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Fayette Power Project, a coal-fired power plant near La Grange and one of 17 existing coal plants in Texas. photo by Andy Keels in Fighting Goliath: The Texas Coal Wars, a documentary narrated by Robert Redford. But unlike Hollywood stories, with their tidy endings, the Texas coal story never really ended; it just faded away. Now a second wave of coal-fired power plants has quietly cropped up in the state. Twelve coal-fired power plants are either moving through the approval process or under construction in far-flung locales, including Abilene, Corpus Christi, and “It’s deja vu all over again,” says Jo Cervenka, a rancher near Waco who’s been fighting the coal wars for years. Cervenka’s pleased that the “Ring of Fire”the name her group gave to five TXU coal plants proposed to encircle the Waco areanever lit up. Still, two years after those plans were defeated, she’s watching with apprehension as the stacks go up, less than a mile from her home, on a coal-fired plant owned by LS Power. Coal’s comeback in Texas comes as the rest of the United States moves in the opposite direction. At least 107 proposed coal plants have been scrapped nationwide since 2002. Recently, high-profile battles in Idaho, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa and Nevada doomed proposed coal-fired plants. The nation’s turn against coal is in part motivated by the fuel’s contribution to smog, mercury contamination and ecological disasters like last year’s spill in Kentucky of more than 1 billion gallons of wet coal ash into Tennessee waterways and neighborhoods. These concerns are still the focus of grassroots opposition. But coal is increasingly in the crosshairs of governments and campaigners trying to tackle climate change. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide and Congress is likely to pass legislation next year that would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 8o percent by 2050. As a result, building a new coal plant looks like a much more risky and potentially expensive bet than just a few years ago. Worried that new regulations could imperil coal’s viability, states have begun for the first time to turn down new plants because of their CO2 emissions. In 2007, a Kansas state agency 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 13, 2009 denied air permits for two coal-fired power plants that would have produced ii million tons of CO2. In Nevada this year, LS Power indefinitely postponed plans for a massive,1,600-megawatt coal station; instead, the utility will focus on transmission lines to move renewable power from rural areas to cities. “There is one big aberration: Texas, which is marching in a completely different direction from the rest of the country:’ says Bruce Niles, National Coal Campaign director for the Sierra Club. “This is ground zero. This is the last stand of the coal industry in a major way:” Nilles was taking a break from a national gathering of environmental attorneys and activists at the University of Texas at Austin in October. Now that the “second wave” threatens the state with 12 more coal plants, national groups have begun putting resources and organizers back into the state, seeing an opportunity to break Big Coal for good. In Austin, the greens had gathered to talk about their strategy for challenging the plants in courtand for pumping anti-coal activism in Texas back up to 2007 levels. Opponents will have to grapple with a central question: What explains Texas’ coal contrarianism? One answer lies with the state’s deregulated electricity market, which puts decisions about new power-generating facilities almost entirely in the hands of private investors. The market has a clear message for these power developers: Coal is profitable. Natural gas dictates the prices paid to operators of coal and nuclear plants in the state; when gas prices climb, coal and nuclear can reap huge profits. Then there’s the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The state’s regulatory agency has been friendly to coal companies, consistently issuing air and water permits despite steep environmental and health costs. Texas Republicans, who control all three branches of state government, have paid little attention to climate changeexcept, in some cases, to deny the science behind it. The Texas coal rush threatens to throw a monkey wrench into the nation’s long-delayed efforts to stem global warmingso much so, Niles says, that “it makes it impossible:’ If