Coal, Money, and Texas Politics

Coal, Money, and Texas Politics

How many coal power plants are still in Texas? How much damage are they doing to the environment? And which politicians are benefiting?

Last week, Republicans in the Texas Senate held a Committee Hearing regarding so-called ESG ratings. At the core of the hearing was the GOP’s tiresome attack against clean energy, which was sparked by the closing of a coal plant in the Marshall area. We all know that coal is harmful; discharges from power plants contribute to our environment, a third of all toxic pollution. Coal plants produce toxic pollutants that can cause a range of health problems. Those include

  • Lung conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ; 
  • Heart conditions like heart attacks, arrhythmias, and congestive heart failure;
  • Brain and nervous system conditions like strokes and loss of intelligence.

Over the last few decades, humanity has learned about the dangers of coal and the problems they cause to the environment and the people living nearby coal power plants. You would be wrong if you think we’ve already moved away from coal power plants. There are still 14 operational coal power plants in Texas today.

The plant that sparked the GOP’s new war on so-called ESG.

In 2020, Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), a subsidiary of the Ohio-based American Electric Power (AEP), announced it would close H.W. Pirkey Power Plant, a large 721-megawatt coal plant located in Hallsville, Texas, in March 2023.

Pirkey ranked 73rd on the list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste and was responsible for roughly $150 million in medical damages.

The power company AEP blamed regulation and the EPA for the closure of the 36-year-old plant.

Aside from the health risks, the H. W. Pirkey Power Plant, two other SWEPCO plants, and a Luminant plant in Texas have been leaking pollutants into the groundwater. (The other three were Martin Lake, Monticello, and Welsh. Monticello was decommissioned in 2018.)

In 2013, the Pirkey Plant was one of the top five plants emitting mercury.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Pirkey Power Plant. Source: Clean Air Task Force

The Pirkey Plant had also been found to have been emitting arsenic and selenium into the atmosphere.

The H.W. Pirkey Plant is facing accountability. Not the secret woke police.

While this will cost Harrison County 106 jobs and $3.2 million in tax revenue, that’s a slight drop in the bucket compared to the lives that will be saved from closing it or the impact on the environment.

There are 31,000 people in the Harrison County labor force, and their unemployment rate is 4.9%. The loss of those 106 jobs will not greatly impact the local employment rate. Harrison County has an annual tax revenue of $8.5 billion, so the loss of $3.2 million can easily be made up somewhere else.

Considering the Texas Senate doesn’t hold a committee hearing each time there’s a grocery store closure or for a mega-company with a high turnover that might let go 100 people in one week (like Amazon), who is the one(s) that will suffer over this closure?


Why were Texas Republicans so invested in this one closure? First, let’s look at which Texas elected officials took in donations from American Electric Power.

(There are plenty of names here. If you don’t recognize them, don’t worry. I’ll have a full analysis at the end of this article and include what position they hold and what party they belong to.)

Greg Abbott: $35,000Dade Phelan:$27,500Dan Patrick:$25,000
Charles Schwertner:$22,500Charles Perry:$7,500Bryan Hughes:$5,000
Phil King:$5,000E. Sam Harless:$5,000Charles “Doc” Anderson: $4,500
Drew Darby: $4,000Ana Hernandez:$4,000Chuy Hinojosa$4,000
Abel Herrero$3,000Andy Murr:$3,000Armando Martinez:$3,000
Brandon Creighton:$3,000Cesar Blanco:$3,000Jay Dean:$3,000
Kyle Kacal:$3,000Ramon Romero Jr.: $3,000Richard Pena Raymond:$3,000
Stan Lambert:$3,000Terry Canales:$3,000Trent Ashby$3,000
Will Metcalf:$3,000Robert Bobby Guerra:$3,000Four Price:$2,500
Paulette Guajardo:$2,500Justin Holland$2,500Cole Hefner:$2,000
David Spiller: $2,000DeWayne Burns:$2,000Drew Springer:$2,000
Gary VanDeaver:$2,000Joan Huffman:$2,000Ken King: $2,000
Morgan LaMantia:$2,000Oscar Longoria:$2,000Robert Nichols:$2,000
Todd Hunter:$2,000Travis Clardy:$2,000Wayne Christian:$2,000
Charles Geren:$2,000Cody Harris:$1,500Earnest Bailes: $1,500
Geanie Morrison:$1,500JM Lozano:$1,500John Kuempel:$1,500
Brian Birdwell:$1,500Kelly Hancock:$1,500Larry Taylor: $1,500
Judith Zaffirini:$1,500Senfronia Thompson:$1,500Sergio Munoz Jr.:$1,500
Tracy King: $1,500Barbara Canales:$1,000Briscoe Cain:$1,000
Craig Goldman: $1,000Donna Campbell:$1,000Eddie Morales:$1,000
Erin Gamez:$1,000Glenn Rogers:$1,000John Smithee:$1,000
Lois Kolkhorst:$1,000Nathan Johnson:$1,000Ann Johnson:$500
John Raney:$500

On top of those donations, AEP contracted between $1.8 million and $3.8 million to lobbyists. Because lobbyists can report their income ranges, we only have a range of what an organization pays a lobbyist.

Southwestern Electric Power Company.

On top of the money above spent by AEP, Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) also contracted between $843,000 and $1.6 million to lobbyists.

The Welsh Coal Power Plants.

This was the other coal power plant owned by AEP.

Let’s start with the Welsh Coal Power Plant since that one is supposed to stop using coal in 2028. The J. Robert Welsh Power Plant is a 1-gigawatt coal power plant located east of Pittsburg in Titus County.

Welsh ranked 53rd on the list of most polluting power plants in terms of coal waste and was responsible for roughly $287 million in medical damages.

The J. Robert Welsh Plant employs 122 people and is contaminated with unsafe levels of multiple coal ash pollutants.

Since this plant is transitioning from coal to another energy source, there will be no impact on labor or the local economy.

Aside from this, coal plants contaminate the groundwater with all types of pollutants (including Cobalt, Lithium, Sulfate, Beryllium, Lead, Arsenic, and Radium);

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Welsh Power Plant. Source: Clean Air Task Force

it should be noted that 84% of students in this area are considered economically disadvantaged, and 68% are Hispanic. This is the textbook definition of what environmental racism looks like.

The Martin Lake Power Plant.

The Texas Tribune called the Martin Lake Power Plant “the creature that won’t die” because the Martin Lake coal plant in East Texas is the biggest sulfur dioxide polluter in the nation. This plant is a 2,250-megawatt coal power plant located southwest of Tatum in Rusk County.

The Martin Lake Power Plant is one of three coal plants owned by Luminant.

Luminant also owns the Coleto Creek Coal Power Plant and the Oak Grove Coal Power Plant.

Martin Lake ranked 5th in largest carbon dioxide emissions and releases 25,400 tons of sulfur dioxide into the air each year.

 Each year, 100 premature deaths are linked to the facility; it costs $1 billion in public health expenses annually, according to a health report submitted by the Sierra Club to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Beneath the soil, the plant’s toxic ash lagoons have leaked boron, cobalt, and manganese into groundwater sources.

The Martin Lake Coal Power Plant has faced a mountain of legal issues.

In late 2016, the EPA ruled that air quality in rural Rusk County, where the Martin Lake Coal Plant is, was so contaminated that it no longer met federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide. The ruling could have forced plant operators to install new pollution controls. Still, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) refused to submit a cleanup plan to the EPA, stalling the effort. Since then, the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions have ramped up.

Over the last five years, Martin Lake has had over 50,000 air quality violations. Yet, TCEQ has not issued one enforcement notice nor corrected any of the plant’s deficiencies through that same period. The population of Rusk County is 52,214.

Which Texas elected officials have benefited from Luminant?

During the 2020 election cycle, Luminant did not have direct donations to elected officials but did contract up to $931,000 to lobbyists.

While Luminant didn’t make any direct donations to elected officials, it should be noted that Luminant’s parent company Vistra Energy Corp did donate to both Republicans and Democrats this election cycle. Aside from the three coal plants, Vistra Energy owns 13 natural gas plants, one nuclear plant, and three solar plants in the state of Texas.

There are no plans to close the Martin Lake Coal Plant or transition it away from coal. However, until Vistra Energy completely divests from coal, they should be accountable and so should the elected officials who pocket money from them.

Those elected officials are:

Greg Abbott:$85,000Charles Schwertner:$15,000Nathan Johnson:$7,500
Charles Geren:$5,000Dade Phelan:$5,000Kelly Hancock:$5,000
Will Metcalf:$5,000Yvonne Davis:$5,000Chris Paddie:$5,000
Richard Pena Raymond:$4,000Donna Campbell:$2,500Phil King:$2,500
Rafael Anchia:$2,500Ana Hernandez:$2,500Chris Turner:$2,500
Jared Patterson:$2,500John Whitmire:$2,500Rhetta Bowers:$2,500
Royce West:$2,500Brandon Creighton:$2,000Drew Springer:$2,000
Julie Johnson:$2,000Justin Holland:$2,000Toni Rose: $2,000
Brian Birdwell:$2,000Bryan Hughes:$2,000Mary Edna Gonzalez:$2,000
Matt Sheehan: $2,000Morgan Meyers:$2,000Abel Herrero:$1,500
E. Sam Harless:$1,500Nicole Collier:$1,000Tracy King:$1,000
Ramon Romero Jr.:$1,000Terry Meza:$1,000Victoria Neave:$1,000
Brad Buckley:$1,000Gary VanDeaver:$1,000Giovanni Capriglione:$1,000
Jeff Leach:$1,000John Kuempel:$1,000John Bryant:$1,000
Keith Bell:$1,000Penny Morales Shaw:$1,000

On top of those donations, Vistra Energy contracted between $1.9 million and $4.5 million to lobbyists.

The Coleto Creek Coal Power Plant.

Coleto Creek is owned by Luminant and is scheduled to close by 2027. Despite knowing about these closures years in advance, Republicans will undoubtedly shriek and flail about the end of this plant for years to come

A recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project claimed the power station mismanaged its coal ash waste and may be toxic to humans and the environment because of improper care of the waste it creates.

The emissions of boron and molybdenum at Goliad County’s Coleto Creek Power Plant far exceed federal limits. Though this plant will be closed in five years, it will cause countless deaths and damage to the environment beforehand.

Luminant has denied the Environmental Integrity Project Report findings, including the groundwater poisoning in Goliad County. However, as a long-time polluter, denial, and refusal to address the climate crisis should be expected.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Coleto Creek power station. Source: Clean Air Task Force

The Oak Grove Coal Power Plant.

This 1.79-gigawatt coal power plant located north of Franklin in Robertson County and began producing in 2010. In Aug. 2006, state administrative judges recommended denial of Oak Grove’s permit based on doubts about the adequacy of pollution controls, but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (whose three-member decision-making body was appointed solely by Gov. Perry, a long-time TXU campaign-cash beneficiary) approved the plants on June 13, 2007. (TXU owned Luminant in 2006/07.)

This coal plant boasts selective catalytic reduction (SCR) for nitrogen oxide (NOx) reduction and activated carbon sorbent injection for mercury control.

What does that mean?

While neither the Oak Grove Coal Plant not Luminant refer to their process at this plant as “clean coal,” it’s inferred. Clean coal is a term coined by the oil and gas industry and turned into a household phrase by Donald Trump. U.S. taxpayers have spent billions of dollars subsidizing chemically treated refined coal, but a Reuters analysis of EPA data shows that the power plants burning it often pump out more smog, not less.

During the Senate Committee hearing in Marshall, Republicans used the term “clean coal” often. However, there is no such thing as clean coal, and countless environmental reports prove that “clean coal” is simply just a marketing term.

The Xcel Energy Coal Power Plants.

Xcel Energy has two operational coal power plants in Texas. However, in December 2018, Xcel Energy announced it would deliver 100 percent clean, carbon-free electricity by 2050, with an 80 percent carbon reduction by 2035. Xcel was the first American utility company to set this goal.

The Harrington Station, located in Amarillo, is converting to natural gas. This conversion will be complete by 2025.

The Tolk Station, located in Sudan in Lamb County, is scheduled to close by 2028.

The Limestone Coal Power Plant.

The Limestone Coal Power Plant is located in Jewett, just east of Lake Limestone in Leon County. The Limestone Plant is one of two coal plants in Texas owned by NRG Energy. The other plant that NRG owns is the W. A. Parish Coal Power Plant.

While NRG Energy claims that the Limestone Plant produces clean coal, it is also responsible for roughly $150 million in medical damages yearly.

Two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA a few months ago for failing to ensure that fine particle emissions from eight coal-fired power plants in Texas meet federal standards meant to protect public health. The Limestone Coal Power Plant was among those eight plants listed.

The 2011 Environmental Defense Fund report, “Mercury Alert: Cleaning up Coal Plants for Healthier Lives,” found that 25 plants alone are responsible for nearly a third of all mercury emissions in the power sector while providing only eight percent of U.S. electricity.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Limestone Station. Source: Clean Air Task Force

The plant with the fifth highest mercury emissions was Limestone Generating Station, releasing 1,077 lbs in 2009.

The W.A. Parish Coal Power Plant.

The W.A. Parish Power Station is a 3.65-gigawatt, dual-fired power plant near Thompsons in Fort Bend County. The Parish Plant has a history of problems. During Winter Storm Uri, the plant, like many coal and gas units across the state, went offline, contributing to blackouts. 

EPA data identified the W.A. Parish Coal Plant as the third most heavily polluting plant in the state, emitting almost 10.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 30,000 metric tons of methane, and 50,000 metric tons of nitrous oxide. A 2018 study by Dr. Daniel Cohan’s research group in Rice University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering estimated that Parish is responsible for 177 premature deaths annually.

The Parish Plant frequently exceeds safe levels of fluoride and sulfate and has failed to post data for arsenic, cobalt, molybdenum, and radium.

NRG Energy has no plans to close or transition either the Limestone Coal Power Plant or the W.A. Parish Coal Power Plant.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Parish Generating Station. Source: Clean Air Task Force

Which elected officials took donations from NRG Energy?

Greg Abbott:$25,000Dan Patrick: $25,000Dade Phelan:$25,000
Sylvester Turner:$10,000Charles Schwertner:$7,500Kelly Hancock:$5,000
Will Metcalf:$5,000Brandon Creighton:$3,000Charles Perry:$3,000
Craig Goldman:$3,000Drew Springer:$3,000Dustin Burrows:$3,000
Joan Huffman:$3,000Nathan Johnson:$3,000Nicole Collier:$3,000
Phil King:$3,000Rafael Anchia:$3,000Robert Nichols:$3,000
Trent Ashby:$3,000Trey Martinez Fisher:$3,000Dawn Buckingham:$2,500
Glenn Hegar:$2,500Justin Holland:$2,500Abel Herrero:$2,000
Angela Paxton:$2,000Armando Walle:$2,000Borris Miles:$2,000
Brian Birdwell:$2,000Brooks Landgraf:$2,000Bryan Hughes: $2,000
Carol Alvarado:$2,000Cody Harris:$2,000Donna Campbell:$2,000
Donna Howard:$2,000E. Sam Harless:$2,000Giovanni Capriglione:$2,000
Harold Dutton:$2,000Greg Bonnen:$2,000Jared Patterson:$2,000
John Kuempel:$2,000Judith Zaffirini:$2,000Keith Bell: $2,000
Lois Kolkhorst:$2,000Mary Edna Gonzalez:$2,000Morgan Meyer:$2,000
Paul Bettencourt:$2,0000Roland Gutierrez:$2,000Royce West:$2,000
Sarah Eckhardt:$2,000Senfronia Thompson:$2,000Todd Hunter:$2,000
Toni Rose:$2,000Travis Clardy:$2,000Mayes Middleton:$1,500
Jarvis Johnson:$1,500Jon Rosenthal:$1,500Kyle Kacal:$1,500
Steve Allison:$1,500Terry Canales:$1,500Tracy King:$1,500

If you’re one of the biggest polluters in Texas and are poisoning thousands of people every year while causing billions of dollars in damages, how do you manage to stay open? You donate to every legislature in Texas. Beyond the donations above, all of the remaining Texas House and Senate members received $500 – $1,000 from NGR Energy.

On top of those donations, NRG Energy contracted between $1.7 million and $3.4 million to lobbyists.

The J.K. Spruce Coal Power Plant.

J.K. Spruce Coal Power Plant is a two-unit coal power plant with a combined capacity of 1,300 MW located on Calaveras Lake in south Bexar County. CPS Energy owns the Spruce Plant.

The Spruce Plant is responsible for most of San Antonio’s energy and it’s also the worst polluter of all plants owned by CPS Energy.

CPS Energy has already committed to shutter one unit, known as Spruce 1, by 2030 and plans to convert the other unit, Spruce 2, to natural gas by 2028.

Unfortunately, their timeline isn’t fast enough. In 2020, Spruce emitted almost 6 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the U.S. Energy Administration. 

The EPA has designated Bexar County as non-attainment for ozone. This means the air is unhealthy to breathe.

Death and disease attributable to fine particle pollution from Spruce Station. Source: Clean Air Task Force

Each day CPS Energy burns coal, we further spiral into the climate crisis. Spruce emits 6 million metric tons of carbon pollution annually.

The remaining coal power plants in Texas.

Four other coal power plants still operational haven’t donated to any campaigns this last election cycle and only have contracted a nominal amount for lobbying.

Those plants are:

  • The Major Oak Coal Power Plant located in Bremond in Robertson County and owned by the Blackstone Group.
  • The Fayette Coal Power Plant located in La Grange in Fayette County and owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority and Austin Energy.
  • The San Miguel Coal Power Plant located in Christine in Atascosa County and owned by the Brazos Electric Power Cooperative and the South Texas Electric Cooperative.
  • The Sandy Creek Coal Power Plant located in Riesel in McLennan County and owned by LS Power.

Which elected officials are benefiting the most from keeping these coal plants open?

  • Governor Greg Abbott (R) – $145,000
  • House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) – $57,500
  • Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R) – $50,000

In the Texas Senate:

  • Senator Charles Schwertner (R) – $45,000
  • Senator Kelly Hancock (R) – $11,500
  • Senator Charles Perry (R) – $10,500
  • Senator Bryan Hughes (R) – $9,000
  • Senator Brandon Creighton (R) – $8,000
  • Senator Drew Springer (R) – $7,000

In the Texas House:

  • Representative Will Metcalf (R) – $12,000
  • Representative Phil King (R) – $10,500
  • Representative E. Sam Harless (R) – $8,500
  • Representative Ana Hernandez (D)- $6,500
  • Representative Abel Herrero (D) – $6,500
  • Representative Trent Ashby (R) – $6,000

All these politicians, especially the Republicans, rake millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry each election cycle. The above only reflects the money they donated from coal companies.

We talk a lot about energy and the environment, but to understand what that means and what’s at stake we must break down each piece of it and learn who’s benefitting from keeping us dependent on fossil fuels and coal while our earth is dying.

We’ll break down more parts of this industry in the coming weeks. There are a lot of layers to this billion-dollar industry, and we plan to peel back each one. Stay tuned.

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