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Public Citizen’s Rita Beving has worked with ranchers and farmers against unjust eminent domain practices in regards to pipelines such as Keystone XL, the Seaway pipeline, and others.  Many of us also know about the injustice of the TransPecos pipeline of West Texas.

There is a film producer who has now worked for two years down in the Big Bend area shooting footage of the plight of ranchers and landowners in that area and is working on a feature film on this pipeline – but she needs our help as she has funded her work on her own dime  and needs to get this film into post production.

Please support this Austin fundraiser below this weekend for the Sandlot World Series and final Sandlot Service of 2017 at The Long Time!  The Long Time is located at 5707 N. Dunlap Rd. in Austin, TX  78725.  The website is www.thelongtime.com

Saturday, October 14, 3:00PM
Tulsa City Saturns vs. Your Texas Playboys
Music by The Tender Things
w/ Lone Star Beer, Tito’s, 512 Tequila, 9 Banded Whiskey, and Charles and Charles Rosé / Food Truck / After Party
Benefitting the TRANS PECOS PIPELINE DOCUMENTARY – more info at Trans Pecos Documentary / @transpecosdoc

Here is the Facebook Event Page

$5 entry for all humans

AND…
Sunday, October 15, 11:00AM
Cap City Cobras vs. Senators

Austin City Council adopted a resolution yesterday to direct $500,000 of Austin Energy’s fiscal year 2018 budget to prove solar to “multi-family affordable housing, low-income residents, renters, and non-profits.”  Austin Energy staff agree that this goal is achievable and have committed to develop programs to serve these customers.  Per the resolution, staff will report back to Council in February on progress made toward achieving this goal.

Expanding access to solar for low-income residents is the next generation of distributed solar policy.   As solar prices have dropped significantly and solar financing has become widely available, solar adoption among middle-income residents has increased.  But it is still difficult for low-income residents and renters to take advantage of these opportunities in Austin.

There are several barriers to adopting solar with these groups of customers.  Renters lack control over the decision and landlords often see no reason to invest in solar to reduce bills for tenants.  Low-income residents are more likely to lack access to credit, or sufficient savings to buy solar.  And multi-family properties require different billing arrangements than single family homes.

Affordable housing developed by Foundation Communities has been the one big exception to this deficit of solar for low-income residents in Austin.  The non-profit boasts 720 kilowatts of solar across many of its Austin properties.  Most of these installations are used to supply energy for common areas, or are at properties where Foundation Communities pays all bills for its tenants.

Foundation Communities Homestead Oaks Apartments in south Austin is the one example where the organization uses solar to reduce the bills of each of its 140 tenants.  Unfortunately, Austin Energy’s billing policy required that each unit have its own, independent solar array.  Instead of one big solar installation on the roof, there are 140 installations, each with its own production meter.  This drove up the cost by 15-20%, resulting in a large area of wall being filled with meters, and made the job more complicated.  It’s not an attractive model.

What is the solution?  Shared solar – similar to virtual net metering that exists in many other states.  Austin Energy needs to update its billing system to allow Value of Solar production credits (Austin Energy’s alternative to net metering) from a single solar array to be divided among multiple customer accounts.  Austin Energy has committed to making this change by September 2018.

The Shared Solar billing solution is just the start.  Much more will be needed to make solar accessible to low-income residents and renters.  Austin Energy could offer a higher residential solar rebate for installations on affordable housing properties where solar is used to benefit the individual residences (such as at the Homestead property).  The utility already offers a somewhat higher solar incentive for nonprofits with commercial customer accounts, but these is currently no such offer for residential accounts for multifamily housing.

Another option would be to implement a program similar to CPS Energy’s Solar Host program.  This program allows residents to benefit from rooftop solar without making any investment.  The utility contracts with a solar developer who installs solar on customer rooftops.  The utility pays the solar developer a set rate per kilowatt-hour of energy produced, and each participating customer receives a bill credit for each kilowatt-hour produced on their roof.  Essentially, the customer is renting their roof space.  The bill credits aren’t as high as if the customer owned the solar installation, but it requires no investment on their part, making solar accessible to low-income customers.

Implementing an on-bill repayment program could expand access to solar for renters.  This would tie a solar loan to a particular customer meter, as opposed to the customer themselves.   When one tenant moves out and another moves in, both the repayment of the loan and the bill credits from solar production transfer to the new tenant.  Ideally, such a program would ensure that average annual bill credits exceed annual loan repayment, meaning that a customer’s energy bill would not increase.

Buying down the community solar rate for low-income customers would also help renters.  Austin Energy is considering donating solar installations to affordable housing properties.  That’s how the Guadalupe-Saldana Net Zero Subdivision was able to incorporate solar.  Public Citizen fully supports this, but recognizes that this solution will always be limited by available funding.

The Austin City Council resolution was sponsored by Council Member Greg Casar and co-sponsored by Council Members Leslie Pool, Delia Garza, and Pio Renteria.  They were joined in support by Council Members Ann Kitchen, Alison Alter and Ora Houston, Mayor Pro Tem Tovo, and Mayor Steve Adler.  Public Citizen applauds City Council and Austin Energy for embracing this next step in local solar development in Austin and looks forward to engaging with staff and other stakeholders to make this effort a success.

Sept. 4, 2017 – floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey near the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Texas should require climate polluters to pay their fair share of the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort, and Public Citizen will tell Texas lawmakers this on Wednesday.

Adrian Shelley testifying in front of House Natural Resources Committee in Houston on paying for infrastructure post Harvey flooding. Click here to watch, see written transcript of his remarks below.

Responding to an interim charge from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, the House Natural Resources Committee is hold a hearing at 10 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. The hearing will take public testimony on issues related to Hurricane Harvey and flooding in general.

The hearing comes amid a disagreement between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner about how to fund the Harvey recovery effort. After Turner proposed an unpopular temporary increase in property taxes, the governor allocated $50 million from the state’s disaster relief fund – representing half of the total for the biennium – for Harvey recovery. The governor has not foreclosed the possibility of allocating Rainy Day funds as well, though he has stated that would not happen before the 2019 legislative session.

For Wednesday’s hearing, the committee has asked for strategies to fund efforts to mitigate future flood events.

“Fossil fuel companies have shirked their responsibility for climate change for too long, with some aware for at least 40 years of the role their industry has played,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, who is testifying on Wednesday. “Houstonians have paid the cost of the carbon pollution industry’s neglect. It’s time climate polluters pay their fair share.”

The contribution to climate change by carbon polluters, including the fossil fuel industry, worsened Harvey’s impact on Texas. Ninety companies from around the world, mostly from the fossil fuel industry, contributed 57 percent of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and approximately 42 to 50 percent of the rise in global mean surface temperature between 1880 and 2010 globally, according to a recent report in the journal Climate Change. Many of those companies have offices in Houston.

According to Dr. Kevin Trenberth with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm. It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway – but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”

If you are in the Houston area, and wish to testify in front of this committee come to the George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida De Las Americas, Houston, TX 77010 (Room 371) by 10 am.  Witnesses can sign up to testify at that time.  If you do not have time to wait to testify, you can provide 16 copies of written testimony to the clerk when you sign up.

Below is testimony presented to the House Natural Resource Committee by Adrian Shelley, Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen on Wednesday,  October 4, 2017

It’s been more than a month since Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Coast, and we are still tallying the damage. We don’t know how many homes were flooded, how many cars were destroyed, or how many billions the recovery will cost. We do know that the recovery needs will exceed our government resources. Even with contributions at every level of government, we will not have enough to fund the recovery effort. Many—perhaps most—Houstonians have already borne some of the costs of Harvey in lost property and lost wages. Many more will find that insurance and government relief will not be enough to cover their losses.

There is another source of funding for Harvey recovery: the carbon pollution industry. If you don’t like hearing the words “climate change,” then substitute the words “extreme weather” in the rest of my remarks. We know that extreme weather made Harvey worse. Dr. Kevin Trenberth with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that 30% of the impact of Harvey was attributable to climate change—sorry, extreme weather. We know that some of the biggest climate polluters in the fossil fuel industry have known about extreme weather for at least 40 years. And we know that they have failed to act, going so far as to obscure evidence of their role in extreme weather.

Ninety companies from around the world, mostly from the fossil fuel industry, contributed 57 percent of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and approximately 42 to 50 percent of the rise in global mean surface temperature between 1880 and 2010 globally, according to a recent report in the journal Climate Change. Many of those companies have offices in Houston.

I know that these companies have paid their fair share of campaign contributions, so what I am about to say might not be popular with you. But make no mistake: carbon polluters bear responsibility for Hurricane Harvey. They are culpable, and their role can be quantified. It is time for members of those industries to act like the leaders they pretend to be. They should pay their fair share of the recovery effort, and they should fund what must happen next: the effort to prepare Houston for the next big storm.

Because whether we believe in it or not, extreme weather is here to stay.

The Energy and Policy Institute just released a new report that traces the electric utility industry’s early knowledge of the climate change risks of burning fossil fuels as far back as the 1960s:

http://www.energyandpolicy.org/utilities-knew-about-climate-change/

The report also shows how despite this early knowledge, some electric utility interests chose to engage in ongoing efforts to sow doubt about climate science and block legal limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

This trend is especially disturbing in light of the fact that the recently published list of potential names for the Science Advisory Board and the EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee includes many industry representatives and consultants. The panels are typically composed primarily of independent academics and researchers charged with reviewing agency science and advising the Environmental Protection Agency on major policy decisions.

While industry has always had a voice on those panels, comments from the Trump administration and the potential new appointees suggest the balance may soon change in favor of greater power for regulated companies, particularly the oil and gas industries.

The list of potential new advisory board members includes officials from Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66, Alcoa, Noble Energy, Total, and the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the chemical industry.

Here are a few of the key findings from the Energy and Policy Institute’s report:

  • Scientists had begun to warn the electric utility industry about climate change as early as 1968
  • Electric utilities knew enough about climate change by 1971 to include research into the “effects of CO2” in the industry’s long-term research and development goals for through the year 2000
  • Utilities, through the largely customer funded Edison Electric Institute and Electric Power Research Institute, sponsored some cutting edge climate research during the 1970s and 1980s
  • EPRI – the electric utility industry’s official R&D organization – acknowledged a “growing consensus” on climate change among scientists in 1988
  • Just one year later, in 1989, efforts by some electric utility interests to sow doubt about climate science began with the formation of the Global Climate Coalition
  • In 2017, some electric utilities continue to back special interest groups – including the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Legislative Exchange Council, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Utility Air Regulatory Group – that attack climate science and/or oppose legal limits on CO2 emissions from power plants
  • Thomas Fanning, the CEO of Southern Company, still denied that CO2 emissions are a primary contributor to climate change during a 2017 interview with CNBC. At the time, Fanning was also the chairman of the Edison Electric Institute

Read this report and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag: #UtilitiesKnew

Texas State employees have the option to give to charities of their choice through a workplace giving campaign and September is the start of their campaign season.  We want to remind you that throughout the coming year, many communities will be recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Harvey and if you have a workplace giving campaign, you can help charitable organizations throughout the year by having your contributions withheld each pay period.

EarthShare of Texas vets conservation and environmental organizations for hundreds of workplace giving campaigns throughout Texas, of which Public Citizen is one.

Flooding in Bay City, TX post Hurricane Harvey landfall.

UT Professor Kerry Cook, Jim Marston (EDF), Reggie James (Sierra Club), Luis Castilla (Public Citizen) and Adrian Shelley (Public Citizen)

This speech was delivered by our Texas Office director Adrian Shelley at the kickoff event for our Texas Climate Tour.

Dear Friends and Allies,

Thank you for coming today. I would especially like to thank Mayor Steve Adler and the City of Austin for hosting us this morning. I would also like to thank our speakers, including Mayor Adler, Jim Marston with the Environmental Defense Fund, Reggie James with the Sierra Club, Professor Kerry Cook with the University of Texas, and of course, our press officer Luis Castilla.

Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time. How we act now to prevent the worst impacts of climate change will define us for generations to come. Our leaders in Washington D.C., and even here in Austin, are not willing to face the threat of climate change. This means that we must act now to do everything that we can.

Luis began planning this trip well before any of us knew what was in store for Texas. Now Hurricane Harvey has ravaged our coast, claimed dozens of lives, and displaced tens of thousands of people. My hometown of Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey, and though the recovery effort will last many years and cost many hundreds of billions of dollars, the city will never fully recover. Harvey has left a deep scar on the Gulf Coast that will not soon heal. Our leaders in Texas have said the cost of reducing CO2 is too great, but now we see that the cost of inaction is far greater.

The tragedy of Hurricane Harvey unfolded over several days in full view of the entire nation. But there is another tragedy occurring on the Texas Gulf Coast. Every day lives are shortened by the impact of the fossil fuel industry. Each day in Houston, in Corpus Christi, in Port Arthur, and in other towns along the coast we see the impacts of this tragedy. Asthma attacks, cancer, and shortened lives are the daily result of a nationwide disaster caused by our reliance on fossil fuels. Climate change is only the biggest of these impacts, but we must be mindful of their daily cost on our most vulnerable brothers and sisters across the state.

Houstonians will recover from the unprecedented disaster that was Hurricane Harvey. They have done so before. But what will happen after the memory of this storm fades? Will we prepare for the next one?

As a nation, we need to rise to this challenge. If our lawmakers in Washington D.C. won’t act, then we need to act for them. As Luis travels across Texas, he will spread the message about what is possible today. Cities occupy only two percent of the world’s landmass, but they consume 2/3 of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global carbon emissions. And with 90 percent of the world’s urban areas situated on coastlines, cities are vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels and powerful coastal storms.

So what can cities do? They can start by counting their carbon pollution emissions. Then they can set targets for reducing those emissions. And they can make actionable policy decisions, such as purchasing renewable energy, amending building codes to promote energy efficiency, and electrifying transportation.

We are part of a movement happening in cities across America. Some of our targets are huge, including the biggest and dirtiest coal plants in the nation. We are looking to do nothing less than transform energy generation and transportation in the United States. With such ambitious goals, taking personal actions isn’t enough—you must also lend your voice to the chorus calling for large-scale action on climate change.

Right now, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the chorus is loud. Everyone wants to see something happen. We want to feel like the situation is under control. But we can’t risk losing the energy that has come out of this tragedy. Like we did after Ike, after Katrina, and after Allison. Let’s not find ourselves in this same situation when the next tragedy occurs.

As Luis travels across Texas, meeting Texans where they are, he has an important message for everyone: climate change is a local issue. Its impacts are local. It affects our friends, our families, and ourselves. And its solutions are local. They begin with us, right now.

So even as we begin to put the lessons of Hurricane Harvey behind us, we must ask ourselves: what can I do? What can I do today, to prepare for tomorrow?

As individuals, there are things we can do: You can start today, by recycling, replacing old lightbulbs with LEDs, and turning down your air conditioning. You can schedule an energy audit of your house, which will help you to reduce the energy you use and save you money. You can plan to purchase solar panels for your roof, or buy a more efficient vehicle—even an all-electric one. Most of these solutions will save you money over time.

You’ll find something that you can do. It might feel small today, but it will be a little bit bigger tomorrow. And bigger still the day after. And when you add your voice to the chorus demanding action on climate change, you will become part of something even bigger. You will see how local actions can have a global impact.

Together we can and we must make this transition. Our lives and the lives of our children depend on us taking action – now.

Thank you.

Luis beginning his Texas Climate Tour in a Tesla Model S on loan from Trammell S. Crow.

 

South Texas plant over looking Matagorda Bay

Guest Post submitted by Karen Hadden, Executive Director, Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition; Susan Dancer, President, South Texas Association for Responsible Energy; and Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear, Director, Reactor Oversight Project  

Two nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project (STP) near Bay City, Texas should be shut down immediately in order to protect public safety in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, warned three watchdog groups today. With additional rainfall and increased flooding risks anticipated, the groups are calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Governor of Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – the Texas Grid Operator – and utility owners of the nuclear reactors to take action immediately.

“A county-wide emergency evacuation notice was issued last week for all residents to be out ahead of Harvey’s landfall,” said Susan Dancer, President of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “In an even more aggressive move Sunday night, the Bay City Mayor and Matagorda County Judge issued mandatory evacuation orders effective immediately as Bay City is expected to be ten feet under water in a flood of a scale we’d never even imagined, much less experienced. I loaded up my animals and fled my Bay City home, not even taking time to take any possessions with me.  As we tried to flee, water was already flowing across many roads.  Our 911 system is down, as are our police and fire department’s phone and dispatch systems. No emergency services are available. All businesses are shuttered and most are taking on water. Refineries have shut down.

“It’s an outrageous and reckless decision that the nuclear reactors are still running. Why aren’t they in cold shutdown with only a skeleton crew? Where is the concern for employees and their families? Why is corporate profit being prioritized over caution and good judgment?” asked Dancer.

“Sometimes the unimaginable really happens, as we learned from the disaster in Japan. This storm and flood is absolutely without precedent even before adding the possibility of a nuclear accident that could further imperil millions of people who are already battling for their lives,” added Dancer.

“The Colorado River is cresting extremely high and flowing at 70 times the normal rate. It’s expected to approach flood stage (44 feet) near Bay City today, and exceed flood stage on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.” said Karen Hadden, Director of SEED Coalition, “Flood waters reaching the nuclear reactors could make operation increasingly dangerous and the rains are expected to continue. There is plenty of reserve capacity on our electric grid, so we don’t have to run the reactors in order to keep the lights on. With anticipated flooding of the Colorado River, the nuclear reactors should be shut down now to ensure safety.”

“Both the NRC and the operator have previously recognized a credible threat of a severe accident initiated by a breach of the embankment wall that surrounds the 7,000-acre reactor cooling water reservoir,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project with Beyond Nuclear in Takoma Park, MD, referencing a 12-mile long earth and cement dike that surrounds South Texas Project’s Main Cooling Reservoir. The top of the cooling reservoir wall is at 67-feet above mean sea level with the reactor site situated below at 29-feet above mean sea level. The NRC is not providing a status report on the water level in the reservoir where the normal maximum operating level is 49-feet above mean sea level.

“However remote, it’s simply prudent that the operator put this reactor into its safest condition, cold shutdown,” Gunter concluded.

Utilities in Houston, San Antonio and Austin own the nuclear reactor and operate it as South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC). South Texas Project is seeking to get re-licenced for 20 more years. “Are these nuclear reactors being run at increasing risk just to prove to the public that it can stay open?” asked Karen Hadden.

The watchdog groups pointed out that the Fukushima disaster showed the world that an energy asset can turn into a multi-billion dollar liability overnight. “We should do all we can to prevent such a mistake. Governor Abbott, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and STPNOC should take action now to ensure that the reactors shut down now, before the deluge of hurricane floodwaters hits, risking an emergency situation,” concluded Hadden.

NOTE: Please stay safe and take precautions to protect yourself and your family from Hurricane Harvey. Resources are available at https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-harvey.

Harvey is the first hurricane since Ike in 2008 to threaten the Texas Gulf Coast. Warnings have been issued from “Brownsville to Beaumont” and Governor Gregg Abbott has issued a preemptive disaster declaration for 30 Texas counties. As Texas braces for the storm, Harvey is a stark reminder that the Gulf Coast is vulnerable to severe storms and the impacts of climate change.

The specter of climate change looms over any severe storm forecast today. We can’t ascribe a particular storm to the effects of global climate change, but we do know that climate change may be responsible for an increase in Hurricanes in the Atlantic. Harvey is a reminder that the Texas Gulf Coast,  must prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Some of the doubt about the real risks of global climate change has been sown by leaders of industry. The accusation that “Exxon knew” about climate change decades before it admitted the risk to the public was recently bolstered by research published in Environmental Research Letters. The research supports the conclusion that ExxonMobil willfully hid research conclusions about climate change from the public for many decades.

Whether or not ExxonMobil publicly admits the risk of climate change, the company would do well to prepare for its effects. ExxonMobil operates the second largest oil refinery in the nation, the Baytown Refinery and Complex, with a daily capacity of 560,500 barrels.

Harris County places portions of the ExxonMobil Baytown complex within the 100-year floodplain, shown below in light blue:

Comparing this map to the Google Earth map of the region, you can see a tank farm within the 100-year floodplain:

Zooming in on the outlined area above, we see perhaps three dozen tanks and two petcoke storage pits in the threatened area:

Research organizations in Houston have been modeling the potential impacts of severe storms on the Houston Ship Channel. At Rice University, the center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters has a model of the potential impacts of Tropical storm Harvey. The SSPEED Center predicts sea level rise of several feet in places (for now, no storm surge is predicted in Houston):

We don’t know if this storm, or the next one, will finally tests Houston’s resiliency. What we do know is that our nation’s largest petrochemical complex is vulnerable to severe storms. We also know that climate change will make these storms more frequent, and more dangerous. If we do not prepare ourselves for their impact, we can only hope to recover from their consequences.

Again, please take all necessary steps to protect yourself and your family. Stay safe and visit https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-harvey.

Tuesday evening, the Texas special legislative session abruptly when the House gaveled out sine die signalling they were finished with the special session with one final day still available, leaving several items left undone on Gov. Greg Abbott’s to-do list for lawmakers.  Among them property tax legislation.

However, lawmakers may be back in Austin sooner than you think — but for an entirely different reason. A federal court ruled unanimously Tuesday that two of Texas’ 36 congressional districts are unconstitutional, and ordered that the political boundaries be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections. The  three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled that Congressional Districts 27 and 35 violate the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act. The judges found that Hispanic voters in Congressional District 27, represented by U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, were “intentionally deprived of their opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.” Congressional District 35 — a Central Texas district represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett of Austin — was deemed “an impermissible racial gerrymander” because mapdrawers illegally used race as the predominant factor in drawing it without a compelling state interest, the judges wrote.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has three days to decide whether he wants state lawmakers to draw a new map — which would inevitably lead to another overtime round at the Capitol — or if he wants to send the issue back to court. Regardless, two things still remain on the table: A new map could shake up multiple congressional races across the state, and the drawing of one could delay the next election cycle.

But for now, all of us who watched hours of cringe-worthy testimony and floor debates get a break from the legislature, but not from the heat.

Back in March of this year, the state of Texas sued several federal agencies in the Fifth Circuit over the federal government’s failure to complete the licensing process for a nuclear waste storage repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, saying it violated the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.  They did this in order to facilitate the licensing of a Texas high-level radioactive interim waste storage facility in Andrews, TX at the Waste Control Specialist (WCS) site.
Recently WCS withdrew it’s license application, however Holtec International, a nuclear fuel manufacturing and management company based in Florida, filed an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to create a temporary storage facility that would consolidate spent fuel rods from across the U.S. at a single site about 15 miles north of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, just over the border from the WCS site in Texas.

The lawsuit, brought by Texas seeks to force an up-or-down vote from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the licensing of the repository at Yucca Mountain stating that a 2012 court-ordered deadline for a final licensing decision has been “wholly ignored” by the federal government. The defendants include the U.S. Department of Energy, the NRC, the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board and the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Nevada, which was allowed to intervene in May, told the court in its filing on July 31st that Texas was trying to get the judicial branch to “solve the nation’s decades-old nuclear waste quagmire” by usurping the authority of two executive branch agencies — the DOE and the NRC — and Congress.

In this action, Nevada is represented by the state’s attorney general’s office, Charles J. Fitzpatrick, Martin G. Malsch and John W. Lawrence of Egan Fitzpatrick Malsch & Lawrence PLLC, Antonio Rossmann and Roger B. Moore of Rossmann and Moore LLP and Marta Adams of Adams Natural Resource Consulting Services LLC. 
The state of Texas is represented by Ken Paxton, Jeffrey C. Mateer, Brantley D. Starr, David Austin R. Nimocks, Michael C. Toth, Andrew D. Leonie, David J. Hacker and Joel Stonedale of the Texas attorney general’s office and Robert J. Cynkar of McSweeney Cynkaw & Kachouroff PLLC. The administration is represented by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Eric Grant and Department of Justice attorneys David Shilton, Ellen Durkee and David S. Gualtieri. The case is Texas v. U.S. et al., case number 17-60191, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
UPDATE:  Public Citizen’s legal team argued our case forcefully.  But it’s all up to the judge now, who could rule — either for or against us — any day.  Either way, there is likely to be an appeal and you can bet we will continue to need your support.

On August 10th, we appear before a judge to argue Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.

In the case, we’re challenging Trump’s deregulatory executive order.

The order aims to make it harder for the government to protect our air and water, guarantee the safety of our food, ensure our cars are safe, protect workers from on-duty hazards, address climate change and much more.

Before we argue the case before the judge, I wanted to take a moment to explain the stakes.

It’s not just what the deregulatory order would do on its own, as horrible as that is.

The order is the centerpiece of one of Trump’s overriding objectives:

Empower Big Business to pollute, cheat, rip off, endanger, discriminate and price gouge free from governmental restrictions.

Trump can’t stop talking about this.

On his fifth day in office, Trump told a gathering of CEOs that environmental protections are “out of control,” and promised to roll back regulations.

A week later, he met with Big Pharma CEOs. In place of his tough talk about medicine prices, he promised to eliminate 75 to 80 percent of FDA regulations — a far more extreme position even than Big Pharma’s.

He’s kept up the talk in his endless meetings with CEOs.

Unfortunately, it’s not just talk.

Trump and his cronies are doing real damage:

  • On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order freezing all pending regulations.That act alone delayed the start date on important public protections years in the making.
  • At the end of January, Trump signed the deregulatory order at issue in Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.The order prevents agencies from issuing new safety, health or other regulatory protections unless they eliminate two on the books. Without considering the benefits of the rules, the costs of the new rule must be fully offset by the costs of the eliminated rules.If that sounds crazy to you, that’s because it is.
  • In February, Trump signed an order directing agencies to review rules and make recommendations for cuts.The New York Times reports that these reviews are “being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.”
  • The administration worked with the Republican Congress to use an obscure procedure to repeal more than a dozen rules adopted at the end of the Obama administration.The first such measure was an anti-corruption rule.Also sacrificed were rules on internet privacy, toxic pollution of streams and workplace health and safety.
  • On a case-by-case basis, Trump has moved to repeal many of the Obama administration’s most important rules.These include protections against predatory for-profit colleges, a retirement advice rule that will save consumers $17 billion a year, Obama’s main climate change rule and much more.
  • Last month, the White House budget office reported that the Trump administration has withdrawn or suspended 860 pending rules.

This is all part of a grand design.

To let corporations do as they will.

Even if it means more dangerous cars. More bank rip-offs. Preventable injuries at work. Dirtier air and poisoned water. Contaminated food. Preventable, avoidable and unnecessary death, disease and suffering.

And the deregulatory executive order is at the heart of the scheme.

We are doing everything we can to block Trump’s project to permit corporations to pollute and plunder.

Please chip in today to help us fight Trump’s plan.

Donate now or even join our monthly giving program.

Thank you for anything you can contribute!

Robert Weissman, President
Public Citizen

Texas Director Adrian Shelley speaking at a VW Settlement community engagement meeting in Fort Worth.

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal led to a $14.7 billion dollar settlement. Basically, what Volkswagen did was install what are called “defeat devices” which were programmed to run differently during emissions tests so that they appeared to be much less polluting than they actually are. In some cases, NOx (nitrogen oxides), which is not only harmful but is also a precursor to ground-level ozone, was up to 40 times higher than what the cheating emissions tests revealed!

By cheating on emissions tests, Volkswagen harmed public health, causing at least 59 premature deaths and over $450 million in health and social costs (Barrett, 2015). The settlement provides Volkswagen with a chance to compensate owners of vehicles impacted by the defeat devices, mitigate some of the harm done, and reduce future harm using zero emissions technology.

Details of the Settlement

The Volkswagen Settlement is essentially divided into three parts: a personal vehicle buyback program, an environmental mitigation program to reduce the harm done, and a zero emissions vehicle investment commitment to prevent more harm and promote zero emissions technology.

More information on the personal vehicle buyback program can be found at VW’s settlement website http://www.VWCourtSettlement.com. If you have an eligible vehicle, you may also be eligible for additional funds through the Bosch VW Settlement (https://www.boschvwsettlement.com/en/Home/FAQ).

The Environmental Mitigation Trust will be administered at the state level and will fund projects to upgrade and replace dirty diesel engines. Texas will receive $209 million dollars. Once a beneficiary is designated, projects will be determined. We are collecting feedback on these projects, discussed below.

The third fund is the Zero Emissions Vehicle Investment Commitment, also known as Electrify America. VW will be allocating $2 billion dollars toward zero emissions infrastructure and educational campaigns to promote their use. The City of Houston is among the first round of cities to be supported by this fund.

Community Engagement

Public Citizen, alongside Houston coalition partners Coalition of Community Organizations, t.e.j.a.s., and Air Alliance Houston hosted informational meetings regarding the Volkswagen Settlement at Austin High School in Houston and at the Houston Area Research Center in the Woodlands in May and June. Given that both the Houston area and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are in non-attainment for ozone and that this settlement could help improve air quality in both regions, we hosted additional informational meetings last week in Dallas and Fort Worth with our co-sponsors Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness Group, Liveable Arlington, and Arlington Conservation Council, Fort Worth Sierra Club Group and the Dallas Sierra Club Group.

While some other states have had a formal community engagement process, an agency of the State of Texas has yet to hold public meetings regarding the settlement. That’s where Public Citizen and other organizations have stepped in to gather important feedback from community members in regards to what sorts of projects hold the most interest. These projects are limited to those that reduce NOx emissions through engine upgrades or replacements, such as replacing old freight trucks, school buses, dump trucks, etc. A portion of the funds will be available for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

If your group, city, or region is interested in learning more about the Volkswagen Settlement, please contact Stephanie Thomas at [email protected] to learn about upcoming community meetings.

Excerpted from Ecowatch.

In the late 1600s, France took over the western part of the island of Hispaniola from Spain, dividing the island into what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR). Like a science experiment gone wrong, the border now demarks not only linguistic differences, but also an entirely different quality of life. In 1960, both countries experienced essentially the same rainfall patterns and enjoyed the same geography, availability of natural resources and land productivity. The countries had nearly the same per capita real GDP.

However, by 2005, the DR’s per capita real GDP had increased threefold, while Haiti’s had plummeted. Now, the average person in the DR can expect to live a full 10 years longer than their neighbor in Haiti. The percentage of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption is 44.5 percent in Haiti, compared to 15.4 percent in the DR. The probability of dying under the age of 5 per 1,000 births in Haiti is 76, while in DR, the number is less than half of that. The DR has become a magnet for tourism, while Haiti has become a social, political and economic tragedy. What happened?

In 1950, forest clearing for plantations and wood exports in Haiti had largely ended, but wood harvesting for charcoal continued. A mere 30 years later, forest cover had diminished from 25 percent of the total land area to a meager 10 percent. It decreased again to 4 percent of the land by 1994.

Across the border, the DR initially suffered from deforestation as well. Tree cover plummeted from 75 percent of the land in 1922 to 12 percent by the 1980s. However, massive reforestation programs and a conscious shift to alternative energy sources (besides charcoal) allowed the trees to rebound. The nation established 13 national parks and restricted access to important forest reserves. Today, forest covers 28 percent of the country.

Forests prevent soil erosion. Sturdy trunks slow winds. Roots hold the soil in place and improve soil permeability. They allow water to percolate into underground aquifers, decreasing surface water runoff. Leaves lessen the impact of heavy rains and reduce flooding. Dead trees, leaves and bark add organic matter to the topsoil, completing nutrient cycles and replenishing the land. Forests act as natural buffers as well, slowing floodwaters and shielding the coast from hurricane surges. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne killed more than 3,000 people in Haiti, while the DR lost 19. While other factors undoubtedly contributed to these numbers, the ability of forested coasts and watershed areas to mitigate hurricane damage is undeniable.  

The United Nations estimates that “50% of the (Haitian) topsoil has been washed away into the ocean” and that damaged lands have become “irreclaimable for farming purposes.” Although nearly 60 percent of the Haitian people work in the agricultural sector, the country still must import nearly half of its food.

While Haiti has also suffered from serious political strife since 1960, environmental degradation remains one of its greatest challenges. We cannot continue to view environmental policies as counter to economic growth and human happiness, but as necessary to achieve them. Climate change and an ever-increasing population mean that decisions have to be made now.

The time to think sustainably has come and that applies to Texas too.  The misguided bills that have been proposed during the current Texas Special session (HB 70 by Workman and SB 14 by West – Relating to a property owner’s right to remove a tree or vegetation.) are an example of policies that can negatively impact our state.

In central Texas the number of days above 100 has increased 37.7 days since 1970.  If this trend continues, the drought of 2011 could become the norm for the state.  Trees are one of the ways we mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.  This is especially true in urban areas where large expanses of hardscape (roads, parking lots and buildings) contribute to heat island effects.  These are the areas where local tree ordinances make a big difference.  So contact your Texas Senator and Representative and ask them to vote against HB 70 and SB 14. If you don’t know who represents you click here.  

San Antonio rally to support signing on to the Climate Mayor’s pledge. Photo by Brendan Gibbons /San Antonio Express-News

With the recent election of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and six new council members, San Antonio is much better positioned now than it was a few months ago to take a leadership role in combating climate change.

At its first meeting, the newly sworn in council adopted a resolution committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting the goals the U.S. set in the Paris Climate Accord under President Obama. As a result, Mayor Nirenberg added his name to a pledge from over 350 U.S. mayors in the Climate Mayors association, stating their commitment to climate action, even though President Trump has committed to remove the U.S. from the agreement.

Local action to reduce greenhouse gas emission is more important than ever, both to compensate for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and because the climate crisis is becoming more and more urgent all the time. A majority of Americans live in cities, and cities – especially large cities like San Antonio – have the ability to directly control or influence systems that are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions. Cities have control over energy codes for buildings, local transportation planning, land use plans, and waste collection. And some cities – including San Antonio – have the added benefit of owning their own municipal electric utilities.

San Antonio has taken the first step of publicly committing to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the U.S. meet the commitment it made to the rest of the world. The next step is to set specific goals for greenhouse gas reductions and develop a plan to make that possible. Because there is a lot of infrastructure that isn’t controlled by cities that will continue driving up greenhouse gas emissions under Trump’s industry-friendly policies, cities are going to have to be very aggressive to keep the U.S. as a whole on track to meet its Paris goals. Even before Trumps election, cities have been adopting aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals and plans to meet those goals. In 2014, the Austin City Council adopted a goal for the entire Austin community to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, if possible.

Now is the time for the San Antonio City Council to keep up the momentum by adopting an aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goal for the community and starting the process of developing a climate action plan to achieve the adopted goal. Given that San Antonio controls the electric utility that serves the city, a net zero greenhouse gas goal should be given strong consideration. Both adequate funding and a framework that will allow broad and meaningful community participation in development of the plan will be important.

Public Citizen is part of a coalition working to promote adoption of a San Antonio climate action plan. If you live in San Antonio and want to get involved in this work, email me at [email protected]

UPDATE – The Senate Business & Commerce Committee will meet at 9:00 AM, Saturday, July 22, 2017 in the Texas capitol hearing room E1.016 to hear testimony on SB 14 by Hall – relating to a property owner’s right to remove a tree or vegetation.  If you are in Austin  this weekend, considering stopping by the capitol and testifying or even just registering your position against this bill at one of the House registration kiosks in the capitol extension.  (do this before the hearing starts at 9:00 AM to make sure your position is documented.

Contributed by Citizen Rita

Recently in Dallas, two developers made the mistake of butchering trees on two different sites causing an uproar in both North (pictured) and South Dallas. This action currently violates Dallas’ tree ordinance which could be put in jeopardy if Governor Abbott gets his way. Photo by Rita Beving

This week marks the start of the Special Session at the Texas Legislature.  Governor Abbott has put forward a wish list of twenty agenda items including a bill that would prevent cities from regulating what property owners can do with trees on private land.

Already during the 85th legislative session, bills attempted to take an axe to local control and city tree ordinances including one by Representative Workman (HB 1572) who devised a bill to allow trees to be cut down if the owner felt a tree(s) posed a “fire risk.”  Other bills such as one by Senator Kolkhorst (SB 744), would have given developers more latitude in a city that imposes a tree mitigation fee by allowing developers to apply for a credit if they plant trees elsewhere, instead of paying the mitigation fee.  Both bills failed to become law, though Kolkhorst’s bill made it all the way to the finish line, only to be vetoed in the end by Governor Abbott.

Perhaps the Governor’s veto pen was triggered with an aspiration to deal trees a more fatal blow with a sweeping bill in the Special Session to take total local control away on all city tree ordinances across the state.  Abbott has tapped Senator Bob Hall of Rockwall, who unsuccessfully tried to take away cities ability to have bag bans, as his champion to carry the tree ordinance ban in the Senate (SB 14).  In the House, Abbott recruited  Representative Workman, the author of the failed tree fire risk bill, and whose roots (pardon the pun) are in the construction business, to head up the efforts (HB 70).

There are more than 50 cities in Texas with ordinances that protect trees on private property that would be affected if this proposed legislation passed.

Thwarting the preservation of mature trees is not only short-sighted but also short changes the value of a property.  Numerous national surveys including one by the University of Washington show that towering trees increase the value of a property by 7 to 19 percent.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one healthy tree next to one’s home can provide the cooling effect of ten air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.  According to the USDA Forest Service, trees properly placed around a building can reduce air conditioning costs by as much as 30% and can save between 20 to 50% of the energy used in heating.

Trees help our urban climate in many ways.  They keep cities cooler and reduce air pollution, as less fossil fuel is needed to generate electricity to air condition buildings. Trees also help clean the air by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.  Additionally, trees contribute to improving the health of our local communities by collecting and hold dust pollution.

Management Information Services has estimated that the average value of the 60 million plus street trees in this country have an average value of $525.00 per tree.

So what’s not to like about trees, especially beautiful mature ones?

Well, critics speculate that Governor Abbott wants this bill partially out a personal vendetta against the City of Austin which told him that he couldn’t chop down a pecan tree in his backyard without replacing it or paying into the reforestation fund.  It’s also been said that the Governor thinks protecting trees is a “socialist” view and that it “violates private property rights.”

Tell Governor Abbott he needs to see the forest through the trees and realize the “green” in “green.” Abbott shouldn’t use a personal incident to destroy the value that the rest of us see and realize on our properties by taking away the power of local municipalities to pass and execute their tree ordinances.

Urge your Texas Legislator to block any attempts during the special session to eliminate cities’ abilities to protect old growth trees to cool our homes and in turn, our cities.