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January 31, 2005

Senator Kip Averitt
State Capitol Building, 1100 Congress
Room E1.608
Austin, Tx. 78701

Dear Senator Averitt,

We are grateful to you for requesting a public meeting regarding the proposed Sandy Creek coal-burning power plant for Riesel, which we oppose and which is of great concern to us. Since we learned of the plans to build this plant we've spent a great deal of time researching the plans and permit process for the plant and the impacts it would have on our community's health and the land, river and wildlife of our area.

We've learned that the plant would be very polluting, with impacts on our health and our land. We've formed an organization called T-P-O-W-E-R, Texans Protecting Our Water, Environment and Resources, which is strongly opposed to the construction of a coal-burning plant in our area. Many of our members have requested a contested case hearing from TCEQ, and we've held several successful press conferences.

We want to see clean up of existing polluting plants, not construction of more dirty coal power plants. We've had success at the statewide level in the Texas Farm Bureau in getting a resolution into the 2005 policy book stating that new power plants in Texas should have no more pollution than new gas plants. Gas plants are much cleaner than existing coal plants and the proposed new coal plant at Riesel, which has very high pollution rates in the draft permit.

The pollution from coal plants includes nitrogen oxides that form smog (ozone) and sulfur emissions that cause acid rain and lead to breathing difficulties. Particle pollution comes from both of these pollutants and is linked to 1,160 premature deaths, and over 33,000 asthma attacks in Texas each year. We can see the evidence of pollution around us. Too many of the children in our area have to use inhalers just to breathe.

In Riesel and the surrounding region, we've been breathing polluted air for years, and it's time to clean it up. Emissions come from coal-burning at the Big Brown and Limestone power plants, and from Alcoa and TXU Sandow at Rockdale. Pollution blows in from Northeast Texas' coal plants - including Martin Lake, Monticello, Welsh and Pirkey. We should not add to the pollution by building a new coal plant in Riesel, and we need relief from existing pollution by cleaning up existing plants that are already harming our health.

Fish in many of our lakes are contaminated with toxic mercury and are unsafe to eat. Mercury exposure, mainly through consumption of contaminated fish, leads to permanent brain damage, in children, learning disabilities, delays in walking and talking and attention deficits. For adults, cardiovascular risks are increased and there can be difficulties in concentration. The Texas Medical Association now has a statement about the seriousness of mercury exposure.

The largest source of toxic mercury is coal-burning power plants, and utilities are the only industry that still has no regulations. Mercury rules proposed by EPA, due to be finalized in mid-March, are very weak and would do almost nothing to protect Texas children from mercury since trading of a toxic is being proposed for the first time. We need the state of Texas to take action, and join the other states that have already put power plant clean up policies in place.

Trading of credits for a toxin has never before been allowed due to the risk of toxic hotspots. Texas already leads the nation in mercury emissions, with five of the ten worst mercury polluting plants, and clean up at all plants (with no trading) is needed badly.

We can't afford the human toll of mercury impacts on our children's brains, and there are ways to clean up toxic mercury. Full scale field tests on existing coal plants have gotten reductions as much as 95% on mercury, even with lignite, the most difficult coal to clean up. Specific mercury controls are needed, and carbon sorbent technology has been found to be most effective so far. The costs would run from $.43 to $1.29 per month for an average Texas household, less than a cup of coffee per month, with mercury reductions of 90% at all plants. Special education costs $1,400 per year over the cost for other students in some districts and it makes good economic sense to clean up the pollution and reduce the risks of brain damage.

We know clean up works, too. A ten-year long study in Florida found that mercury levels in local fish improved in only 2-3 years when mercury was reduced at a nearby incinerator.

For all of these reasons, we urge you to sponsor a bill that is currently being drafted in Legislative Counsel that would reduce pollution from coal burning power plants. It would:

  • reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 75% from 1997 levels
  • reduce sulfur emissions (SO2) by 75% from 1997 levels, and
  • reduce mercury at all coal burning power plants in Texas by 90% by 2008

These are goals that the EPA has previously said can be achieved, and studies have shown that the technology is available and works. We need to get serious about protecting our lungs, our children's health, our fish, and our waterways.

Please let us know what you are willing to do, and your thoughts on sponsoring a power plant clean up bill. A statewide coalition called ACT, Alliance for a Clean Texas, with over 25 diverse member groups is supporting this bill. The non-partisan group includes fishing and sporting organizations, faith-based groups, and consumer and environmental organizations, and information is online at www.allianceforcleantexas.org. You would certainly have our support and theirs if you were to sponsor this legislation.

We look forward to talking with you further about the proposed coal plant and clean up of coal-burning power plants in Texas.

Thank you,

Robert and Jo Cervenka
Robert is President of T-P-O-W-E-R, Texans Protecting Our Water, Environment and Resources
(254) 716-3966
www.TXPOWER.org

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