You don't really have to get too deep into the parts-per-million debate about coal-fired power plants to see the sea change. The really revolutionary shift here is not about the coal. It's the people opposed to the coal.

The roster of people fighting against TXU Corp. on its application to build 11 new coal-fired power plants in Texas is a Who's Who of Dallas money and power: Garrett Boone, Trammell S. Crow, David Litman, Albritton, Altshuler, Anderson, Ayres, Baron, Bartlett, Bass, Bell: Oh, heck, that's just the first dozen of a tally of 150 names shown to me recently by one of the principals.

You keep reading down that list, and it just gets more and more amazing. These are people from the top branches of the money tree. And they are publicly opposed to TXU, on the side of the tree-huggers. I don't know how I can even express what that reflects in terms of Dallas culture.

Look, 10 years ago you could have done this as a multiple choice test for persons of wealth, power and influence in Dallas. Which one of the following would you least like to get caught with at the No-Tell Motel (choose only one): 1) dead woman, 2) live boy, 3) tree-hugger?

I do believe that 10 years ago I would have come up with 150 tree-huggers on that test. People didn't even think you should say "tree-hugger" in front of women.

I talked to David Litman, co-founder of, now CEO of, who is a co-chairman of Texas Business for Clean Air Coalition—the group whose roster I referred to a moment ago.

Litman wanted to make sure I understood that he and his coalition have all kinds of solid business reasons to oppose TXU in its attempt to get its coal plants licensed by the state. But he also said, "It's just a recognition that no resource is infinite.

"We believed in America that we had an infinite amount of land, and we kind of gave up that notion in the 1890s. We believed we had an infinite amount of resources, and we kind of gave that up some time in the middle of the last century.

"And now we don't have an infinite amount of clean air. And we have to do something when a plant like this is proposed that is so obviously not good for business and not good for Texas."

TXU Corp. is asking the governor of Texas to "fast-track" the licensing of 11 new coal-fired power plants that it wants to build between now and 2011. The new plants would produce 78 million tons of pollution a year.

TXU argues that it will offset 100 percent of the pollution produced by the new plants by cleaning up its older plants. There's a complicated argument about what that promise really means.

But let's go back to that one statement by Litman. No resource is infinite. There was a point in time in this city when saying something like that identified you as a fruitcake. I speak as a longtime fruitcake myself, so I'm on solid fruitcake ground here.

Litman refers specifically to the fact that the Dallas metropolitan area is in a status of "non-attainment" on federal clean air standards—an ax dangling over the city's neck already.

Written in blood on that ax is a single word that should strike terror in the heart of Dallas: Atlanta. In 1996 the federal government cut off money for federally supported road and transportation projects in Atlanta, because Atlanta had failed to get itself into compliance with federal clean air standards.

Atlanta and Georgia politicians went to war in Washington to get 61 highway projects grandfathered under the Clean Air Act, arguing that those projects were started at a time when Atlanta was in compliance. The U.S. Department of Transportation was on Atlanta's side.

A federal court ruled the other way. The parties wound up settling out of court, and 17 projects already under contract were allowed to continue. But federal funding for 44 projects was killed, and Atlanta found itself forced to agree to a package of concessions on growth and transportation.

That was all a long time ago now, and yet for years nobody at the top in Dallas has talked about Atlanta or clean air attainment with any sense of urgency. Call it a state of denial, call it a leap of faith: The doctrine here was always universal and damn near religious. All resources are infinite. The only good is growth. All growth is good. People who talk about limitations are a bunch of guitar-plucking negativos.

I said to Litman, "As you speak, I can't help thinking that I've spoken to people in Dallas for years who would have said, 'All this stuff about our being in non-attainment, that's just a legislative problem. We'll send a guy to Washington. We'll get that taken care of.'"