Texas bishops urge moral guidelines for expanding energy resources

By Catholic News Service

AUSTIN (CNS) — As Texans engaged in a statewide debate over building new coal-fired electric generating plants to meet their expanding energy needs, the state’s Catholic bishops said that concern for the poor and the common good should help frame the discussion.

In a statement Feb. 20 the bishops warned that the proposed coal plants “could pose significant health problems such as increased susceptibility to bacterial infection and increased cases of asthma.”

“The plants will release sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides — pollutants which are a particular problem for poor families and children, vulnerable workers and farmers,” the bishops said, noting that those who work outside are likely to feel the worst effects of additional air pollution across the state.

The bishops’ statement was released the same day a Texas district judge blocked a 2005 executive order by Gov. Rick Perry that would put government permits for building coal-fired plants on a fast track, cutting the time for environmental objections and administrative hearings in half. Ranchers, environmentalists, mayors of major cities and many newspapers in the state have lined up in opposition to the fast-track order.

The bishops asked legislators to “enact legislation that directs the responsible state agencies to adopt a measured and deliberate approach for consideration of all permit applications for the construction of new generating facilities and to ensure that the permit process includes a full review of health, environmental and global warming implications” along with full analysis of alternative strategies.

On Feb. 25 the state’s largest energy producer, TXU Corp., announced that it was tentatively accepting a $45 billion buyout — the largest leveraged buyout in U.S. history — in a deal that involves dropping plans for eight of the 11 coal-fired plants it had proposed to build. Other energy companies in the state have made proposals for an additional six coal-fired plants and one coke-petroleum plant.

Before TXU’s decision to withdraw most of its coal-fired plant proposals, “almost every diocese in the state” was targeted for at least one new coal-fired plant, said Texas Catholic Conference executive director Andrew D. Rivas.

He told Catholic News Service Feb. 26 that Texas is one of the nation’s largest coal producers, but most of its coal is low-grade and high in pollutants when it burns.

In their statement the bishops said Texas already has “five of the 10 top mercury-emitting power plants in the country.”

“The church cannot ignore the economic benefits that coal may offer; but neither can the church ignore coal’s attendant dangers to human health and environment,” they said.

They asked legislators to “commit to a clean, affordable and reliable energy future for Texas” by developing “the necessary infrastructure to ensure that energy from our state’s abundant wind and solar resources is available to residents throughout the state.”

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