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CPS Energy’s Flexible Path plans to use fossil fuels until 2040 and beyond. The Wednesday, June 13th Public Hearing Session allows us an opportunity to speak up against fossil fuels and speak up for the well-being of our families, our communities, and our environment.

Common wisdom says that if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But in regards to the CPS coal-fired Spruce units, there is a broken and outdated system in dire need of fixing.  There are a variety of reasons to switch to renewable energy; positive environmental, public health and economic outcomes chief among them. All of these are reasons to retire CPS Energy’s Spruce power plant.

Confronted with the changing tide of technology and the public’s favorable view of renewable energy, Synapse Energy Economics conducted an analysis comparing the costs of installing selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology in the coal-fired Spruce 1 power plant. SCR technology reduces nitrogen oxide (NOx), a toxic gas compound that can be found in smog, cigarette smoke, and vehicle exhaust. But adding SCR to a coal plant is less effective than switching to clean energy technology (see Figure 11).

Rather than ridding Bexar County of coal plants and the costs they impose upon the environment and public health or investing in renewable energy and in our community, CPS plans to continue using an energy source known to increase rates of cardiovascular diseases such as asthma and heart disease, impair brain development in fetuses and lower life expectancy. Developed internally, without community input, the plan is called the Flexible Path.

The Climate Action SA coalition spoke out against this plan and called on CPS Energy leadership to involve the public in this important decision. A public hearing has now been scheduled for Wednesday evening:

WHAT: CPS Energy Public Hearing

WHEN: Wednesday, June 13th from 5:00 – 8:30 PM

WHERE: Villita Assembly Building (401 Villita St)

RSVP: http://bit.ly/CPSPublicHearingRSVP

The CPS Energy Board of Trustee meetings don’t normally include citizens to be heard. This makes the upcoming public input session all the more important to attend and speak at. CPS could benefit from another bit of common wisdom: an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

In addition to being a major source of pollution, the Spruce power plant isn’t economically viable. Last August, Synapse Energy Economics released a report evaluating the economics of the J.K. Spruce power plant and found it would economically benefit CPS – and by extension the taxpayer – to switch over to renewable energy.

They found that Spruce 1 lost more than $20 million during 2015 and 2016 and Spruce 2 lost more than $80 million in the past two years. Part of this loss in profits comes from the decrease in natural gas prices, but even if natural gas prices were to increase again and thus increase the economic viability of the Spruce units, it is likely Spruce 1 would never recover the costs of the SCR installation. The future for the Spruce units is likely one of ongoing economic costs, and those costs will be paid by San Antonio taxpayers.

Currently, almost 20 percent of our energy use comes from coal (see following table). In 2040, that percentage is estimated to drop by more than half, but the important thing to note is that in 22 years there is still estimates for coal energy use. CPS also plants to keep burning natural gas, another major contributor to climate change. And “flexible generation” is undefined, so that could also be fossil fuel-based.

flexiblepath chart idea
Source:
CPS Energy

Just being better than a theoretical “Traditional Path” isn’t good enough. By CPS projections, we will still use coal and other fossil fuels in 2040. We don’t have time to use coal for two more decades. Presently, there is a global increase in the occurrence and intensity of flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather events. San Antonio, already one of the most flash-flood prone areas in the country, will experience more extreme droughts, heat waves, and flooding. Our city is becoming hotter and hotter, and as global temperatures rise and the heat island effect worsens, San Antonio will continue to become a sweltering desert of cement and asphalt.

We have the power to mitigate these consequences and contribute to the global effort of reducing and reversing the acceleration of climate change. We have the power to decide for ourselves to be the change we need to see. We have the power to demand more of CPS and of our local government. We have the power to become a 100 percent renewable energy city and challenge other cities to do the same.

We join our Climate Action SA partners in calling for the retirement of the Spruce coal plant by 2025 and a transition to 100% fossil fuel-free energy by 2030.

Renewable energy is increasingly favored by the public; wind and solar are now the cheapest energy sources in Texas; and renewable energy is unequivocally better for the wellbeing of people and the environment than coal and other fossil fuel sources.

It’s time we speak louder and we have a chance to do so this Wednesday, June 13th at the public hearing.

Come out. Speak up. Demand better. Our well-being, our communities, and our future depend on it.

As renewable energy is expanding throughout the world in response to declining, insecure and climate changing fuel sources, the issue of intermittency has prompted the development and deployment of energy storage.  Below are just a few examples:

Australia

Less than a month after Tesla Inc. unveiled a new backup power system in South Australia, the world’s largest lithium-ion battery has already been put to the test.

Reports today say that it appears to be far exceeding expectations. In the first three weeks alone, the Hornsdale Power Reserve smoothed out at least two major energy outages, responding even more quickly than the coal-fired backups that were in place to provide emergency power.

The area where the battery has been deployed in South Australia is in the grips of an energy crisis. In 2016, an outage left 1.7 million residents in the dark and storms and heat waves have caused additional outages.  With the price of electricity soaring in Australia, this test of an industrial battery backup is being closely watched.

In March, Elon Musk vowed on Twitter to deliver a battery system for South Australia’s struggling grid. By early July, the state had signed a deal with California-based Tesla and the French-based energy company Neoen to produce the battery, and by Dec. 1, South Australia announced it had switched on the Hornsdale battery.

Fed by wind turbines at the nearby Hornsdale wind farm, the battery stores excess energy that is produced when the demand for electricity isn’t peaking. It can power up to 30,000 homes, though only for short periods — meaning that the battery must still be supported by traditional power plants in the event of a long outage.

Nonetheless, the Hornsdale reserve has already shown that it can provide what’s known as a “contingency or ancillary” service — keeping the grid stable in a crisis and easing what otherwise would be a significant power failure.

And, more important, the project is the biggest proof of concept yet that batteries such as Tesla’s can help mitigate one of renewable energy’s most persistent problems: how to use it when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

 

United Kingdom/Europe

In the UK, Pivot Power is not far behind, as they’ve just unveiled plans for an ambitious network of grid-connected energy storage and electric vehicle charging which could simultaneously balance supply and demand on the grid, and also provide electric vehicle rapid charging to hundreds of vehicles at once—without causing the kinds of surges in demand that naysayers were once so worried about.

Specifically, once built, the proposed battery network would be the world’s largest of its kind—consisting of 45 sites (already identified) with 50MW of stationary battery storage at each location. Each spot would be co-located with electricity sub-stations in order to maximize grid-stabilization services, but also happen to be near major towns, cities or roads—potentially supporting up to 100 rapid 150KW chargers, and even 350KW chargers once cars are around that can charge that fast.

Pivot Power is pretty explicit about their intention—and that’s to “accelerate the decline of petrol and diesel”.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to hear clean technology advocates talking in such ambitious, absolute terms. Because there’s no doubt that this is what needs to happen in order to achieve a low carbon transition.

And for those folks who fear a shift from petrol/diesel car dependency to electric car dependency, it’s an encouraging sign that the Pivot Power network isn’t just focused on private car ownership. Alongside public charging, the network is also looking at providing services for “electric bus depots and bases for large transport fleets.”

 

The Middle East

There is increasing high-level interest in the potential for energy storage in the Middle East, with grid-connected systems forecast to reach 1.8GW in the region by 2025.

The region is at present a small market as far as energy storage and especially utility-scale advance battery energy storage is concerned. In fact, the majority of the Middle East’s installed base comes from just one project, a 108MW sodium-sulfur battery energy storage project for Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority supplied by Japanese company NGK. While energy storage is in its infancy in the region, it is unlikely to remain so long term.

The UAE, Saud Arabia and Qatar are among the region’s countries that have enjoyed progress in solar PV in very recent times, with all of them adding significant utility-scale projects. Meanwhile Jordan, another of those countries to see large-scale PV rollout underway, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a 20MW battery-based energy storage system with AES Corporation in 2015.

 

Latin America

According to the World Economic Forum, energy storage in the form of large arrays of batteries is still in the early stages of deployment in Latin America. However, the role of electricity storage promises to become much more significant as the region diversifies its sources of power generation, and looks to batteries to help smooth out intermittent energy generation and mitigate the costs of peak demand.

Some policymakers and private companies in the region are already preparing for the rise of battery storage with test projects and new policies. In Mexico, General Electric has announced plans to develop five energy storage projects that will help integrate solar and wind projects into the grid. And in the Dominican Republic, two 10MW arrays of batteries, installed by AES Dominicana in August 2017, were credited with helping that country’s grid remain operational when Hurricane Irma struck a few weeks later.

Energy storage will affect the entire electricity value chain across Latin America as it replaces peaking plans, alters future transmission and distribution (T&D) investments, reduces intermittency of renewables, restructures power markets and helps to digitize the electricity ecosystem.

 

Africa: A great opportunity for a continent of developing countries

Namibia, a nation that’s considerably bigger than Texas but with only around 2.5 million people, installed almost 55 megawatts of generation from renewables and has projects under construction for another 121 megawatts, according to NamPower, the state-owned utility.  However, the total installed capacity combined with committed renewable generation is reaching a threshold, at least until their grid can catch up.

This illustrates how intermittent power generation penetration hits limits in these nations before bigger investments are required in the power distribution network.

Technically, Nambia can handle about 275 megawatts of renewables, which is about half of the midday load according to a 2017 study. The country relies on imports for about 60 percent of its electricity, mainly from South Africa’s state-owned Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., and even the import of baseload power does not guarantee grid reliability as some areas have daily power outages as a norm.

Africa presents huge opportunities for developers of renewable-energy plants, since wind and solar are quicker and sometimes cheaper to build than coal and natural gas plants. While renewable sources such as wind and solar can leapfrog traditional generation, they do not provide consistent 24-hour baseload electricity.

Namibia’s biggest domestic source of power is the Ruacana hydropower plant near the border with Angola. However, it has its own intermittency limit as it depends on the seasonal run of the Kunene River.

Reaching a bottleneck hasn’t deterred Namibia from adopting more renewables in the future as it aims to reduce power imports. The National Integrated Resource Plan includes an allocation for biomass power plants with capacity of as much as 200 megawatts.

Concentrated solar power is also called for in the plan. That technology concentrates the sun’s energy on heating a liquid that drives power turbines. Because the liquid can retain heat for a time after the sun goes down, those systems also can be used to store energy and deliver power to the grid at predictable times.

If African nations begin to adopt storage into their power distribution network, it could go a long way to stabilizing their grids and potentially their countries.

 

The USA

Stories like these are happening all over the globe.  Right here at home, the Department of Energy recently awarded $20 million in funding for nine projects to advance early-stage solar power electronics technologies. The projects chosen were deemed critical to addressing solar photovoltaic reliability challenges, lowering the cost of installing and maintaining a photovoltaic solar energy system and achieving the DOE’s goal of cutting in half the cost of electricity for a solar system by 2030.

Three million was awarded to engineering researchers at The University of Texas at Austin to overcome the same dilemma of overcoming the issues of intermittency with renewables.

Experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a way to integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system, effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent. The UT project will develop the next generation of utility-scale photovoltaic inverters, also referred to as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters.

Big Batteries Raise Texas-Sized Policy Questions at PUC

Utility-scale energy storage holds great promise both for energy conservation and grid reliability. But the quickly advancing technology also raises tough regulatory challenges, especially for complex power markets like that existing in Texas.

Look for a future guest blog post from Public Citizen’s retired director, Tom “Smitty” Smith on the history of deregulation in Texas and what the impacts of that policy change are having on this new technology.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Yesterday, a few days after the one-year anniversary of President Trump announcing US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Climate Action SA coalition called on the City of San Antonio to establish significant goals to help San Antonio fight climate change.

Climate Action SA proposed the following goals for CPS Energy, our city-owned public utility: CPS Energy electric generation Coal-Free by 2025 and Carbon-Free (no fossil fuels) by 2030. Significant reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels can be achieved with aggressive investment in energy efficiency, demand response, renewable energy and energy storage.

These goals for CPS Energy put the city on a path to achieve of a goal proposed by Climate Action SA for city-wide greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to net-negative by 2050 or sooner, following a path that prioritizes near-term reductions. Net-negative means that community activities would pull more greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere than they emit into it. This is assumed by almost all of the climate models used in the development of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union - photo by Angel Amaya

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union – photo by Angel Amaya

“The climate community in San Antonio is taking the right step towards including the neighborhoods most affected and creating solutions that are just, resilient, and keep the ecosystem of neighborhoods strong,” says Diana Lopez of Southwest Workers Union. “We are taking this beyond the Paris Climate Agreement and localizing action in San Antonio.”

The public health benefits of phasing out fossil fuels are well known. In addition to releasing carbon pollution which leads to climate change, coal and fracked gas produce pollution that creates ozone (smog) and particulate matter (fine soot), impacting vulnerable populations here at home the hardest.

“San Antonio is now failing federal air quality standards for ozone,” points out Peter Bella of imagineSanAntonio. “We insist on reductions in both carbon- and ozone-causing pollution, and SA Climate Ready provides the path.”

San Antonio can be a leader, but we don’t have to do it alone. Cities around the world are taking action to address climate change. The goals supported by the Climate Action SA coalition are necessary to avoid the worst of climate change and reflect the commitments in the resolution passed last June by Mayor Nirenberg and the San Antonio City Council to support the Paris Climate Agreement.

Keeping global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius requires massive greenhouse gas reductions in the coming decade. The good news is that this transformation not only reduces local air pollution – it will also create new jobs and tax revenues.

Briauna Barrera, Public Citizen - photo by Angel Amaya

Briauna Barrera, Public Citizen – photo by Angel Amaya

“Climate change is an existential threat and what we do in the next couple of decades will determine the fate of billions of people and future generations,” says Briauna Barrera of Public Citizen. “We need to ground ourselves in urgency. We need to be compelled into rapid, collective action to preserve a livable planet.”

Although ending our reliance on fossil fuels for power generation is key to solving the climate crisis, we must also be moving aggressively in other areas like transportation and solid waste. The coalition also plans to make recommendations on these topics soon.

The Climate Action SA coalition consists of 35 nonprofit organizations working together to support the creation and implementation of a robust climate action and adaptation plan for San Antonio, developed and implemented with strong community engagement. The coalition has a strong focus on protecting San Antonio’s most vulnerable communities from extreme weather and pollution, and ensuring that all members of the community can benefit from climate solutions.

https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/

U.S. Chemical Safety Board: Arkema Inc. Chemical Plant Final Investigation Report

Arkema Inc. knew about the risk of flooding at its Crosby facility.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which comes nearly a year after a fire and explosion at the facility injured twelve first responders.

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding at Arkema Crosby, leading to the failure of backup generators and an explosion of organic peroxides on the premises.

The CSB report details the investigation and outlines best practices for future events. While the rainfall that occurred during Harvey was extraordinary, the report notes the rise in extreme weather events and Arkema’s location in the 100-year floodplain.

The report also finds that Arkema cannot claim ignorance of its precarious situation. A year before Harvey, Arkema’s insurer Factory Mutual Insurance Company (FM Global) notified the company of its flooding risk.

The CSB recommends more robust guidance to allow industry to better evaluate flood risks. The report also recommends that the EPA take more steps to limit risk from reactive hazards.

Chemical safety reform is needed to protect communities like Crosby. We shouldn’t be in harm’s way.

 

View the final investigation report at https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/. 

In the greater Houston area, ozone season lasts from March to November. In 2018, we’ve already had 12 ozone action days. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, ozone action days are designated on warm, sunny days that are favorable to the formation of ozone, a compound that forms at near the ground in the atmosphere through complex reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. While a lot of people think bad air quality occurs only in areas near the industry along the Houston Ship Channel, on some days readings at the ozone monitor near the Woodlands can be higher than at monitors along the Ship Channel. Public Citizen, along with Corey Williams from Air Alliance Houston, and a small group of Woodlands residents sat down with UH Professor Jimmy Flynn to learn more.

The Jones State Forest Air Monitor

University of Houston operates the Jones State Forest Air Monitor. The monitor is not part of TCEQ’s network of regulatory air monitors. It collects data on ozone, carbon monoxide, and meteorology. The monitor is attached to a tower and collects readings above the tree tops to help ensure that it is measuring ambient air quality.

Stagnant Air = Bad Ozone

Ozone is a harmful byproduct of a reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). NOx and VOCs are emitted from transportation, industrial processes, and some natural processes. Ozone can cause serious problems especially for people who are already vulnerable, like children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions.

One of the biggest risk factors for ozone formation, according to Dr. Flynn, is stagnant air. Stagnant air occurs when an air mass remains over a region for an extended period of time. There are no heavy breezes or precipitation to clear pollutants out of the atmosphere. Dr. Flynn also mentioned that for ozone in particular, rainfall events will not do much to clear ozone out of the air due to its lack of solubility. Ozone needs air movement to clear it out.

Do you know what to do on an ozone action day?

Learn how to protect yourself and your family when ozone action days occur. You can sign up for alerts through the TCEQ here. Dr. Flynn told us that staying inside on high ozone days is a great way to protect your health because ozone concentrations tend to be much lower inside. Stay safe!

 

If you live in certain cities in Texas, including Austin, Dallas, and Houston, you may see that Texas sometimes calls “Ozone Action Days.” Ozone Action Days are hot, dry, sunny days when ground-level ozone is forecast to reach levels of health concern. Ground-level ozone (as distinct from the “ozone layer” of our atmosphere that protects us from the harmful rays of the sun) is one of six pollutants that are regulated by the Clean Air Act. These six common air pollutants are: 

  1. Particle Pollution (particulate matter or PM)
  2. Ground-level ozone.
  3. Carbon monoxide.
  4. Sulfur oxides.
  5. Nitrogen oxides.
  6. Lead

The EPA uses the Air Quality Index (AQI) to notify the public about local air quality. Certain groups of people are especially vulnerable to air pollution including children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. When the AQI reaches levels of ozone pollution that are unhealthy for these sensitive groups, an “Ozone Action Day” is designated. This means that you should take steps to limit your exposure to air pollution and your contribution of pollutants.

The ozone forecast seasons are based on when each region is likely to experience elevated ozone concentrations. Some areas, like Austin, have an ozone season between March 1 to November 30th of each year. Other areas, like Houston, can have ozone days at any time throughout the year. Each forecast predicts whether ozone levels in the area are expected to reach or exceed the EPA’s AQI Level Orange (or a level that is “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”).

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) forecasts ozone pollution each day during ozone season. TCEQ sends its forecasts to the National Weather Service, which broadcasts them across its “weather wire.” You can get email or text notifications of these forecasts from TCEQ or EPA. You may hear local news station announce that today or tomorrow will be an Ozone Action Day.

Above are nonattainment and near nonattainment areas (counties) in Texas. It was derived from TIGER data, and it precisely matches the Texas Outline, Texas Counties and the TCEQ Service Regions layers. Nonattainment is an area that has not achieved compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The ozone standard is currently set at 75 parts per billion (ppb). These nonattainment counties were designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are designated based on their air quality monitoring data. Near nonattainment means an area is very close to falling into non compliance with the NAAQS. These counties have been designated by the TCEQ Office of Policy and Regulatory Development for planning reasons. These counties either have an ozone monitor or are part of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) that has an ozone monitor. It is very uncertain at this point which near nonattainment counties, if any, will ultimately be designated by the EPA as nonattainment. There are 16 ozone nonattainment areas in Texas: 8 counties in the Houston/ Galveston area (Montgomery, Liberty, Waller, Harris, Chambers, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston); 3 in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area(Hardin, Orange, Jefferson); 4 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Denton, Tarrant, Dallas, Collin); and 1 in El Paso (El Paso). There are 25 ozone near nonattainment counties: 1 in the Victoria area (Victoria); 2 in the Corpus Christi area (San Patricio, Nueces); 9 in the San Antonio/Austin area (Williamson, Travis, Bastrop, Hays, Caldwell, Comal, Bexar, Guadalupe, Wilson); and 5 in the Tyler/Longview area (Upshur, Harrison, Smith, Gregg, Rusk), and 8 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Johnson, Ellis, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, Hunt, Hood, Henderson).

Continue Reading »

Six years ago, Public Citizen and our partners founded the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), which advocates for the health and well-being of residents of communities on the Houston Ship Channel. The coalition also includes Air Alliance Houston, the Coalition of Community Organizations, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

Recently, we had an opportunity to convene the HPCC in Houston to discuss our work. One purpose for the trip was to introduce our new Press Office, Angel Amaya, to Port Houston. Port Houston is the largest exporting port in the nation and the center of Houston’s petrochemical industry.

We started at Morgan’s Point Cemetery, the oldest continually operated cemetery in Harris County. It is the small green square in the middle of the photo above. Surrounding the cemetery is the Barbours Cut terminal and turning basin. This is one of two container terminals at Port Houston. Goods from all over the world come into Barbours Cut on very large vessels packed with shipping containers. One ship can carry as many as 4,500 containers. (There are even larger ships, the so-called “Post-Panamax” ships, that can carry as many as 9,000 containers, but they are too large to enter Barbours Cut.) The containers are offloaded by cranes (top of photo) and moved on to trucks and trains to be shipped around the country. Many of the engines that operate at a terminal like Barbours Cut–including marine vessels, cranes, short-haul equipment, drayage trucks, and locomotives–use polluting fossil fuels such as diesel. The Healthy Port Communities coalition advocates for replacement of these polluting vehicles with newer, clean technologies. Many funding opportunities are available for these replacements, including the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.

A container terminal like Barbours Cut is probably what most people think of when they think of what goes on at a port. There is plenty of container traffic at Port Houston, but in fact this represents only about 15% of the total traffic.

The rest of the traffic consists of bulk products, most of them petrochemical. We visited many of the industrial facilities that produce these petrochemical products. One of the most infamous petrochemical facilities on the Houston Ship Channel is the Pasadena Refinery, owned by the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras.

Pasadena Refinery is notoriously troubled. In recent years, its woes have included explosions with injury, protests by environmental groups and concerned neighbors, lawsuits by environmental groups, and international bribery scandals. It was recently announced that Petrobras is trying to sell the refinery, although it is unclear who would want to buy such a dangerous liability.

We also visited Hartman Park in the community of Manchester, sometimes referred to as “Houston’s most polluted neighborhood.” Our friends at t.e.j.a.s. have advocated for years for the people of Manchester. When our new Press Officer Angel visited Hartman Park, she was struck by this mural:

Created by children living in Manchester, the mural perhaps unintentionally shows how intrusive polluting facilities are in the lives of people living on the Houston Ship Channel. An idyllic scene of children playing in a park is flanked by industrial stacks spewing pollution into the air. The mural is a stark reminder of what life is like for some of our most vulnerable neighbors in certain parts of Texas.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is advocating on the behalf of those neighbors who live in Houston. We finished our trip to Houston with a meeting of HPCC member groups. One topic of discussion was the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC). The CCAC was created after the Port of Houston Authority Sunset Review in 2013. Public health advocates had asked for representation on the Port Commission itself, with the addition of a new seat representing community interests. That recommendation was rejected by the state legislature, although certain other reforms were implemented. After the sunset review was complete, some advocates continued to call for more representation of community interests at the port. Longtime port community advocate Sen. John Whitmire joined this call, asking the new Port of Houston Authority Chairman Janice Longoria to act. Chairman Longoria responded by creating the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition has had members and allies on the CCAC since it was created. Although we appreciated the move, in the years following we have not seen the CCAC be an effective body advocating for public health protections. This is in part due to the manner in which it was created and operates. In order to improve the CCAC, we have compiled a list of recommendations:

 

  1. The existence of the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC) should be codified in statute, regulation, or by memorandum.
  2. The chairs on the CCAC should be designated for particular constituencies or neighborhoods, including the chair already designated for the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.
  3. The representative for each chair should be selected by each corresponding constituency, via a process of their choosing.
  4. The CCAC should have the authority to set agenda items for CCAC meetings.
  5. CCAC members should be given time to make presentations at CCAC meetings. Port Houston should be required to formally respond to any presentations and answer any questions posed.
  6. The CCAC should have the authority to make information requests and pose questions to Port Houston. The Port Commission should be required to respond.
  7. The CCAC should be given monthly opportunities to report on its work to the Port Commission.
  8. The CCAC should be able to recommend studies to be conducted by Port Houston. If Port Houston declines to undertake a recommended study, it should clearly state its rationale for doing so.

To her credit, Chairman Longoria did implement #7 above at the request of one of the CCAC members (a t.e.j.a.s. employee). But for the most part, the CCAC still functions as an isolated body whose members serve at the pleasure of the chairman. We believe that the above reforms would make the body a more effective advocate for portside community residents. This would lead to a port that took better care of its neighbors and served as a better steward of public health and the environment.

Texas cities are stepping up to take on the climate change crisis.  Austin was an early leader, but now San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are in the game too.  Instead of waiting for leadership at the federal or state level, these cities are taking action.

Taking action at the city level makes a lot of sense.  Cities are responsible for over 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions.  When cities choose to act, they are often able to reduce emissions quicker than federal or state governments.  Cities can tailor solutions to address specific local challenges, while also stepping up to support broader changes that are needed.

So how do cities take action?  Any policy or program that reduces emissions is helpful, but the most effective way for cities to reduce emissions as much as possible is to develop a community-wide climate action plan.

There are several steps to this process:

  • GHG Inventory: Conduct a greenhouse gas inventory, following the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This is an accounting of all emissions that the community is responsible for.  At least scope 1 and 2 emissions should be included, and ideally scope 3 emissions as well.
  • GHG Reduction Goal: Establish a goal for reducing greenhouse gases. Establishing interim goals is helpful.
  • Stakeholder Process: Establish a community stakeholder process to develop recommendations. This should include outreach to the community at large.
  • Identify Actions: Identify actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the community to meet the goal. Estimate expected emissions reductions, cost and time needed to implement for each action item.  Identify co-benefits.  Prioritize the list based on these factors.
  • Schedule Reports & Updates: Establish a schedule for progress reports and updating the climate action plan.
  • Release Draft Plan: Release the draft climate action plan for public comment.
  • Adopt Plan: Adopt the climate action plan.
  • Implement: Begin implementation of the plan, starting with priority items.
  • Report & Update: Report on progress made, as well as challenges at least as frequently as scheduled. Update the plan as scheduled, or more frequently, if needed.

 

Let’s take a look at where each of these Texas cities are in this process: Continue Reading »

A packed room at the Roswell Public Meeting on the Holtec proposal. (Photo by Karen Hadden)

UPDATE 5/11/2018

Since the meeting in Carlsbad, NM, because of  public pressure, the NRC has both scheduled two additional public meetings and extended the public comment period from May 29th to July 30th.

  1. The May 21 meeting will be held at the Gallup Downtown Conference Center, 204 W. Coal Ave., in Gallup.

(UPDATE:  30 people spoke in at the Gallup public meeting all but one (a HOLEC employee) spoke in opposition to the proposed site)

  1. The May 22 meeting will be held at the Crown Plaza Hotel, 1901 University Blvd., in Albuquerque.

(UPDATE: Over 200 people show up to the Albuquerque NRC meeting. 69 people spoke in total— 63 shared their opposition. Only 6 people spoke in favor of it.)

Both meetings are scheduled to run from 6-9 p.m., with an open house beginning at 5 p.m., for members of the public to meet informally with NRC staff.

You can still submit a comment letter until July 30th to the NRC from our action page.  This letter is editable by you.  We are still hearing that the NRC site is working intermittently so this is an alternative way for you to comment on this proposed site.  Even if you live outside New Mexico but may be concerned that high-level radioactive waste might be transported though your community from the 104 nuclear power plants around the country to the proposed site, you should voice your concerns.

 

UPDATE:

  • A second public meeting was held Wednesday night in Hobbs, NM.
  • The third public meeting was held Thusday night in Carlsbad, NM
  • Due to conversations between citizens and the NRC after the Roswell meeting about the issues  submitting comments via the NRC website, the NRC provided this email address as an alternative way for comment submission – [email protected]

At the May 1 meeting in Hobbs, NM, 33 signed up and spoke in opposition to the Holtec proposed site.  Only 13 spoke in favor of which there was a spokesperson from Holtec and one from ELEA.  Others included the usual suspects (a few local state legislators and someone from the Chamber of Commerce as well as Xcel Energy, which owns two nuclear plants – Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant near Monticello, Minnesota, and Prairie Island Nuclear Generating Plant near Red Wing, Minnesota and currently stores the spent fuel from these nuclear plants on site in independent spent fuel storage installations. (ISFSIs).  Both plants have licenses that run through 2033/34 and 2030, respectively and are probably hoping  to have off site storage available when the plants are decommissioned).  There is one final public meeting in Carlsbad this evening.

At the final May 3rd meeting in Carlsbad, NM, 34 citizens spoke in opposition and turned in 1300 comment letters opposing the siting of the Holtec proposed interim high level radioactive waste dump in New Mexico.  Twenty seven spoke in favor of the proposal.  One of these was pro-Yucca dump, pro-WIPP, and pro-nuke, but skeptical of Holtec.

In addition to the public comments on the proposal itself, at least one individual has pointed out issues with the process.

Specifically, the NRC has not had information in Spanish available before the hearings in this highly Hispanic, Low English Proficiency (LEP) area. This has been the subject of not only a Title VI complaint to EPA, a recent complaint to NMED, numerous comments on various facilities to NMED and to NRC as well as litigation. There is at least a 15 year history outlining the need for information in Spanish in this area. NRC should have been aware of this before even considering licensing a facility in Southeastern New Mexico and certainly before starting the public process for the Holtec application.
Questions were asked about Spanish outreach and public notice done by NRC in the state about these hearings and the licensing process for this facility? Was there any public notice in a language other than English? Without enhanced public notice in Spanish (and possibly in various Native languages as well as oral notice in communities where this is the primary way of communicating), a significant portion of the people of New Mexico have been left out of the public process for this facility.  At this time there has been no detailed response from NRC to these questions.
A large portion of the people of the state will be impacted by the transportation phase of this project.  More than 60% of the people of the state are Hispanic, Native American or African American and 35.7% of the population speaks a language other than English in the home. These New Mexicans should not have been eliminated from the public process for this facility.

Yesterday, April 30th, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hosted an open house in Roswell, New Mexico on a controversial high-level radioactive waste storage project, proposed for a site between Hobbs and Carlsbad.  The open house was followed by a public meeting which included an opportunity for public comment.  There were over 95 in attendance, filling the room to capacity, causing the local fire marshall to close the doors to additional attendance.  Community members from around the state showed up to oppose the storing of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste in southeast New Mexico.

There are many reasons for opposing this dangerous plan and 36 spoke in opposition citing various reasons for their objections that included:

  • Concerns about the health, safety and financial impacts of this controversial high-level radioactive waste storage project on surrounding communities and communities along the transportation routes.
  • Impact of potential contamination on local dairy and pecan farms, tourism and oil and gas industries that employ more than 15,000 people for a project promising just 55 local jobs
  • It’s a train wreck waiting to happen. Over 10,000 overweight rail cars would carry this waste to the site, and the waste would likely go very near the Carlsbad sinkhole
  • The federal government may never find a permanent place for this waste, potentially leaving it here forever in a site designed for temporary storage.
  • This isn’t our waste, and we didn’t get the power from the nuclear reactors that produced it. Those near existing reactors know the risks and don’t want the waste. Why should we take it?

There were only 6 who spoke up in support of the proposal, one was a Holtec spokesperson and the other five were University of New Mexico nuclear engineering students.

Holtec seeks “interim” storage of the nation’s deadly high-level radioactive waste, which they anticipate will be for 120 years.  An unsafe de facto permanent dump site could be created and the waste might never move again if there is no political will or inadequate funding in the future for a permanent waste site. The company plans to transport 10,000 canisters of irradiated reactor fuel rods from around the county and store them near the surface in New Mexico, inviting disaster and creating massive risks. This is more waste than has been created by all U.S. nuclear reactors to date.

“There is everything to lose with this plan to bring the nation’s high-level radioactive waste to New Mexico. The risks to health, safety, security and financial well-being are immense and people need to act now to stop this massive mistake that imperils people in New Mexico as well as along transport routes throughout the country,” said Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, who has been working with local opposition groups for months opposing this application and a similar one just across the border in Andrews County, Texas.

There are two other opportunities for New Mexican citizens to comment in a public forum

  • Tuesday, May 1st Hobbs 7-10 pm
    Lea County Event Center, 5101 N. Lovington Highway
  • Thursday, May 3rd Carlsbad 7-10 pm
    Eddy County Fire Service, 1400 Commerce Street

In addition, comments can also be submitted at www.regulations.gov, Docket ID NRC-2018-0052; or by mail, to May Ma, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: TWFN–7– A60M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555– 0001.

Some folks have been having problems submitting their comments through the NRC website, but we have a request in to NRC to get an email address where folks can submit their comments directly.  That update is at the top of this post.

You can visit these websites for more information on High-level radioactive waste:

  1. www.NoNuclearWaste.org
  2. www.nuclearNewMexico.com/nuclearwaste,
  3. www.nirs.org, www.beyondnuclear.org

Look for this tear pad display at the register when you check out at any Texas HEB store.  Take this opportunity to make donations when you check out with your groceries.  Donations go to Earthshare, which supports Public Citizen.

Making a donation at the register when you check out with your groceries at any HEB store in Texas funds environmental organizations in the state.  This funds Public Citizen’s Texas office as well as several of our partner organizations, such as EDF, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club (among many).  If you want to help us and the many other organizations that are working to keep the Texas environment clean and healthy for all Texans, make a donation before Tuesday, May 1st.

Live from EarthX in Dallas! Our very own David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s climate program discussing the role of the mainstream media in covering the climate crisis. 12 PM CT

The live feed is completed for the day.  Check back in a couple of days if you missed it to watch the whole panel session.

We will be at EarthX in Dallas this weekend giving a talk on the role of the mainstream media in covering the climate crisis.

Not going to EarthX? No worries – we are live streaming the presentation on our facebook page here on Saturday at 12 pm CT.

@publiccitizentx

 

April 20-22, 2018 – Fair Park in Dallas, Texas!

 

Join a panel of local DFW citizens as they talk about their experience in getting letters to the editor of the Dallas Morning News printed and DMN’s response to Climate Change on Sunday, April 22nd from 2 to 3 pm on the Discovery Stage in the Automobile Building in Fair Park.  Public Citizen’s Rita Beving will be moderating this discussion.

And stop by and visit our booth.  We will be in the Centennial building in spaces 5317-5319.
If you are planning to attend, you can make navigating the multiple events and exhibits easier with the EarthX 2018 official mobile application which you can get on google play or apple itunes.  We look forward to seeing you at Fair Park for Earthday!

If you are at the Expo on Saturday, be sure to include on your event list one of the speaker series on Saturday, April 21st from 12 noon to 1:00 pm on the Centennial Discovery Stage.  This will feature David Arkush – Managing Director, Public Citizen’s Climate Program – as he participates on a panel moderated by Betsy Rosenberg, an environmental talk show host and producer of The Green Front on Progressive Radio Network.

Wake Up and Smell the Carbon!
The Role of Mainstream News Media in Covering Climate and Environmental News.
Saturday, April 21st from 12 noon to 1:00 pm on the Centennial Discovery Stage

This and much, much more is happening at EarthX.  Check out the Expo Guide here to make the most of your visit to this year’s EarthX event.

 

This year, you can still get into the EarthX Expo free by registering.  You can do this at the gate or by filling out the registration online, printing it out and bringing it along with you.  Advance registration will get you into the exhibits and other Earthday activities faster.  Stop by and see us in the Centennial Building, Booths 5317-5319.

Once there, you can make navigating the multiple events and exhibits easier with the EarthX 2018 official mobile application which you can get on google play or apple itunes.  We look forward to seeing you at Fair Park for Earthday!

Attend Mobile

This story was reprinted from the Texas Energy Report, a subscriber-only news service going into their 10th year of service to Texas energy industries, consultants, legislators, lobbyists and law firms.

The New 500 Feet Rule? New Colorado Study Indicates Living Close To Oil and Gas Sites Can Be Dangerous

Fracking site near homes.

Risks of respiratory, hematological, neurological and developmental health problems increase considerably among those living within 500 feet or less of oil and gas sites.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus at Aurora, CO.

Researchers found that, over a lifetime, people who live 500 feet from an oil and gas site have a cancer risk eight times higher than the limit called “acceptable” by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The problems, those researchers said, are non-methane hydrocarbons such as benzene, which were found at concentrations much, much higher within 500 feet of wells than were found a mile from such sites.

Executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and EnvironmentDr. Larry Wolk said in a statement on Monday that the new study showed increase risk only at distances within 500 feet.

That conclusion confirms current Colorado regulations requiring homes and businesses to be more than 500 feet from petroleum-related sites; 1,000 feet from buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Another problem is the finding that benzene concentrations within 500 feet were higher at night than in the daytime, because benzene and other chemicals disperse at a much slower rate without sunshine.

The study primarily used air emissions found along Colorado’s Front Range.

Wolk said the study emphasizes the need for more comprehensive air quality studies and increased collection of data among those living close to petroleum-related sites so that firmer conclusions can be reached in the future about possible dangers of oil and gas production.

Also see the Austin American Statesman story that says in 116 Texas counties (or 45% of Texas counties), oil- and gas-related air pollutants surpass the EPA’s threshold for increased cancer risk. Those counties are home to 3 million people and make up half of the counties nationally identified as having an elevated cancer risk. Caldwell County is among the high-risk Texas counties.

In Texas, state law grandfathered old well sites, and primitive early permits allowed perpetual new drilling on existing sites as close as 200 feet from residences. 

In November 2014, after an expensive campaign, Denton became the first Texas city to explicitly ban fracking within the city limits, however the Denton victory was short-lived. The next day, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and Texas General Land Office separately sued the city.  But before these issues could be litigated, Texas legislators introduced bills to overturn the Denton fracking ban and prevent similar bans elsewhere. In March 2015, Rep. Drew Darby introduced House Bill 40, which easily passed both houses. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on May 18.2015

  • HB 40 provides that oil and gas “operations” (which expressly include fracking) are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state;  municipalities may not enact ordinances that ban, limit, or otherwise regulate them. Local regulation is expressly preempted except for measures satisfying a four-part test, which allows a regulation if it: (1) is “limited to above ground activity”; (2) is “commercially reasonable”; (3) does not “effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation conducted by a reasonably prudent operator”; and (4) is not other-wise preempted. The law’s safe harbor provision considers ordinances that have been in effect for at least five years and that have allowed operations to take place during that time to be prima facie commercially reasonable.
In 2016, a 47-page report, titled “Dangerous and Close,” was compiled by Environment Texas, the Frontier Group and the FracTracker Alliance. It examined the locations of 160,000 fracking wells drilled since 2005 in nine states, based on data provided by regulatory agencies and the oil and gas industry.  In Texas, the report found that nearly 437,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend one of 850 Texas schools that are within one mile of a fracking site. In addition, 1,240 daycare centers — or 9 percent of the total number — are within one mile of a fracking well.

There is no state-wide setback rule for oil and gas wells or pipelines in Texas.  The state agency charged with governing oil and gas production, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), has passed no such state-wide regulation.  According to the Texas Railroad Commission website, “The Railroad Commission does not regulate how close a gas or oil well can be drilled to a residential property.”

Instead, the RRC has generally left this authority up to ordinances or zoning laws passed by individual municipalities (which was certainly curtailed by HB40 in 2016).  For example, the City of Ft. Worth passed an ordinance requiring 600 feet between an oil and gas well and a structure.  The City of Denton passed an ordinance requiring a 1,200 foot setback.

Additionally, there is a provision in the Texas Local Government Code Section 253.005 that provides “a well may not be drilled in the thickly settled part of the municipality or within 200 feet of a private residence.”  While the Railroad Commission seems to read this as applicable to any land leased within a municipality, the statutory provision specifically addresses leasing of minerals by a municipality and it could at least be argued this 200 foot requirement applies only to land leased by a municipality and not private landowners.

Also relevant, the International Fire Code requires that wells not be drilled within 100 foot of a structure or 75 feet of a roadway, providing very little protection for landowners and clearly intended to address the issue of flammability near a structure rather than long term exposure to toxic emissions by residents, workers in an office or children in a school.