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Dallas Mayor Lobbies for Clean Air Coalition

By Bill Zeeble, KERA reporter

Mount Vernon, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, with Houston Mayor Bill White, started the coalition to slow Governor Perry's accelerated timetable to approve 19 new power plants, 11 of which are planned by TXU. As a result of Miller's trips so far, 2 new towns have joined the coalition - Streetman, some 83 miles south of Dallas in Freestone County, and the town of Uncertain, population 150, on Caddo Lake. The coalition needs them because they're close to a few of the proposed plants and they can give the group legal standing to challenge the utility in hearings & in court. Here's what Miller faced last week, in Mt. Vernon, about 100 miles east of Dallas. The town, which is close to the proposed Monticello plant, has a 35-year relationship with TXU, which employs up to 15 percent of those in the county. TXU's a big United Way donor and backs the city's baseball program. TXU's Tom Rose, Director of Public Policy addressed the council, praising his company's plans.

Tom Rose, Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs: It provides reliable power for Texas. It's environmentally superior than any other coal plants being built today. We believe it's the right thing to do for this community.

Zeeble: Rose urged the council to adopt ordinance A, in support of TXU's Monticello's plant. The only other contested item on the agenda that night was ordinance B, an endorsement of Mayor Miller's coalition.

Rose:. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes, it's a tough decision, with all the information and data out there. There's no in-between decision.
Dallas Mayor Laura Miller: I don't think that's the case.

Zeeble: Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, spoke next, arguing not just for a clean new plant, but for a clean-up of the old Monticello units. She said they're major contributors to ongoing dirty air which federal regulators warn must be cleaned up.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller: All I'm asking you do to is be part of the dialog. And we, as elected officials need dialog all the way through with TXU because the only way the plants will get cleaned up is if elected officials and the company work together. We're not opposed to TXU. But this is an opportunity to get them to clean up the old stacks. And you've got to be at the table in order for that to happen.

Zeeble: The small, store-front council chamber was packed with a dozen people. Six signed up to speak and they were unanimous. Caleb Hicks, a Mount Vernon High School senior, and nephew of a councilman, said he'd be leaving for college in a few months.

Caleb Hicks, sr. Mt Vernon High School: Whether I come back to Mt. Vernon will be dependent heavily on how clean the environment is. If we have another coal plant, it's not likely at all.

Zeeble: Susan Swint acknowledged Mt. Vernon's much-needed jobs

Susan Swint, speaker: But if we go with a dirty proposal, we'll have these few jobs but we will not have the attractive feature of a clean rural environment to attract companies that want quality of life.

Zeeble: Council members said they'd received more constituent comments on this topic than on any other issue they'd ever faced. Council member BF Hicks sided with the audience and then took charge of the meeting.

Hicks: Our own Mt Vernon citizens have spoken unanimously for B . With that said, I ask this council not act at all on A and move forward to B so I can move adoption of voting on approving us joining the clean air coalition.

Zeeble: No one stepped up to 2nd his motion. Then, Councilman Stacey Sears revisited the concern about dirty, older plants, and broke the stalemate.

Stacey Sears, Mt. Vernon City Council Member: I think the only way we have a bargaining chip to get those cleaned up is through this coalition. With that, I'll second motion.

Mt. Vernon Mayor J.D. Baumgardner: All in favor say I.
Hicks: I
Hatcher, Reves, Weidman - I abstain. I abstain. I abstain
Hicks - motion carried, can we move on mayor?

Zeeble: The result of the vote seemed clear to Councilman Hicks, but not to member Darlene Hatcher.

Hatcher It was dead.
Hicks: It's not dead if you didn't vote against it.
Hatcher: I abstain, so that means we're at a hold, still.
Hicks: Not if you're not going to vote No.
Hatcher: Well let me put it on the floor like this. We're all going to die of something.
(audience): Jesus!
Hatcher: Jesus, I know what you're thinking sir. So I'm just going to leave it at abstain.

Zeeble: The city secretary confirmed the council vote to join the coalition.
The outcome was no surprise to TXU's Tom Rose, who says everyone, including his company, wants cleaner air. But there' s a price.

Rose: Depending on how much money you want to pay for electricity, depending on how much money you want to take out of your economy, you can always do more & stretch your limit. Our job as a utility is to provide reliable and cleaner and affordable power. I don't get the luxury of just dealing with the cleaner issue.

Zeeble: Mayor Miller was surprised by the Mt. Vernon vote, but understood its complexities.

Miller: Every time we come to one of these towns, you just don't know what the answer's going to be. There's a real tension between jobs and the economy and the environment. We just stress if you don't join the coalition [for a seat at the table] you might end up with the jobs and economic development and poor air quality.

Zeeble: Mt. Vernon Mayor J.D. Baumgardner, who under city rules wasn't able to vote, said he was satisfied with the outcome. Councilman Nathan Reves, who abstained, wasn't so happy.

Nathan Reves, Mt. Vernon City Council Member: I wanted to vote no but because of the constituents and people here who called, I abstained, to remain neutral on it.

Zeeble: Reves worries about air pollution, but said cars are a bigger problem than TXU's power plants. Miller will continue urging small towns to join the coalition. She'd still like a community close to the Martin Lake plant, near the Louisiana border. Hearings are scheduled this afternoon in Henderson and Mt. Pleasant, in east Texas. For KERA 90.1 I'm Bill Zeeble.