Facing Long Odds, Community Still Fighting Border Coal Project

A controversial proposal from a Mexican company to dig an open pit coal mine near the border town of Eagle Pass will likely go before the Railroad Commission of Texas in January, and odds are it will get the green light.

Backers of the Dos Republicas mining project received some good news before Thanksgiving when Railroad Commission Hearings Examiner Marcy Spraggins recommended that they be allowed to mine the area. The project had provoked opposition from local politicians as well as community members concerned with environmental impacts. Some local business people in the area have welcomed the plan, saying it will bring jobs.

The case highlights the larger issues of coal’s future in the United States and abroad. While Texas may very likely be building its last coal power plant, coal exports are reaching record highs. That’s prompted some to ask if U.S. efforts to control carbon pollution associated with coal will make a difference globally, when it’s simply mined here and then burned somewhere else in the world.

In the case of Dos Republicas, those major global issues are playing out on a smaller scale, in a Texas town with a population of less than 30,000 people. Under the proposal, coal will be mined in Maverick County outside of Eagle Pass, then shipped over the border to nearby Mexican coal power plants. Residents in Eagle Pass worry about the environmental impacts of the mining operations in their community, as well as the impact of air pollution from coal burning in Mexico returning to their side of the border.

Smoke from the two Carbones coal power stations in Cuahuila, Mexico, where the Texas coal will likely be burned, has been blamed for air pollution as far away as Big Bend National Park in Far West Texas.

“Its so unfortunate that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), they can’t do nothing about it because it’s in Mexico,” Maverick County resident Gabriel de la Cerda told StateImpact Texas earlier this year. “But we can stop it here.”

But the likelihood of the project being stopped has grown slimmer, now that the proposal is going to the Railroad Commission with a recommendation from the Hearings Examiner.

“The important thing is that all the protestants had a chance to put on their evidence, and to critique the application of Dos Republicas, and when it was all considered, the Hearing Examiner said the application met all the statutory and regulatory requirements,” John Wilson, a lawyer representing Dos Republicas, told the San Antonio Express News.

Opponents of the mine have also seen their numbers shrink through the year. In a move that surprised many, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas withdrew its opposition to the mine in May. A lawyer representing the tribe had given forceful arguments against the mine at the Railroad Commission before the tribe suddenly changed course.

The Maverick County Environmental and Public Health Association is the citizens group opposing the mine. The association’s George Baxter told StateImpact Texas in an email that the group “will continue to fight this at the Railroad Commission until the final decision.”

Members have already filed so-called ‘exceptions’ to the recommendation from Hearings Examiner. They argue that mining the coal will bring no energy benefit to Texas, but will be detrimental to social well-being and health.

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