Lyndon Johnson, president, Texan and committed environmentalist, famously said, “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’ ”
Credit is not always given where credit is due.
Such is the case when it comes to the energy debate in Texas. It’s basic: For Texas to maintain its status as an economic growth engine, it must reinforce to the world an ability to accommodate future growth without sacrificing the environment.
This need not — and should not — be a zero-sum game. Economic vitality and responsible environmental stewardship should go hand-in-hand.
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And while no one we know has walked across the Brazos or the Trinity, Energy Future Holdings, which includes Texas’ largest power producer, Luminant, and largest electricity provider, TXU Energy, has fully met the ambitious commitments that led us to support its ownership change more than six years ago. That’s despite significant financial challenges.
We have been closely following the company’s environmental results since then as members of the EFH Sustainable Energy Advisory Board, a group of independent advisers on topics ranging from labor to the environment to consumer issues to reliability and economic development.
It is no secret that outside of the more than two dozen specific commitments made initially by its new owners, we have disagreed with some of the company’s positions on public policy issues and some of its environmental practices.
But we can report now that EFH has met each of the commitments that it made back in 2007, despite all the financial headwinds (none of which have anything to do with the company’s environmental performance).
We have seen EFH excel at balancing investments in energy infrastructure to meet this rapid growth profile without compromising environmental responsibility and sustainability.
The company scrapped plans to add eight new coal-fired power plants and focused successfully on measures to reduce nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide and mercury emissions from its coal fleet by more than 20 percent from 2005 levels.
The company’s Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant has maintained top decile industry performance at a time when several major nuclear generation owners have stumbled painfully.
As it promised, EFH has also invested more than $400 million in energy efficiency, technology and conservation programs over the past five years, including $100 million from TXU Energy, to empower customers to better manage their energy use.
The company’s track record with respect to reclamation and land stewardship is no less impressive. Since EFH commenced mining activities more than 40 years ago, the company has reclaimed more than 75,000 acres and secured reclamation bond liability release on more than 36,000 acres through 2013.
The company has also planted more than 34 million trees as part of its reclamation program, including 1.5 million in 2013.
All of this capital investment and innovation has yielded another real and tangible benefit: EFH added 1,900 jobs in Texas — an increase of 25 percent — since 2007.
Our aim is not to report that EFH’s work is done — far from it. As Texas continues to grow, so too does the challenge of balancing that growth with continued environmental stewardship.
The industry must continue to do its part to maintain vigilance on clean energy and combating climate change.
However, we have seen firsthand how the EFH model — continuous improvement in power generation’s environmental performance, capital investment, efficiency incentives for energy consumers and a deep commitment to land conservation — is several steps in the right direction. Even if those steps aren’t walking on water.
Ralph Cavanagh is energy program co-director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Jim Marston is senior attorney and director of the Texas regional office for the Environmental Defense Fund.