Money-Huggers

How can all the top dogs in Dallas come out against TXU and coal?

Wow. Listen to that. It's good-old American, hard-eyed business pragmatism—the stuff that made this city great—but it's coming back around the other direction, in favor of environmental responsibility, not against it.

I have a theory for some of this. When we talk about business leadership these days, many of the people we speak of are still in their 40s and 50s. Life is not all about golf and air conditioning for them.

They have ranches. They fly-fish in the mountains. Some of them ride mountain bikes. They have kids who watch penguin movies.

I said to Litman: "I have this litmus test. I say two words. You have to tell me what your reaction is. Al. Gore."

He said, "I'm pretty neutral. He's a pretty middle-of-the-road guy. I'm neutral. But at the same time, he has certainly raised the consciousness of the message. If that's the single greatest achievement of his lifetime, it's not a bad thing."

Under the old rules, that would have been the wrong answer. The right answer was, "Do you mean the famous communist?"

The other fascination for me in the coal-fired fight is the role being played by Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who took up this mantle in almost the same breath with her announcement last year that she would not seek re-election.

Maybe it's unfair of me, but I saw the new Environmental Laura as a sort of extreme makeover. In my years of watching her perform as a journalist and politician, I just never glimpsed the environmental side. But then, what do I know? I'm caught by surprise that Dallas business leadership can be eco-friendly, so maybe I'm just behind the curve.

Miller has put together a coalition of Texas mayors opposed to the TXU coal plants, and that political vehicle has propelled her to the forefront of the fight, at least in terms of press, especially in terms of national press. Miller has been all over Rolling Stone magazine, Time magazine, BusinessWeek and U.S. News and World Report.

That's publicity that money can't buy, and here in Dallas we know how she does it, right? You don't get that kind of ink being all milquetoast and nuanced and shades of gray. If she were a professional wrestler, her rassler persona would be "The Punisher in Pearls."

I hear all kinds of speculation about why she's out there with this—everything from a congressional run to a campaign for the Senate seat of John Cornyn, whose term expires in 2009. All I know is this: The same tension that occurred eventually between Miller and her early champions in the business community as mayor is a real possibility in the coal-fired fight, if her allies are to be these new eco-friendly moguls.

Last week I attended a press conference she called at 3 p.m., just in time for the evening news cycle but a little late for reporters to get much reaction from TXU. Armed with a nearly 300-page deposition of Mike McCall, chairman and CEO of TXU Wholesale, Miller argued that McCall and TXU were lying to the public.

She said they were being deliberately deceptive about their promise to reduce their overall emissions at existing plants by 20 percent and totally offset any emissions from the 11 new plants.

I watched two Dallas newscasts that night. One of them had a smidge of response from TXU, but both of them carried Miller's accusation that TXU was lying.

Over the next couple of days, I sorted through the deposition. I found lots of places where McCall and the lawyers interrogating him argued about precisely what TXU was promising and how the promises will be kept.

But I didn't find any lies. I don't think you would have, either. Lots of differences of opinion and interpretation. No lies.

An interesting thing happens, I think, when the questions of global warming and the finitude of the earth begin to be settled. We see responsible mainstream leadership moving out of denial and into the search for pragmatic solutions to real problems.

But maybe people at the other side of the page have to move too. I don't know if it works to paint business leaders as liars and devils when you've got business leaders on your side. Maybe the guy across the table from you doesn't have horns on his head after all. Maybe he just has millions of dollars worth of construction projects with TXU.

Does the Punisher in Pearls truly fit in this picture? We shall see.

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