Feeds:
Posts
Comments

You are invited to attend:

The Ninth Annual Austin Green Holiday Party

 austin-green-holiday-sponsors

The Ninth Annual Austin Green Holiday Party

Dinner, drinks, and dessert are included in ticket price. There will be 4 buffet stations and all 4 have vegetarian options. After dinner, you will be able to make s’mores while listening to live music and get your picture taken with friends at the holiday party photo station.

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 6-10pm
Hosted by Barr Mansion
10463 Sprinkle Rd., Austin, TX 78754 (www.barrmansion.com)

Live music by Seu Jacinto
Advance Tickets $25.00, ($30.00 at door)
Co-Hosted by:

Join us for the Austin green mixer of the year, hosted this year by 17 great organizations! For nine years running, area environmentalists have come together to celebrate, scheme and prepare for the new year.
Experience how our hosts Barr Mansion are at the nexus of a merging of the environmental and food movements while enjoying a buffet featuring a variety of their seasonal, all-organic favorites. Check out Barr’s new “solar amphitheater”! We are also sponsored this year by Hops & Grain BrewingAustin East Ciders and Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Live music by Seu Jacinto, an Austin-based group interested in introducing and developing traditional Northeastern Brazilian culture to Central Texas. The group pays homage to the masters of the Brazilian folk musical traditions of forró, coco, cavalo marinho, and many other Brazilian Northeast rhythms.

We look forward to coming together with everyone  and “regrouping” for the good fight in 2017!  Click here to buy tickets to this event.   Procedes benefit Austin Earthday.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) which has applied for a license to accept high-level radioactive waste at its Andrews County, Texas site currently has a license to accept low-level radioactive waste.  At the same time, have been negotiating a sale to EnergySolutions potentially initiating anti-trust intervention in the acquisition.

The Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit on Thursday, November 17, 2016, seeking to block EnergySolutions’ proposed $367 million acquisition of Waste Control Specialists – a transaction that would combine the two most significant competitors for the disposal of low level radioactive waste (LLRW) available to commercial customers in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, the transaction would deny commercial generators of LLRW – from universities and hospitals working on life-saving treatments to nuclear facilities producing 20 percent of the electricity in the United States – the benefits of vigorous competition that has led to significantly lower prices, better service and innovation in recent years.

“Since opening its LLRW disposal facility in 2012, Waste Control Specialists has provided EnergySolutions the only real competition it has ever faced,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of the department’s Antitrust Division.  “This competition has allowed customers to extract better prices and to receive better and more innovative service in the LLRW disposal industry.  If consummated, EnergySolutions’ proposed acquisition of Waste Control Specialists would make EnergySolutions the only option for customers in nearly 40 states.  And this at a time when projects worth billions of dollars are set to be awarded in the coming years.”

LLRW is the radioactive byproduct of nuclear power generation, scientific research and certain medical treatments.  LLRW includes such items as personal protective clothing, tools, water purification filters and resins, hardware from nuclear power plants, and equipment from medical and research institutions.  LLRW may only be disposed of in a facility licensed by, or pursuant to an exemption provided by, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or a state acting under an agreement with the NRC.  LLRW disposal is an essential service for operating nuclear reactors, research laboratories and medical facilities.  Additionally, LLRW disposal is a requirement for the safe decommissioning of such facilities when they reach the end of their useful lives.

According to the department’s complaint, EnergySolutions and Waste Control Specialists are the only two significant competitors providing LLRW disposal services to commercial customers in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  After nearly two decades of development, Waste Control Specialists became the only new licensed commercial LLRW disposal facility to open since EnergySolutions, and provided EnergySolutions’ only true competition.  That competition has led to increased innovation and lower prices for customers.  EnergySolutions’ acquisition of Waste Control Specialists would eliminate that competition, with no likelihood of new entry to fill the void.

EnergySolutions Inc. is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rockwell Holdco Inc., also a Delaware corporation.  EnergySolutions is the leading company providing a full range of services related to the disposal of LLRW and the decommissioning of nuclear reactors.  In 2015, EnergySolutions’ U.S. revenues from LLRW disposal were approximately $112 million.

Waste Control Specialists LLC is a Delaware limited liability company headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Andrews County Holdings Inc., a Delaware corporation.  It operates the only LLRW disposal facility that is licensed to accept all types of LLRW from 36 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.  In 2015, Waste Control Specialists’ revenues were approximately $45 million.

EnergySolutions Complaint

UPDATE: Happening now in Houston, until 8pm CT.  Go on Facebook to TEJAS’s page to watch.

https://www.facebook.com/TejasBarrios/videos/

Date:           Thursday, 11/17/2016
Location:  Hartman Community Center, 9311 East Ave. P. Houston, TX 77012
Time:          2:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Join HPCC public health advocates at an EPA hearing about toxic air pollution from petroleum refineries!

(En español, mira aquí: http://airalliancehouston.org/wp-content/uploads/Spanish-EPA-Hearing-Flier.pdf)

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing on the reconsideration of the Refinery Sector Rule for which EPA did not provide adequate opportunity for notice and comment. This rulemaking is the result of a lawsuit filed by Air Alliance Houston, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Community In-Power and Development Association, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who are collectively represented by Earthjustice.

This is is our only chance to tell EPA we are concerned about pollution from oil refineries and its impact on our health. This is the only public hearing EPA will hold anywhere in the country, and public comment will be taken for six hours, from 2-8 pm. We’d like EPA to hear from us and our allies in refinery communities throughout the entire hearing, so please sign up to speak today.

Join us in telling EPA:

  • Our health suffers from pollution from oil refineries.
  • Our children are particularly at risk from the health effects of air pollution.
  • Air pollution affects our lives where we live, work, and play.

Together we can demand a stronger rule to protect communities from air pollution. The refining industry must cut pollution by:

  • Reducing emissions from flares and pressure relief devices.
  • Eliminate pollution exemptions for malfunction and force majeure events.
  • Require fenceline monitoring at all times.

Air Alliance Houston will have fact sheets and talking points available at the hearing.
If you would like to present oral testimony at the hearing, please complete this form or notify Ms. Virginia Hunt no later than November 15, 2016, by email: [email protected] (preferred); or by telephone: (919) 541-0832.
Space will also be available that day if time slots are not all filled, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Basic background on key issues from EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/petroleum-refinery-sector-reconsideration-october-2016
Sign the Earthjustice petition: http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2016/community-and-environmental-groups-sue-the-epa-and-call-on-the-agency-to-remove-free-pass-to-pollute-from

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking comments from the public on the issues to be covered in the environmental review of an application from Waste Control Specialists to construct and operate a facility to store spent nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas. The NRC will prepare an environmental impact statement to document its evaluation of those impacts and is now taking public comments on the scope.

WCS filed its application in April seeking a 40-year license for a facility that would receive spent fuel from nuclear reactors for storage, pending final disposal. The NRC will be conducting two separate reviews – an environmental review to identify potential impacts, and a safety review to determine whether the WCS application meets the NRC’s regulatory requirements. The environmental review will fulfill the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement to do an analysis of environmental impacts for major federal actions.

The agency has not yet accepted and docketed the WCS application. WCS has been providing supplemental information in phases in response to a June 22 NRC request. The NRC will evaluate the supplemental responses before deciding whether to docket the application and proceed with the safety review. If the NRC dockets the application, it will announce in the Federal Register an opportunity to ask for a public hearing and an end date for comments on the scope of the environmental review.

WCS had asked for the environmental review to begin as soon as possible. The NRC has agreed because doing so will allow the agency to engage interested members of the public early in the process. It will also provide additional time to consult with federal, tribal, state and local government agencies, facilitating compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

“We cannot proceed with the technical safety review until WCS adequately addresses our request for supplemental information, but we do have the information we need to begin the environmental scoping process now,” said NRC’s Mark Lombard, director of the division of spent fuel management. “WCS will bear the cost of staff time devoted to the environmental review, even if we are unable to docket the application in its current form.”

We encourage you to read our earlier post and submit comments.  The comment period opened today (go to – https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NRC_FRDOC_0001-6227 –  for more information) and, if the application is docketed, will end 45 days after publication of a notice of docketing the WCS application.

Written comments on the scope may be submitted over the federal government’s rulemaking website, www.regulations.gov, using Docket ID NRC-2016-0231; by email to [email protected]; or by mail to Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: OWFN- 12 H08, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. More information can be found in today’s Federal Register notice.

rrc-who-are-we

UPDATE: By 10 am this morning, the Sunset Commission had already voted on the recommendations they were going to adopt for the report to the legislature. 

All the STAFF good enforcement recommendations were adopted, and the recommendation (proposed by the Public Member on the Commisson, Allen West) on induced seismicity was adopted.

The name change recommendation was dropped as we heard it would be, as were the transfer of contested cases to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).  The new issue proposed by Rep. Raymond, calling for bonding for cleaning up abandoned wells at the last hearing fell by the wayside. Raymond did not even bring up his proposals.

The things we do support on enforcement will be in the bill when it’s introduced during the 85th Legislative session, but we expect that it may be a fight to keep them in.

Thursday, November 10th, the Texas Sunset Commission will meet to vote on recommendations to the 85th Legislature regarding the future of the Texas Railroad Commission.  Three times the Legislature has failed to pass a bill reauthorizing and making changes to this agency. 

We are asking that you contact the Sunset Commissioners and tell them to support staff recommendations plus Raymond and West’s new issues as outlined below.  For Sunset Commissioners’ contact information, click here. or contact your state rep and state senator to urge the Sunset Commission to support these recommendations. Find out who represents you here.

A coalition of environmental groups, including Public Citizen, have been following the Sunset review of the Railroad Commission and they are in agreement about supporting staff recommendations and new issues raised by Texas Sunset Commission Members – Representatives Dan Flynn,  Richard Peña Raymond, and public member LTC (Ret.) Allen B. West – to increase transparency, improve safeguards and protect the public.  It is time for more than a name change on failed agency! 

For a full version of the recommendations click here.

Issue 1 – Continue the Railroad Commission of Texas for 12 Years with a Name That Reflects the Agency’s Important Functions. (Page 11)

Change in Statute

Rec. 1.1 (Page 17) Change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the Texas Energy Resources Commission and continue the agency for 12 years.

We support this change. On the eve of another election where most voters had no idea what the Railroad Commission does, and where industry supplied some 70 percent of the funding to those running, changing the name is a needed first step. We also believe that the Commission should only be continued for 6 years.

Issue 2 – Contested Hearings and Gas Utility Oversight Are Not Core Commission Functions and Should Be Transferred to Other Agencies to Promote Efficiency, Effectiveness, Transparency, and Fairness. (Page 19)

Representative Raymond Proposed Modification

Under this modification to Recommendations 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3, the Commission would contract with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to conduct the Commission’s hearings for contested permit and enforcement cases and Gas Utility Oversight would be transferred to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), with potential to contest the rates at SOAH. In conducting hearings, the PUC and SOAH would consider the Commission’s applicable substantive rules and policies.

We are in full support of Issue 2 and the transfer of these functions from RRC to SOAH and PUC, but do agree that the applicable rules and policies related to these issues should be considered in that transfer, as recommended by Representative Raymond.

Issue 3 – Oil and Gas Monitoring and Enforcement Need Improvements to Effectively Ensure Public Safety and Environmental Protection.

Rep. Flynn Modification: Also direct the agency to provide oil and gas production information on its website in a format that is easier for royalty owners to use and understand.

We Support these Sunset Staff recommendations on Enforcement, as well as Rep. Flynn’s proposed modification.

Issue 4 – Insufficient and Inequitable Statutory Bonding Requirements Contribute to the Large Backlog of Abandoned Wells. (Page 43)

We support this change to assure that oil and gas wells pay their fair share in upfront bonding costs.

Issue 5 – Improved Oversight of Texas’ Pipeline Infrastructure Would Help Further Ensure Public Safety. (Page 51)

We support these proposed statutory and appropriations modifications.

Issue 6 – The Railroad Commission’s Contracting Procedures Are Improving, but Continued Attention Is Needed. (Page 55)

We support these proposed management actions.

Issue 7 – The Railroad Commission’s Statute Does Not Reflect Standard Elements of Sunset Reviews. (Page 59)

We support these proposed changes.

Proposed New Issues

Vice Chair Taylor Proposed New Issue 1

Direct the Railroad Commission to study, develop, and implement ways to clean up and revive old oil fields for secondary and tertiary recovery using either the unitization method or other legal means which the Commission may develop or recommend. As part of this recommendation, the Railroad Commission shall consult with the Bureau of Economic Geology. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We have not taken a position on this recommendation.

Colonel West Proposed New Issue 2

Direct the Railroad Commission to incorporate findings from the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology as they become available into its oil and gas disposal well rules or guidance, as applicable. The rules should seek to prevent any induced seismicity caused by disposal wells. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in full support. Utilizing the information that is being collected to develop more protective rules and procedures makes sense.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 3

Amend RRC’s statute to require the agency to publish comprehensive oil and gas enforcement data (complaints, inspections, violations, enforcement actions taken, and penalties levied/collected) online, in a publicly accessible, searchable, trackable format. Make data available by operator and on a well-by-well basis and by bulk download.

We are in full support of this recommendation. We would note this could also be accomplished as a management action by direction of the Director to publish this information on-line.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 4

Management recommendation to direct RRC to: review all relevant rules on spill reporting and response, and make changes to increase environmental protection and cleanup during flooding, such as specifying time frames for responding to spills; clarify its rules, so that both oil and gas spills and other spills like brine, produced water, or fracking fluid are also reported, tracked, and cleaned up; and report these spills and the results of any cleanup effort in an accessible way, either directly on its website or by sharing the information with TCEQ as part of its joint work on spills. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in full support. This is considerable confusion about reporting and clean-up requirements, particularly in the event of floods.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 5

Amend Chapter 26 of the Texas Water Code to require operators that treat “domestic wastewater” or “mobile drinking water treatment system wastewater” at oil and gas well drill sites to obtain a permit from TCEQ instead of RRC.

We are in support. TCEQ is the appropriate agency to assure water is cleaned up to the appropriate level.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 6

Improve inspection, regulation, and reporting of injection wells by: either removing the specific permit fee amount in Chapter 27, allowing the Commission to set a more reasonable amount, or raising it to $1,000 (Change in statute); requiring RRC to require monthly reporting of liquid injection in all disposal wells and make the information publicly accessible (Change in statute); and directing RRC to conduct a comprehensive review of its rules and programs regarding oil and gas disposal wells, and consider changes related to casing and cementing, aquifer exemptions, notice and public participation, seismic activity, and wastewater reporting and tracking. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in support of both the management and statutory changes. Permit fees for disposal wells are too low and the rules should be reexamined to assure proper notice, and proper safeguards.

WCS RadioactiveApplication Raises Prospect of “Permanent Parking Lot Dump” of Nuclear Waste In Absence of Permanent Repository and Shifting Nuclear Waste Costs From Industry to Taxpayers.

Opposed to an industry scheme that risks a proposed short-term nuclear waste storage site becoming a permanent site while sticking taxpayers for the bill, four leading national and Texas groups — Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Public Citizen, and the Texas-based Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition — are calling on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to follow the law and terminate its review of the license application for the controversial plan by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to construct an interim high-level nuclear waste dump in Andrews County, TX.

high-level-radioactive-waste-routes

Potential Texas highway routes if rail is not used.

WCS seeks a permit to build and operate the supposedly short-term storage facility for up to 40,000 metric tons of highly dangerous nuclear waste in Andrews County, but only if the U.S. government first assumes responsibility for the waste and further agrees to ship it to the Texas site by rail. The license application is for the first 5,000 metric tons but the company’s promotional materials show they are planning on expanding the site to accommodate more than half of the estimated 75,000 metric tons of commercial nuclear waste currently in the U.S.

The groups are concerned that the “interim” storage facility may become the de facto permanent home for the highly toxic waste. Given the long battle over Yucca Mountain, the groups have zero confidence that Congress or federal regulators would have the stomach for fighting to move the nuclear waste a second time from WCS or any other “interim” site. And, with utilities totally off the hook and taxpayers footing the entire bill, those that generated the waste would have no incentive to ensure its safe disposal in a permanent geologic repository.

Available online at http://pubc.it/2eMSaXM, the letter from the four groups to the NRC’s top executive argues that the WCS proposal would require the NRC to break federal law, which bars the U.S. government from assuming responsibility for interim waste storage in the absence of a federal repository for permanent disposal. They contend that, until a long-term geological repository is ready, federal law forces utilities to solve their own interim storage problems, including bearing the economic burden for facility construction and operation, and liability for accidents.

The groups’ letter demands that NRC immediately drop its review of the WCS application, including its plans to embark on an environmental study.

High-level radioactive wastes are irradiated nuclear fuel rods, and short-term exposure at close range, with no shielding, can cause immediate death. Lesser exposure can cause death or cancer for over a million years. It is so dangerous that Congress required that it be buried deep underground in geologically isolated repository for millennia. This danger also prompted federal lawmakers to prohibit putting taxpayers on the hook for “interim” solutions that could become de facto permanent surface storage sites.

According to the groups, there is no safety imperative for moving the waste to a consolidated storage facility. The safety and security of our toxic nuclear waste stockpile, not financial gain for this private entity, should drive NRC waste storage activity.  Rather than reviewing this premature and illegitimate proposal the NRC should focus its efforts on safeguarding the onsite storage of waste at nuclear facilities across the country.

“By requiring a permanent deep geological repository to be operating before centralized interim storage could be opened, Congress wanted to prevent the very real danger of a de facto permanent parking lot dump – a nuclear waste storage site that would be designed for the short-term but be there forever,” said Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist, Beyond Nuclear. He added: “WCS is a cynical shell game and taxpayers are sure to lose. Congress was right that liability for the costs of storing commercial irradiated nuclear fuel belongs with the generators and should not be shifted onto the backs of the American public.”

Diane D’Arrigo, radioactive waste project director, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), said: “Moving nuclear power waste over roads, rails and waterways to a supposedly temporary site puts us all at risk and creates only an illusion of a solution.”

Karen Hadden, executive director, SEED Coalition, added: “Due to risks of radioactive contamination from leaks or accidents or potential terrorist actions, nuclear waste should only be moved once, and only when a deep underground permanent repository is in place that could safely isolate the dangerous waste for the million years that it will remain hazardous.”

Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Public Citizen Texas office, said: “Texans do not consent to the risky plan to store high-level radioactive waste at private sites on an open pad above ground in Texas. Another company near Hobbs New Mexico – less than 50 miles away — is expected to file an application to open a storage site that would accept the rest of the nation’s high level nuclear waste. These twin ‘storage sites’ likely would create a de facto high level national waste sacrifice zone. This proposal invites disaster because the private owners will be cutting costs at every turn to maximize profits. If there was radioactive contamination our land, air, water, and human health could be harmed for millennia.”

 

ABOUT THE GROUPS

Beyond Nuclear is a national nonprofit organization that aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abandon both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic.

Nuclear Information and Resource Service is the national information and networking center for organizations and individuals concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation and sustainable energy issues.

Public Citizen, Inc., is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization with over 400,000 members and supporters nationwide.  Public Citizen’s mission is to protect openness and democratic accountability in government and the health, safety and financial interests of consumers.  Public Citizen advocates for policies that will lead to safe, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy.

SEED Coalition is an environmental nonprofit organization with 2,000 members that works in Texas and other states to protect human health and the environment, including land, air, water and wildlife. The organization focuses on clean energy advocacy as a means to reduce pollution. SEED Coalition opposes the storage of radioactive waste from around the U.S. in Texas or New Mexico due to health and safety and environmental concerns. SEED Coalition’s members include neighbors of the proposed WCS facility and associated transportation routes.

Freight ShuttleOn September 9th, Adrian Shelley and I went to Bryan, Texas, to watch the unveiling of the Freight Shuttle System (FSS), a technology  currently being built and tested by Freight Shuttle International. Dr. Stephen Roop, chief scientist at Freight Shuttle International and and professor at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, opened the unveiling with a press briefing sharing his vision. The FSS is an electric, autonomous shuttle powered by a linear induction motor, providing low friction to the steel wheels running on steel lines, similar to train tracks. The FSS combines elements of truck and train transport – single shuttles run on a track similar to a train track, and according to Dr. Roop’s vision, those tracks would be elevated from other modes of transportation to reduce congestion, provide a strong level of predictability and non-stop service, and reduce infrastructure damage often associated with truck transportation. 

Dr. Roop noted the emissions of the FSS are tied to the source of power. What that means is that the FSS itself would generate no point-of-source pollution like the cancer-causing pollution created by diesel engines currently on the road. Furthermore, because the FSS would operate under DC voltage, it could be tied easily to renewable energy. In that way, the FSS could take advantage of the increasing access to renewable energy in Texas and potentially be net zero in terms of carbon pollution.

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

The FSS is not designed to transport hazardous or toxic materials, and although it could possibly be used to transport people, it is intended now to be separate from people – that is to be contained within a separate line so that the roads and highways can be used for people, not cargo.

The Port of Houston Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Freight Shuttle International and is planning to use the FSS to transport cargo between its container terminals, Bayport and Barbour’s Cut. Freight Shuttle International stated that the FSS line could be operational within 3 years.

 

Tom "Smitty" SmithTom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, will retire early next year after 31 years of championing consumer rights and clean energy policies in Texas.

Smitty is widely known as the man in the white hat around the state Capitol. He has testified more than 1,000 times before the Texas Legislature and Congress. He has led a team based in Austin, but also includes staff in Houston and Dallas. And he has effected reforms that have improved public health and safety, protected consumers’ pocketbooks and helped curb climate change.

Texas State Representative Rafael Anchia of Dallas had kind words for Smitty upon learning of his planned departure, “With the wisdom of Yoda and the dogged determination of the Lorax, Smitty Smith gave voice to the common man in the Texas Legislature for decades.  Smitty is that rare person who always put the best interests of the people of Texas first, and whether he was advocating for more honest government, voting rights, or the environmental, he did so with boundless knowledge, grace, good humor and patience.”

Smitty’s accomplishments at Public Citizen include:

  • Helping to make Texas the top wind energy state in the country by conducting studies, organizing Texans and assembling a coalition of groups to push for wind power;
  • Working with state policymakers to create the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), which has awarded more than $1 billion to replace 10,000-plus diesel engines and has cut more than 160,836 tons of smog-forming NOx;
  • Organizing with Karen Hadden of the SEED coalition, now his wife, to create 16 local groups that stopped the construction of 12 of 17 proposed coal plants over the past decade and four proposed nuclear reactors;
  • Helping pass the state’s building energy code, which has significantly reduced energy use in homes build after 2003;
  • Helping craft and pass major ethics reforms that included the creation of the state’s ethics commission;
  • Helping craft insurance reforms passed in 1991;
  • Successfully pushing for a better state lemon law; and
  • Co-founding and mentoring 13 nonprofit organizations including Solar Austin, Clean Water Action in Texas, Texas ROSE (Ratepayers Organized to Save Energy) and the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) coalition.

Smitty has been a great leader for Public Citizen’s Texas office and he knows that his success was thanks to our supporters.

“The only way to beat political corruption is with organized people,” Smitty said. “Time after time I have seen a small group of citizens organize and speak out, and change happens. Our job as citizens is to take back our government and keep our government open, honest and responsive.”

We will miss working with Smitty, but he will continue to contribute to the betterment of the world as a public citizen wherever he goes.

Please help us find a new Executive Director.  The job description is posted here.

The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) released a study today that examines the finances of seven large Texas coal plants.  The news isn’t good for the owners of those plants, but it’s great for those of us fighting keep climate change to a manageable level, clean up air pollution and preserve our water resources.  The report – “The Beginning of the End: Fundamental Changes in Energy Markets Are Undermining the Financial Viability of Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas” – describes how the coal-fired electricity industry in Texas is in decline and unlikely to recover in the face of rising competition from other energy sources.

The report, presented by IEEFA in partnership with Public Citizen, analyses the performance of four merchant generators—the Big Brown, Martin Lake and Monticello plants owned by EFH’s Luminant subsidiary, and the Coleto Creek plant owned by Dynegy. It also analyzes three coal-fired plants owned public power utilities or power agencies—the Fayette Power Project (co-owned by Austin Energy and the Lower Colorado River Authority), Gibbons Creek (currently up for sale by the Texas Municipal Power Agency), and J.K. Spruce Unit 1 (owned by San Antonio’s CPS). The 8,100 MW of capacity from these seven plants represents a little more than 40 percent of the total coal-fired capacity in ERCOT.

The study shows that all but one of the plant is losing money and that even that one – Martin Lake – is barely making a profit.  If output or market prices dip below those assumed in the base case scenario, Martin Lake will also lose money – and all of the other plants will lose even more than they already are.

Print“None of the units is financially viable, as none can be expected to produce substantial pre-tax earnings for their owners or be economic for ratepayers in coming years. Indeed, all but one of the plants can be expected to produce pre-tax losses for their owners in coming years,” report author David Schlissel summarized.

“The key finding is that fundamental economic transformations are undermining coal plants in Texas and that six of seven Texas coal-fired generators they studied in Texas are at risk of retirement,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen. “The coal industry is undergoing rapid changes in Texas as EFH resolves its bankruptcy and considers retirement of its oldest plants, as Gibbons Creek is being sold, as Austin Energy has begun to put money toward the retirement of its Fayette plant, as CPS retires rather than retrofit its JT Deeley coal plant,” Smith said. “We think other Texas utilities should follow their lead. The transition will reduce costs, clear the air and create jobs.”

The report notes several forces arrayed against coal-fired generation and that suggest retirement of coal-fired plants is likely:

  • The collapse of natural gas prices and subsequent declines in the cost of generating power and the increases in generation at natural gas-fired power plants.
  • Increased competition from thousands of megawatts (MW) of new wind and solar resources due to steep declines in installation prices, improved operating efficiencies and transmission upgrades.
  • Low energy market prices in ERCOT’s deregulated wholesale markets driven by lower natural gas prices and increased generation from renewable resources. (Unlike in some regions of the country, ERCOT does not have a “capacity” market, which often serves to subsidize older plants and keep them on-line when they are no longer cost competitive.)
  • Sharp reductions in generation from coal-fired plants as their output has been displaced by increased output from renewable and natural gas-fired capacity. Many coal-fired power plants in Texas no longer act as “baseload plants,” and are instead limited to operations during the peak load seasons. Although coal-fired plants generated 39 percent of the electricity in ERCOT in 2015, by May of 2016 they provided only 24.8 percent.
  • Public health and environmental regulations, including the EPA’s regional haze rule, that are forcing coal-fired power plant owners to decide whether to make expensive investments in their aging coal fleet.

Schissel said it is not a question of whether ERCOT reliance on coal will fade, but when. “The discussion should shift now to how to phase out these plants, what to replace them with, and how to retrain their workers.”

Public Citizen Texas and Common Ground for Texans  are hosting a Railroad Commission Candidate Forum.

Do you know what the Texas Railroad Commission regulates? (And no it is not railways as the name might imply) If not, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to learn about it, and three of the candidates running for Railroad Commissioner, next weekend at a candidate forum with:

  • Grady Yarbrough (Democratic Party)
  • Wayne Christian (Republican Party) – had originally accepted, but had to cancel due to family obligations
  • Mark Miller (Libertarian Party)
  • Martina Salinas (Green Party)

The Railroad Commission is the regulator of oil and gas in Texas which make it a very important office. This forum should be a great chance to get acquainted with these candidates!  This is your opportunity to become a well-informed voter and learn about:

  • the roles and responsibilities of the Railroad Commission and its commissioners.
  • the differences between the candidates running for this important position.

The forum is Saturday, Sept. 10 Hope you can make it!

What: Texas Railroad Commissioner candidate forum
When: Saturday, Sept. 10th from 2 to 4 pm
Where: Yarborough Library, 2200 Hancock Drive, Austin, TX 78756 (see map)

  • You can also join from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/520109357

  • Or you can dial in using your phone.

United States +1 (872) 240-3212

Access Code: 520-109-357

 

Texas legislation and subsequent court rulings have made it difficult to know what you need to vote.  The League of Women Voters has put together this quick video and we have also included additional information about what you need and what constitutes voter harassment around the voter id issue.  So check out the post below and vote in local, state and federal elections.  It’s your right!

Great news for Texas Voters!

New Procedures for Voting in Person All citizens wishing to vote must still be on the official list of registered voters. For the November 8th election, the deadline to register is October 11th.

Voters may still use one of seven (7) forms of photo ID, listed below. IDs may be expired up to four years. (Previously IDs could be expired no more than 60 days.)

  • Driver license
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate (EIC)
  • Texas Personal Identification Card issued by DPS
  • Texas license to carry a handgun issued by DPS
  • US military identification card containing the person’s photograph
  • US citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph
  • US passport

ADDITIONALLY, new procedures allow registered voters without photo ID to sign a simple form* and present one of the following documents to vote a regular ballot:

  • Valid voter registration certificate (card)
  • Certified birth certificate
  • Current utility bill
  • Bank statement
  • Government check
  • Paycheck
  • Any other government document with the individual’s name and address
  • *The one-page form is called the “Voter’s Declaration of Reasonable Impediment or Difficulty”

Prohibition of Voter Harassment

  • Election officials cannot question a voter about the use of an ID type
  • Poll watchers may never question a voter about Voter ID issues

  • It was also made clear that the ID address does not have to match the voter registration address.

No Provisional Ballots

Voters who present one of the alternate documents and sign the declaration form “shall be permitted to vote a regular ballot.”

Other Provisions

Mayor Adler speaking about the Austin Energy rate case settlement on Aug 25, 2016. Council Members Casar and Pool also spoke at the press conference focused on environmental aspects of the rate case. Photo by Dave Cortez.

As of yesterday afternoon, Austin Energy’s rate case officially concluded with a unanimous vote of the City Council.  The result – lower bills for everyone and commitments to address two key environmental objectives.  The utility agreed to develop a financial, legal and technical plan that will allow its portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire at the end of 2022.  And the utility agreed to address the need for compensating commercial customers with solar installations for the energy they produce.  These commitments provide a path forward to transition away from burning coal and toward renewable energy.

The 2022 retirement date for Austin Energy’s portion of Fayette was established in the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025, but a detailed implementation plan is still lacking.  The agreement that Public Citizen and Sierra Club struck with Austin Energy as part of the rate case gives the utility until June 2017 to present a plan to the City Council.  And in the meantime, $5 million will be earmarked in Austin Energy Contingency Reserve as part of the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget to be used for repaying debt associated with Fayette.  What to do about the debt is expected to be a significant focus of the research Austin Energy will conduct between now and next June.  Austin Energy’s portion of Fayette is responsible for about 25% of Austin’s community-wide greenhouse gas emissions and about 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions, making retiring the plant a top priority for meeting Austin’s climate goals.  Additionally, the economics of producing power from coal are looking worse all the time, so retiring the plant will ultimately benefit ratepayers, as well as the environment.

The exact details of how to compensate commercial customers with solar will also be decided in the coming months, but a commitment to address this current policy shortfall was part of the rate case agreement.  We will continue to advocate for expansion of the Value of Solar (VoS) tariff to commercial customers.  The VoS, which was pioneered by Austin Energy and first implemented in 2012, is used to calculate bill credits for residential customers with solar.  This formula-based method allows for a transparent examination of the benefits that local solar provides and is structured to be cost-neutral to the utility.  Currently, the VoS doesn’t apply to commercial customers, nor are most commercial customers eligible for net metering (a method of one for one crediting energy produced for energy used).  As incentives continue to be phased out, it becomes even more critical that Austin Energy have good long-term policies in place to fairly compensate customers.  The rate case agreement ensures that the issue of compensating commercial customers for energy produced will be addressed as part of the FY 2018 budget.

We are pleased that the Austin City Council also chose to make adjustments to the residential rates that weren’t detailed in the agreement between Austin Energy and the other parties in the rate case.  Austin Energy had proposed changes that would have raised rates for those who use the least electricity, while reducing them for those who use the most.  We advised the Council that such a change would be contrary to established goals for reducing energy use and would unfairly burden those who had invested in energy efficiency.  In the end, Council agreed and new rates were adopted that will result in reduced bills for all residential customers (rate reductions for commercial customers were already ensured).  The new rate go into effect at the start of January 2017.

Public Citizen’s Texas office worked in partnership with the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter for the past seven months to ensure that environmental priorities were reflected in Austin Energy’s rates and financial planning.  Thanks to the many Austinites, including city council members who supported our efforts.

 

Win! In Precedent-Setting Case, Judge Finds Non-Disparagement Clause Unenforceable; Case Dismissed in Dallas Pet-Sitting Suit

Warning to Other Companies: Don’t Use Non-Disparagement Clauses to Silence Consumers
A Texas state court rightfully has dismissed a lawsuit against a Texas couple who was being sued for criticizing a Dallas pet-sitting business on Yelp. Public Citizen believes that this is the first case involving a non-disparagement clause in a consumer contract in which a court has held the clause unenforceable.

The judge for the 160th District Court of Dallas County dismissed both a libel claim and a non-disparagement clause claim and held that the couple – Robert and Michelle Duchouquette – would be awarded attorney fees as well as sanctions to deter future such lawsuits.

“Seeking to silence negative criticism, the owners of Prestigious Pets may well have put their whole company on the line,” said Paul Alan Levy, the Public Citizen attorney handling the case. “Not only did the company lose business when customers were disgusted over the non-disparagement lawsuit, it now is responsible to pay attorney fees and sanctions. This case should serve as a warning to other companies.”

The story began in October 2015, when the Duchouquettes hired Prestigious Pets to watch their two dogs and a fish while they were on vacation. After being dissatisfied with her experience with the company, Michelle wrote a one-star review on Yelp explaining that she didn’t like the fact that she could not reach the pet sitter directly when problems arose. She also wrote that the fish bowl water appeared cloudy, suggesting that the fish was overfed.

Prestigious Pets then brought a small claims lawsuit against the Duchouquettes, alleging that the review was defamatory and that the posting and subsequent statements to media violated a non-disparagement clause in the fine print of its standard contract. The couple filed an anti-SLAPP motion, seeking to have the suit dismissed because it chilled free speech while lacking a sound legal or factual basis. The company dismissed its small claims proceeding and sued in state district court alleging that the broader media attention resulting from the lawsuit had hurt the company’s business. The company also sought an award of up to one million dollars in damages.

Public Citizen entered the case on behalf of the couple, filing both an appeal from the implicit denial of the anti-SLAPP motion in small claims court and a new anti-SLAPP motion in the Texas district court. The appeal in the County Court, which seeks to recover the roughly $10,000 that the Duchouquettes had to spend for their private counsel in the small claims court, is still pending.

“I am thankful to have a ruling that supports our right to free speech. We should all have the opportunity to express our opinions without the fear of a lawsuit,” said Michelle Duchouquette. “We are so grateful for the attorneys who have supported us through the case. It took lots of hours and many smart minds spending too much time talking about Gordy the betta fish. Thank goodness they did not lose sight of the real issue: the threats posed by non-disparagement clauses to our right to free speech.”

Nicole Williams, Andrew Cookingham and Christopher Dachniwsky from the Dallas firm of Thompson and Knight are co-counsel.

Learn more about the case.

Been wondering what all those Bernie supporters are going to do now that their “candidate” is no longer running for President?  Well they have now  announced the creation of a new organization whose mission will be to carry forth the ‘political revolution’ through the general election and beyond. The Bernie Sanders “campaign” has issued a call to action for those inspired by the historic primary challenge and a message aimed at its detractors: We’re not done yet.  The new organization will be called ‘Our Revolution.

Sanders will begin activating his grassroots supporters for enacting a longer-term vision.  Around the country supporters of the new movement will host house parties on August 24th as a way to begin fueling Our Revolution. The kick-off evening, will include “a major live stream address where Bernie will talk about the specifics of what we can do going forward to fight for every single issue that drove his campaign.

If you want to find a house party in your area, go to the map and put in your zip code.

Sunset Commission Logo

Monday, August 22, 2016
House Appropriations Committee Room
Room E1.030, Capitol Extension
1400 Congress Avenue
Starting at 9:00 a.m.

This is not the Railroad Commission’s first rodeo.  It was punted in the 2011, 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions with a temporary re-authorization because the legislature failed to agree and pass a bill that would reauthorize the agency for another 12 years.  So once again this dysfunctional agency is in front of the Sunset Commissioners who must make recommendations about how the RRC should continue (and in case you were wondering – NO – the Railroad Commission does not regulate railroads.  Pipelines, oil and gas wells, and mines are among the things it oversees/rubber stamps.  And it does have some enforcement duties that don’t amount to much  So this is an agency that could use some serious changes, but unless the Texas legislature via the Sunset Commissioners know that the public is paying attention to what they do, they could just re-authorize the RRC for another 12 years with no significant changes.  This is where you come in.  Below is a description of the Sunset Advisory Commission and their process.  You can see the agenda for the August 22nd hearing here.

If you plan to testify, you will need to fill out a witness card upon your arrival at the Capitol in Room E1.030. We will have our internal sessions and refreshments in reserved rooms at the Capitol.  Parking is available in the Capitol Visitors Garage accessible on 12th or 13th Streets between Trinity and San Jacinto on the east side of the Capitol., please fill in the sheet here, so we can plan to accommodate everyone and for you to get information about the rooms we have reserved.  If you cannot come in person, there are other options (see below)

The Sunset Advisory Commission is an agency of the Texas Legislature that makes recommendations to the Legislature on whether to continue various state agencies.

The Commission was created in 1977 under the auspices of the Texas Sunset Act (now codified as Chapter 325 of the Texas Government Code).

The Commission consists of twelve members, ten of whom are legislators and the remaining two are members of the general public (see the current Commissioners below). The leader of each chamber of the Legislature (the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, who presides over the Texas Senate) each appoint five legislators and one public member to serve on the Commission. The chair and vice-chair rotate annually between the two chambers. The Commission appoints a director, who hires staff to carry out agency duties.  (A list of the members is located at the bottom of this post)

Under the Act, every state agency (excluding universities, courts, and agencies mandated under the Texas Constitution) has a specific date on which it will automatically be abolished, unless the Legislature passes specific legislation continuing the agency’s existence. This issue came into play during the 2009 Legislative session, when the session adjourned without the Legislature providing for the continued existence of several agencies, thus requiring the Governor to call a special session.

Prior to the scheduled cessation date of an agency, the agency’s functions are scheduled for review by the Commission. Each agency provides to the Commission a Self-Evaluation Report; the Commission staff prepares its recommendations (coordinating with other state oversight agencies, such as the State Auditor’s Office and the Legislative Budget Board) and takes public comments. A final public hearing is held prior to the Commission making its final recommendations to the Legislature. The final recommendation can be any of the following:

  • Continue the agency as is
  • Continue the agency with modifications (including moving functions from the agency to other agencies, moving functions from other agencies into it, and most commonly, making improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of an agency’s functions.)
  • Merge the agency with another agency
  • Disband the agency and either transfer its functions to other agencies, or abolish them altogether

If the Commission recommends continuation of the agency, it must provide draft legislation to continue the Agency and to make other recommendations. Generally, the legislation will allow the agency to continue for an additional 12 years (six biennial sessions), but may be shortened in order to equalize the number and size of agencies to be reviewed each biennium. Should an agency be abolished, the Act provides for a one-year wind-down period so the agency may conclude its operations. The Legislature must pass specific legislation to continue an agency’s existence and to define its roles and responsibilities, and has complete freedom to amend or reject the Commission’s recommendations (either to continue or abolish the agency).

The Sunset Process:

The Commission generally considers each agency under review during two public meetings.  About a month after release of a Sunset staff report, the Commission discusses the report’s recommendations and takes testimony from the public.   Any person is welcome to attend the public hearing and provide feedback on the staff recommendations or other issues relating to the agency.  For the Railroad Commission this hearing is August 22, 2016 at the capital.  Please note, however, testimony about individual cases or appeals is generally not allowed. The Sunset Commission cannot override an agency’s decisions.

At least a month after the public hearing, the Sunset Commission meets again to vote on its recommendations to the full Legislature about an agency. No additional public testimony is taken at this second meeting.  The Railroad Commission’s second meeting is scheduled for November 10th.  At this point the commissioners will issue their recommendations for any changes at the agency that will be considered in the reauthorizing legislation that needs to pass during the 85th legislative session, should the bill fail the agency is abolished but may continue business for up to one year.  Should no reauthorizing legislation pass, there is an omnibus bill that will allow an agency to undergo the sunset process during the next interim session, but the Railroad Commission’s reauthorizing process was already delayed last session.

Public participation is the cornerstone of the Sunset process.  It is how Sunset staff gains the broad perspective needed to conduct its review of state agencies and programs.  It is how the Sunset Commission receives feedback about the Sunset staff review and hears new ideas and issues beyond what staff has presented.  Ultimately, it is how the public itself can be assured of a say on fundamental matters affecting state agencies.

The public may participate in the Sunset process at this point by:

Giving feedback directly to the Sunset Commission.

After the Sunset staff report has been issued, the Sunset Commission conducts a public hearing to receive feedback on the staff’s work.  Interested persons may provide feedback in writing or by testifying at the hearing.  Because of the public nature of the proceeding, feedback received at this stage is public and will generally be placed on the Sunset Commission’s website for the public to see.  To be most effective, this feedback should be short and to the point and clearly indicate support, opposition, or changes to recommendations.  One may also present any new issues or solutions that were not raised in the Sunset staff report.  Sunset staff compiles this feedback to help the Sunset Commission make decisions about an agency.

If you cannot attend but want to submit written testimony, you can use the Public Input Form and watch a live stream of the hearing. or you can go to Public Citizen’s Action form with pre-written testimony.  Once you take action here  you will both automatically receive an email about the hearing and will be directed to the page to sign up to attend the hearing

If the reason you cannot attend is because they happened to schedule this hearing on the same day school starts in your area, be sure to mention this in your written testimony.

Sunset Commission Members

The Commission has five Senators, five Representatives, and two members of the public, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.  The position of chair rotates between the House and the Senate every two years.

Senate Members House Members
Van Taylor
Vice Chair
2015 to 2019
Plano
Larry Gonzales
Chair
2013 to 2017
Round Rock
Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

2013 to 2017
McAllen

Cindy Burkett

2013 to 2017
Sunnyvale

Robert Nichols

2015 to 2017
Jacksonville

Dan Flynn

2015 to 2019
Van

Charles Schwertner

2013 to 2017
Georgetown

Richard Peña Raymond

2013 to 2017
Laredo

Kirk Watson

2015 to 2019
Austin

Senfronia Thompson

2015 to 2019
Houston

LTC (Ret.) Allen B. West
Public Member
2015 to 2017
William Meadows
Public Member
2015 to 2017