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Fayette Power Project, Coal Plant, Blamed For 'Environmental Catastrophe'

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Harvey Hayek stands where his pecan grove once stoodAlong a stretch of Highway 21, in Texas' pastoral Hill Country, is a vegetative wasteland. Trees are barren, or covered in gray, dying foliage and peeling bark. Fallen, dead limbs litter the ground where pecan growers and ranchers have watched trees die slow, agonizing deaths.

Visible above the horizon is what many plant specialists, environmentalists and scientists believe to be the culprit: the Fayette Power Project – a coal-fired power plant for nearly 30 years has operated mostly without equipment designed to decrease emissions of sulfur dioxide, a component of acid rain.

The plant's operator and the state's environmental regulator deny sulfur dioxide pollution is to blame for the swaths of plant devastation across Central Texas. But evidence collected from the Appalachian Mountains to New Mexico indicates sulfur dioxide pollution kills vegetation, especially pecan trees. Pecan growers in Albany, Ga., have received millions of dollars in an out-of-court settlement with a power plant whose sulfur dioxide emissions harmed their orchards.

Now, extensive tree deaths are being reported elsewhere in Texas, home to 19 coal-fired power plants – more than any other state. Four more are in planning stages. In each area where the phenomenon is reported, a coal-fired power plant operates nearby.

The Fayette Power Project sits on a 10-square-mile site about 60 miles southeast of Austin, near where horticulturalist Jim Berry, who owns a wholsesale nursery in Grand Saline, Texas, describes a 30-mile stretch of Highway 21 as a place where "the plant community was just devastated."

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