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Dallas sitting in smogThe Environmental Protection Agency is holding a public hearing in Arlington today on the proposed update on ground-level ozone regulation. It is important for EPA to hear from every person, since the proposed updates will affect everyone, especially children, the elderly, and those affected by asthma.

While environmentalists and public health activists alike are hopeful for the Clean Air Act, there has been heavy criticism on the high prices needed for the new regulation and a fear that the restrictions will cost Americans their jobs.

However, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy promises that the Clean Air Act’s benefits outweigh its costs. Furthermore, scientific findings prove that the Clean Air Act will all around counteract health and environmental hazards. According to the American Lung Association, the effect of ground-level ozone is similar to having sunburns on the lungs. Smog could lead to lung diseases, asthma attacks, interference with reproduction and development, and overall, increased hospitalizations and premature deaths.

“Special-interest critics will try to convince you that pollution standards chase away local jobs and businesses”, McCarthy says, “but, in fact, healthy communities attract new businesses, new investment, and new jobs.”

The Clean Air Act will help decrease financial issues caused by health ones, such as missed work days and medical costs, proving that the Act’s expenses will be overshadowed by its numerous benefits.

Those that live in Dallas and Arlington have had to breathe hazardous air, leading to a plethora of groups at risk including a number of 670,217 children under 18 and 224,990 adults 65 and over. EPA will thus be holding a public hearing today in Arlington, which has earned an “F” in ozone pollution according to American Lung Association.

Back in 2009, the ozone was a part per billion lower than it is today. The Clean Air Act can prevent the running average for ozone from increasing from strengthening the ozone pollution limit. So help protect the public health of not only the 2,453,843 people at risk in the Dallas area, but also the public health of children, the elderly, and adults all around the world. Help by attending the EPA hearing today at:

Arlington City Hall 
101 W. Abram Street
Arlington, Texas, 76010

UPDATE: Tweeted live from the hearing

“One of these things is not like the other…” Smitty from @PublicCitizenTX vs Rick Honeycutt from TCEQ. #txsmog #EPA pic.twitter.com/sLsYFwzOKD

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Ozone pollution, known as smog, harms our communities, because when we breathe smog, we get more asthma attacks, more heart failure, more chronic bronchitis, more respiratory infections, more hospital visits, and more missed school days.

There’s good news, though. The U.S. EPA recently proposed national standards for smog that would help protect public health. We have a chance to show support for this health protective standard by attending and speaking at an upcoming public hearing on the smog standard in Arlington, Texas.

Will you consider joining us to speak up about why clean air matters to you?

Who: Texas moms, dads, families, aunts, uncles, grandparents, children and supporters.

What: Speak briefly (5 minutes or less) to EPA staff members about why clean air matters to you. We will support you every step of the way to let you know exactly what to expect, and to help you prepare for the day.

Where: Arlington, Texas
Arlington City Hall
101 W. Abram Street
Arlington, Texas, 76010

When: Jan. 29: Arlington, Texas. Each hearing will begin at 9 a.m. and continue until 7:30 p.m. local time . If you decide to join us, you will be assigned a specific time of your choice to come speak and could leave directly after you deliver your comments.

Why: EPA needs to hear from families, not just polluters, about the importance of protecting our children’s lungs. Your voice matters. Your comments will be entered into the official docket for the smog standard, and will be taken into consideration as EPA finalizes the standard.

If you’d like to get more involved in helping make sure Texans can breathe easier, please fill in the form below:
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P2PPosterNew

Film screening of Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes.

This documentary follows filmmaker John Ennis’ quest to find a way out from under the Pay 2 Play System, where Politicians reward their donors with even larger sums from the public treasury — through contracts, tax cuts, and deregulation.  Along the way, he journeys through high drama on the Ohio campaign trail, uncovers the secret history of the game Monopoly, and explores the underworld of L.A. street art on a humorous odyssey that reveals how much of a difference one person can make.   This entertaining film is a layman’s guidebook to taking back our democracy.

Date: Wednesday, January 21

Time: beginning at 6:30 PM

Where:  Alamo Drafthouse in the Village Shopping Center at 2700 W. Anderson Lane

Agenda:
6:30-7:00 meet and greet and order dinner
7:00-8:30 show film
8:30-9:30 panel and audience discussion

Panelists Include:
Tom “Smitty” Smith, Public Citizen Texas;
Craig McDonald, Texans for Public Justice;
Sara Smith, TexPIRG;
Todd Jagger, Wolf-PAC; and
Caroline Homer, Move To Amend

Buy Tickets ($10.25)

Coalition for Sensible SafeguardsThe Coalition for Sensible Safeguards strongly opposes the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which the House passed on Tuesday. They are urging members of Congress to oppose it and The White House  has issued a veto threat for the Bill . This innocuous-sounding bill is designed to undermine our nation’s environmental, public health, workplace safety and consumer financial security protections – not improve them.

The RAA would rewrite dozens of laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act by requiring federal agencies to put corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of American workers and families. Agencies would have to produce highly speculative estimates of all the indirect costs and benefits of proposed rules and do the same for any potential alternatives. What counts and does not count as an indirect cost or a potential alternative? The bill leaves that up to the imagination of industry.

In addition, the RAA would hamstring the work of agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bill would subject their work to review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is infamous for delaying, diluting and blocking important new safeguards. Federal agencies already take years to issue health and safety standards. The dozens of cumbersome requirements added by this bill would make that process even longer.

Any high-stakes rule that miraculously made it through these roadblocks would face unprecedented challenges. The RAA would allow industry lobbyists to second-guess the work of respected scientists through legal challenges, sparking a wave of litigation that would add even more costs and delays to the rulemaking process – while putting the lives, health and safety of millions of Americans at risk.

The costs of blocking crucial standards and safeguards are clear: The Wall Street economic collapse, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia, the West Fertilizer Company explosion in West, TX, countless food and product safety recalls and massive environmental disasters including the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina and the Freedom Industries chemical spill in West Virginia are just some of the most recent examples.

It’s no wonder polling shows that Americans want better enforcement of our nation’s rules and standards. Congress should listen to the public and stop trying to sabotage the safeguards that protect us all.

To learn more about the potential effects of the bill, see the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards’ 2011 report: Impacts of the Regulatory Accountability Act. The latest version of the bill has been partially revised, but the problems at the heart of the bill remain.

It’s a new era for the Austin City Council in more ways than one.  Not only does the Council have geographic representation for the first time ever, but the almost entirely new Council (Kathie Tovo is the only returning member) has proposed a significant overhaul to the way in which the body does its job.  These changes were presented at a press conference with all 10 Council members and Mayor Adler last Thursday.

Austin City Council press conference. Photo by Kaiba White 1/8/15.

Austin City Council press conference. Photo by Kaiba White 1/8/15.

The proposed changes are in response to several often repeated complaints.  The first is that Council meetings are unreasonably long – an average of 9 and a half hours in 2014, according to a city auditor report.  This results in some Council decisions being made late at night after a full day on dais.  The second complaint is that there is little to no certainty about when any specific item will be taken up at Council meetings.  Coupled with the long meetings, this means that members of the public who wish to speak on an item have a difficult time doing so because can’t spend all day at a Council meeting.

A third concern is that by the time an item comes up at a Council meeting most, if not all members have already made their decisions and that speaking for or against an item isn’t likely to change the outcome of the vote.  This perception (along with the time commitment required to participate) likely discourages many from showing up to share their views.

IMG_6859Council’s proposals are intended to address these complaints head on by expanding opportunity for public input earlier in the process and reducing the length of Council meetings.

Instead of most items going directly to the full Council for consideration, most items would first be assigned to a committee and would receive a public hearing in committee.  The larger number of proposed Council Committees should reduce the length of any one meeting and make it more feasible for members of the public to participate.  Time sensitive items or items that don’t receive timely attention in their assigned committee could still be sent directly to the full Council.  And even if an item received a hearing in committee, any 4 Council members could still request a second hearing before the full Council.

Council has also proposed to assign certain topics, such as zoning to meetings that will focus on those issues, in order to allow members of the public to more easily hone in on which meetings they want to attend.  Executive sessions would generally be reserved for a special meetings to keep meetings flowing and waste less of the public’s time.

As advocates of good government, Public Citizen supports these proposals and has just a few suggestions:

  1. The Council Committee on Austin Energy should remain a committee of the whole – with all Council members, including the mayor, serving on it.  Austin Energy is the City’s most valuable asset, accounts for a majority of budget allocations and contributes significant revenue to the city’s general fund, which pays for the bulk of the city’s services, such as parks, firefighters, and libraries.  In 2013, the public spoke clearly in favor of Council retaining control over Austin Energy, instead of transferring governing authority to an unelected board.  Since Council serves as the board of directors for Austin Energy, all Council members should be fully engaged in governing the utility.
  2. A subcommittee of the Committee on Austin Energy should be created to study and propose options for modernizing Austin Energy’s business model.  The mayor and several other Council members have indicated that they wish to find ways for Austin Energy to remain viable in the long run.  One significant challenge is an eventual future when many more customers will have their own solar systems on their homes and businesses and will purchase less energy from the utility, but will still rely on the utility to maintain a working power distribution grid.  Utilities in other states and countries are beginning to tackle the problem of retaining sufficient revenue while selling less electricity.  Establishing an Austin Energy Business Model subcommittee will ensure that Council is focused on ensuring the long-term financial stability of Austin’s most valuable asset.
  3. Council should stet an expected timeline for holding public hearings on items that are assigned to committees.  We suggest that a public hearing should be held within 30 days of an item being assigned to a committee.  This will ensure that the committee process fosters meaningful and timely public engagement, as it is intended to do.

Please email the Council members to let them know that you support their proposed changes and these suggestions from Public Citizen.

According to NOAA and NASA, 2014 was the warmest year on record.  A new report names 2014 as the warmest year since records were first kept in 1880.

Across all land and ocean surfaces, the average temperature was up 1.24 degrees Fahrenheit over the 20th century average, according to numbers released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). That caused 2014 to pass the previous record-holders: 2005 and 2010. The warmest December since 1880 helped push 2014 into record territory. The same conclusion was reached by NASA, who also called 2014 the warmest year on record in a separate analysis released on Friday.

Hazy iew from the South Rim of the Chisos in Big Bend National Park, Texas. March 25, 2010. Photo by Kaiba White.

Hazy view from South Rim of the Chisos in Big Bend National Park, TX. Photo by Kaiba White, 3/25/10.

EPA will be holding a public hearing in Austin on Tuesday, January 13 on their regional haze rules proposal.  This is a chance for any member of the public to speak up in favor of reducing air pollution for coal-fired power plants in Texas to improve visibility in our region’s most important national lands.  Impacted areas are Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks in Texas and Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Whether you spend time in these beautiful places and want to improve them for everyone to enjoy or are concerned with the health impacts (particularly respiratory illness) that are cause by this same air pollution, we hope you’ll make your views known.

EPA has proposed some strong protections for Texas and Oklahoma national parks and wilderness from haze pollution, but they could do more!  Ask EPA not to exclude any old coal plants, as they have done and to make sure that nitrogen oxides emissions, as well as sulfur dioxide emissions are controlled at all facilities.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Open House: 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Public Hearing: 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Where: Eastview Campus, Austin Community College, Building 8500, Room 8500
3401 Webberville Road, Austin, Texas 78702

Be a Public CitizenAs the start of the 84th Texas Legislative Session approaches, we’re looking to add a couple more passionate advocates to our team.  As usual, we’ll be working primarily on energy, environmental and ethics issues.  If you want a good learning experience with an opportunity to make a difference, read on.


Environmental/Energy Research/Social Media/Administrative Assistant

Public Citizen’s Texas office seeks an organized and motivated person to provide research, social media and light administrative assistance to a former Texas State Representative that will be volunteering with us for the Legislative session.

Duties will include assisting a former state representative with social media (Facebook and Twitter), Capitol office visits, research, and some light administrative work – mostly helping to keep things organized. This will include research on radioactive waste and fracking, but could include other topics as well. The assistant will help develop factsheets and blog posts based on this research. The assistant will be asked to track bills as they are filed and move through the legislative process and to help distribute materials to state legislative offices.

Qualifications: Ability to commit to 25+ hr/week through June 1; Professional business attire required most days; Desire to make a difference; Great writing and communication skills; Ability to use computer programs, such as Word, Excel, and Power Point; Ability to stay organized; Ability to work with a team; Self-motivation; Desire to learn is a must; Background in energy, environmental issues, politics, economics, or public policy is helpful, but not required

To Apply: Send a cover letter detailing why you want to work with Public Citizen, your resume, and a writing sample to Kaiba White at [email protected]


Environmental/Energy Policy and Advocacy Internship

Interns work with the Texas Legislature, the media, and other public interest groups to change laws and educate the public on environmental issues, especially those relating to energy use.
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WHEN:   January 30—31, 2015

WHERE:  Sheraton Galleria , 2400 West Loop South Houston, TX 77027

JOIN US…In learning how to use TRI data sources to protect communities.  The goal of the TRI Regional Workshop is to educate communities, students, industry professionals, academicians, and public health officials on how to access and navigate the EPA TRI data source to improve environmental conditions and policies in environmental justice communities. Regional case studies will be incorporated into the work- shop training.

TRAVEL ASSISTANCE: Limited travel scholarships are available on a first come first served basis. Apply early.

LODGING  Sheraton Galleria is the conference venue. Register early.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Dr. Denae King Texas Southern University Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, (713) 313-4804 or [email protected]

REGISTER:  Click here to Register For the Workshop

HOSTED BY

TSUdillard university

FUNDED BY: EPA

 

 

Solarize Wells Branch

Solar fever is spreading in the Austin area!  A passionate group of solar supporters is working to bring more solar to Wells Branch.

Solarize Wells BranchIt all started with a solar fair on October 28.  A couple passionate Wells Branch residents put together a great event with speakers and tabling by local solar companies, Austin Energy and Oncor (Wells Branch is split between the Austin Energy and Oncor service areas).  About 200 people from the community showed up to learn more about solar.  As one of the speakers, I provided some basic information and introduced the solarize concept – where members of a community work together to get educated about solar and pool their buying power to contract for a discount with a solar company.

Now, an enthusiastic group of Wells Branch residents have created the Solarize Wells Branch group.  They’ve already put out a request for proposals from solar installations companies.  They’re working to get residents signed up to participate in the program.

We talk a lot about policy solutions for improving the environment and human health, but direct individual action is really important too.  Going solar saves water, reduces air pollution, helps fight climate change and will save you money.  If you live in Wells Branch or a nearby neighborhood, check out the Solarize Wells Branch flier and the Solarize Wells Branch website for lots more detailed info.  Enrolling will get you connected with the organizers, who will help get your questions answered.  Don’t worry though – this doesn’t in any way commit you to actually purchasing a solar installation.

A study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication on the public perceptions of climate change indicates that the majority of citizens grossly misunderstand the repercussions of climate change and its effects on health. The report shows analysis of results from a national survey conducted in October of 2014 and indicates that most US citizens have given little or no thought to the potential health effects of climate change.

Few Americans are aware of any current health consequences of global warming. When asked ‘In your view, what health problems related to global warming are Americans experiencing, if any?’ a majority either didn’t answer the question (43%) – which likely indicates they didn’t have an answer – or answered that they ‘don’t know’ (14%).  Only one in four (27%) named at least one health problem related to global warming, and 10% answered, incorrectly, that there are no health problems associated with global warming.

The health effects of climate change are very prevalent and encompass a wide range of issues. According to the World Health Organization climate change affects both social and environmental determinants of health, including clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. The WHO predicts that:

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also states that weather and climate change play a significant role in people’s health. Warmer temperatures lead to heat waves which lead to most heat-related deaths and play a part in spreading diseases and increasing water and air pollutants. Increased frequency in extreme weather poses immediate and severe threats to people in dangerous areas. The consequences can be life-changing and efforts towards solving the issue are dependent on various factors.

The impacts of climate change on health will depend on many factors. These factors include the effectiveness of a community’s public health and safety systems to address or prepare for the risk and the behavior, age, gender, and economic status of individuals affected. Impacts will likely vary by region, the sensitivity of populations, the extent and length of exposure to climate change impacts, and society’s ability to adapt to change.

A variety of factors can increase the vulnerability of a specific demographic group to health effects due to climate change. Graphic from from US National Climate Assessment

A variety of factors can increase the vulnerability of a specific demographic group to health effects due to climate change.
Graphic from from US National Climate Assessment

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(Reuters) – Children whose mothers were exposed to high levels of fine particulate pollution in late pregnancy have up to twice the risk of developing autism as children of mothers breathing cleaner air, scientists at Harvard School of Public Health reported on Thursday.

The greater the exposure to fine particulates emitted by fires, vehicles, and industrial smokestacks the greater the risk, found the study, published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Earlier research also found an autism-pollution connection, including a 2010 study that found the risk of autism doubled if a mother, during her third trimester, lived near a freeway, a proxy for exposure to particulates. But this is the first to examine the link across the United States, and “provides additional support” to a possible link, said Heather Volk of the University of Southern California Children’s Hospital, who led earlier studies.

U.S. diagnoses of autism soared to one in 68 children in 2010 (the most recent data) from one in 150 in 2000, government scientists reported in March. Experts are divided on how much of the increase reflects greater awareness and how much truly greater incidence.

Although the disorder has a strong genetic basis, the increasing incidence has spurred scientists to investigate environmental causes, too, since genes do not change quickly enough to explain the rise.

The Harvard study included children of the 116,430 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II, which began in 1989. The researchers collected data on where the women lived while pregnant and levels of particulate pollution. They then compared the prenatal histories of 245 children with autism spectrum disorder to 1,522 normally-developing children, all born from 1990 to 2002.

There was no association between autism and fine particulate pollution before or early in pregnancy, or after the child was born. But high levels of exposure during the third trimester doubled the risk of autism.

Evidence that a mother-to-be’s exposure to air pollution affects her child’s risk of autism “is becoming quite strong,” said Harvard epidemiologist Marc Weisskopf, who led the study, suggesting a way to reduce the risk.

It is not clear how tiny particles might cause autism, but they are covered with myriad contaminants and penetrate cells, which can disrupt brain development.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency, citing the link to asthma, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, tightened air quality standards for fine particulate pollution. States have until 2020 to meet the new standards.
(Reporting by Sharon Begley; editing by Andrew Hay)

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As you close out 2014, consider joining or making a gift to Public Citizen’s work in Texas and support our efforts to move into a sustainable green building – click here.

Thank you and we wish you a safe and happy holiday.

The Austin City Council’s vote last night to adopt the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025 brought to an end a year’s worth of work by numerous advocates and engaged members of the public.

While the result was disappointing, I find myself being immensely grateful for the many people who took time out of their schedules to stand up in support of the strongest renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy storage goals and in opposition to Austin Energy’s continued use of polluting fossil fuels.

Many of the people who we worked side-by-side with over the past year have spent years trying to improve Austin’s energy policies and their past work has been critical in getting us as far as we are now. Others who hadn’t been very involved in energy policy also got engaged. Some had to put in a lot of effort just to get educated on the complex facts that surround energy policy. What united us all was a common belief that not only is a transition to clean, renewable energy sources possible, but that it is the only responsible course of action.

We joined forces with people and organizations who are concerned about climate change, health impacts of air pollution and water pollution, water use, affordability, and equity. It is clear that when the costs of the many negative impacts of using fossil fuels – including the mining of coal, fracking for gas, and then burning those products – are taken into consideration, clean energy alternatives are by far the better deal. Even without those important costly externalities included in the equation, wind power, solar power, energy efficiency and demand response (strategically reducing energy use at key times) are now all more affordable than energy from a new gas plant.

For all those reasons, we made incredible progress with the policies that the Austin City Council adopted in the Affordable Energy Resolution on August 28. Unfortunately, as a result of losing a big piece of its political cover, Council passed a plan last night (December 11) that rolled back some of those gains and opened the door for Austin Energy to build a big new gas plant.

There’s a lot of misleading information going around, so let’s take a look at the numbers.

2014-12-12 Austin Energy Policies Comparison Table (Aug Resolution vs Dec Gen Plan 2014)

It was because of the many dedicated people that we worked with over the past year that we were able to achieve what we did in August and because of your help over the past few weeks and yesterday that we were able to preserves as much of those achievements as we did in the new Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025.  Thank you to everyone who contributed time and effort to this important endeavor.  We’ll need your help to keep things moving in the right direction in 2015.

As climate talks in Lima enters its final day there are still long-running issues dividing the parties. Earlier in the week it seemed that the diplomats from 196 countries were closing in on the framework of a potentially historic deal that would for the first time commit every nation in the world to cutting its planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, albeit – still not be enough to stop the early impacts of global warming.

The draft that was circulating among negotiators on Tuesday represented a fundamental breakthrough in the impasse that has plagued the United Nations for two decades as it has tried to forge a new treaty to counter global warming. The key to breaking through the impasse was that the draft did not bind nations to a single, global benchmark for emissions reductions.

Under the terms of the draft, every country would publicly commit to enacting its own plans to reduce emissions — with governments choosing their own targets, guided by their domestic politics, rather than by the amounts that scientists say are necessary.

The plan is to reach a global deal to be signed by world leaders in Paris next year, incorporating 196 separate emissions pledges.

Until recently, the United States and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas polluters, have been at the center of the impasse over a climate deal.

But in November, President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China announced plans to reduce emissions, helping inject new life into the global climate talks.

Perhaps tomorrow, we will know how impactful the US and China’s new commitment to emission reduction are in these talks.