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Quality Permit No. 81706/ S’ rely, Aaron Hartsfiel House Bill 1090, which included a $20-a-ton state subsidy for waste wood fuel. Burning wood was probably going to be even more profitable. Now all Vines needed was an air quality permit from TCEQ. Vines’ history of environmental compliance has been less than stellar. He and his family have been involved in two Superfund clean-ups atbusinesses theyowned. Five years after entering into a TCEQ Voluntary Compliance Program, one of the sites, Lufkin Creosoting, has still not completed remediation. So Vines didn’t want any more trouble from protesters. He got a copy of the original petition sent to TCEQ complaining about pollution issues. “Everyone who signed got a visit,” Hartsfield says. Some would get repeated visits from company representatives or proponents of the plant. “They came by my house a number of times,” Hartsfield says. Proponents also visited an elderly neighbor who also says that her signature was forged on the letter that withdrew the earlier objections to the plant. If TCEQ ever considered denying the permit, it certainly didn’t show it. The agency granted Aspen Power permission to begin construction while the permit worked its way through the bureaucracy, something forbidden under EPA rules. When local residents alerted the EPA, they ordered construction stopped. Aspen Power didn’t have to stop for long, though. The air quality permit came through in July 2008. Aspen Power got the green light to build a plant that would spew out as much particulate pollution as some coal-fired power plants. But there were still those pesky hardcore opponents in north Lufkin who weren’t giving up. HARTSFIELD, A SLENDER, intense man who works the 3 p.m.-11 p.m. shift at the post office, was and remainsone of the plant’s most steadfast opponents. He never signed a withdrawal letter. “It was a forgery,” Hartsfield says. He went to the District Attorney. “At first they didn’t know what to do. They finally sent me to the police and after I didn’t hear anything from them for few weeks I went back, and they told me it was a state violation. That’s when I went to the Texas Ranger.” The ranger initiated a criminal investigation of Aspen Power. A case is under consideration by a grand jury. The protesters also enlisted help from environmentalists who know the ropes at TCEQ. Nine in all, they headed for Austin and a showdown with the state agency. The group wanted TCEQ commissioners to withdraw the air quality permit. The commissioners dismissed the appeals of those who complained about pollution and quality-of-life issues. But they could not ignore Aaron Hartsfield’s allegation that TCEQ relied on forged documents when granting the permit. In November 2008 Aspen Power’s air quality permit was withdrawn, and Hartsfield’s case was referred to the State Office of Administrative Ramos stunned many by recommending denial of the air quality permit. “Unfortunately SOAH decisions are not binding; they can only make recommendations,” says Enrique Valdivia, an attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid who helped the protesters. “I’ve been before the TCEQ a lot over the years, and this is the worst set of commissioners we’ve ever had. And that’s saying something. They were probably going to grant the permit anyway.” Valdivia’s low opinion of the TCEQ commissioners is shared by the EPA, which is now threatening to withdraw the agency’s authority to grant air quality permits. As a result, the commissioners all appointed by Gov. Rick Perryare now under tremendous pressure from the EPA to impose tougher standards. Aspen Power also found itself in legal limbo, and every day of uncertainty was costing it money. The working-class protesters were also growing weary. They couldn’t keep disrupting their lives with expensive and time-consuming trips. Plus they were running the risk that the commissioners would grant a permit that would barely just manage to satisfy the EPA and would still expose them to pollution. It was in everyone’s interest to settle. Aspen Power attorney Robin Morse explains, “We made a business decision to settle. There was pressure from investors to move forward.” In November 2009 Aspen Power agreed to what are Aaron Hartsfield examining court documents at his home in north Lufkin The alleged forgery and stubborn determination forced Aspen Power to spend 810 million dollars on air pollution controls. READ A NEWS report on Ramos’ order at tx1o.comframosorder A scan of the forged document APRIL 16, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER ; 9