Doctors Fight Planned Corpus Christi Coke-Fired Power Plant
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas, February 17, 2009 (ENS) - Coastal Bend medical doctors, health care professionals, and others from all walks of life are seeking a contested case hearing as a part of their fight against the Las Brisas coke-fired power plant proposed for the Gulf coast port city of Corpus Christi.

At a demonstration Sunday and a news conference on Monday they warned that if the power plant is built, more cases of asthma, heart attacks, cancer, neurological and behavioral problems, and poor newborn outcomes will result.

The Clean Economy Coalition gathered some 200 people for a march along the bayfront on Sunday and also presented their case at a news conference Monday at Corpus Christi City Hall.

Coalition members will seek standing to contest the Las Brisas permit at a preliminary hearing today. The State Office of Administrative Hearings will conduct the hearing in order to make a Proposal for Decision to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

"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."

Las Brisas Energy Center, LLC, is planning to construct and operate a 1,320 megawatt electric generating facility and upgrade the existing bulk terminal at the Port of Corpus Christi, investing $3.2 billion in the projects. The proposed electric generating facility would consist of four 330 megawatt circulating fluidized bed boilers that would use petroleum coke as the primary fuel. The bulk terminal would increase the port traffic by three-fold.

Petroleum coke is a byproduct of the refining process. The three local refineries generate petroleum coke that Las Brisas plans to use to produce low-cost base load power for the Corpus Christi region.

"Otherwise, this petroleum coke is shipped abroad as a fuel source to benefit international consumers. Additionally, the international facilities are not equipped with stringent emissions control technology, meaning greater global air quality impact," the company argues.

Las Brisas says its coke-burning power plant would "provide much-needed low cost, reliable electric power for users throughout Corpus Christi and South Texas at competitive prices. It will be a state-of-the-art facility utilizing highly sophisticated equipment to generate clean energy and protect the region's environment."

But the coalition points out that based on projected emissions levels in the Las Brisas draft permit, the plant would produce 21,166 tons of air pollution per year - more than all of the Nueces County refineries combined, which produce 21,100 tons annually.

Clean Economy Coalition march against Las Brisas proposed coke-fired power plant (Photo ©Third Coast Photo)

Dr. Bruce Taylor, a Corpus Christi pediatrician and anesthesiologist told reporters, "The Coastal Bend area is a highly medically vulnerable community. Having an urban power plant is only going to increase our community's health care burden."

"Las Brisas has not disclosed the health risks," he said. "Besides any toxicology analysis, the effects of the toxic emissions must be carefully evaluated by epidemiologists and clinicians. Only then will the state be able to make an informed decision."

"As a pediatrician, I agree with the American Academy of Pediatrics that children are different and they are more susceptible to pollution. Las Brisas has not taken this into account to the potential detriment to our children and our future," said Taylor.

"Corpus Christi does not need a coke plant," said Hal Suter, chair of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and member of the Coastal Bend Sierra Club. "The way to build a clean economy is to combine building renewable power such as wind and a lot more solar power with manufacturing and installing already available energy efficiency measures in our homes and buildings."

"Study after study, including the recent one by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, shows that we can meet peak demand and create more jobs with energy efficiency and renewables than coal or coke," Suter said Monday.

"In addition to all of the other financial arguments against Las Brisas, we have the economic and moral consequences of the global warming emissions this plant would pump into the atmosphere," said Tom 'Smitty' Smith with Public Citizen, a coalition member.

"This plant would emit about 10 million tons per year of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas," said Smith.

"The evidence is clear that temperatures and sea levels are rising rapidly. We have to look at that in Corpus Christi. The consequence of more coal and coke emissions will be to accelerate the dramatic changes we are already seeing," warned Smith. "Coastal incursions due to sea level rise and strengthen hurricanes could make large parts of the Coastal Bend uninhabitable. We cannot conscionably allow Las Brisas to be built and add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The ecology and the economy can't withstand it."

The Nueces County Medical Society and the San Patricio-Aransas-Refugio Counties Combined Medical Society passed resolutions opposing the Las Brisas project. In 2007, the Texas Medical Association passed a resolution stating their concerns about mercury emissions into the environment and another resolution calling for a moratorium on old technology coal plants and emissions from all existing and any future coal plants.

The company says the Las Brisas main boiler technology is "inherently lower in mercury emissions than other more conventional boiler designs" and promises "the most aggressive method of mercury control commercially available."

But Dr. Arnold Gonzalez is not convinced. At the news conference he told reporters, "The cost to our health and resulting increased taxes will outstrip the few jobs this plant will create. This plant will damage our fishing. It will harm the brains of our unborn children. It will damage reputation as the Sparkling City by the Sea and drive away tourism."

"Working together we will fight this plant not just in this hearing but also in other venues, at city hall, in the halls of commerce, and in the hearts and mind of Corpus," Gonzalez said. "Together we can stop this plant, We deserve clean power and green jobs here. We can have a clean environment and a strong economy."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.