“I am a public power man, but the way this agency has been put together and the difficulty we have getting information about it is giving public power a bad name.” Greenville mayor Bill Elkins ,,NA,07trTrrr t r7 r n TMPA lawyer faces a skeptical Grimes County crowd. TMPA from page 17 Thus, the Grimes County protesters haAie won the compensation they sought, and have made their philosophical pointTMPA conceded the need to assist communities it harms in its efforts to develop new energy supplies. But some folks in Grimes County think too much was given up in exchange. Jake Howard, for one, worries about the future: “The price of justice became too high and we couldn’t take it the whole way. I feel maybe we sold out too soon because TMPA is free to go anywhere now. And everyone in the state is at its mercy.” Howard has good cause for concern. TMPA has emerged with its legal powers intact, and the enabling legislation remains unchanged. Yet the taxpayers’ fight has served as a catalyst for public awareness; TMPA is finding it hard to retreat into its former convenient obscurity. The move to recall pro-TMPA council members in Denton is still underway. At TMPA itself, according to a Dallas reporter who attended a recent board meeting, there is much less rubber-stamping. And a Denton attorney has filed several lawsuits to keep the agency from proceeding with its projects until the whole four-city joint venture has been reconsidered. Most importantly, the taxpayers’ fight has alerted legislators to the problems of joint action programs, the abuse of eminent domain powers, and the implications of lignite development in Texas. Members of the House agriculture committee recently held hearings on the use of eminent domain, and several corrective measures were proposed. \(See artiKeese, the House natural resources committee will hold hearings later this summer on municipal power agencies, and Keese hopes to introduce some changes in the law. Lignite severance taxes and laws governing site selection for mines and power plants are also under study. A question of control All this attention is long overdue. The record of TMPA’s development shows that only a handful of politicians ever questioned the wisdom of what the planners and managers were telling them. The press went along as well. No newsman, state or local, made an independent investigation of the agency’s operations for over two years. By and large, the voting public remained apathetic and ignorant. Yet there is ample evidence that TMPA, for all its emphasis on planning, is more a product of crisis than forethought. Nonetheless, the four cities participating in TMPA are well on their way to investing hundreds of millions in lignite and nuclear projects, and 23 other cities can take advantage of the legislation creating TMPA to set up their own superagencies for energy development. Austin and Brownsville have already approached TMPA for help in financing new projects. No one doubts that in theory joint action agencies make it easier for public utilities, especially small ones, to compete with their larger private counterparts. But most public power entities are becoming increasingly interlocked with the private companies and are following their lead toward large-scale plant construction and reliance on coal and nuclear energy to the exclusion of possible alternatives. Already more than a million acres of Texas land from Texarkana to Brownsville have been leased for lignite by utilities and other companies. Between a seventh and a fourth of the coal in the northern Great Plains is leased by Texas for electric power production alone. By 1991, 8,000 to 9,000 megawatts of electricity are scheduled to be produced by nuclear plants in Texas. By then, these new fuel sources will be producing most of the state’s electricity. Savings on these fuels look good when compared to oil and gas prices projected for the 1980s, but the figures that utilities usually quote for public consumption only include the cost of fuel. They reflect neither steadily increasing construction and maintenance costs nor the expense of pollution control, land reclamation, and waste disposal. By the time alternate energy programs are feasible, the state’s investment in coal and nuclear may be so great that change will be almost impossible. In the meantime, electricity will be consuming more land and water and polluting more air than ever before. Should legislators continue to extend governmental prerogatives to public and private entities committed to this kind of solution? Should we let the lines between private and public power become thinner and thinner? Can citizen sentiment be ignored by public agencies whose energy policies affect hundreds of thousands of people? When Paul Cunningham talked about the future in his Arlington office, he , envisioned a new public agency taking its place beside the giants of the private energy industry. He saw a network of new power plants, fuel sources, transmission lines and, above all, a means of control over the future. For people in Grimes County, it is also a question of control. Control in the deepest sense, control over their own lives and the community they live in. 0 Wendy Watriss is a writer and photographer who until recently lived and worked in Grimes Cwinty. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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