Sundance film tells of Texas coal plant fight

Houston_Robert Redford, movie icon, Oscar-winning director and founder of the Sundance Film Festival, knows the power of a good story.

So when he heard about the battle being waged in Texas by an unlikely assortment of activists to halt construction of 18 coal-burning power plants, Redford knew there was a powerful story waiting to be told.

Not just a manifesto of environmental awareness, not just a screed against pollution and global warming, but a tale of taciturn Texas ranchers, rural farmers and small-town mayors who rallied to protect their backyards, their land and their children's health.

Redford, through the Redford Center at the Sundance Preserve, commissioned a documentary about the fight in the Lone Star State.

The result is "Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars," a 34-minute documentary directed by Mat Hames and George Sledge that chronicles the campaign to stop the plants.

On Thursday, Redford and others involved in the production and the coal plant struggle spoke before the Houston premiere of the film, which is being shown in private screenings across Texas and eventually will be broadcast on the Sundance Channel.

"The story behind this coalition, I thought, was so powerful because when you see a rancher like Mr. (Marc) Scott, who has generations with him and before him that just understood the land because it was part of their lives, and suddenly they see the possibility of it being removed, then there's a much more open mind," Redford said.

Scott owns a ranch in Hallsburg, about 14 miles east of Waco.

The coal wars began in 2006 when several energy companies wanted to build coal plants in east and central Texas. TXU Corp., now called Energy Future Holdings, planned to build 11 plants.

As word spread of the proposed coal plants, Dallas Mayor Laura Miller began recruiting other mayors to fight the plants.

Soon others joined: environmental activists from Public Citizen, attorneys for the high-profile firm of Susman Godfrey LLP who took on the case for free, and residents such as fourth-generation rancher Scott.

"I'm no lawyer, but I knew it was bad," Scott said at the news conference. "We decided it was more important to have healthy kids than coal plants."

The coalition's efforts eventually scored a partial victory. In February 2007, TXU withdrew eight of the applications. But four other plants are in the permitting stage, and another four are under discussion, said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen.

Monica Rohr, AP Writer © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.