TCEQ swallows poop plan, throws Las Brisas coke plant a lifeline

Greg Harman

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So, the Texas Consortium for Environmental Quandries decided that upping the state's allowable poop ratio in our “first-tier” Texas rivers and lakes â?? those especially smiled-upon water bodies close enough to influential voters to be deemed worthy of “primary recreation,” ie. bellyflops â?? wasn't such a hot idea. The three Commissioners ruled at their Wednesday meeting that 126 colonies of E coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of water in such areas, such as the EPA recommends for healthy swimming, was probably a good upper limit.

The agency had been considering raising the limit to 206 colonies (a good upper-limit for authentic Texans, we're told) to make the work of regulation a touch easier. And yet, the trio went ahead with a plan to raise bacterial limits on less-frequently-visited streams â?? those especially relied upon creeks and streams close enough to influential agricultural donors to be deemed more desirable as feedlot drainage ditches than as important features draining (ultimately) into both important sources of drinking water and treasured swimming holes.

“We are concerned the final rule would increase the amount of bacteria in Texas waterways, causing adverse effects to the public health,” said Amy Swanholm, of the Office of Public Interest Counsel at the TCEQ, earning our devoted chastity for hours upon hours. “Even intermittent or small waterways not connected to historical use are often used by neighborhood families to swim and play in.”

Our thoughts exactly.

The Lower Colorado River Authority encouraged the Commissioners to keep the 126 limit for popular recreational waters such as Highland Lakes, and TCEQ Commissioner Carlos Rubenstein ended up leading the way, taking Commissioner Buddy Garcia and a reluctant Commissioner Bryan Shaw with him. “We've all sat up here and said 206 is protective,” Shaw said, adding: “I know there are those that will see 126 as overly burdensome.”

But doing right ain't always easy. As soon as the 126 was back in the water, the three approved the creation of various recreation limits, a sort of bacterial sliding scale based on the understood uses of the individual water bodies. For example, the Secondary Contact Recreation II classification would allow E coli limits at 1,030 colonies. Surely, each bend and each bridge will be plainly marked so you and your kids will know if its safe to wade on down.

Sometimes shit flows uphill, however. In this case, new water-quality standards for the state must still be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before the new fecal formulas can be officially, um, expressed.


Las Brisas, Refigured

Commissioners (with Rubenstein abstaining) also threw a lifeline to the would-be developers of a $3-billion, 1,320-megawatt power plant coveted by Corpus Christi politicos and protested by Nueces County physicians.

Quoth ENS some time back:

"In Corpus Christi, we already experience twice as much asthma as the state average," said Gerald Sansing, a biochemist who chairs the Clean Economy Coalition. "If this plant is allowed to go forward with its huge annual emissions of smog and smoke in their application, we will see a significant increase of even more asthma in Corpus Christi and the surrounding towns. That is unacceptable."

I'm guessing that Las Brisas and the new coal plant inching forward in Goliad County (as well as our own illustrious Spruce II) won't make meeting new EPA ozone standards (much less breathing) easier in Bexar County, either.

Despite the recommendation of two administrative law judges that Commissioners either deny the Las Brisas application or require the company, because of serious deficiencies in its paperwork, to start the application process anew, the Commissioners decided it was the ad law judges who needed to get back to work. Shaw and Garcia ordered Judges Tommy Broyles and Craig Bennett to reopen the books with Las Brisas Energy Center and come back in four months with a new recommendation.

While a company rep suggested the project would be “environmentally beneficial on a global level,” Tom Weber of the Environmental Defense Fund said what all parties really all agreed on was that the plant, which would be cited within a mile of neighborhoods, churches, and schools in the coastal city, “will be a major source of hazardous air constituents, such as arsenic, mercury, nickel, and chromium.”

Las Brisas would burn petroleum coke, a byproduct of the refining process similar to coal, for its fuel.

A representative of the Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition, an organization first launched by now gubernatorial candidate Bill White and former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller that has come to represent more than 35 Texas cities, urged the permit be denied. “We're here because even though Corpus Christi may want this plant, there's a bigger issue. The issue is that all of the air that each of us breathes in this state has to be clear and pure and safe,” said Eric Meyer. “And you as commissioners have put a system in place with the laws of this state â?¦ to make sure that is done.”

Such innocence.

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