As I drove my brother home after the Super Bowl last night, we passed a big house that was brightly lit by hundreds of Christmas lights. You know what came to my mind? Coal. More than half the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from burning coal, which produces tons of greenhouse gases, and yet people leave their Xmas decorations on until February. What would Jesus do? Not that, I daresay.
FORTUNE today published my story about the biggest and most controversial plan to build coal plants going on anywhere in the country. Texas energy company TXU wants to build 11 plants at a cost of nearly $1 billion each. Fighting TXU are not just environmentalists but local pols and business people.
This has created some unusual alliances. Longtime Texas greens like Jim Marston of Environmental Defense and Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen are allied with the likes of Texas oilman and developer Albert J. Huddleston, who helped finance the Swift Boat TV ads against John Kerry. Huddleston is financing a lawsuit against TXU because he’s worried about mercury buildup in Texas lakes. “I’m not a wacko environmentalist,” he assured me. “TXU is not going to be able to impeach me as some kind of goofball.”
Given the threat of global warming, it seems almost suicidal to keep building coal plants. But there are reasons why more than 150 are being planned nationwide. Coal is plentiful and cheap when compared to other fuels. Greenhouse gases remain unregulated in the U.S. And then there are those Christmas lights, not to mention our big houses, incandescent bulbs, 24/7 AC in the summer, inefficient motors and pumps in industry, etc. We remain a wasteful nation.
Here’s how the story begins:
For whatever reason – the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” the plight of polar bears in the Arctic, the Democratic takeover of Congress – this is the moment when corporate America has at long last decided to get serious about global warming.
Joining hands with environmentalists, the CEOs of ten Fortune 500 companies, among them GE, Alcoa, DuPont and utilities Duke Energy and PG&E, last month called on the government to regulate the greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels. Dozens of big companies, including Wal-Mart, have pledged to reduce their own emissions of carbon dioxide. In a twist on the theme, Dell will arrange to have trees planted for customers who pay $2 to offset the CO2 generated when a computer is plugged into the power grid.
And then there is TXU.
The story will look and read better in the print edition of the magazine, which hits newsstands this week, but you can find in online here. Please let me know what you think.