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Citizens outraged after state regulators issue controversial permit despite major objections: '[It] is an unacceptable risk'

"We have a duty and responsibility to protect."

We have a duty and responsibility to protect.

Photo Credit: iStock

Texas regulators just approved a 12,000-acre coal mine expansion over the objections of local citizens, governments, and experts. The people raising objections were concerned that the company doing the expansion, San Miguel Electric Cooperative, has a history of irresponsible practices and pollution.

How did the coal mine get approved?

Jim Wright, one of three commissioners of the Texas Railroad Commission that approved the expansion, remarked during a meeting, "Keeping this plant running is imperative to keep the Texas grid running," according to Inside Climate News.

Local judge and former gas pipeline company manager James Teal, who presented objections to the commission, disagreed. 

"This permit is an unacceptable risk to the water we depend on and the land we call home," he said. "We have a duty and responsibility to protect our water resources for our children and future generations who will suffer from the poor decisions that we make today."

Those concerns were not heeded by the commission, which voted unanimously in favor of the expansion. It was the second new coal mining permit issued in Texas in the last decade, with the previous one being awarded to the same mine in 2018.

Why are local citizens concerned?

In addition to being a form of dirty energy that contributes massively to the continued overheating of our planet, coal mining has disastrous effects on local ecosystems, and the San Miguel Electric Cooperative, in particular, has a history of bad practices.

A 2019 investigation by The Texas Tribune detailed how San Miguel contaminated a local family's ranch with improper coal ash disposal and wastewater management. When the family complained, San Miguel declined to pay for cleanup, sued the family, and tried to evict them and seize their land. Eventually, San Miguel ended up buying the land.

Now, locals are concerned that this new expansion will have adverse effects on the Choke Canyon reservoir, the community's water source. The concern is that San Miguel will not take adequate measures to prevent coal ash from seeping into the reservoir's tributaries.

A 2022 report from the Environmental Integrity Project revealed that, already, "Groundwater is more contaminated at San Miguel than at any other coal plant in the country." 

What can be done about it?

Unfortunately, since the expansion has already been approved, concerned citizens seem to have run out of legal options to prevent it from going through.

However, the commissioner's statement — "Keeping this plant running is imperative to keep the Texas grid running" — is becoming less and less true, as clean energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, replace dirty energy sources like coal.

But while some clean energy projects have gained traction in Texas, many lawmakers in the state have been hostile toward them. In order to reduce pollution and the type of environmental degradation that San Miguel and other coal mines have been responsible for in the past, Texans must continue to push for clean energy solutions.

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