Feeds:
Posts
Comments
Last night’s session at the Texas House of Representatives underscored a worrisome trait that is unfortunately becoming more and more common in our democratic process: the utter incapacity of our elected officials to compromise.
In a stunning move, state representatives from the Texas Freedom Caucus announced their intent to kill more than 100 bills in retribution for what they called “petty personal politics.” These bills, which represent thousands of hours of work by hundreds of lawmakers and staff members over the last five months of the legislative session, were undone in a few hours by members too bitter about the failure of their own pet interests.

State Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler and Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano announce their intent as part of the Texas Freedom Caucus to kill more than 100 bills on May 11, 2017. Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune.

“It’s an astonishing refusal to govern,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “A few lawmakers are willing to grind state government to a halt because of petty infighting and a failure to work together.”
Legislative paralysis in Texas leaves voters wondering if those they have elected have their best interests at heart. Among the bills that died this week were legislation to address rising mortality among pregnant mothers, air and water protections and legislation to promote transparency and open government.
“Last night’s meltdown at the House was the worst case of political immaturity I have seen in my 35 years of working at the Capitol,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, former director of the Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Chubbing by members on the last night of the session is a time honored tradition, but the self-absorbed fits of a dozen freedom caucus members is a blatant example of their utter disrespect for the needs of their fellow legislators and citizens. They should be ashamed of their actions.”
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., with an office in Austin, Texas.

UPDATE:  HB2662 Passed with an amendment by the author that took all the bad elements out and left reporting by TCEQ in.  Thanks for all of you who took action.  You made a difference.

The Texas House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill that could allow for the expansion of radioactive waste disposal in Texas.

That’s right – some Texas lawmakers actually want to bring more radioactive waste to our state.

Ask your Texas state representative to vote “no” on House Bill 2662 to stop the unnecessary expansion of radioactive waste disposal in Texas.

Most states fight to keep such waste from being shipped to their communities, but Texas lawmakers are more worried about helping out the private company that owns the disposal site than protecting Texans.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is already deep in debt and looking for a buyout. It defies all reason to let a failing company expand in such a dangerous line of work.  

If the company goes bankrupt, Texans will be left to foot the bill for cleaning up or continuing to store this radioactive waste.

Email your Texas state representative now to oppose this bad bill.

 

Networking event at last year’ Solar Power Texas

Mark your calendar for Solar Power Texas, June 13-14, 2017 in Austin, Texas. With solar booming in the Lone Star stateleading the U.S. in use of renewable energy, increasing your visibility and company in the Texas market is more important than ever.  Click here for registration information or click on Texas_Infographic(1) for a flyer on the event.

The recently retired director of the Public Citizen Texas office, Tom “Smitty” Smith, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his 30+ years of service.

An emotional Smitty says goodbye to friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

A fixture at the Texas Capitol for more than 3 decades, Smitty has fought long and hard on issues around the environment, renewable energy, ethics reform and nuclear waste disposal, but perhaps his hardest battle will be to be able to walk away from it all. He still cares deeply about the issues and knows there is yet much to be done.

“Smitty has always been an invaluable resource for Public Citizen and for the Legislature,” said State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez on the House Floor as he warmly spoke about Smitty’s work. “Thank you for your service,” he added, prompting warm applause from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Throughout his long years of service, Smitty organized the citizens of Texas around issues close to his heart, like campaign finance reform, shutting down dirty coal plants, increasing the state’s renewable energy portfolio and combating global warming. “Organized groups of students, teachers and concerned citizens can have a powerful impact on U.S. policy,” was his mantra and he applied it over and over again.

Smitty walks through the halls of the Texas Capitol prior to his send off on the House floor.

His hard work seems to have paid off. Today, Texas leads the nation in wind energy production and solar energy is growing. Programs Smitty championed (TERP) have removed more than 170,000 tons of nitrous oxides from our atmosphere and the energy efficiency codes he helped pass have saved the average homeowner around 30% of their average energy costs.

Undoubtedly, there is still a long and bumpy road ahead for environmental issues in the Lone Star State. However, Smitty’s life’s work will serve as a blueprint for the next generation of activists. The torch is lit, Smitty. Thanks for lighting the way.

The U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) is holding a public meeting via teleconference on April 24, 2017 so that we can listen and learn from those directly impacted by our regulations. The focus of this teleconference will be on air and radiation actions only. We invite you to provide input on these rules during the public teleconference. Information on joining the teleconference and submitting comments through the docket are below. For questions about this process, please contact [email protected].

OAR’s public teleconference will be an operator assisted call. The call with start with brief remarks from EPA and the remainder of the call will be dedicated to listening to public input. Participants wishing to speak or listen do not need to register in advance for the teleconference. To hear the opening remarks, please dial in 10 minutes before the start time. You may call into the teleconference at any time during the three-hour period.

If you wish to speak, at any time, you may nominate yourself to speak by hitting *1 on your phone. Your name will be added to a queue. Speakers will be asked to deliver 3 minutes of remarks and will be called on a first come, first served basis. OAR will do our best to hear from everyone who wishes to speak. The teleconference will be transcribed and will be added to the docket. If you do not have the opportunity to speak on the call, please submit your input to the EPA-wide docket (docket number: EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190; https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190). OAR will give equal consideration to input provided through either of these methods.

For more information on upcoming public engagement opportunities offered by other EPA offices please visit: https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/regulatory-reform

El Paso Electric (EPE) – which is a for-profit company with a monopoly in the El Paso area – is seeking higher rates for the utility’s west Texas customers and launching another attack on solar customers. Despite increasing rates last year, the utility wants to collect an additional $42.5 million each year from its customers. Under the new proposal, EPE’s customers would face an overall 8.7 percent increase, amounting to $8.25 per month for the average residential customer. Solar customers would be hit even harder under the proposal, which an average bill increase of $14.09 per month.

Under EPE’s proposal, residential customers with solar would be subject to demand charges, which factors in the customers maximum demand for electricity at a single point in time. Demand charges are almost never used for residential customers because they are complex and can lead to significant fluctuations in bills.  Demand charges also make it very difficult for customers to take action to control their bills.  Solar customers would also be subject to time-of-use rates, which means electricity rates are different based on the time and day of the week.  While time-of-use rates can be a good tool, there is no justification for forcing them on customers with solar, but not other customers.

The 2017 utility tries to justify its discrimination against solar customers by using the false “cost-shift” argument. EPE plans to put the solar customers in a special class to “establish a fair rate structure that reflects the cost to serve each customer class.” To put it simply, EPE and other utilities are using the false argument that solar customers do not pay their fair share of grid-upkeep costs. This has been proven to be a false assumption by numerous studies conducted to calculate the value of solar. The improper allocation of costs to solar energy users will reduce the number of people willing to invest in solar and will leave current customers with no way to recover their costs.

EPE’s persistence in targeting solar customers has raised concerns. Several solar industry and advocacy groups, including The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and Eco El Paso are going to fight the proposal at the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) . Public Citizen is supporting these efforts by pushing the City of El Paso to make fighting the unfair solar fees and preventing the attack on solar a priority.

If you live in El Paso, take a minute to email the city to voice your opposition to the proposed unfair rates for solar customers.

“Demand charges found unreceptive audiences among regulators in 2016, and last year, Texas residents clearly rejected El Paso Electric’s same drastic and unprecedented rate design that punishes solar customers,” says TASC spokesperson Amy Heart. Senator José Rodríguez also issued a strong statement in opposition to the proposal:

I’m disappointed that El Paso Electric insists on discouraging people from installing solar on their homes. The electric company once again wants to single out solar customers by increasing their rates at least two times the amount of their non-solar neighbors. Solar customers will no longer be able to save on their electric bills, which was the reason they installed solar panels in the first place…I strongly believe these anti-solar proposals contradict the intent of Senate Bill 1910, which I passed in 2011 to authorize solar net metering in El Paso Electric’s service territory.

Fortunately for solar customers and non-solar customers alike, the evidence clearly shows that solar customers are contributing at least as much value as they get from the grid. A recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center evaluated 16 “value of solar” studies, and all but a couple that were conducted by utilities showed that the value of energy solar customers contribute to the system is higher than the retail rate they offset with net metering.

If you live in El Paso, help us and Eco El Paso fight back by sending an email to the El Paso City Council.

By Adrian Shelley, Public Citizen

In 2011, when I was serving as the Environmental Director and Counsel for Houston Representative Jessica Farrar, I met a remarkable man. He had a white hat and a penchant for storytelling, and he was well known around Austin.

“Smitty’s” presence became a usual sight at our State Capitol.

It’s an interesting experience walking around the Capitol with Smitty, the Director of our Texas Office for thirty-one years. He knows every third person in the building, and he usually has a story or two about something they did together several decades ago. They’re not all work stories either.

Something else Smitty has is an unparalleled reputation. Not everyone agrees with him, but they all respect him. One of the reasons he’s gotten so much done over the years is that he isn’t afraid to look for supporters from across the spectrum. As a young legislative staffer, I was sometimes bewildered by the unlikely alliances he proposed. Many of them came to nothing, but when they succeeded, you can be sure it was because Smitty believed they were possible.

There is a quote on the wall in our office by Kurt Vonnegut, “Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things—the people on the edges see them first.”

Here in Texas, Smitty is definitely out on the edge. As for me, I started this work from my vantage in Houston, the city where I was born and raised. Growing up in the “Energy Capital of the World,” I had firsthand experience of the benefits that come with a thriving energy economy. I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, surrounded by families who knew the board rooms better than the well pads. It wasn’t until I was interning for Air Alliance Houston in my twenties that I gained an appreciation for the term “fenceline communities.” Until then, those neighborhoods and the people in them had been invisible to me. When I first saw the people whose health and quality of life suffered at the hands of the petrochemical industry, I was amazed. Even ashamed.

How could a native Houstonian—well aware of the economic benefits of the energy industry—be so blind to its human cost? The unfortunate answer is that those communities, which are predominantly low-income communities of color, do not have a voice.

This is where Public Citizen comes in. Public Citizen advocates for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed. When marginalized people are drowned out by global corporate interests—Public Citizen is there to speak up. In Texas, the loudest voice speaking on their behalf has been, for many years, Tom “Smitty” Smith.

Smitty’s voice and vision have driven our work in Texas for three decades. Now that he has handed the reins to me, many people are wondering what my vision is.

It’s not going to be easy to fill Smitty’s shoes, but nothing that’s worth doing ever is.

I can’t tell you how many time in the last week someone has issued a good-natured warning: “You have some very big shoes to fill.”

They might have added that I have a large white hat to fill as well. Somewhere between the shoes and the hat, I also need to develop the vision. After three days, I can’t say I’ve got it yet. What I know is that I share Public Citizen’s vision for giving a voice to marginalized people. And I’ve seen firsthand what happens when corporate interests prevail over human decency.

My hope is that I can bring Public Citizen’s mission, Smitty’s experience, and my own vision together. Standing out here on the edge, I can see plenty that needs to be done.

Representative Rafael Anchia has a resolution to overturn Citizens United, HCR 34 that will be heard on Thursday, March 30th in the State & Federal Power & Responsibility, Select Committee (which convenes at 8:00 AM in committee hearing room E2.036 at the Texas Capitol in Austin, TX).

On January 21, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) that campaign contributions limits for “independent expenditures” of individuals, unions, and corporations were unconstitutional. In the decision, the majority argued that spending money in our political process is no different than voicing an opinion; it’s speech and it’s protected under the First Amendment.

Seven years later, the drastic consequences of this decision are still haunting our country. Eighteen states, Washington, D.C. and more than 700 municipalities have already called for a constitutional amendment to overturn this ruling that has proved so damaging to our democracy.

Currently, the political system rewards politicians who court a handful of major donors and punishes candidates who rely on small donations from a broad base of ordinary citizens. The result? Local, state and national public policies correlate less and less with public sentiment. Our nation was founded to be “of the people, by the people” and “for the people,” and Americans across the political spectrum agree that big donors have too much power over our government. A national poll found that 80 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats support overturning Citizens United. There are few other issues that unite us in this way.

We commend the state of Texas for its ban on direct corporate contributions to political candidates. However, it’s not enough. Citizens United allows for corporations and unions to sidestep this regulation by contributing to super PACs without limit and anonymously. In Texas, political spending by entities that do not disclose the identities of contributors reached over $900,000 in the 2014 election cycle. More than $10 million was spent by outside spenders on Texas federal races in 2016.

This ruling weakens states’ rights by opening the doors for deep-pocketed outside interests to disproportionately dominate local elections. This is not normal, nor is it okay.

The Court’s decision rolled back nearly a century of laws – federal and state – passed by lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who, regardless of political affiliation, agreed that reasonable restrictions can and should be placed on campaign spending by powerful special interests to protect our democracy. Citizens United itself struck down key parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), known as the McCain-Feingold Act. BCRA was introduced by U.S. Sen. John McCain and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The founding fathers spoke to the importance of a person’s political influence being the same, regardless of economic bracket. To quote James Madison in the Federalist Papers:

“Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States.”

Our current system runs contrary to Madison’s vision. Our current system runs contrary to the will of the majority of Americans. Our current system caters to the needs of billionaires over the general population, to corporations over small businesses and to the political greed of a minority over the common sense of the majority. The Citizen United ruling is central to these wrongs, and Texas should join independent thinking states throughout the nation in calling for the return of our democracy to the people.

Contact the committee members and tell them you support HCR 34 and think they should vote it out of committee so the Texas Legislature can vote on this resolution.

Continue Reading »

Public Citizen along with the Alliance for Clean Texas are supporting the following amendments to the bill to significantly improve the
Texas Railroad Commission. These issues were brought up in the public process, but not included in the bill:

  • TABLED – but several stand alone bills exist – CHANGE THE NAME (Alonzo) to one that is more reflective of the agency’s functions and one the public can recognize such as the Texas Oil and Gas Commission.
  • TABLED –  see HB 464 which is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday, March 30th, in the General Investigation and Ethics Committee – LIMIT POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS (Anchia). Limit the amount and timing of political contributions made to Commissioners – statewide elected officials – strictly to election season and also preventing a Commissioner from knowingly accepting contributions from a party with a contested case hearing before the RRC.
  • TABLED – see also HB 247 by AnchiaPUT ENFORCEMENT DATA ONLINE (Walle). While the bill does require the posting of an annual strategic plan, the RRC should also be required to put enforcement, inspection, and complaint data online now in an easy, searchable format with frequent updates.
  • TABLED –  – RAISE MAXIMUM PENALTIES TO $25,000 (Howard). Current penalties for violations (not related to pipeline safety) should be raised from a maximum of $10,000 to $25,000 per violation per day. This increase would put the agency in line with the $25,000 penalty cap of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Attorney General’s office. The RRC should also be required to design new penalty guidelines that take into account the economic benefit of non-compliance, the seriousness of the violation and any hazard to public safety.
  • WITHDRAWN – see SB 1803 by Miles –  INCREASE BONDING REQUIREMENTS (Canales). Increased and expanded tiers of bonding requirements for oil and gas wells will help ensure abandoned wells get plugged.  Currently over 9,000 abandoned uncapped wells in Texas.

And Last but Not Least:

  • TABLED – REAUTHORIZE THE AGENCY FOR 6 NOT 12 YEARS (E. Rodriguez). Due to the lack of agency performance measures and accountability not incorporated into this bill, it makes sense for the Railroad Commission to be reviewed within a shorter timeframe.

Watch for updates on which amendments are adopted by the Texas House.

Knowing whether to run or hide is a fundamental survival mechanism that Texans living near chemical plants and refineries know too well.

But it can be impossible to make the right decision without accurate and timely information. Is it safe to go outside? Is it safe to “shelter in place” in the nearest building? Is evacuation the only safe option?

The Legislature is holding a public hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee on a proposed law to help Texans get the critical information they need when toxic chemicals are released into our air and water.  The hearing is in the Texas Capitol Extension Room, E1.026 on Tuesday, March 28th at 8:00 AM

Urge the Legislature to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

Ask the House Environmental Regulation Committee to support HB 1927.

The legislation, HB 1927, would establish a system to alert neighboring communities when a facility releases toxic chemicals.

People in the affected area would get notices on their phones about the chemicals released, what direction they are moving and how to stay safe.

The Toxic Alert Bill directs the State Emergency Response Commission to develop a statewide system to inform the public of chemical emergencies in a timely manner using a multi-media
approach, including traditional media, social media, and wireless emergency alerts.

This statewide system will eliminate patchwork local approaches and relieve local governments of the burden of developing and maintaining their own systems. Residents will be directed to a hyperlink, which will provide:

  • The geographic area impacted by the release
  • Information on symptoms that could require emergency medical treatment,
  • Directionality of plume movement,
  • The chemicals involved in and toxicity of the release,
    and
  • Instructions for protection from exposure to the release.

Just like the Amber Alerts for missing persons and emergency weather alerts available on our phones, the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System should be available to keep our communities safe.

A recent poll of Houston area residents shows that most people are concerned about air pollution and its impact on vulnerable populations. Furthermore, 92% support the creation of a public notification system similar to Amber alerts for leaks of hazardous chemicals. These alerts would warn residents via cellular phone of incidents and let them know what action to take to keep safe.
According to an investigative report published by the Houston Chronicle in 2016, an incident involving hazardous materials in the Houston area occurs about every six weeks.  Nationally, there have been more than 93 incidents involving hazardous chemicals since late 2015, killing 7 and injuring 573 people.

As you can see from the list and map below, the folks in the Houston area are more aware of the issue because of the frequency of such events, but you can see that other parts of the state also experience these types of toxic emergencies.

  • Oct. 2011:   Massive chemical fire at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Schoolchildren and neighbors evacuated.
  • Nov. 2012: Massive explosion & chemical fire at Nexeo chemical plant, Garland. Local area evacuated.
  • Apr. 2013: Chemical fire at East Texas Ag Supply, Athens. Hundreds of people evacuated.
  • May. 2014: Massive explosion & chemical fire at West Fertilizer, Co., West. Fifteen people dead and 160 injured.
  • Jan. 2015: Chlorine Spill at Magnablend facility, Waxahachie. Employees and neighbors evacuated.
  • Apr. 2015: Train derailment carrying flammable chemicals, Longview. Neighbors evacuated.
  • Aug. 2015: Massive fire at Century Industrial Coatings, Jacksonville. A neighboring business evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion and fire at water treatment plant, Midland. One person dead, local residents evacuated.
  • Jan. 2016: Explosion at PeroxyChem, Pasadena. One person dead, three others injured.
  • Mar. 2016: Explosion at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. One person burned.
  • Apr. 2016: Explosion at LyondellBasell, SE Houston. Shelter in-place in SE Houston, including Chavez H.S., Deady Middle School, and Rucker Elementary School.
  • May 2016: Fire and chemical release in Spring Branch. Shelter-in-place. Fish, turtles, snakes, and frogs die from chemical spill.
  • Jun. 2016: Chemical leak & fire, Mont Belvieu. Dozens of people evacuated from their homes.
  • Jul. 2016: Asphalt fire, Century Asphalt Plant, Burnet. Dozens of residents evacuated.
  • Jul. 2016: Propylene leak, ExxonMobil Pipeline, Baytown. Local evacuation and shelter-in-place for nearby community.
  • Jul. 2016: Chemical Release at Pasadena Refining Systems, Inc., Pasadena. Heavy black smoke and sulfur dioxide release, shelter-in-place for Galena Park residents.
  • Aug. 2016: Explosion at Voluntary Purchasing Group, Bonham, woke up neighbors. A second explosion one month later injured 2 workers.
  • Aug. 2016: Fire at Hexion in Deer Park, shelter-in-place for neighborhoods in Deer Park.
  • Sept 2016: Chemical spill in Willow Marsh Bayou, Beaumont. Local shelter-in-place, killed over 1,400 fish, snakes, turtles, racoons, and birds.
  • Dec. 2016: A chemical leak contaminated the drinking water supply for Corpus Christi. A water ban was in effect for nearly 4 days, 7 unconfirmed illnesses associated with the drinking water.
  • Jan. 2017: Naphtha overfill at tank at Valero Texas City Refinery. Residents issues. No shelter in place alert was sent because “the incident happened in the middle of the night.”
  • Jan. 2017: Chemical fire and spill, El Paso. Residents complain to TCEQ amidst concerns of respiratory issues.
  • Mar 2017: Sodium hydrosulfide spill, Brownsville. One injured, evacuation downtown.

In 2014, Iowa implement the Alert Iowa System. Counties that did not already have a system like this in place could opt-in to the statewide system to ensure that Iowans are protected from severe weather, chemical spill, and other potential disasters. The statewide system in Iowa costs about $300,000 per year.

Texas already has a system in place that can send out these type of alerts. The system proposed here is designed to work with OEMs to support them based on their needs. The intention is not for the statewide system to override functional systems already in place.

If such a system saved lives or reduced job and school absenteeism as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals, it would be well worth the cost of extending our existing technology to put in place a toxic chemical emergency system.  Urge your Legislator to move forward on the Toxic Chemical Emergency Alert System.

At any given movement, energy supplied to the electric grid must exactly match energy demand. Traditionally, the supply changes to meet demand, but that’s not the only way to balance the equation.

Demand response is an energy management strategy that solves grid challenges by focusing on electricity demand and usage, not production. It’s a valuable tool for affordably addressing the challenges of peak demand.

Peak demand is the point where demand is highest on a given day, month or year. These peak demand periods require extensive management, most notably during summer months. Without such, there are severe consequences; costly consequences like brownouts or blackouts. In addition to daily human activities that require electricity, blackouts can cause serious economic disturbances. In 2003, a New York City blackout alone cost the city more than $750 million in lost revenue.

The majority of utilities and energy providers handle these peak demand periods with outdated, supply-side solutions: “peaker” power plants. Peaker power plants are such that they only come online, as needed, during periods of peak demand. In addition to the polluting nature of these peaker plants, they are incredibly expensive to build and operate. They are brought online solely in preparation for peak demand events. But in order to do this, these power plants must expensively remain in standby mode to be ready to fill energy gaps at a moment’s notice. These peakers account for 10%-20% of electricity costs in the U.S. due to peak demand during only the top 100 hours on the electricity system.

Demand response is the clean, cost-effective alternative we’ve all been waiting for:

  • Consumers save money; they receive compensation in the form of rebates for electricity demand reductions and/or free access to smart technology.
  • Electricity providers avoid the high costs of bringing current peaker power plants online.
  • It reduces or eliminates a need for future natural gas power plant developments that are expensive and slow the inevitable transition to clean energy.
  • Demand response utilizes smart meters, thermostats and other devices which allow for better energy management and create higher grid stability.

So, how does it work?

Many devices – such as air conditioners, water heaters, and refrigerators – have daily energy demands. Naturally, they cycle on and off periodically throughout a day. Demand response uses systems and technologies that are able to carefully track and regulate these daily fluctuations; it simply shifts and reduces consumer electricity usage during peak demand periods as a response to time-based rates or other forms of financial incentives.

Here are 3 case studies that display the potential of demand response:

San Antonio

In San Antonio, CPS Energy’s Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan (STEP) achieves 193 total Mega-Watts (MW) of load shedding from demand response initiatives – about half from large industrial and commercial customers and half from approximately 125,000 residential customers. Both groups are called on about 15-20 times per year to reduce consumption during peak demand events.

Participating large industrial and commercial customers receive compensation for reducing electricity demand for 2-3 hours, which is sometimes achieved by temporarily shifting operations to a different time of day. For residential demand response, customers have access to a program that gets them free Honeywell smart thermostats, or an $85 rebate to purchase a different smart thermostat. They also get $30 at the end of each summer for participating in the program. The utility can then reach out remotely and control the cycling of participants air conditioning units.  Those units will run less during the event period, but aren’t off the entire time.

These electricity savings from demand response represent the majority  of current contributions to its ambitious goal reducing 771 total MW by 2020. As of 2016 CPS stands at 411 total MW towards that goal, of which demand response accounts 47%. The remainder comes from energy efficiency improvements and local solar installations.

Palo Alto

The City of Palo Alto Utilities ran a trial in 2015 called the Demand Response Pilot Program. The period between May 1st and October 15th included 4 demand response events.  The results indicate that participants reduced their aggregated demand between .6-1 MW per event. The total savings were 10,312 kilowatt hours during the trial.

Tampa

For Tampa Electric, a case study looked at the results from its Energy Planner program that began in 2005. Since 2008, results show that demand response works. They demonstrated significant average energy reductions per participant: 3.1 kilowatts during winter peak and 2.0 kilo-watts during summer peak. Furthermore, participants saw lower electricity prices 87% of the time. There was also a 99% customer satisfaction rate in terms of comfort during reduction events.

Logistically, demand response is a solution that solves energy grid problems. It does this more effectively and in a much cheaper way than building new power plants or bringing existing ones online. More importantly, climate change is a disastrous reality that demands both long-term and immediate solutions. Demand response isn’t a permanent solution, but it deals with reality.

 

You might think that an industry that manages to reduce electricity prices, create over 23,000 Texas jobs and reduce air pollution all at the same time might have just about universal support.  But no.  Every time the Texas Legislature is in session, there’s an attack on the Texas wind industry.  This session is no exception.

Email your State Senator to keep wind energy growing in Texas.

Texas State Senator Donna Campbell of New Braunfels is leading the charge against wind energy with Senate Bill 277 (SB 277).  The bill would create 35 mile zones around military facilities with aviation operations in which wind farms wouldn’t be eligible for economic development tax credits that are available to many businesses across the state.

The stated reason is to protect military facilities and their operations from any interference from wind farms.  That would mostly be wind towers obstructing flight paths and the spinning wind turbines causing radar to malfunction.  These sound like problems worth fixing until you learn that there’s already a fully functional solution in place.

The Department of Defense Already Has a Solution

The Department of Defense (DoD) is aware of the potential conflicts between wind farms and other energy infrastructure and it’s operations has has developed a process for evaluating and mitigating any impact from such development.  The DoD Siting Clearinghouse examines each proposed wind farm evaluates possible impacts based on it’s specific design and location and the specific activities and infrastructure at nearby military facilities.

Every wind farm doesn’t have the same impact because those details very widely.  If the DoD Siting Clearinghouse determines that there would be an impact, the wind developer either has to find a new location, make changes to the design of the wind farm and/or pay for infrastructure upgrades at the impacted military facility.  DoD Siting Clearinghouse staff made clear in their March 2015 report to Congress that this project by project review is the only effective method of protecting its operations:

Generic standoff distances are not useful.  Due to the wide variety of missions and the variability of impacts on different types of obstructions, it is not possible to apply a ‘one-size-fits-all’ standoff distance between DOD military readiness activities and development projects.

Wind and Military Installations Are Successfully Coexisting

The Clearinghouse process is working.  In Nueces County, Texas, a proposed wind farm was evaluated and a determination made that there would be conflict with Navy training missions in Corpus Christi and Kingsville.  The Clearing house worked with the wind developer and agreement was reached that allowed the installation to go forward.  Turbines were excluded from certain areas and the developer contributed money for studies and infrastructure upgrades.  This kind of win-win outcome is the benefit of a thoughtful policy that respects the variability in each situation.

Texas wind farms within 25 miles of military air bases

Map created by The Wind Coalition

SB 277 gives no consideration to the fact that many wind farms can and do operate within 35 miles of military bases with no conflicts.  It’s also possible that a wind farm further away could have impacts.  Over 39% of existing Texas wind capacity is found within 30 miles of a military facility.  This proposed “buffer zone” is clearly not needed.  SB 277 is a bill with a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.

Email your State Senator to keep wind energy growing in Texas.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is extending the scoping comment period for its environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) proposed consolidated interim spent nuclear fuel storage facility in Andrews County, Texas.  The current scoping comment period was to end on March 13, 2017, but in response to public requests, the NRC is extending the scoping period to April 28, 2017.

The NRC will also hold an additional public meeting to receive comments on the scope of the EIS on April 6, 2017, at its headquarters location in Rockville, MD.  This meeting will take place from 7:00pm to 10:00pm Eastern time, and the NRC staff plans to webcast the meeting and provide a moderated telephone line for members of the public who cannot attend in person.

Thank you for your continued interest in this project.  If you have any questions about this notification, please contact James Park at 301-415-6954 or at [email protected].

The staff of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

 

Volkswagen has pleaded guilty to three felony counts for engineering its cars to evade clean air tests. This fraud was a massive deception against consumers and regulators, led to 40 times the pollution levels permitted for nitrogen oxide and, according to researchers, caused roughly 60 deaths.

The justice department determined that this level of fraud required tough criminal penalties beyond the many civil cases that have been settled or are still in play. Government prosecutors were right to force Volkswagen to plead guilty to multiple felonies – and not to accept a deferred prosecution deal in place of guilty pleas – but they should have imposed the fines closer to those called for by the sentencing guidelines, which would have been five to almost 10 times higher.  The harshest penalties would be exacted against an individual who went on a shooting spree and killed dozens of people. Here, the culprit was a corporation, and we don’t know the names of the people Volkswagen killed. But they died just the same, and the company should be held accountable.

The civil justice system previously forced Volkswagen to make amends to consumers. This fraud was a massive deception against consumers and regulators.  In June of last year, Volkswagen agreed to spend up to $14.7 billion to settle allegations of cheating emissions tests and deceiving customers on 2.0 liter diesel vehicles. As part of the settlements, VW agreed to pay Texas $50 million in civil penalties and attorneys’ fees for its violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which bans false advertising and sale of misrepresented products. About 32,000 diesel cars capable of emissions cheating have been sold in Texas, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency figures. That’s compared to about 480,000 nationwide and 11 million globally.

The settlement also includes $2.7 billion for environmental mitigation and and another $2 billion to promote zero-emissions vehicles. About $192 million of the mitigation fund will go to projects in Texas, according to a news release from the state’s attorney general’s office.

 

Ask most people what they think the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is in charge of and most people will reply that it is railroads. Most people would also be surprised to discover that it is in fact, the wrong answer.  The RRC actually oversees the oil, gas and coal production within the state.  Ending this source of confusion by changing the name to something more appropriate seems like a no-brainer. This session, HB 237 attempts once again to change the name – to the Texas Energy Resources Commission, a name more in line with the actual work the commission does. HB 1818 offers a few of the reforms the RRC needs, but does not go nearly far enough.

Email your Texas State Representative to ask that he or she support amendments to HB 1818 that will offer real reform at the Railroad Commission.

Name vs. Mission

The Railroad Commission is 125 years old, making it the oldest regulatory agency in the state. When the commission was formed in 1891 its main job was to regulate the rail industry.  Once the Texas Oil Boom started the commission’s responsibilities were expanded to include regulating oil and gas. Over the years, as oil and gas became more dominant and railroads became less, most of the non-energy functions like the railroads were eliminated.  By 2005, when the RRC lost the last of any responsibility to regulate the railroads, its name became truly obsolete

Archaic Bond Limits and Unplugged Wells

One of the RRC biggest responsibilities is to cover the cost of plugging abandoned wells.  The way the RRC attempts to do this is by requiring companies to buy either individual or blanket bonds as insurance to cover the cost of plugging an abandoned well before they can drill. The cost of plugging a well is about $5-17 per foot for an average well. Unfortunately the bond cost has been stuck at the 1991 figure of $2 per foot. Bond funds usually cover only about 15% of the total cost to plug a well.  So in the end, the commission is only collecting a fraction of what is needed.  Last year the commission collected on average about $2,707 per well but spent about $17, 012.  That is an enormous discrepancy and therefore many of the wells remain unplugged. By the end of 2016, the total number of abandoned wells in Texas passed 10,050.

The environmental impact of unplugged wells is far reaching.  In Texas there are estimates that put over 50,000 improperly or not plugged wells.  These wells are often drilled over 1 mile deep and, if left unplugged there is the potential for salt water (4 times saltier than the sea) which is often full of heavy metals and radioactivity materials to flow up and seep into the surrounding land and into the fresh water aquifers.  Abandoned or improperly maintained wells retain their potential to kill the land and crops around them and taint the water supply for years. To properly close a well, hundreds of feet of cement must to be poured into the well at various levels.  SB 1803 would increase bonding requirements to ensure that unused wells are plugged.

Without a new statute that allows the commission to set realistic bonds based on the actual cost of plugging a well, this problem with continue to grow.  In addition, the oil and gas industry is in a slump right now with oil prices low and production down, which of course means that the revenues it generates is down and since the RRC gets most of their funding from fees, it will definitely make it even more difficult to do their job.

Enforcing Regulations with Meaningful Fines

Weak fines do not provide a strong enough deterrent to keep companies committing the same infraction over and over again. This can be clearly seen in the fact that over the past five years a mere 114 operators, representing only 3 percent of all the wells in Texas, have been responsible for over 22 percent of all the pollution related violations. If the RCC would increase its penalty for infractions that were set in 1983, from $10,000 a day to a relative current value of $25,000 a day, it would do much to discourage companies from repeatedly violating regulations.  SB 567 would bolster inspection enforcement and would increase revenue by increasing fines.

Insufficient Inspectors and Incomplete Inspections

The RRC is also in charge of inspecting all currently active and inactive wells within the state. This is a rather arduous task, considering that there are hundreds of thousands of well. The Texas inspector to well ratio is 2,340 active wells per inspector, one of the worst in the country.  In contrast, Alaska, a state that is also heavily petroleum based, has an inspector to well ratio of 370 to one! Due to insufficient numbers of inspectors, the Texas Sunset Commission reported that in 2015 only about 30% of all wells and only about 42% of active wells can be were inspected. They found that in 2015 more than two thirds of leases had not been inspected for at least two years and each lease can have thousands of wells on it. SB 569 would take the first step in fixing this, requiring the RRC to submit review of its policies on reporting and enforcement in a study by this September 2017. But, in the end, the of only surefire way to reverse this shortcoming is that the RRC must drastically increase the number of inspectors. To help offset the cost of hiring so many additional inspectors, an annual inspection fee should be instituted.

Outdated System Denies Public Needed Knowledge

The Railroad Commission desperately needs to modernize itself when it comes to public access to important information about oil and gas wells. As far back as 2011 the Legislature gave the RRC $16 million to help update their systems and make information easier to access, but, as of today, the RRC still does not have a comprehensive and easily searchable database for the public to look up complaints, violations, or penalties levied against oil and gas companies. Without an adequate system, it is very difficult for Texans to learn information about potential dangers to both their lives and their livelihood. This can impact everyone from a community trying to discover if the wells that operate outside their town are complying with regulations, or for the family moving to a new home who might want to see whether the well that operates just outside of their new property has repeatedly leaked dangerous pollutants. Inspections, complaints, violations, and enforcement actions should be accessible on a public website and searchable by operator, drilling company and or by the well, all year around. While HB 1818 includes nothing about this incredibly necessary function, HB 247 would greatly improve transparency.

Lax Limits Contribute to Corrupt Contributions

Another problem the RRC deals with, is the monetary influence that a company or individual can have on a commissioner who is seeking office.  While the RRC Commissioners were originally appointed by the Texas Governor, this was changed so that each of the three would be elected through public elections. And while greater accountability to the public is an improvement, it does come with its own set of potential issues that the current structure of the RRC fails to take into consideration. According to our own research here at Public Citizen, between 75-90% of all contributions for RRC Commissioner elections come from the very entities that the RRC is supposed to regulate, and much of it comes during non-election periods. In addition, Texas is one of the only states in the country that does not prohibit potential candidates with conflict of interests from running for Commissioner.

To address this situation, HB 464 would ban contributions during non-election years and prevent commissioners from taking any contributions from entities with contested case hearings pending before the RRC. Rules should also be added that officially require candidates to disclose any potential conflict of interests and only allow them to run if they can clearly demonstrate that they have resolved any conflicts.

All of these proposed changes to the way the RRC functions are crucial to make the agency operate in the interest of all Texans. Email your Texas State Representative to ask that he or she support amendments to HB 1818 that will offer real reform at the Railroad Commission.