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

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

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

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

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

hpcc

 

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

 

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

 

photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HPCC-Dee-Blast-Zone-768x1024

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Coal Royalty Loophole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing The Coal Loophole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yikes!

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

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

Whither Coal?

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter and Google+.

Images: via US Bureau of Land Management.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it will NOT be the last.

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

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

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

Contribute now.

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

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

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

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

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

Isle DeJean Charles - photo by Karen Apricot

Isle DeJean Charles – photo by Karen Apricot

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

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

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

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

 

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

West fertilizer facility explosion 2Friday, May 13 Marks Deadline for comments to the proposed EPA Rules for Chemical Facilities such as the fertilizer plant involved in the West, Texas explosion.

The draft EPA Rule Fails in Protecting the Public as 87% of such Facilities Are Exempted by Federal Agency

Friday the 13th marks the deadline for the EPA’s proposed new rules on unique high risk chemical plants which are to urge the use and access to safer technologies to protect public health and welfare.

Public Citizen maintains that the new rules fall short of any real teeth to require industry to do what is needed, instead opting for too many voluntary measures of compliance to be protective of communities where these hazardous chemical facilities are sited.

“Though we commend the EPA’s attempt at new rules to rein in careless plant owners and operators,” commented Rita Beving, Public Citizen North Texas organizer,  “These rules are simply weak, falling woefully short in the effort to protect the communities where these plants are located.”

“More than 87% of the facilities of the 12,543 facllities that should be regulated are exempt including water treatment facilities,” added Beving. “The way this rule is currently written still places cities such as DFW along with smaller communities which have such hazardous facilities at risk.”

The proposed rules entitled “Modernization of the Accidental Release Prevention Regulations under the Clean Air Act” were devised as a result of the deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas and other chemical plant disasters.  Since West’s disaster in 2013, 82 people have been killed and 1,600 have been injured in more than 400 chemical plant incidents.

“There is still time to comment today and tomorrow on these proposed rules,” commented Tom “Smitty” Smith, Public Citizens Texas director.  “We need to tell the EPA that too much of these new rules are voluntary. The rule fails to have the needed mandates that require industry to comply or improve the safety aspect of their operations.

“Instead of a patchwork of locations where these hazardous industries will be allowed to disclose their chemical information, there needs to be one singular database for emergency responders and officials to get the information they need in regards to these facilities,” added Smith.  “This is just common sense safety for all our communities.”

According to facility reports to the EPA, over 100 million Americans still live in chemical hazard zones. In addition to putting facility employees at risk, communities closest to hazardous facilities are disproportionately African American and Hispanic.

Public Citizen asks that the EPA rule be strengthened by adopting the following measures within the new rules to protect public health and the communities in which they live:

  • Require these unique hazardous facilities to use safer technologies and alternatives where they are feasible to prevent future disasters.
  • Require all hazardous chemical facilities to conduct Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis (STAA) –  including water treatment facilities.
  • The proposed rule now exempts 87% of the 12,543 (RMP) chemical facilities from requirements to conduct Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis (STAA) including water treatment facilities, some of which put major cities at risk of a catastrophic release of chlorine gas. An Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis shouldbe required of all facilities.  An STAA involves reducing risks through a tiered approach of minimizing risk by reducing the amount of hazardous chemicals stored, employing physical barriers to mitigate hazard, utilizing emergency controls/sensors, and having safety and evacuation procedures in place.  These plants’  STAA plans should also be accessible to the public.
  • The proposed rule now exempts 87% of the 12,543 (RMP) chemical facilities from requirements to conduct Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis (STAA) including water treatment facilities, putting major cities and other      communities at risk of a catastrophic release of chlorine gas.
  • The rule should require chemical facilities to report their Safer Technology and Alternatives Analysis to the EPA.  These analyses should be accessible to the public.
  • The EPA should establish an online clearinghouse of safer technology and available alternatives for these unique chemical facilities that would encourage and support plants’ adoption of safe technology alternatives.
  • The EPA should devise a one stop, 24/7 accessible database of information via web requiring information about  a chemical facility’s hazards that is accessible to public officials and emergency responders.

Currently, the proposed rule suggests using a patchwork of company web sites, libraries or government offices to disclose information on facility hazards to emergency planners and community residents. By not having these facilities utilize one accessible database of disclosure, companies can conceal the results of their assessments from local residents, schools, and hospitals near these facilities.

  • Require buffer zones around existing facilities or restrictions on the location of new facilities in populated areas.

Comments are to be submitted online, identified by docket EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725 to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov or paste https://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OEM-2015-0725-0001 into your browser.

 

Below are examples of chemical incidents that led to the EPA rulemaking:

  • April 17, 2013 – an explosion at the West Fertilizer facility in West, Texas killed 15 people.
  • March 23, 2005 – explosions at the BP Refinery in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 people and injured more than 170 people.
  • April 2, 2010 – an explosion and fire at the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, Washington, killed 7 people.
  • August 6, 2012 – a fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, California, involving flammable fluids endangered 19 Chevron employees and created a large plume of highly hazardous chemicals that traveled across the Richmond, California, area.       Nearly 15,000 residents sought medical treatment due to the release.
  • June 13, 2013 – a fire and explosion at Williams Olefins in Geismar, Louisiana, killed 2 people and injured more.

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final rule to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Today’s announcement of a regulation designed to monitor and capture methane emissions from not-yet-built oil and gas operations is an important step for the U.S. to combat climate change in the decades to come. But under this rule, methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations will remain unmonitored and uncontrolled.

The EPA’s March announcement of an Information Collection Request to poll the industry as to the feasibility of monitoring and controlling emissions from existing operations will take years, and it could be years before a final rule that applies to existing operations is developed. The climate simply can’t wait that long. The EPA can and should start working on a rule to cover existing methane emissions now.

Research into one of America’s two major oil fracking sites found that the Bakken Shale is leaking 275,000 tons of methane annually. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 87 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. The oil and gas industry has a responsibility to begin monitoring and reducing emissions from existing sources immediately – and the public has the right to expect the EPA to do as much.

The crowd listens to speakerOn Sunday, May 1st – International Workers’ Day – nearly four hundred people gathered on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol for the postponed Democracy Awakening rally and march.  There was music by local band Talk Radio, and stirring speeches by progressives and conservatives followed by a short march down Congress Avenue led by the Walls of Jericho Marching Band.

 

collapsed scaffolding cnn

Collapsed construction scaffolding – CNN

May 1st is Workers’ Memorial Day, and we have much to remember here in Texas.  A new Report Finds Construction Injuries and Fatalities Cost Texas Nearly $900 Million Annually

Injuries and fatalities in the construction industry cost Texas an estimated $895.9 million in 2013 alone with workers and their families footing an estimated $447.9 million of the bill, a new Public Citizen and Workers Defense Project report (PDF) shows.

The report, “The Price of Inaction: The Cost of Construction Injuries in the Lone Star State,” quantifies the estimated costs of deaths, injuries and illnesses in the state’s construction industry. The release coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, a time when labor advocates pause to commemorate those who lost their lives on the job and who suffer from debilitating work-related injuries or illnesses.

In 2013, Texas recorded approximately 5,600 construction industry injuries and illnesses, which required workers to take time off of work to recover. Additionally, 116 Texas construction workers lost their lives during that time.

The report also finds that people of color and immigrants experience disproportionate rates of work-related fatalities in Texas’ construction industry. In 2013, about two out of every three construction workers killed in Texas were Latino. In addition, from 2012 to 2013, fatalities among foreign-born construction workers in the state increased at a much higher rate (47 percent) than the total number of construction worker fatalities during that time (11 percent).

“Our research indicates a pervasive crisis in the Texas construction industry, which unduly burdens people of color, immigrant workers and their families,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Texas lawmakers should immediately enact safeguards protecting construction workers from unsafe worksites.”

“Texas’ construction industry is generating more than $74 billion a year,” said José P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project. “There’s no excuse for the industry to shift the cost of dangerous worksites from employers to injured workers, their families and taxpayers.”

Texas’ misleadingly named “opt out” system, which does not require employers to purchase workers compensation insurance, shifts the costs of injuries and fatalities from employers onto workers. Without a basic social safety net that includes workers’ compensation, construction workers and their families are left without wages while they recover from injuries and struggle to pay high medical bills and other expenses.

To address this problem, Workers Defense Project and Public Citizen recommend Texas lawmakers make several reforms to increase safety for employees. The report calls on the Texas Legislature to:

  • Require that all construction employers purchase workers’ compensation coverage for all employees;
  • Require that all contractors on publicly funded or publicly subsidized construction sites complete a workplace health and safety prequalification process;
  • Establish a Texas Council on Construction Safety and Health;
  • Pass a statewide policy establishing a rest break standard for construction workers; and
  • Require or incentivize participation in respected third party certification programs like the Better Builder Program.

Rad Waste Transportation RoutesA high-level consolidated radioactive waste storage site has been proposed for Andrews County, Texas, by Waste Control Specialists (WCS). The company expects to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and to have licensing and construction completed by the end of 2020.

“This plan is all risk, not only for the states of Texas and New Mexico, but for the whole country and it should be halted immediately,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “Why is our region being targeted to become the nation’s dumping ground for high-risk high-level radioactive waste? Putting this waste on our highways and railways invites disaster. Radioactive waste moving through highly populated cities across the country could be targeted for sabotage by terrorists.” A state report, the Assessment of Texas’ High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Options, says that “spent nuclear fuel is more vulnerable to sabotage or accidents during transport than in storage because there are fewer security guards and engineered barriers, and that the consequences could be higher since the waste could travel through large cities.“

“Counties along the potential transport routes for high-level radioactive waste should have a voice in whether there is consent for this plan,” said Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel. “While a single county in West Texas might gain financially from bringing in the nation’s high-level radioactive waste, other counties would have increased risks of accidents and terrorist activity.  Counties need to assess their financial liability and the costs they could incur for expanded emergency preparedness. “

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert echoed Dr. Daniel’s concern. “Shipping this waste though our county is “ all risk and no reward”.   Our county and others along the way would have increased risks of accidents and given the concentration of military facilities in San Antonio we are potentially at higher risk of terrorist activity. Counties along the potential transport routes for high-level radioactive waste should be able to either consent to or deny the plan that would lead to waste being shipped though their communities.“

“Exposure to radioactivity can lead to cancers and genetic damage. Accidents could be deadly,” said SEED Coalition Director Karen Hadden. “An unshielded person exposed up close to high-level radioactive waste would die within a week according to the Department of Energy (DOE). There’s no need to risk health and safety across the country just to store radioactive waste in a different place, especially since no permanent repository has been developed. The least risky path is keeping the radioactive waste where it is.”

“We do not consent to the plan to dump dangerous radioactive waste on us,” said Rose Gardner of Eunice, New Mexico, a town of nearly 3000 people that is 40% Hispanic. It lies five miles west of the WCS site. “Andrews County officials say that we want this waste, but no one has ever asked me if I consent. I would definitely say no, and many others here feel the same way. We never got to vote on this issue. The Department of Energy (DOE) is saying that our community consents to having radioactive waste dumped in our backyard, but this isn’t true. The DOE scheduled eight hearings around the country, but not a single one for New Mexico or Texas, the targeted region. Clearly they don’t want to hear our voices.”

“If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves WCS’ application it could unleash the world’s largest and most dangerous campaign of nuclear transport on our roads, rails and waterways,” said Diane D’Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

We call this plan “Fukushima Freeways,” after the triple nuclear reactor meltdowns that started five years ago in Japan and continue to hemorrhage radioactive water into the oceans, fish and our food webs.”

Transporting radioactive waste for the purpose of consolidated storage isn’t necessary since the waste can remain secured in dry casks at the site where it was generated, or close nearby and most reactor sites are already licensed to do this.

The DOE previously analyzed accident risks for shipping high-level waste to Yucca Mountain and predicted at least one accident for every 10,000 train shipments. With 10,700 shipments, at least one train accident was anticipated.  Consolidated storage would involve thousands of radioactive waste shipments that would occur over 20 or more years across much of the United States. If transport is mainly by truck, 53,000 shipments with 53 accidents were expected.  They found that a radiation release could render 42 square miles uninhabitable and cost 9.5 billion dollars to raze and rebuild a downtown area.

“If this mass movement of radioactive waste begins, there will be accidents and some of those accidents could release enormous amounts of radioactivity,” said D’Arrigo. “This waste is the hottest, longest-lasting, most intensely radioactive, cancer-causing part of the whole nuclear power fuel chain. It is dangerous now and will still be dangerous in thousands to millions of years. The nuclear industry and government want to pretend there is an answer to the radioactive waste problem and move the waste around, at our peril.”

WCS’ application for consolidated “interim” storage is likely to be for 40 years. The site could easily become a de facto permanent disposal site, without the necessary research and rigorous standards needed to keep radioactive waste isolated for thousands of years.

Former State Representative from Fort Worth Lon Burnam is concerned about water contamination. “The WCS site is supposed to be dry, but their own monitoring well data frequently shows that water is present. The site is very close to the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer that provides drinking and irrigation water for eight states in the middle of the U.S. What if the nation’s largest aquifer became contaminated by radioactivity?”

Sources:

Note: The maps above show likely routes developed based on routes previously designated for shipments to Yucca Mountain.  Please note that AFCI’s project for Loving County is no longer under consideration, although the company may still be looking for a site in Culberson County.