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Environmental groups call for cleaner East Texas air

October 18, 2000

By Glenn Evans; Longview News

An environmental study that says 65 people die each year in the Marshall-Longview-Tyler corridor because of smog from coal-burning power plants sparked a small rally in Longview on Tuesday.

"Let's go into the next century using modern technology," Public Citizen Outreach Director Jamie Mitchell told a handful of listeners in Longview's Heritage Plaza. Mitchell was joined by other state environmentalists, as well as a new nonprofit group forming in Longview, Working Effectively for Clean Air Now (WE CAN).

WE CAN played host to the larger groups, which introduced the study released nationwide Tuesday. Death, Disease & Dirty Power, commissioned by the Clean Air Task Force and performed by Abt Associates, a consulting firm for the Environmental Protection Agency, calls for 75-percent reduction in smog-borne pollutants.

"We are experiencing high levels of asthma effects, and hospitalizations", said Karen Hadden, clean air coordinator for Sustainable Energy and Economic Development, a Texas activist group supporting alternative energy sources. "In Texas, we have over 1,300 people whose lives are shortened every year. And here in the Tyler-Longview-Marshall area, we have 65 deaths a year."

WE CAN's Tammy Campbell asked listeners to take note of how often they see someone showing the effects of lung ailments.

"Has anybody else noticed as much as I have the people walking around with personal oxygen tanks?" she asked. "How many people do you know with asthma, bronchitis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)?"

The groups urged public support for House Resolution 2900, called the Clean Smokestacks Act of 1999. The federal act, which drew 92 Democrat and six Republican co-sponsors last spring, closes the so-called grandfather clause in the Clean Air Act that exempts older power plants such as Southwestern Electric Power Co's. Pirkey Plant near Marshall and the Martin Lake plant owned by Texas Utilities. The act would set a five-year deadline to cut nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide emissions by 75 percent.

"If the objective is a 75-percent reduction, we would certainly want to see the details," said Peter Main, a spokesman for SWEPCO parent company American Electric Power. Main declined to say whether the power plant industry would oppose HB 2900, but characterized it as one of "hundreds and hundreds" of bills Congress sees each year.

Main also challenged the Death, Disease & Dirty Power study, saying sponsor Clean Air Task Force has ignored other studies, in particular the Aerosol Research Inhalation Epidemiological Study. ARIES, which is being reviewed by the Electric Power Institute, reports that carbon particles from the transportation industry are as common in pollution as sulphur emissions from power plants.

"Campaigns that ignore large numbers of studies and attempt to alarm the public do so by excluding a whole lot of other information out there", Main said. "And it's important for people to know there are a lot of other studies out there ... that do reach other conclusions. "

Victoria LaFollett, spokeswoman for Northeast Texas Air Care, said NETAC's efforts have reduced nitrogen oxide emissions by 3,451 tons per year. NETAC is a five-county coalition of governments, industries and environmentalists, she said.

Main said the Clean Air Task Force wants to eliminate coal, which is used to produce 57 percent of America's electricity.

At the rally, Public Citizen's Mitchell said "Natural gas which is right here in East Texas" produces electricity for less money than coal.

"Hadden said the groupsí news was not all bad. Texas Utilities is investing in wind power in the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, she said."

"And that's the kind of thing we want to see more of," she said. "There is hope. We can save lives, and it is time to clean up our dirty air."

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