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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.

Amplify Austin – Austin’s annual day of giving – starts today at 6 p.m.!  For the first time every, you can donate to support the work of Public Citizen’s Texas office through Amplify Austin.  We’re very excited about this opportunity and hope that the community will help us keep doing more to protect the environment and everyone who lives in it.

Amplify Austin Day runs from 6 p.m. today (Thursday, March 2) through 6 p.m. tomorrow (Friday, March 3), but you can schedule a donation now.  All donations will be matched 100% by several generous donors.

Make your donation to Amplify Public Citizen now!

Public Citizen’s roots are in consumer protection and we see protecting the environment as part of that core mission.  If the creation, use, or disposal of a product causes unsafe environmental conditions – like polluted air or water – then that’s not really a safe product.  Often, the people most impacted by pollution are the most vulnerable among us – those too poor to move to safer, less polluted neighborhoods and those who don’t have health insurance.  We’re fighting to ensure a good quality of life for all everyone.

A lot of our work focus on transforming electricity production to renewable energy sources because of the environmental harm caused by using fossil fuels and nuclear energy.  Fighting climate change is at the core of much of the work we do in Austin and the rest of Texas.  We’re a leader in the effort to get Austin’s coal-fired power plant (Fayette) shut down and get Austin Energy to transition to 100% carbon-free energy.  We’re also working to expand energy efficiency and solar programs, so that they will benefit all Austinites in an equitable way.  We also do similar work in other parts of Texas.

We’re a small staff that takes on a lot of work.  You can be certain that you donation will have a direct impact on how much additional work we can take on.

Join the fight against climate change with you donation to Public Citizen.

MEETING NOTICE

Organization: Waste Control Specialists (WCS), LLC
Date and Time: Wednesday, March 1, 2017 9:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M.
Location: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)

Two White Flint North, Room T-2 B3
11545 Rockville Pike
Rockville, MD 20852

Purpose: For NRC to discuss technical and procedural aspects of the WCS license application for a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility as well as NRC expectations for future submittals.

Participants: NRC/NMSS/SFM                             WCS
Mike Layton                                      Michael Ford,
Anthony Hsia,                                    Renee Murdock, et.al.
John McKirgan, et.al.

Meeting Category: This is a Category 1 Meeting. The public is invited to observe this meeting and will have one or more opportunities to communicate with the NRC after the business portion, but before the meeting is adjourned. The NRC’s Policy Statement, “Enhancing Public Participation on NRC Meetings,” effective May 28, 2002, applies to this meeting. The policy statement may be found on the NRC website, www.nrc.gov, and contains information regarding visitors and security. Members of the public who wish to attend are encouraged to telephone or e-mail the contact listed below to get a list of specific information to be discussed.

The NRC provides reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities where appropriate. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate in the meeting, or need the meeting notice or the transcript or other information from the meeting in another format (e.g., braille, large print), please notify the NRC’s meeting contact. Determinations on requests for reasonable accommodations will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Contact: John-Chau Nguyen (301) 415-0262, [email protected]

Attendance at the meeting other than those listed above should be made known by February 28, 2017, by phone or e-mail to the above contact.
Docket No. 72-1050
CAC No. L25175

Yesterday, Tuesday, February 21st, the Bexar County Commissioners (in San Antonio) unanimously approved a resolution opposing transport of high-level radioactive waste and consolidated storage or disposal in Texas or New Mexico.  Here’s the final clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Bexar County does not support or consent to consolidated interim storage of radioactive waste in Texas and nearby New Mexico, or the transportation of high-level radioactive waste on our railways or highways for the purpose of consolidated storage or permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas or New Mexico.

The resolution was carried by Commissioner Tommy Calvert, who explained the risks of transportation of high-level radioactive waste through San Antonio and other communities that would be on transportation routes if WCS gets a consolidated storage license.

San Antonio folks who testified were Russell Seal and Meredith McGuire with Alice Canestaro-Garcia and Loretta Van Coppenolle, ready to testify.  Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen led the testimony. Commissioner Paul Elizondo pointed out the history of opposing radioactive waste transport in San Antonio in previous years and seconded the motion to pass the resolution, which passed without further discussion.

This was an amazing week of organizing in West Texas / New Mexico. Lots of people and organizations came together to work toward halting the radioactive waste dumping threat. Waste Control Specialists (WCS) wants to dump 40,000 tons of this deadly waste, parking lot style, and store it for 40 to 100 years in the desert, where climate extremes and fracking abound. What could go wrong?

This week there were two Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hearings on the radioactive waste storage license for Waste Control Specialists, one in Hobbs (Feb. 13th) and one in Andrews (Feb. 15th). The message came through loud and clear from local and regional folks – WE DON’T WANT IT!   The Department of Energy (DOE) tried to tell the rest of the country that Andrews wants this waste – but the people in targeted communities never got to vote. The Andrews County Commissioners took action with a resolution that hardly anyone knew about until recently, which is not informed consent.

A local activist who lives just outside of WCS’s site and her family have been speaking up and taking action for years. She spoke to the Mayor and City Council of Eunice on Valentines’ evening, and spoke at both the Hobbs and Andrews NRC meetings – on the 13th and 15th.  Eunice is the closest city to the WCS site – only 5 miles away. The proposed Eddy Lea Energy Alliance (Holtec) consolidated storage project would be nearby as well.

Another concerned citizen has led efforts in Andrews for two years now.  He was joined by an 80 years old newly minted activist who is  full of life and fire. A young Mom from Andrews.  her family and friends have now jumped in and become involved, and others in the community are speaking out now as well. Former State Representative Lon Burnam has made numerous trips to the West Texas region to organize and connect people.

Citizens in Midland and Odessa organized two local meetings and a press conference, and then participated in both hearings. They made a huge impact too, and have raised concerns about the risk of radioactive waste trains and water contamination. A local artist gave a beautiful and empowering speech in Hobbs and brought friends in from Roswell.

A member of the Dallas League of Women Voters got the National League of Women Voters to support her strong statement of opposition to radioactive waste dumping and delivered it beautifully, to the applause, standing ovation and sign waving of an appreciative crowd.

Diane D’Arrigo from Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear were invaluable, helping get information out to concerned citizens, speaking powerfully and providing detailed accurate information to reporters. We’re so grateful to them for their key role and for coming all this way to help out.  Tom “Smitty” Smith and Public Citizen were also key in organizing, strategizing and getting materials and information out.

The star of the night in Andrews was young man who took the microphone and spoke boldly, with his mother supporting him with an arm around him. It was moving and powerful.

Reporters from E&E News, the Midland Reporter-Telegram, Odessa American, Andrews County News and 3 television stations came out in Andrews.

WCS had speakers at the hearings, but many were employees or people who seem likely to have had contracts or financial benefit. The usual backers, such as the Andrews Industrial Foundation, went to bat. The WCS folks outnumbered us, but we were strong in numbers, organized, vocal and clear in our message – an amazing feat in towns where this type of organizing hasn’t happened in recent history. It’s been an honor to know and work with everyone involved, and to learn so much from amazing local folks! There will be future organizing meetings going forward and everyone is invited.

ANDREWS, TX — Could your backyard be the new home to a nuclear waste site? Andrews is waiting to be licensed as a temporary holding site for radioactive waste.

Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Public Citizen’s Texas office spoke to the concerns of bringing a high-level radioactive site in west Texas in a meeting Thursday, February 9th.  See the local CBS affiliate’s story.

According to Waste Control Specialist, “it’ll bring in somewhere around 40 or 50 new jobs and normally these are fairly high paying jobs,” Vice President, Tom Jones said, “right now there’s already over 100 places around the county that this stuff is already being stored.”

While one side argues bringing in a radioactive waste plant will help the economy grow a non-profit environmentalist group disagrees — citing safety over salaries.

“Putting high level radioactive waste out in west Texas is a really bad idea,” non-profit group Public Citizen director Tom “Smitty” Smith said.

Both sides are going head-to-head about a proposed nuclear disposal site 30 miles west of Andrews. It’s an idea that lifelong resident of west Texas and mother, Delilah Cantu, is concerned about, “this is my home. This is what I want to protect.”

From health concerns to even being worried about falling properly value, Cantu is working with the Public Citizen non-profit group called public citizen, whose most recent purpose is to stop the licensing of a radioactive waste plant in west Texas.

 “WCS promises this is going to be a temporary sight but that depends on congress ever being responsible enough to ever create a long term repository,” “Smitty” Smith said.

WCS the government will immediately take over the waste project but there’s no telling how many decades the plant will be in west Texas, “I think folks are scared of the unknown. This is material people have been dealing with for the last 50 or 60 years,” Jones said, but that doesn’t ease Cantu’s worries her concerns keep growing like this one, “the remapping of the aquifer in Andrews,” Cantu said.

According to WCS, Andrews is not on top of an aquifer, “we’ve had 640 borings out there. We’ve got over 400 wells dry. We can prove we are. It over a drinking source.”

Other concerns like terroristic threats were posed but WCS said that doesn’t pose a threat.

Public hearing will be next week:

  • Feb. 13 in Hobbs, NM at 7 p.m. at Lea Country Event Center.
  • Feb. 15 in Andrews at 7 p.m. at James Robert Center.

Visit NoNuclearWasteAqui.org for more information.

The following sites have had serious radiation leaks:

  • The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) site in Kentucky listed as a Superfund site on the National Priorities List (NPL) in 1994.[i]
  • The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State is today America’s most contaminated nuclear site.[ii]
  • The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) had a leak after 15 years of operation that took 3 years and $500 million to clean up.[iii]
  • The Pantex Plant is the primary United States nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility.  Since 2000, $171 million in compensation and medical bills has been disbursed to more than 1,300 workers and families since the energy employees’ compensation program began.[iv]
  • Fernald uranium production facility is the site of one of the largest environmental cleanup operations undertaken in U.S. history.  It was added to the U.S. EPA’s National Priorities List of Superfund Sites most in need of cleanup in 1989.  The cleanup was completed after 28 years and cost $4.4 billion.[v]
  • Savannah River Site (SRS) produced tritium, plutonium and other special nuclear materials for national defense and the space program. Past disposal practices caused site contamination. Cleanup efforts have been underway since the 1980s.  Site cleanup completion is currently scheduled for 2065.[vi]
  • Beatty was the nation’s first federally licensed low-level radioactive waste dump. It opened in 1962 and closed in 1992.  In October of 2015, that site caught fire.  The commercial operator of the closed radioactive waste dump was troubled over the years by leaky shipments and oversight so lax that employees took contaminated tools and building materials home, according to state and federal records. [vii]
  • West Valley Demonstration Project is a nuclear waste remediation project focusing on the cleanup and containment of radioactive waste left behind after the abandonment of a commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in 1980.  Despite over 30 years of cleanup efforts and billions of dollars having been spent at the site, the property has been described as New York’s most toxic location in 2013.[viii]

 

 

Radioactive exposure can lead to birth defects, cancers or deaths.

Radioactive accidents or leaks can lead to water contamination and billions of taxpayer dollars for never-ending cleanup.

 

 

 

Dangerous radioactive waste could be coming to your community soon.  For the health and safety of your children and grandchildren, join us…

Learn more at these Town Hall meetings:

  • Wednesday, February 8th, at 7 pm, at the Outlaw Grill, 1007 Main St. Eunice, NM
  • Thursday, February 9th at 5 PM, at Martinez Bakery, 206 E. Florida Ave.. Midland, TX
  • Thursday, February 9th, at 7 pm, at the Midland Democratic Party,601 S. Main, Midland, TX
  • Saturday, February 11th, at 11:30 am at La Hacienda Cafeteria, 421 W. Broadway St., Andrews, TX

Speak out at one or both of the NRC public meetings and request a public hearing:  (Open House will be at 6 pm)

  • 7-10 p.m. MST, Feb. 13, at the Lea County Event Center, 5101 N. Lovington Highway, Hobbs, N.M.
  • 7-10 p.m. CST, Feb. 15, at the James Roberts Center, 855 TX-176, Andrews, Texas.

Find the WCS License Application at www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID NRC-2016-0231.

For more information go to: www.NoNuclearWasteAqui.org

[i] https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0404794

[ii] http://strangesounds.org/2014/04/what-if-a-quake-strikes-hanford-nuclear-site-is-defenseless-against-earthquakes.html

[iii] http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2017/01/10/wipp-nuclear-waste-repository-reopens-for-business/#2e0681234b5c

[iv] http://www.star-telegram.com/news/state/texas/article49500030.html

[v] http://www.fluor.com/projects/fernald-environmental-remediation

[vi] https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/cursites/csitinfo.cfm?id=0403485

[vii] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/25/radioactive-waste-dump-fire-reveals-nevada-troubled-past

[viii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Valley_Demonstration_Project

Public Citizen Honors Tom “Smitty” Smith

 

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After more than three decades of extraordinary work running Public Citizen’s Texas office, “Smitty,” formally known as Thomas Smith, is hanging up his spurs. Smitty is a Texas institution and a national treasure, and on February 1st, we celebrated him right.

Over 200 people attended a retirement dinner for Smitty at the Barr Mansion in Austin, TX on Wednesday evening.  Friends and colleagues from around the state who had work with Smitty on issues over his career that included clean energy, ethics reform, pollution mitigation, nuclear waste disposal, etc came to pay homage to a man who had dedicated his life to fighting for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed.

Mayor Adler and Council members Leslie Pool and Ann Kitchens

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and Smitty

Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel and Smitty

During the evening, Austin Mayor – Steve Adler, Travis County Commissioner – Brigid Shea, and Dallas County Commissioner – Dr. Theresa Daniel presented Smitty with resolutions passed by the City of Austin, Travis County Commissioners Court and Dallas County Commissioners Court all of which acknowledge Smitty’s contributions to their communities and the state of Texas.

 

 

 

Adrian Shelley (front left) and Rob Weissman (front right) at Tom “Smitty” Smith’s retirement event.

Public Citizen’s President, Robert Weissman, thanked Smitty for his service to Public Citizen for the past 31 years and introduced the new director for the Texas office, Adrian Shelley, the current Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston.

Smitty’ impending departure fromPublic Citizen will leave a big hole in advocacy for progressive issues here in Texas, but both Smitty and Robert Weissman expressed confidence that Adrian would lead the Texas office forward into a new era of progressive advocacy.  Adrian is a native Texan from the City of Houston. He has served as the Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston since 2013. He first worked with Air Alliance Houston as a legal fellow in 2010, then as a Community Outreach Coordinator in 2012. In that time, Public Citizen has worked closely with Air Alliance Houston through the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), a coalition of nonprofits and community groups which advocates policies to improve public health and safety while encouraging economic growth.

So be assured that Adrian and the Texas staff of Public Citizen are committed to carrying on the battle for justice, for democracy, for air clean and  energy and for clean politics. We can and will protect our children and the generations to come. For this, we can still use your help.  You can make a tax deductible donation to the Texas office of Public Citizen to help us continue his vital work on climate, transportation, civil justice, consumer protection, ethics, campaign finance reform and more

Adrian ShelleyAdrian Shelley, who has served as executive director of Air Alliance Houston, has been named the new director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, Public Citizen announced today.

Shelley replaces Tom “Smitty” Smith, who is retiring after 31 years of championing consumer rights and clean energy policies. Smith’s retirement was announced in September. He has remained at the helm while the organization searched for a new director.

Shelley has run Air Alliance Houston (AAH) since April 2013. Under Shelley’s leadership, the organization made significant progress in the fight for clean air and a healthy future in Houston. AAH is a founding member of the Healthy Port Communities Coalition, of which Public Citizen is a member.

“Smitty is a hero of mine, and I am honored to continue his work in Austin,” Shelley said. “As a native Texan, I look forward to advocating on behalf of all Texans.”

Shelley replaces Smith, widely known around the state Capitol as the man in the white hat. Smith’s work has led to reforms that have improved public health and safety, protected consumers’ pocketbooks and helped curb climate change.

“Texas and America are better places thanks to Smitty’s work,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Smitty’s breakthrough advocacy and initiatives in Texas pioneered achievements in clean energy, renewables and consumer protection that have spread across the nation. There’s no replacement for Smitty, but we’ve found a superstar of the next generation in Adrian, and are looking forward to seeing him innovate new pathways to progress.”

Added Smith, “Adrian is a star in the environmental movement. He has proven to be a strong leader who is smart, dedicated and very tactical. He’ll go far. I am very pleased he has been chosen to be my replacement.”

Shelley will remain in Houston with Air Alliance Houston while that organization finds a new executive director.

The Press Officer will work with the Director and other staff in the Texas office to develop press strategies that will augment our organizing and policy work, will provide rapid response when events warrant it, and will execute day-to-day press strategy utilizing social and traditional media. The primary topics of most media work will pertain to global climate change, air quality, renewable energy, fossil fuels, nuclear waste, and ethics. Some work will be statewide, while other campaigns are focused on specific cities, counties or regions. A substantial focus will be on using traditional and social media to educate residents of the greater Houston area about air pollution and promote opportunities for people to take action in support of clear air solutions.  Promoting our clean energy campaigns will also be a primary focus. This is a one year grant contingent position and will be based in Austin.