Group says pollution studies are tainted
Inquiry sought on firm analyzing coal plans for state, working for TXU
Thursday, August 10, 2006
By RANDY LEE LOFTIS
The Dallas Morning News
A watchdog group wants Dallas-Fort Worth legislators to investigate how an environmental company got to work on state-funded pollution studies while it also consulted for TXU on a planned new coal-burning power plant.
Environ Corp. is the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's chief consultant on air quality studies across East Texas, including studies on the possible impact of new coal plants for which several companies are seeking permits.
The company also provided expert testimony for TXU in a recent permit hearing for the power company's planned Oak Grove plant in Robertson County. TXU would own 11 of the 16 new coal-burning power units proposed statewide.
On Thursday, the environmental and consumer watchdog group Public Citizen, seeking an investigation by local legislators, called Environ's dual consulting role a "breathtaking conflict of interest with significant consequences" for air quality.
"We shouldn't trust TXU's paid contractor to tell the state whether the pollution from ... proposed coal plants will make the air unsafe over the Dallas-Fort Worth area," said Public Citizen's Texas director, Tom "Smitty" Smith.
Ralph E. Morris, managing principal in Environ's office in Novato, Calif., said the firm's work involved no conflict of interest and was scientifically sound. He said Texas officials did not object to the firm's work for TXU.
"We do technical analysis, not advocacy," said Mr. Morris, who analyzed TXU's Oak Grove plant for the energy company and testified for the company at a permit hearing on the plant. That permit, along with others requested by TXU and other companies, is pending.
An executive order from Gov. Rick Perry has put those permits on a fast track that limits the public review process to six months instead of the usual year.
Another Environ employee in Mr. Morris' office, Gregory Yarwood, is analyzing the impact of TXU's entire plan, which involves the 11 new coal-burning units as well as a 70 percent emissions reduction from the company's existing coal plants. TXU says that plan would yield an overall emissions drop of 20 percent.
The client for that study is the nonprofit Houston Advanced Research Center, a mostly state-funded study group. Preliminary results, presented at a state Senate hearing in Dallas last month, indicated that TXU's overall 20 percent emissions cut would yield a slight benefit to the Dallas-Fort Worth area's air quality.
The data that led Environ to that conclusion, however, isn't available to the public. TXU gave Environ figures on its possible emissions cuts at existing plants, but TXU has refused to release the figures to anyone else.
Mr. Smith, of Public Citizen, said the state should reject any conclusions based on what he called TXU's "secret air pollution reduction plan."
TXU said it had not released the figures because they represent only one possible scenario. Mike McCall, head of TXU's wholesale unit, told The Dallas Morning News last week that the
company would release a concrete plan and request permit changes on its existing plants in time for a new urban North Texas clean air plan that is due by June 2007.
TXU has asked the state environmental commission to make its overall 20 percent emissions cut pledge legally binding on the company. The state agency has not acted on that request.
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