have a dog in this hunt' is incorrect," said Paque. "Oklahoma does have an interest in ensuring that we maintain our attainment status, and that is why DEQ is considering whether and how we should be involved in the proceeding."

"Attainment status" refers to meeting certain federal air- quality requirements.

In December, the DEQ asked for permission to air its concerns about the potential harm that 11 coal-fired electricity-generating plants proposed by TXU Corp. could have on Oklahoma's air quality. Some of the proposed plants would be in counties that border southern Oklahoma.

Hammond termed it "bizarre and outrageous" to let a competitor state help limit Texas' ability to compete for jobs and wages.

"This would be the equivalent of allowing another state to impose taxes on Texas employers," he said.

Other companies want to build about a half dozen additional coal-fired plants.

"The decision to allow Oklahoma to intervene in the permit process is misguided at best," said Hammond.

Over the weekend, several hundred people appeared at the Texas State Capitol in Austin to protest the proposed plants. A coalition of energy and other businesses, including Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp., a natural gas producer, have spent about $1 million on ads opposing the coal-fired facilities. Mayors of more than a dozen Texas cities also oppose them.

Legislation has been filed in the Texas House of Representatives calling for a 180-day moratorium to allow time to study environmental and other issues relating to the plants. Lawsuits have also been filed in Texas state and federal courts challenging the proposed plants.

A TXU spokesman has said that Texas over-relies on more- expensive natural gas for its power, and that using coal will help reduce costs.

Thomas Kleckner said that Texas gets about 72 percent of its power from natural gas. He also said the proposed coal plants will be about 80 percent cleaner than traditional plants.


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