TCEQ says "Great!!" to controversial coal plant

(No) Surprise: White Stallion Coal Plant Approved By Texas' Air Watchdog

Matagorda County elected officials didn't want it. Local citizens vigorously protested against it. Clean-air advocated spent gobs of time and money trying to fight it, warning that the

proposed While Stallion

coal-fired plant would cripple Houston's efforts to combat ozone.

Even the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's own administrative law judges found flaws in the plant's application for an all-important air pollution permit, recommending that the commissioners deny the permit.

Despite it all, no one was terribly surprised Wednesday morning when the TCEQ commissioners voted to grant the White Stallion facility an air permit.

"With the amount of interest and the amount of citizen funds that have been poured into fighting this plant," Air Alliance Houston executive director Matthew Tejada tells Hair Balls, "together with the fact that the administrative law judges recommended denial and that local officials said they didn't want the plant, it's galling to me that the TCEQ will still grant a permit in spite of all these factors. It is a prime example of how the permitting process is broken in Texas. It's insane."

The proposed coal plant would operate near Bay City, about an hour and a half outside of Houston. But clean-air advocates say Houston residents will feel a definite impact from the plant's emissions and make it even more difficult for the region to comply with federal ozone standards.

In light of TCEQ's decision Wednesday, "We're now going to dump thousands of tons of exactly the pollutants that we've spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to take out of the Houston area," says Tejada. "We've worked so hard to improve air quality, and now the agency that's mostly responsible for those improvements un-does their own work. We're living in a Bizzaro World when that can happen."

Many who have been following the permitting process say they are not shocked by the TCEQ commissioners' decision. They argue the agency is geared toward granting permits, no matter the opposition. State law, in fact, requires TCEQ to approve a permit so long as the application complies with the rules.

While some considered the air permit to be the largest hurdle While Stallion needed to leap, apparently the fight against the power plant is not over.

"We got knocked down but we're getting back up," said Allison Silva, president of the No Coal Coalition, based in Bay City.

Silva tells Hair Balls that White Stallion must next get a waste-water permit, which hers and other groups plan to protest as strongly as they did the air permit. She also said that several clean-air groups were urging utilities company LCRA not to give the proposed coal plant a water contract, crucial to operating the facility.

"Today was just one battle," said Silva. "It's not over."

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