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

The Jones State Forest Air Monitor

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

Stagnant Air = Bad Ozone

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

There are several steps to this process:

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

 

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

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

UPDATE 5/11/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

UPDATE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@publiccitizentx

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Attend Mobile

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

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

Fracking site near homes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 20-22, 2018

Fair Park in Dallas, Texas!

LOCATED 5 MINUTES EAST OF DOWNTOWN DALLAS, NEAR THE INTERSECTION OF INTERSTATE 30, INTERSTATE 45 AND HIGHWAY 75 (CENTRAL EXPRESSWAY).  Click here to get directions.  Click here for a map of the fairgrounds, we will be in the Centennial building (number 13 on the map) in spaces 5317-5319.
If you are planning to attend, you can make navigating the multiple events and exhibits easier with the EarthX 2018 official mobile application which you can get on google play or apple itunes.  We look forward to seeing you at Fair Park for Earthday!

In addition to hundreds of exhibitors, there is a slate of speakers and panels scheduled throughout the days of the expo in the Centennial and Automobile Buildings.  Be sure to catch David Arkush – Managing Director, Public Citizen’s Climate Program – on Saturday, April 21st from 12 noon to 1:00 pm on the Centennial Discovery Stage as he participates on a panel moderated by Betsy Rosenberg, an environmental talk show host and producer of The Green Front on Progressive Radio Network.

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

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

 

UPDATE:  Today (April 10, 2018), Public Citizen with a number of local organizations, kicked off an anti-nuclear waste tour in New Mexico.  Protesting Holtec’s proposed license application to accept and create interim storage for high-level radioactive waste on the border of New Mexico and west Texas, this tour will provide media and local citizen’s with information about the dangers of storage of this type of waste.  Watch Halt Holtec‘s live video of the tour kickoff event in Albuquerque, NM.

Since this story was posted, it was announced that after nearly a year of putting it on ice, Waste Control Specialists aims to revive its application for a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission license to build and operate a facility for consolidated interim storage of used fuel from commercial nuclear power reactors (a sort of purgatory before a final storage facility – Yucca Mountain?) . It is doing so in a joint venture planned with Orano USA.

Establishment of the joint venture and a formal request to restart the NRC review are expected in the second quarter of this year.

The plan remains to build a facility on Waste Control Specialists’ property in Andrews County, Texas, to temporarily hold up to 40,000 metric tons of spent fuel until the Department of Energy finds a permanent home for the radioactive waste.

When the NRC receives the WCS request to resume, a new schedule will be developed for continuing the review, publishing a new notice of hearing on the license application, and re-opening the environmental scoping period for 60 days.

Waste Control Specialists first submitted its application in April 2016, in partnership with NAC International and AREVA. The NRC completed its acceptance review of the application in January 2017, but the company in April of that year asked that the regulator halt the full technical review ahead of WCS’ then-pending merger with EnergySolutions. A federal judge blocked that deal on antitrust grounds, and Waste Control Specialists was acquired in January by private equity firm J.F. Lehman.

Orano USA was previously AREVA Nuclear Materials prior to its parent company’s renaming in January

Retired Public Citizen Texas Director, Tom “Smitty” Smith, continues environmental justice fights.  Here’s an update on proposals to dump high-level radioactive waste on the Texas/ New Mexico border region.

TEXAS – WCS
Here’s the latest involving WCS – Waste Control Specialists – the low-level radioactive waste dump company in Andrews County. They’ve been seeking a high-level radioactive waste storage license in addition to their current low-level waste licence, but have temporarily pulled back the license that was under review by the NRC. They could start up again any time, and could move lightning fast if they do.

Meantime, they’re busy working on bringing decommissioned reactors to Texas for shallow burial. The new owners are part of the Northstar Group, which is deep into decommissioning.

In addition, WCS is trying to get licensed for greater Than Class C Waste… it’s not the fuel rods, but is incredibly hot in terms of radioactivity.

NEW MEXICO – HOLTEC
There’s a huge threat from the Holtec proposal for consolidated interim storage of high-level radioactive waste. They want to put the nation’s nuclear reactor irradiated fuel rods at a site in between Carlsbad and Hobbs, NM, not far across the Texas border, and massive rail shipments would likely go through Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/ Ft. Worth, Midland, El Paso and more.

That would be over 10,000 shipments, in a process that would take over 24 years. The DOE expects at least one train accident.

The Texas WCS site wants 40,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste; the Holtec site is for 100,000 tons. Today, that is all that has been produced by U.S. reactors. The likelihood that this waste would ever be moved to a permanent storage facility is nil, making this part of the country the de facto permanent site for the nation’s radioactive waste.

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15 Companies and Groups, 60 People Are Backing a new organization, Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA) Kicks Off Electric Vehicle Coalition, With Energy and Momentum. 

The Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA) is a nonprofit organization composed of electric energy vehicle manufacturers, industry leaders, developers, distributors, producers, utilities, and environmental and transportation equity groups. Their mission is to guide and accelerate the adoption of electrical transportation in all its forms, in the most cost-effective way, providing maximum benefit to the citizens of Texas. Fifteen companies and groups, and more than 60 people are involved in the formation of TxETRA which launched on Friday, April 6th at the Austin Club in downtown Austin, TX.  You can watch the kickoff on our facebook page – @publiccitizentx.

“Texas – with its huge transportation network – can be a leader or a laggard,” said Bobby Hill, vice president of American Sales for BYD, a global manufacturer of electric vehicles (EVs) and a founder of TxETRA. “Transportation is electrifying at high speeds across the world. We in the industry are joining with the utilities, the researchers and the advocates to create TxETRA and to work together to develop the policies we need to become a world leader in the development of these technologies. Electric vehicles are cheaper to own and maintain, and are far less polluting than a conventional vehicle. A dozen countries have banned – or are considering banning – the sale of gas and diesel engines.”

“TxETRA was formed to ensure we develop policies to make Texas one of the leaders in that transition,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, TxETRA’s interim director. Smith was the director of Public Citizen’s Texas office for more than 30 years and has been a leader in developing renewable energy policies, including in the transportation sector. “If we develop the right policies, we can absorb that increased demand for electricity and lower our electric rates. We want to accelerate the deployment of EVs and make it possible for electric vehicle owners to have enough charging stations, pay fair rates for electricity, have controls in place to reduce unnecessary charging at times when the grid is stressed due to peak demand and get paid when their car batteries are used to provide reliability services to the grid.” Continue Reading »

Groups Call on Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to End Rule Suspensions, ‘Return to Normalcy’

 

UPDATE: We want to thank Governor Abbott and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for their quick action. The public spoke up about their concerns and the state responded. Environmental rules are there to protect the public and it’s important that they stay in place and are enforced.

We are happy with the announced outcome today, and we thank Governor Greg Abbott and the TCEQ for taking this step to protect the people of Texas.

Generally, we don’t think that rule suspensions are appropriate. The TCEQ always can choose not to fine facilities that pollute during a disaster. But with 46 environmental rules having been suspended across 60 counties for six months, there could be consequences to public health. If TCEQ chose to enforce against any violations that occurred during that time, companies might use the rule suspension as a defense against enforcement. This could limit the TCEQ’s ability to hold polluters accountable. When the next disaster happens, Public Citizen believes the governor should leave our public health and environmental protections in place.

AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) should reinstate public health and environmental protections suspended in response to Hurricane Harvey, nine groups said in a letter (PDF) sent to the agency today.

Public Citizen’s Texas office and its allies warned that the public health and environmental harms outweigh any justification for the continued suspension of 46 TCEQ rules ranging from air pollution limits to vehicle fuel standards to wastewater standards. The letter was signed by representatives from Bayou City Waterkeeper, the Coalition of Community Organizations, Environment Texas, Gulf Restoration Network, the One Breath Partnership, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services and Turtle Island Restoration Network. Accompanying the letter was a spreadsheet (PDF) listing the 46 rules and explaining why they should be reinstated.

“We believe that many of the rule suspensions were never appropriate. We also believe that, more than six months after the hurricane, there is no justification for continued suspension of these forty-six rules,” the letter reads.

“There may be serious public health consequences to leaving these suspensions in place. If they aren’t needed any more, they should be ended now,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, who spoke about the rules suspension at a TCEQ public meeting today.

One rule that should be reinstated limits visible emissions from flares to five minutes in any two-hour period. Pollutants from these flares have been linked to nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, coughing, difficulty breathing and premature death in people with heart or lung disease. A suspension of this rule carries grave consequences for public health, Shelley said.

“We are not aware of any companies that are experiencing continued operational difficulties as a result of Hurricane Harvey that would necessitate suspension of this rule,” the letter said.

The groups made three recommendations. First, the TCEQ must weigh the costs to public health and the environment against the value of continuing to suspend the rules. Second, the TCEQ needs to provide more information to the public about the continued rule suspensions. And third, if companies are not taking advantage of rule suspensions, those rules should be reinstated.