A few years back, Robert Redford narrated a documentary, Fighting Goliath, that told the epic Texas tale of how a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists, and others banded together in the mid-2000s against a giant power company’s plans to build 11 coal plants that would have belched pollution across the state. The film includes scenes of billowing smoke, militant big-city Texas mayors, and protesters carrying signs crying, “No more coal.” One farmer tells an interviewer, “'Til this thing came about, I always looked the other way when I saw an environmentalist.”
When the dust settled, only three plants were approved, and the rest were killed in a buyout of the power company, despite an effort by Gov. Rick Perry (R) to fast-track the scheme.
Today in West Texas, the simple heroism of that tale has been replaced by a far more complex story of trade-offs, pragmatism, and scientific uncertainties about a project slated for what Odessa city officials call “the clean energy capital of the world.” At the heart of it all is one of the very first full-scale tests of that still hazy concept, “clean coal.”