I finally got around to watching my preview copy of Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars, the new short documentary from Robert Redford’s Sundance outfit. It’s about the battle over the 12 coal plants proposed for Texas by TXU in 2007.

Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars

A couple things that I thought were quite well done:

  • Environmentalists play virtually no role — they’re scarcely seen, except on the edge of the action. The main players are small-town Texans and Texas mayors. It’s very clear that this isn’t about do-gooding from outsiders; it’s about Texans defending their own interests.
  • Global warming plays very little role — I think it’s mentioned once. The concerns that dominate are the ones that face the surrounding communities: mercury and particulates, land taken for rail tracks, the effect on economic development.

The ending, however, is deeply unsatisfying. Throughout, you see this grassroots coalition growing, coming together to take on the Goliath of TXU and Gov. Rick Perry. Minds are changed; people get fired up. There are even a few early victories.

And then comes the buyout. It is everything the rest of the action is not: remote, arranged by outsiders (big-money buyout firms and national green groups), and inconclusive. In some sense the small-town Texans got saved, but they didn’t quite save themselves, and they didn’t quite get completely saved. The three dirtiest of the coal plants are still slated to go ahead.

As the doc ends, members of the coalition vow to go on fighting, but there’s a sense that some of the wind has gone out of their sails.

As I said at the time, the TXU buyout is incredibly significant — it was a real turning point in the coal fight. But I remain deeply ambivalent about whether it was the best outcome, and watching the fight get taken out of the hands of these incredibly honorable and admirable Texans left me feeling a little deflated.