Times Gives Coal Company Its Lumps

     Christmas came early for the energy company TXU Corp. (NYSE: TXU) – but not in a good way. The New York Times dumped coal in the firm’s stocking over plans to build 11 new coal-fired power plants in Texas and indicted the firm for its part in “an emerging environmental catastrophe.”

     The Times article, written by Matthew L. Wald, didn’t dwell on how TXU was investing $10 billion to lower energy costs in Texas, which was “hit hard by the tripling of natural gas prices in recent years.” Or even how TXU was building plants that would lower “smog-forming pollutants and soot” with “a 70 percent cut from existing plants.”

     No, the Times went looking for the Grinch and found him with left-wing predictability at Public Citizen, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Those groups charged that TXU was “embarking on its immense construction campaign without taking account of its role in an emerging environmental catastrophe.”

     All three groups are anti-business and among the more radical liberal organizations on the issue of climate change. Their outlook was obvious throughout the article as Wald emphasized that TXU might be a “cost to the ecosystem,” but “it could be an immensely profitable bet.”

     The story had almost reached the 1,000-word mark by the time a person from the company was finally quoted.

     That spin reflects the NRDC position – anti-coal, according to this August 2006 piece from the organization’s Web site: “If the coal-fired power plants under development in the United States and China are built as planned, they will lock us in to a future of dangerous global warming, damaged public health, and devastated landscapes.”

      “Maybe this is good energy-system planning, or maybe it is environmental brinksmanship,” Wald’s article suggested. But he left no room for doubt that he thought it bad for the environment. According to the piece, TXU’s actions went against what “people who want to limit global warming gases” were doing, and it could “put carbon into the atmosphere into the middle of this century or longer.”

     The entire piece beat up the company for not meeting regulations that don’t even exist. As Wald explained it, “for the most part TXU is choosing the technology that will produce the cheapest power consistent with existing environmental regulations.” But instead of treating that as normal business practice, not to mention good for consumers, the reporter held TXU to the standards of left-wing climate change activists who would like to see strict carbon regulations.

     The Times piece criticized Texas as well, because it “has no goals for cutting carbon emissions.” Even Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry was treated as a lackey for the industry. “Rick Perry, who has received campaign support from companies that burn or ship coal, has fast-tracked coal permit applications from TXU and other companies,” Wald charged, though Perry’s office denied it.

     Despite the article’s spin, a former Clinton administration undersecretary of energy agreed that “coal is now the most attractive fuel” and that “the traditional coal-burning plant may be the best way to make electricity.” In other words, exactly what TXU was doing.

     The irony for TXU was that less than a month before, on October 15, the Times wrote a story criticizing energy companies because “a genuinely competitive market for electricity production has not developed.” The upshot has been a nationwide rise in energy costs, meaning electric customers “are facing rude surprises.”