QUIT COAL: AUSTIN ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS UNITE TO URGE AUSTIN ENERGY
TO GO FURTHER, SOONER TO CLEAN UP AUSTIN'S AIR AND AVOID COAL COSTS
Austin - Austin environmental and health organizations announced on Tuesday the formation of a coalition to help move the City away from burning coal for electricity. Their organizations are actively campaigning on a statewide level to stop new coal plants, improve and phase out old coal plants, and promote clean energy solutions.,
Citing serious public health and pollution cost concerns about coal, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Environment Texas, PowerSmack, SEED Coalition, and Re-Energize Texas urged the City of Austin and Austin Energy to act to replace coal as soon as possible by more aggressively implementing energy efficiency measures across all sectors - government, business, education, and residential -- and by building more and more clean renewable power.
"Coal kills," said Eva Hernandez, Sierra Club Texas Coal Organizer. "Austin's coal plant pollution - smog and ozone-forming gas, particulate matter, and mercury - is deadly to humans. It causes human suffering and high health care costs from asthma, other respiratory illnesses, heart disease, brain disease and developmental disorders. It also spews out millions of tons of carbon dioxide pollution each year, cooking our planet. We have to move beyond coal sooner." Austin Energy (AE) submitted its plan last week to Austin City Council for meeting Austin's future energy needs. While the environmental groups welcomed the plan's positive measures to increase energy efficiency and renewables, concerns were raised that the AE plan does not go decisively toward ending use of the City's Fayette coal-fired power plant.
"At tonight's Austin Energy Town Hall meeting, a unified environmental community is asking Austin to quit coal," said Cyrus Reed of Sierra Club. "Coal is becoming more and more expensive. Staying with coal will cost us billions in air pollution costs as carbon regulation takes effect by 2014. The Fayette coal plant and other coal plants are pushing Central Texas to non-attainment of federal clean air standards. New, more protective, federal clean air standards are coming this Fall for several criteria pollutants making it even more important to quit coal as soon as possible. We don't need coal to keep the lights on and we can quit coal in a way that's fair to ratepayers. City of Austin and Austin Energy can lead a just transition that puts efficiency first for all Austinites, builds our renewable resources, and creates local jobs as we get off coal."
Reed serves on the Council-appointed Generation Resource Planning Task Force. The Council is taking input from the Task Force, the Electric Utility Commission, Austin Energy, the Resource Management Commission and from the public through a series of Town Hall meetings and the online Smart Energy Survey. The Council is expected to vote in late October. Matt Johnson of Public Citizen also serves on the Council's Generation Task Force.
"All of Austin's environmental organizations agree that Austin can do it. We can get out of burning coal for electricity faster," said Johnson. "Austin Energy's proposal is heading in the right direction but we need a commitment to divesting from coal and a stronger commitment to building sustainable, clean power and green jobs in Austin. The environmental groups also cited concerns about global warming.
"Austin prides itself on being one of the greenest cities in America, but we still get one-third of our electricity from coal, causing major health problems and contributing to global warming" said Environment Texas Director Luke Metzger. "We have the technology to end our dependence on coal and switch to clean energy from the wind and sun. This would create thousands of new jobs, clean up our environment and set an example for the world."
The environmental groups' representatives plan to attend the Austin Energy Town Hall meetings and are encouraging Austinites to get involved in the process.
Mike Sloan with energy education organization PowerSmack.org and another Generation Task Force member said, "Once you factor in health and environmental costs, coal is already an expensive power source. And since utilities don't pay the health care costs of their customers, most utilities continue using dirty power sources that drive up everybody's health care costs. Today's town hall meeting is a great chance for citizens to tell Austin's leaders to consider all of the issues critical to the well being of our community."