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Bruce Nilles

Bruce Nilles

Posted: October 28, 2010 01:19 PM

This is the latest in our series of community coal ash profiles. This piece was written by Sierra Club Apprentice Sari Ancel.

Here's lovely daydream if you're from southeast Texas: It's a warm fall afternoon and you're out fishing on the banks of the Colorado River, listening to the sounds of birds migrating south.

Unfortunately, a proposed coal-fired power plant will soon ruin that daydream. There will be no fish to catch because their habitat has long been polluted. Those birds overhead will be flying through smoke plumes from the nearby coal-fired power plant. And forget a quiet afternoon, you'll be hearing the hum of that nearby power plant.

This is exactly what threatens Bay City, Texas - the proposed White Stallion coal-fired power plant.

On September 29th, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted an air quality permit to the White Stallion coal plant, which is proposed for Bay City, putting the polluting project one step closer to completion.

Yet despite this latest permit, residents of Bay City are not convinced that their air will stay clean or that their community will remain safe in the coming years - and for good reason. According to research, over its entire lifecycle, the plant will cause 600 premature deaths and cost over $5 billion in external costs to the community.

Allison Sliva of the Matagorda County No Coal Coalition is helping lead the fight against White Stallion coal plant. The 1320-megawatt plant will burn petroleum coke and coal but it is not required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement.

"The more you learn about this stuff, the more it makes you sick to your stomach," said Sliva, "It is so incredibly wrong the way things work."

She is worried about the environmental and health impacts this new coal plant will have on Bay City, a small city close to the Gulf Coast known for farming, shrimping, and world-class bird watching.

In addition to health impacts, the plant will require seven billion gallons of fresh Colorado River water every year. This fresh water is already a limited resource, with area farmers experiencing a severe drought in 2009.

"Water is the most finite commodity we have that the state is already fighting over," said Sliva. "And we're giving water to the dirty coal plant but not to our local food growers."

The White Stallion power plant design has also proposed coal ash dump sites just miles away from the Colorado River. Coal ash, which is the toxic waste left behind after coal is burned, contains arsenic, selenium, lead, and mercury. The dump site proposals are open coal ash pits, a design that is exceedingly dangerous when considering how prone this coastal area is to hurricanes. Bay City residents were asked to evacuate for hurricanes Ike and Rita.

The area also gets an average of 42 inches of rainfall yearly, and Sliva and her fellow residents have yet to see an adequate coal ash flood plan from White Stallion

"I'm very concerned about the coal ash because it is virtually unregulated," she said. "We're going to have mountains of it. We have a shallow water table and we're worried about it leeching into the groundwater...I'm hoping that the (Environmental Protection Agency) comes through to regulate the coal ash."

Sliva is referring to the new coal ash safeguards proposed by EPA. She joined hundreds of others who went to an EPA public hearing in Dallas, Texas, to testify about the dangers of coal ash.

If EPA enacts stricter safeguards, then Sliva and the residents of Bay City will have one less problem to worry about with the White Stallion plant.

Unfortunately, that would still not be enough to fully protect Bay City. While the White Stallion plant promises job creation, this does not account for the Bay City jobs lost because farmers won't have enough water for irrigation and the impacts on the fishing industry due to polluted waters.

"We have a small rural community with little political clout," said Sliva. "We were targeted because they didn't think anyone would fight it."

But Sliva and other members of Bay City have proven that wrong by fighting and gaining momentum against White Stallion coal plant.

"Bay City's motto isn't Beaches, Bay, Birding, and Coal Plant'" says Sliva. But, to stop this from happening, "people need to be calling, emailing, faxing, and writing letters to keep this issue in front of the faces of the agencies and elected officials. Keep waving the red flag and raise it up."

Tell EPA to enact strong federal safeguards for coal ash.