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POLITICAL INTEL ENE Perry Scope TXU COAL-COCKED From the Department of Best Laid Plans: Dallas-based TXU Corp.’s less-than-modest proposal to construct 11 new coal-burning power plants in Texas has hit an unexpected snag. Two administrative law judges recommended in August that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality deny an air permit for the company’s enormous proposed 1,720-megawatt Oak Grove facility, near Franklin in Central Texas. The Oak Grove facility is the first of TXU’s 11 proposed plants to come up for the required air permit from the TCEQ. A group of area landowners calling themselves Robertson County: Our Land, Our Lives and statewide environmental groups contested TXU’s permit application. The judges agreed with the plaintiffs, finding that TXU’s preferred technology couldn’t achieve its promised low-emission levels for two key pollutants mercury and ozone-causing nitrogen oxides. The judges also found the TXU plant would further foul the region’s air, including the alreadypolluted Dallas-Fort Worth area. It was a rare victory for opponents of new and very dirty coal-fired plants. “You would think they were God’s gift to the environment and they were building the cleanest coal plant imaginable, and only a wacko, crazed eco-maniac would have any problems with it,” said Paul Rolke, founder of Our Land, Our Lives. “Now we have two judges who … have looked at the facts and agreed with what our group has been saying all alongthat this plant could be built cleaner and should be built cleaner.” The victory may be temporary. The judges’ recommendation isn’t binding, and agency commissioners, appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, could still approve the permit. After all, there’s never been much doubt about which side the governor’s on. In October, Perry signed an executive order “fasttracking” the permitting process for 16 proposed coal-fired power plants, including the TXU 11. The day he signed the fast-track order, Perry received a $2,000 campaign check from a former TXU chairman, a tie-in first reported by the Houston Chronicle. A TXU political action committee chipped in $5,000 a few weeks later. TTC FROM THE RIGHT Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to pave Texas with a 4,000mile system of futuristic toll roads has made enemies among those he usually counts as supporters. Known as the Trans-Texas Corridor, the proposed network of superhighways will crisscross the state and contain as many as 16 lanes for trains, trucks, and cars, as well as a utility corridor. Madrid-based Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte has teamed up with San Antonio’s Zachary Construction Corp. to propose building a corridor segment that will parallel Interstate 35. Phyllis Schlafley, the conservative doyenne who almost single-handedly defeated the Equal Rights Amendment, recently criticized the plan. The galactic-sized highways caught Schlafley’s attention when she realized that they would bisect the entire country-not just Texas. A supporter of tough immigration laws, Schlafley says the most egregious aspect of the plan is the fact that the highways would be “designed to bring in Chinese goods from Mexican ports in sealed containers, first by rail, then by Mexican trucks, none of which would be inspected until Kansas City.” Conservative Republicans are opposed to the idea that a foreign company will be given carte blanche to raze homes, churches, schools, businesses, ranchland, and farmlands for private toll roads that will be cash cows for the next 50 years or so. “Because there are issues of confiscation of private land, state and national sovereignty, and other similar concerns, we urge the repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor legislation,” states the Texas GOP party platform. The platform speaks even more harshly of the concept of eminent domain, saying it should not be used to seize “private property for public or private economic development or for increased tax revenues.” The Texas Farm Bureau has equally strong anti-corridor language in its 2006 legislative blueprint. Nonetheless, the bureau’s political arm, the “Ag Fund,” supports Perry’s re-election. Perry hails from Paint Creek, a farming community roughly an hour north of Abilene. In 1990, he was elected to the statewide post of Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, and up until now he has always benefited from rural support. Explains Farm Bureau spokesman Gene Hall, “The Texas Farm Bureau is not a single-issue organization.” TTC FROM THE CENTER Ric Williamson, Texas Transportation Commission chairman and a Perry appointee, has come up with a novel way to sell the unpopular Trans-Texas Corridor the new superhighway will be a boon to the environment. According to Williamson, the corridor will reduce congestion, improve air quality, and increase safety. But experts for Environmental Defense, who reviewed the state’s 4,000-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the corridor, say the superhighways would be “an environmental disaster,” wreaking havoc on waterways, farmland, wildlife habitat, air quality, human health, and rural communities. Given today’s price of oil, opponents also maintain the corridor project is already obsolete and will only increase urban sprawl, traffic growth, and greenhouse gases. “In the history of the U.S. and probably the world, there has never been a transportation project like the big, precedent-setting Trans-Texas Corridor,” writes Mickey Burleson of Environmental Defense. “This system is the most destructive in the world,” she con 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 8, 2006