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Been wondering what all those Bernie supporters are going to do now that their “candidate” is no longer running for President?  Well they have now  announced the creation of a new organization whose mission will be to carry forth the ‘political revolution’ through the general election and beyond. The Bernie Sanders “campaign” has issued a call to action for those inspired by the historic primary challenge and a message aimed at its detractors: We’re not done yet.  The new organization will be called ‘Our Revolution.

Sanders will begin activating his grassroots supporters for enacting a longer-term vision.  Around the country supporters of the new movement will host house parties on August 24th as a way to begin fueling Our Revolution. The kick-off evening, will include “a major live stream address where Bernie will talk about the specifics of what we can do going forward to fight for every single issue that drove his campaign.

If you want to find a house party in your area, go to the map and put in your zip code.

Sunset Commission Logo

Monday, August 22, 2016
House Appropriations Committee Room
Room E1.030, Capitol Extension
1400 Congress Avenue
Starting at 9:00 a.m.

This is not the Railroad Commission’s first rodeo.  It was punted in the 2011, 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions with a temporary re-authorization because the legislature failed to agree and pass a bill that would reauthorize the agency for another 12 years.  So once again this dysfunctional agency is in front of the Sunset Commissioners who must make recommendations about how the RRC should continue (and in case you were wondering – NO – the Railroad Commission does not regulate railroads.  Pipelines, oil and gas wells, and mines are among the things it oversees/rubber stamps.  And it does have some enforcement duties that don’t amount to much  So this is an agency that could use some serious changes, but unless the Texas legislature via the Sunset Commissioners know that the public is paying attention to what they do, they could just re-authorize the RRC for another 12 years with no significant changes.  This is where you come in.  Below is a description of the Sunset Advisory Commission and their process.  You can see the agenda for the August 22nd hearing here.

If you plan to testify, you will need to fill out a witness card upon your arrival at the Capitol in Room E1.030. We will have our internal sessions and refreshments in reserved rooms at the Capitol.  Parking is available in the Capitol Visitors Garage accessible on 12th or 13th Streets between Trinity and San Jacinto on the east side of the Capitol., please fill in the sheet here, so we can plan to accommodate everyone and for you to get information about the rooms we have reserved.  If you cannot come in person, there are other options (see below)

The Sunset Advisory Commission is an agency of the Texas Legislature that makes recommendations to the Legislature on whether to continue various state agencies.

The Commission was created in 1977 under the auspices of the Texas Sunset Act (now codified as Chapter 325 of the Texas Government Code).

The Commission consists of twelve members, ten of whom are legislators and the remaining two are members of the general public (see the current Commissioners below). The leader of each chamber of the Legislature (the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, who presides over the Texas Senate) each appoint five legislators and one public member to serve on the Commission. The chair and vice-chair rotate annually between the two chambers. The Commission appoints a director, who hires staff to carry out agency duties.  (A list of the members is located at the bottom of this post)

Under the Act, every state agency (excluding universities, courts, and agencies mandated under the Texas Constitution) has a specific date on which it will automatically be abolished, unless the Legislature passes specific legislation continuing the agency’s existence. This issue came into play during the 2009 Legislative session, when the session adjourned without the Legislature providing for the continued existence of several agencies, thus requiring the Governor to call a special session.

Prior to the scheduled cessation date of an agency, the agency’s functions are scheduled for review by the Commission. Each agency provides to the Commission a Self-Evaluation Report; the Commission staff prepares its recommendations (coordinating with other state oversight agencies, such as the State Auditor’s Office and the Legislative Budget Board) and takes public comments. A final public hearing is held prior to the Commission making its final recommendations to the Legislature. The final recommendation can be any of the following:

  • Continue the agency as is
  • Continue the agency with modifications (including moving functions from the agency to other agencies, moving functions from other agencies into it, and most commonly, making improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of an agency’s functions.)
  • Merge the agency with another agency
  • Disband the agency and either transfer its functions to other agencies, or abolish them altogether

If the Commission recommends continuation of the agency, it must provide draft legislation to continue the Agency and to make other recommendations. Generally, the legislation will allow the agency to continue for an additional 12 years (six biennial sessions), but may be shortened in order to equalize the number and size of agencies to be reviewed each biennium. Should an agency be abolished, the Act provides for a one-year wind-down period so the agency may conclude its operations. The Legislature must pass specific legislation to continue an agency’s existence and to define its roles and responsibilities, and has complete freedom to amend or reject the Commission’s recommendations (either to continue or abolish the agency).

The Sunset Process:

The Commission generally considers each agency under review during two public meetings.  About a month after release of a Sunset staff report, the Commission discusses the report’s recommendations and takes testimony from the public.   Any person is welcome to attend the public hearing and provide feedback on the staff recommendations or other issues relating to the agency.  For the Railroad Commission this hearing is August 22, 2016 at the capital.  Please note, however, testimony about individual cases or appeals is generally not allowed. The Sunset Commission cannot override an agency’s decisions.

At least a month after the public hearing, the Sunset Commission meets again to vote on its recommendations to the full Legislature about an agency. No additional public testimony is taken at this second meeting.  The Railroad Commission’s second meeting is scheduled for November 10th.  At this point the commissioners will issue their recommendations for any changes at the agency that will be considered in the reauthorizing legislation that needs to pass during the 85th legislative session, should the bill fail the agency is abolished but may continue business for up to one year.  Should no reauthorizing legislation pass, there is an omnibus bill that will allow an agency to undergo the sunset process during the next interim session, but the Railroad Commission’s reauthorizing process was already delayed last session.

Public participation is the cornerstone of the Sunset process.  It is how Sunset staff gains the broad perspective needed to conduct its review of state agencies and programs.  It is how the Sunset Commission receives feedback about the Sunset staff review and hears new ideas and issues beyond what staff has presented.  Ultimately, it is how the public itself can be assured of a say on fundamental matters affecting state agencies.

The public may participate in the Sunset process at this point by:

Giving feedback directly to the Sunset Commission.

After the Sunset staff report has been issued, the Sunset Commission conducts a public hearing to receive feedback on the staff’s work.  Interested persons may provide feedback in writing or by testifying at the hearing.  Because of the public nature of the proceeding, feedback received at this stage is public and will generally be placed on the Sunset Commission’s website for the public to see.  To be most effective, this feedback should be short and to the point and clearly indicate support, opposition, or changes to recommendations.  One may also present any new issues or solutions that were not raised in the Sunset staff report.  Sunset staff compiles this feedback to help the Sunset Commission make decisions about an agency.

If you cannot attend but want to submit written testimony, you can use the Public Input Form and watch a live stream of the hearing. or you can go to Public Citizen’s Action form with pre-written testimony.  Once you take action here  you will both automatically receive an email about the hearing and will be directed to the page to sign up to attend the hearing

If the reason you cannot attend is because they happened to schedule this hearing on the same day school starts in your area, be sure to mention this in your written testimony.

Sunset Commission Members

The Commission has five Senators, five Representatives, and two members of the public, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.  The position of chair rotates between the House and the Senate every two years.

Senate Members House Members
Van Taylor
Vice Chair
2015 to 2019
Plano
Larry Gonzales
Chair
2013 to 2017
Round Rock
Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

2013 to 2017
McAllen

Cindy Burkett

2013 to 2017
Sunnyvale

Robert Nichols

2015 to 2017
Jacksonville

Dan Flynn

2015 to 2019
Van

Charles Schwertner

2013 to 2017
Georgetown

Richard Peña Raymond

2013 to 2017
Laredo

Kirk Watson

2015 to 2019
Austin

Senfronia Thompson

2015 to 2019
Houston

LTC (Ret.) Allen B. West
Public Member
2015 to 2017
William Meadows
Public Member
2015 to 2017

 

WCS Radioactive

Looks like a safe way to store radioactive waste from nuclear power plants. :j

As it decides what constitutes community consent to a nuclear waste dump, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) should acknowledge its past mistakes, be responsive to public input and disavow attempts by the private sector to site a nuclear waste storage facility in Texas, Public Citizen has told the agency.

Public Citizen submitted its comments (PDF) on Sunday in response to the agency’s invitation for public input on how it should go about establishing sites for high-level nuclear waste facilities.

Over the past six months, the department has been holding public hearings across the country to solicit public input on and move forward consent-based siting, a new approach to siting nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities.

The concept of consent-based siting, part of recommendations made in 2012 by the Obama administration’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, reportedly has enjoyed success in other countries pursuing nuclear waste disposal. It has been touted as a potential antidote to the four decades of failed nuclear waste policy in the U.S. and has been embraced by the Department of Energy (DOE).

But the success of this process and its aim to reset the federal radioactive waste program is already jeopardized. While the DOE is deciding what constitutes consent, an application for a new, high-level radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas, is moving through the process at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at breakneck speed. Waste Control Specialists (WCS), which now operates a low-level radioactive waste dump there, wants to expand. Its plan would involve more than 10,000 shipments of radioactive waste generated across much of the United States over 20 or more years.

“This proposal for ‘interim storage’ in Texas is putting the cart before the horse and is clearly at cross purposes with the DOE’s effort to develop a new approach that is safe, adaptive, staged and aimed at achieving state and community consent for storing our country’s lethal nuclear waste,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “While the Blue Ribbon Commission and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz tout Texas and New Mexico as communities that might want this waste, the DOE has failed to even hold hearings in the targeted West Texas community to ascertain what the citizens think would constitute consent. This blatant omission further erodes public trust in the DOE and could derail its new approach before it even begins. To correct course, the agency should publicly oppose WCS’ proposal as premature.”

The DOE has an opportunity to overhaul an agency culture that has systematically disregarded the public and failed to meet its commitments. But it is already wasting it. Acknowledging its past and present shortcomings – including failing the people of Andrews County – and taking steps to correct its mistakes are the first step to saving consent-based siting from becoming another blot on the DOE’s record.

Click here to view Public Citizen’s recommendations.

RRC townhallTuesday, August 2 at 6:30 PM

Grapevine Convention Center

1209 S Main St, Grapevine, Texas 76051

The Texas Railroad Commission governs all oil and gas activities including the building of pipelines within the state. The RRC is up for Sunset Review this coming legislative session. Sunset works by setting a date on which an agency is abolished unless the Legislature passes a bill to continue it. Sunset staff evaluates the agency and issues recommendations for positive change. The Commission considers the recommendations, hears public testimony, and decides on a package of changes to bring to the full Legislature.

If you are concerned about the lack of enforcement and fines related oil and gas drilling, about deep injection and earthquakes and about Commissioners taking donations from companies with cases pending before the RRC, then come learn about the Sunset process, express your concerns and your questions about this agency, and how you want it reformed.

Also, public testimony in Austin is tentatively set for Monday, August 22.

For more info,
https://www.sunset.texas.gov/reviews-and-reports/agencies/railroad-commission-texas-rrc

https://www.sunset.texas.gov/meetings#meeting_1764

Sunset of an agency happens once a decade. Real reform for the RRC has been pushed aside in recent years for Legislative budget wrangling and other politics around the Capitol.

Numerous legislators have been invited to the event and we are awaiting confirmation. But this is your opportunity to come together with others where we can document your concerns and comments regarding this agency. This event is sponsored and being put on by Public Citizen, Sierra Club and Earthworks.

A rate case is fundamentally about determining how much money an electric utility needs to collect from ratepayers to pay for expenses (and make some return on investment), how those expenses will be divided among the different customer classes (residential, commercial, industrial), and how customers in those different rate classes will be billed.  It’s probably obvious that these decisions can impact affordability and equity among customers.  Rate cases can also have significant environmental impacts though.

The Austin Energy rate case is an opportunity to make changes that can allow the utility to transition away from fossil fuels and towards greater reliance on clean energy solutions, including solar energy at homes and businesses, energy efficiency, energy storage and demand response (temporarily reducing usage when energy demand and prices spike).  What the utility spends money on, what programs are offered, and how rates are designed have profound impacts on climate change, air quality, water pollution, water use, land use – all of which impact society in a variety of ways, including public health and vulnerability to natural disasters.  So, it might sound boring at first, but if you care about the environment or social equity, you should care about how your electric utility is doing business.

What we’re advocating for:

  • 2009-08-21-fayette

    Fayette Power Project

    Budget to allow Austin Energy’s portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire.  It is responsible for 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions (and over 28% of Austin’s greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors).  It’s also a major source of other air pollution that causes and worsens respiratory diseases (sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides – which contributes to ground level ozone formation) and cause neurological disorders mercury.  And it requires over 5 billion gallons of water to operate.  The latest adopted plan for Austin Energy calls for the retirement of the utility’s portion of Fayette by 2023, and Austin Energy staff say its remaining debt associated with the plant must be paid off before it can be retired.  The plan calls for that money to be collected in a dedicated fund through annual budgeting, but that isn’t happening, putting the retirement plan at risk.  Please use our action page to email City Council about budgeting to retire Fayette.

  • Maintain residential rates that encourage energy conservation and allow thrifty customers to keep their bills low.  Austin Energy has proposed to increase electric rates for those who use the least energy and reduce them for those who use the most.  For those trying to reduce their electric usage for environmental reasons or because their household budgets are strained, Austin Energy’s proposal will increase bills.  Austin Energy’s proposal will also make it more difficult to project from year to year how higher much summer rates will be from winter rates.  Both of these changes would reduce the incentive to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency upgrade.  And these changes were proposed despite a study that Austin Energy commissioned that said that the existing rate structure is succeeding in encouraging conservation.  These proposed changes to how residential customers are billed would be a step backwards.
  • LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation - Meridian Solar

    LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation – Meridian Solar

    Adopt a policy to fairly compensate businesses for energy they produce from solar energy systems.  The City Council has adopted goals solar energy on homes and businesses, but Austin Energy’s current policy doesn’t include any way for most commercial customers to receive compensation for the energy they provide to the utility.  Incentives have temporarily filled that gap, but they are coming to an end.  The value of solar (VoS) rate is used to provide bill credits to residential customers, based on the calculated value of local distributed solar energy.  The same method should be used to compensate commercial customers.  Making this policy change will help grow solar adoption, while shifting away from incentives.

  • Ensure that enough money is collected to fully fund energy efficiency, solar energy and demand response programs.  Helping customers reduce their electric bills by making energy efficiency improvement or install solar energy systems doesn’t just benefit those customers who participate in those programs, it benefits all customers by allowing the utility to avoid purchasing expensive power that would drive all of our bills up.  The Energy Efficiency Services fee is used to collect money for this purpose.  With more people moving to Austin all the time, Austin Energy needs to ensure that budgets are set to match the need for local energy improvements.

Public Citizen and Sierra Club jointly participated in the Austin Energy rate case over the past several months, in an effort to push the utility to make environmentally sound decisions about both spending and billing customers.  That was just a warm-up for the real decision-making process though.  Because Austin Energy is owned by the city of Austin, the Austin City Council will make the final decisions about the rate case.  That’s where you come in.  City Council members, including Mayor Adler, need to hear from Austin Energy customers.  There will be a public hearing on Thursday, August 25th at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.  Meet at 3:00 p.m. for a rally to support fair rates that meet Austin’s environmental goals.

IMG_1653Around 10:10 AM on Sunday July 17th, a pipeline leaked propylene in the community of Baytown, TX, near the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery. Propylene is a dense, colorless gas that is considered non-toxic but flammable. The pipeline leak highlights some of the challenges associated with emergency response along within the Houston region.

At 10:30 AM, according to the Houston Chronicle, three houses were evacuated and all others within the vicinity of the leak were told to shelter in place. The emergency response was mixed. Residents who signed up for city notifications through Baytown Alert were apparently notified by phone and by email around 10:30 AM about the order to shelter-in-place. Yet some confusion remained – who exactly did the shelter-in-place include? What had happened, and what kind of chemical was released – something flammable or something toxic? Should residents downwind be concerned?

The CAER line, which is supported by the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, provides a hotline for Harris County residents to call to obtain more information regarding emergency situations. During the incident on Sunday, several people known to us called CAER to hear the messages it posted regarding the situation. It is unclear how quickly the first message regarding the incident was posted to CAER; a Baytown resident stated that it took about an hour following the incident before CAER posted a message. On Sunday at 1:05 PM, there were no current messages, even though the shelter-in-place had not yet been lifted. At 2:30 PM, CAER’s message stated that a propylene leaked resulted in the shelter-in-place warning. The City of Baytown reported via twitter that the shelter-in-place had been lifted at 2:38 PM. At 3:30 PM, CAER’s message line mentioned the leak without any mention of a shelter-in-place. Around 4:20 PM there were no current messages on the CAER line.

Although the City of Baytown notified residents of the shelter-in-place, the residents we spoke with never received the all clear and were not informed when the shelter-in-place had been lifted either via siren or via email and phone. In fact, it is unclear if sirens were used to communicate the shelter-in-place, which is an important way to inform people who may be visiting the area or who may not have access to other technology. Many questions remain unanswered and the Healthy Ports Community Coalition (HPCC) is actively researching to fully understand the emergency response.

The HPCC is also proposing a system like an amber alert system to make use of our modern technology so that residents can be informed immediately when emergency evacuations or a shelter-in-place is called for, notified when it is all clear to return to normal, and they can be instructed specifically on what steps to take to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. In this case, Baytown residents were lucky that the chemical leaked was not deemed toxic and that no one suffered any known health impacts from the leak. HPCC is working to keep residents safe and informed for when the next incident happens.

hpcc

 

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is growing a strong base of well-informed and active local residents who engage public and private stakeholders directly on priority issues including jobs, pollution, health, neighborhood safety, and economic opportunities.

 

melting earthMany of us are asking, can it get any hotter?  The National Weather Service is issuing heat alerts for more than a dozen states from Minnesota to Louisiana this week.  In the meantime, NASA says 2016 is already on track to be the hottest year ever on record, with each of the first six months, from January to June, setting new temperature records.  Click here to read LiveScience’s report on what NASA is projecting.

 

photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

During the last week of June, President Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met for the North American Leaders Summit (known as the Three Amigos Summit) in Ottawa to focus primarily on climate-related issues. These climate accords are essential not only in combating climate change, but also in seeing how countries can forge multi-lateral partnerships in addressing environmental issues.

This summit was the first in two and a half years. The trilateral summit last year was postponed due to disputes over the Keystone oil pipeline between President Obama, who saw the pipeline as a threat to the environment, and Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was a strong advocate of it. Now, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party, and President Enrique Peña Nieto, a close ally of President Obama’s, US, Canada, and Mexico are unifying their energy policies more than ever.

The new agreement calls for 50 percent of North America’s electricity to come from clean power sources by 2025. According to the agreement, clean power sources include renewable energy, efficiency, nuclear power and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage technology. Currently, 37% of North America’s electricity is powered by non-carbon-emitting power plants, mostly nuclear and hydro. Among the three countries, Canada is leading in carbon-free energy with 81 percent (if nuclear energy is included), coming from clean energy sources. United States and Mexico lag behind. In Mexico, only 22 percent of its energy is carbon-free. The statistics for the United States are not much better given that only 33 percent of electric power (including 20 percent nuclear) comes from carbon-free energy sources. Another 33 percent of our electricity is fueled by coal which is primarily composed of carbon.

The trilateral agreement opens up new avenues for carbon-dependent states to replace their energy sources through the transmission of power from Canada’s electricity grid. Another way the countries are looking to decrease carbon emissions is by boosting deployment of clean vehicles in government fleets, as well as cutting emissions from the shipping and airline sectors.

The agreement’s main targets are methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), along with other greenhouse gas pollutants. Cutting down on methane emissions should be a priority for North America given that it produces 20% of the world’s methane emissions.  The pollutant traps 25 times more heat over a 100 year period and 87 times more over a 20 year period, compared to CO2. The pressure of being accountable to your neighbor will hopefully bring all three of the North American states to significantly reduce their methane emissions.

A part of the accord that U.S. and Canada had previously decided on before the summit, promises to reduce methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in refrigerators, by 40 to 45 percent. During the Three Amigos Summit, the Mexican President agreed to the terms as well.

Finally, the Three Amigos also agreed on protecting biodiversity, particularly preserving migratory birds and butterflies that fly every year between the three countries, but are losing their habitat due to environmental threats.

The climate change goals of the North America Leaders Summit are aligned with the Paris Agreements of 2015, in which U.S. committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025.
Continue Reading »

HPCC-Dee-Blast-Zone-768x1024

Dee Arellano (t.e.j.a.s.) shows the oil train blast zone for East Houston.

The news of the fiery explosion of two trains in Panhandle, Texas broke as organizers in Houston were discussing how to reduce the high risks of accidents involving toxic trains in Houston. That day, June 28th, two trains collided, resulting in a fiery explosion, the presumed death of three workers and the hospitalization of another. The trains in Panhandle, TX, were fortunately not carrying crude. However, the collision and explosion reminded us of the importance of standing up for safety in rail transport during the Stop Oil Trains Week of Action, July 6th – 12th.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC) kicked off the week of action on July 6th with a press conference and a community meeting to discuss the risks that we Houstonians face as a result of rail traffic within our communities. This was especially poignant as less than a week earlier, on June 28th, two trains collided near Panhandle, TX, leaving 1 employee injured and 3 employees presumed dead. Fiery and fatal incidents over the past few years have increased concerns around rail, public safety, and chemical security, and we shared our concerns with media (“Exigen a autoridades frenar la contaminación por el transporte de combustible” and “Crude-by-Rail Plummeting In Texas But Critics Insist Risk Of Accidents Remains“) and with community members. From our discussion, community members wanted to find out more information about exactly what kind of chemicals are transported through their neighborhoods to better understand the risks. The HPCC is taking a stand against oil trains because we are concerned with hazardous, flammable materials coming into the Houston area. Toxic trains put Houstonians at risk through the possibility of explosion and by polluting the air with cancer-causing diesel and other toxic gases, through collisions, and by trapping folks behind stalled trains. One person reported being trapped behind a train for 90 minutes! Continue Reading »

CT-JoReprinted from CleanTechnica
https://cleantechnica.com/2016/07/04/coal-royalty-fraud-loophole-closed-export-terminal-nixed/
July 4th, 2016
by Tina Casey

 

cleantechnica 1Now what, indeed. The domestic market for US coal has been shrinking faster than you can say Clean Power Plan, and now it appears that the door is shutting on the export market, too. In the latest development, last week the US Interior Department announced a new rule aimed at closing off a coal royalty loophole. The loophole enabled exporters to pocket millions in revenue that could have gone back to the taxpaying public.

The Coal Royalty Loophole

The new rule comes under Interior’s Bureau of Land Management. It is included in a new regulatory package that also covers oil and gas as well as coal leases on federal and American Indian lands.

We’re zeroing in on the coal royalty rule because it has been the focus of considerable attention by regulators and industry observers, especially as applied to coal from federal lands in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

The region is home to the largest coal reserves in the US, as illustrated by this recent snapshot of federal coal leases:

cleantechnica 2The coal royalty loophole has been described in detail by a series of reports in Reuters, which trace the scheme to a 2003 loophole that applied only to natural gas exports. Coal industry stakeholders have argued that the Interior Department gave it the go-ahead to apply that regulatory framework to coal exports in 2009.

The scheme worked by using affiliated brokers to buy US coal at artificially low prices, then sell high in coal-hungry Asia. US taxpayers received royalties based on the lower price, not the higher price.

By 2011, the Interior Department was well aware that US taxpayers were getting the short end of the stick. At least one regulatory reviewer argued that the coal industry clearly misapplied the 2003 natural gas loophole, and the agency began taking steps to tighten up its regulations.

In the meantime, in February 2013 the Interior Department launched an investigation into the practice on the request of US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Aside from the lost revenue, US taxpayers are also left holding the bag for the environmental impacts of coal extraction and transportation, so there’s that.

Closing The Coal Loophole

The new coal royalty regulations took a while in coming, but they’re finally here under the moniker of “Consolidated Federal Oil & Gas and Federal & Indian Coal Valuation Reform Rule,” which took effect on July 1.

The rule was last updated in the 1980’s, which is where the modernization comes in. Here’s the money quote from Interior:

…the rule reaffirms that valuation, for royalty purposes, is best determined at or near the lease and that gross proceeds from arm’s-length contracts are the best indication of market value.

The rule specifically eliminates non-arm’s-length sales (that’s regulatory parlance for transactions with a hidden agenda) between affiliated companies as a benchmark for valuation. Instead, valuation is based on gross proceeds from the first arm’s-length-sale, which generally means the sale closest to the lease.

The idea is to ensure a more accurate valuation of the actual coal marketplace, rather than continuing the historically difficult task of benchmarking transactions down the line.

The End Of Coal: But Wait, There’s More

The new rule puts another dent in the profitability of the US coal industry, and BLM isn’t finished yet. In a press release announcing the new rule, BLM reiterated its intent to fold public health and environmental impacts into the federal coal program. The review, now under way, was motivated in part by “many concerns” raised during the public comment period for the coal rule:

For that and other reasons, Interior recently launched a comprehensive review to identify and evaluate potential reforms to the Federal coal program in order to ensure that it is properly structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment, while continuing to help meet our energy needs.

Yikes!

The coal industry is also facing pushback from other federal agencies. Most notably that includes the Environmental Protection Agency, but the US Army Corps of Engineers has also stepped into the fray.

Earlier this year, the Army Corps halted the permit process for a key coal export terminal in Washington State. The agency based its decision on the relatively narrow issue of treaty rights with Native American tribes in the region, but it also evoked a set of environmental principles that date back to the early years of the Bush Administration.

Whither Coal?

We’re not saying that the US coal industry will eventually vanish from the face of the earth — for that matter, BLM is still issuing new leases in the Powder River Basin — but it will play a marginal role in the sparking green future.

Over the short term, the domestic market for US coal has been hit by competition from low cost natural gas, a fuel that is “cleaner” at the burn point but is also fraught with public health and environmental issues including water and air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other side effects including earthquakes.

A more sustainable approach to energy management is well under way with the growth of renewable energy, energy storage, energy efficiency, transmission infrastructure, “smart grid” technology and related fields.

There is also a movement afoot to revive nuclear energy as a key element in low-carbon economies, spearheaded by billionaire Bill Gates, founder and chair of the nuclear company TerraPower.

If you have some thoughts about that, drop a note in the comment thread of the original story.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter and Google+.

Images: via US Bureau of Land Management.

No Idling Sign photo from SetonBexar County has joined the other 44 communities in the state of Texas limiting idling by heavy vehicles. The primary reasoning for the ordinance to try to avoid ground level ozone levels that warrant non-attainment status for the county by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from vehicles combine with volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air to create ground level ozone, which can cause or worsen respiratory diseases, such as asthma.

Non-attainment status refers to “any area that does not meet (or that contributes to ambient air quality in a nearby area that does not meet) the national primary or secondary ambient air quality standard for the pollutant.” The county’s decision to limit emissions via prohibiting idling is logical because the decision limits emissions from those passing through the county rather than limiting emissions by its residents. Non-attainment status is established by the Clean Air Act and has multiple consequences that act as incentive to reduce ozone levels that affect the health of a county’s citizens. Consequences include loss of federal highway funding and EPA oversight over air pollution permits. While this measure is not expected to keep Bexar County in compliance once the new ground level ozone standard goes into effect, it will help.

Trucks idling -Idling limits for heavy vehicles are also important because most of them are diesel fueled and produce particulate mater that is harmful to health. The very small particles in diesel exhaust are composed of elemental carbon, which absorbs other compounds and caries them deep into your lungs. Diesel particulate matter is linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is potential human carcinogen.

The Bexar County decision follows after Houston, the state’s largest city, approved a similar ordinance that limits vehicles weighing more than 14,000 pounds to five minutes of idling. Heavy vehicles include semi-trailer trucks and school buses. Idling school buses are of particular concern because children are especially vulnerable to the impacts from diesel exhaust.  The Bexar County court order allows buses to idle for up to 30 minutes though. The order also includes many other exemptions and should be revisited in the future to better protect public health.

Idling limitations are protected by the Locally Enforced Vehicle Idling Limitations Rule, established by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The rule limits the idling of heavy vehicles of jurisdictions that have signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the TECQ for the local enforcement of idling restrictions. The Locally Enforced Vehicle Idling Limitations Rule was established in 2005 and with the addition of Bexar County, 45 communities have adopted idling limitations. The city of San Antonio is also set approve a similar measure later this month.

Today is the first day of summer, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality offers these tips with the arrival of hot weather.

In Texas, cooling and heating accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual home energy expenses. Take Care of Texas offers the following easy ways to keep your home cooler, helping you to save money and keep our air clean.

  • Use a programmable thermostat. Or adjust your thermostat during overnight hours or when no one is home. Try setting it to 78 degrees or warmer in the summer. Setting it to 7-10 degrees higher than you normally would for 8 hours a day can reduce energy consumption as much as 10 percent.
  • Maintain your air conditioner. A properly functioning air conditioner is an efficient one. Replace filters every month or two during the cooling season. And that big hunk of metal outside? That’s the evaporator coil. It needs plenty of airflow, so clean it once a year. Remove debris and trim foliage too, leaving at least two feet of space around it.

You can also take the burden off your air conditioner by using other methods to keep the heat down in your home:

  • Use ceiling fans. They circulate the air in the house and allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4 degrees without discomfort.
  • Limit the heat from your appliances. Cook outdoors on the grill, and try not to use the dishwasher, washer, and dryer during the heat of the day.
  • Move lamps, TVs, and other appliances away from the thermostat. The extra heat they produce can cause the air conditioner to run longer.
  • Install efficient lighting. It runs cooler. Only about 10 percent of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in light — the rest is turned into heat.
  • Plant shade trees and install window blinds. With less sunlight shining on your house, the internal temperature can decrease by three to six degrees in the summer and save up to 25 percent in cooling costs. Use energy-efficient window treatments and close them during the day to block direct sunlight.
  • Weatherize your home. Find air leaks and seal them with caulk and weather stripping.
  • Seal your heating and cooling ducts. Leaky ducts can reduce your system’s efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Start by sealing ducts that run through the attic, crawlspace, or garage using duct sealant or foil tape. Then wrap the ducts in insulation to keep them from getting hot.

Visit TakeCareofTexas.org for more ways to conserve energy and water, reduce waste, keep the air and water clean, and save money.

Another state has officially called for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United!

Following a three-and-a-half-year campaign spearheaded by Public Citizen — On Wednesday, New York joined California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.

Notably, New York is the first of these 17 states where one chamber of the legislature is under Republican control.

But it will NOT be the last.

Because eight out of ten Americans — Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike — believe Citizens United has to go.

And with Public Citizen leading the way — as we’ve done from the moment the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its disastrous decision — we will build on today’s momentum, including campaigns already underway in states like Arkansas, New Hampshire and Washington.

Please join the thousands of supporters from coast to coast who are donating to help make sure we can keep doing the painstaking, behind-the-scenes work — in hundreds of cities, in dozens of states, and in Congress and the White House — to ultimately win this amendment and restore our democracy.

Contribute now.

This Sept. 29, 2009 photo shows Albert Naquin, the chief of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha indians, answering a question on Isle de Jean Charles, La. Holdouts in the hurricane-damaged Indian village refuse to give in to urges from a tribal chief, scientists and public officials to relocate inland, despite frequent floods and disappearing marshland that brings the Gulf of Mexico closer every year.  (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

Albert Naquin, chief of the Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha (Sept. 29, 2009, AP Photo/Bill Haber)

The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians are not strangers to the idea of forced migration. As a consequence of the Indian Removal Act of the 1830s, the tribe’s ancestors moved to the Isle de Jean Charles.  Almost two hundred years after, they are being forced to move again as a result of climate change.

To address this issue, the federal government has provided 48 million dollars in order to move a majority of the island’s population of 85 people. Although the federal government has provided grants totaling one billion dollars for thirteen states, funding for “climate change refugees” is unprecedented.

The results of this program are fundamental in providing a potential blueprint for future resettlements resulting from climate change.  It is estimated that 13.1 million Americans living seaside might face flooding as a result of rising sea levels. The issue of resettlement is complicated in itself. The issue in Isle de Jean Charles, however, is particularly complex because of the need to preserve what remains of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indian community.

Isle DeJean Charles - photo by Karen Apricot

Isle DeJean Charles – photo by Karen Apricot

The story of the Isle de Jean Charles is particularly intriguing because of just how severe the ramifications of climate change combined with the increased rate of natural land loss due to the construction of dams and oil drilling. Isle de Jean Charles has lost 98% of its territory. Furthermore, frequent flooding and hurricanes have made farming impossible, contributing to the outward migration that has been occurring since 1955. The ones that have stayed behind despite worsening conditions, however, are strongly attached to their land, raising the broader question of how resettlement be carried out if the population in peril, refuses to move.

The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians have voted twice before against resettlement. The issue of resettlement came up in 2002 when the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE), which had originally planned to include the Isle de Jean Charles in Gulf Hurricane Protection System, decided the cost and benefit did not add up. Because of the Isle’s remote location and relatively low economic value, ACE did not see the benefit. Instead, they offered the locals a plan of resettlement which, lacking unanimous support from the locals, were not implemented.

The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians certainly won’t be the last U.S. climate refugees. In Alaska, more than 180 villages are currently directly affected by melting ice glaciers. A village called Newtok, according to Army Corps of Engineers is expected to be under water by next year. The locals, Eskimos, have been noticing the sinking for twenty years now and have been slowly rebuilding their community further inland. However, just as can be seen with the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Indians, the effect displacement will have on a community so intimately connected to its land, given that they live off of it, is yet to be seen. Newtok, Alaska is one of many locations under the danger of going underwater. Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay and Quinault Indian Nation on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula are undergoing a similar catastrophe.

As part of the legacy he wants to leave on the issue of climate change, President Obama should ask Congress to set aside special funding for the next wave of climate refugees.

 

Columbia Gorge Oil Train DerailmentFollowing last week’s derailment in the Colombia River Gorge of a 96-car train carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota, former National Transportation Safety Board chair, Jim Hall, said, “carrying crude oil by rail is just not a good idea.”  Read his piece in the Oregonian here.