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A recent report by the University of Houston details how the fourth largest city in the nation can reduce air pollution by replacing old, polluting vehicles. (Full disclosure: the report was funded in part by Public Citizen and the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.) By 2040, the eight-county Houston region will have 30-50% more cars on the road and 40-80% more trucks. A business-as-usual scenario for those vehicles would lead to 122 additional deaths in Houston. In contrast, replacing pollution intensive vehicles with electric and clean tech vehicles could save 246 lives.

Houston has battled air pollution—particularly ozone—for decades. Air quality is complex in Houston, with pollution contributions from cars and trucks, energy generation, and one of the largest concentrations of petrochemical manufacturing facilities found anywhere in the world.

Scientists are increasingly appreciating the role that transportation plays in air pollution. Diesel trucks are some of the worst offenders, and the best thing Houston can do to fight pollution from the transportation sector is to replace our oldest and dirtiest trucks.

This turns out to be true whether those trucks are replaced with electric vehicles or so-called “emissions controlled” vehicles. Newer diesel engines can be up to 90% cleaner than their older cousins. This fact, combined with the low-cost and familiarity of diesel engines, means that regulators looking for cheap and easy solutions to clean the air often turn to diesel vehicles first.

But there are a number of reasons why electric vehicles (EVs) are a better alternative to “clean combustion” vehicles. Let’s look at a few of them now.

Electric vehicles save money. If you purchase an electric car or truck today, you will spend more than if you purchased an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. But that doesn’t mean EVs cost more. In fact, over the lifetime of ownership of a vehicle, you will save money if you purchase an EV. The first saving comes in fuel costs—it’s more expensive to fill a gas tank than to plug in your car at home or at work. The next savings is in maintenance cost. EVs have fewer moving parts, so the long-term maintenance cost of an electric vehicle is significantly less than an ICE vehicle. And with EV prices declining rapidly, even the initial cost will be less than that of an ICE vehicle within about seven years. Sometime between now and then, we are likely to see a tipping point, as vehicle purchasers begin to appreciate how they can save money with EVs.

Electric vehicles are inherently cleaner. EVs never have tailpipe emissions—they are truly zero emissions. They do pull energy from the electricity grid, and most of the energy on the grid comes from fossil fuel sources today. But Texas’ grid is getting cleaner by the year. Which means that the air pollution EVs are indirectly responsible for will continue to decrease.

Clean tech does not always work. “Clean diesel” vehicles, unlike EVs, still emit pollution. And the amount of pollution they emit is highly dependent on how they are used and how frequently they are serviced. Diesel trucks rely on something called a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to reduce air pollution. But DPFs only work at certain operating temperatures. Vehicles that idle for long periods of time, such as drayage trucks operating at the Port of Houston, often fall outside of those temperatures, rendering the DPF ineffective. Vehicle emissions controls also only work if vehicles are continuously maintained (this is why you have to get an emissions test on your car every year). As “clean diesel” trucks age, they stop being so clean.

These are a few of the reasons why we advocate for replacing today’s transportation fleet with electric vehicles—the fleets of the future. Texas has $209 million dollars in Volkswagen mitigation funds to spend on clean transportation in the coming years. Cheap, “clean” diesels may seem like a bargain, but they are not. As we propel Texas and Houston toward a cleaner future, we should embrace the best technologies available. Our lives depend on it.

Last week was difficult. The IPCC report – Global Warming of 1.5 °C – was released on Monday, October 8 and the news articles that ensued after its release were torrential and more often than not, dire. I read one after the another like my life depended on it, inundating myself with predictions of doom, whispers of hope, and passionate calls to action.

By the end of the week, my nervous system was fried. My ecoanxiety was worse than ever.

I work as a climate justice organizer based in San Antonio, Texas with Public Citizen. People often ask me what my job means. In short, organizing is “a practice aimed at helping people create the social movements and political organizations necessary to wage campaigns and win power”. When centered around climate justice, it means that I work towards building power to address climate change and support climate solutions. I spend my days doing research, reading policy and news, hosting meetings, attending meetings, planning events, petitioning, canvassing, sending emails, conversing with all kinds of people, writing, educating, speaking, presenting, and a whole host of other things.

This work is extremely meaningful to me and I can’t see myself doing anything else at this point in my life. I’m immensely grateful that I’m able to make organizing my profession. However, you don’t have to be a professional organizer to organize. Some of the best organizers I know have day jobs. They organize because they are angry at the vast injustices that exist and are passionate about building a better world for everyone. The realization that the injustices of the world are created by unjust systems and structures and understanding that those systems and structures can be dismantled, transformed, and built anew is the root of organizing. Our economic, social, and governing structures were created by people and therefore can be changed by people.

We have the ability to affect change. But we can only affect change collectively.

 

 

Organizing is not something that happens – or at the very least succeeds – as an individual effort. At the heart of organizing is community building. However, our society is built around isolation and alienation. This is the great challenge and strength behind organizing: bringing people together, creating meaningful relationships, and engaging in important and significant work.  

The IPCC report states that the next decade is the definitive decade for whether or not we stay within 1.5C of warming for the Earth. More than 1.5C of warming means that every coastal city in the world floods, every island nation disappears under rising sea levels, hundreds of millions of people become climate refugees, drought, food scarcity, and vector-borne diseases would all become increasingly persistent and severe problems, and we’d run the risk of feedback loops leading us into even more warming and even more climate catastrophe. Simply put, the more the planet heats up, the more uninhabitable it becomes for life, including humans.  

I hear people express concern and worry over unaffordable housing and gentrification, food deserts, increasingly severe flooding and weather events, lack of public transit, poor air quality, police and ICE brutality and discrimination, the lack of safe pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, meaningless jobs that don’t pay a livable wage, a broken healthcare system, longer heatwaves, mental health concerns, barriers to political engagement, and many other issues. Climate justice has a stake in all of these issues and all of these an issues can be (and more likely than not are) organized around. Organizing isn’t easy by any means, but it offers us the tools to make our lives better and in the case of climate change, it means fighting for life as we know it.

Many battles have been won from organizing such as 8-hour workdays to free breakfast in schools to desegregation to women having the right to vote and countless more. The rights that we enjoy today are the results of coordinated efforts by people, not the goodwill of those with power.  

Now is the time for all hands on deck. We are at such a critical and uncertain moment in humanity’s history, we must act. Anyone can become an organizer and everyone who can should. We must organize and win collective power in order to prevent climate catastrophe.

When people ask me what it means to be an organizer, I tell that it means being defiant. It means refusing to settle for the status quo under an unjust and cruel system. It means speaking louder when I am told to be silent.

Organizing means knowing a better world is possible and fighting alongside others to make it a reality. 

 

If you are interested in organizing opportunities in San Antonio, you can contact Briauna at [email protected].

 

Ever wonder who makes rules for how an attorney interacts with you as a client?  That would be the Texas State Bar, and as of 2011, non-attorneys can submit comments on the proposed rule changes.  Now is your chance.
The Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda (CDRR) has published proposed rules changes regarding attorney – client confidentiality/ethics advice and diminished capacity.  You can see the proposed rule change by clicking on Publication 18-3 and 18-4- final_v5-4
 
A public hearing on the proposed rules was held on October 10, 2018.
 
The committee is accepting comments concerning the proposed rules through November 1, 2018.  Comments can be submitted at texasbar.com/CDRR .
 
The committee was created by Government Code section 81.0872 and is responsible for overseeing the initial process for proposing a disciplinary rule. For more information, go to texasbar.com/CDRR .
Feel free to share this post with anyone you know who might want to weigh in on these rules.

On Monday, October 8, 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report, that holding average global warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) – the stronger of the two goals set in the Paris Agreement Climate Agreement – is still possible, but only with urgent action.

The report was requested by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Member countries recognized that the emissions reductions commitments made by participant countries weren’t sufficient to meet the temperature goals in the Agreement, so they asked the IPCC to provide additional technical information that could inform future updates. The report will serve as key input for the next U.N. climate change conference in Poland in December.

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS: 1.5°C vs. 2°C

Current international commitments would result in global warming that is closer to 3°C — far above the 1.5°C and 2°C (2.7 – 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) targets of the Paris agreement. Any temperature rise more than 1.5°C would bring cataclysmic changes in the global environment, including the death of life-sustaining ecosystems, the complete melting of the ice caps, and the rendering of enormous amounts of land both unfarmable and unlivable. Additionally, according to the report “limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million”.

IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C, Summary for Policymakers, pg 13

Earth’s sea level has already risen by about seven or eight inches since 1900. The new report shows that in a 2°C world, sea level rise is projected to be about four inches higher than it would be in a 1.5°C world. That’s enough to expose an additional 10 million people around the world to risks from sea level rise (31-69 million people in 1.5°C scenario, compared to 32-79 million people in the 2°C scenario).

The report shows that in mid-latitude countries, like the United States, our hottest days are expected to be significantly higher and more numerous in a 2°C world than in a 1.5°C world. The U.S is also likely to experience other serious impacts, including more intense and frequent extreme weather events, more severe droughts and heatwaves, and an increase in hospitalization and fatalities from these impacts, all of which we have seen in the past decade.

Even today, extreme weather events have had serious consequences for the health and safety of people in the U.S. and around the world. We only need to look to this year to see how extreme heat waves helped create the conditions for large wildfires in the West, which led to the loss of life and homes. Hurricane Florence led to numerous deaths and damaged infrastructure. And we will be hearing about the impacts of Hurricane Michael in the coming days and weeks. The 2017’s wildfire season and hurricanes tell a similar story. More global warming means more of these kinds of events.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

The report outlines the several possible emissions pathways and associated actions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2°C. Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to peak by 2020, and must reach net-zero by between 2014 and 2055. The probability of keeping warming to 1.5 °C is significantly higher if net zero global CO2 emissions is reached in 2040, as opposed to 2055. Reduction of other global warming gases, including methane, needs to start by 2030.

IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C, Summary for Policymakers, pg 6

Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C is physically and technically possible, but will require system change on an unprecedented level. The composition of our energy sources, our means of transportation, the way we grow food, the types of foods we consume, the products we use and industrial processes (such as cement production) all have to change.

Removing CO2 from the air and sequestering it – using methods such as reforestation, land restoration, and technologies to capture CO2 – will be necessary, even with the emissions reductions described.

As one of the biggest emitters of global warming emissions, the U.S. has a big role to play in limiting warming to 1.5°C. The Trump administration’s plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, as well as its moves to roll back other key domestic policies that would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, leaves the burden for taking action on states and local governments.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

While we can make changes as individuals, the political will of communities and countries are needed to make the level of changes that are necessary. Supporting policy and system changes is the most important thing you can do. We must demand that our elected officials enact rapid and divisive climate policies that decarbonize the economy on the federal level, such as with a Green New Deal.

To reduce emissions in our daily life, we can reduce our home energy consumption, opt for public and human-powered transportation when possible, stop consuming meat, buy less and reuse more, and have fewer children. However, it’s important to remember that individual actions are not enough to address climate change. Collective action is necessary and vital if we are to limit planetary warming to 1.5°C and preserve a livable planet.

We’ve known about the risks associated with global warming for years now and the report shows limiting global warming to 1.5°C will certainly not be easy. It will require major societal transformations. But it is possible and a better, healthier, more equitable world will be the result of all our efforts, if we act now.

Check out our upcoming Facebook video discussion with Public Citizen’s San Antonio Climate Justice organizer, Briauna Barrera and Energy Policy and Outreach Specialist, Kaiba White.

Nuclear waste may soon be coming through your city. But you can speak out and say, “No!”

The public has until October 19th to speak out against a plan to dump dangerous radioactive waste in Texas from nuclear reactors around the country.

A High Level Radioactive Waste Dump?

A high-risk, high-level radioactive waste dump has been proposed in West Texas, and people across the state are speaking out against it. And they are not only speaking out against the dump. They are also speaking out against the transportation of high level radioactive waste across the state. Transporting this waste could put people’s lives at risk to leaks, accidents, and other threats.

In Houston, Public Citizen has worked with Coalition of Community Organizations, Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) to bring awareness to the issue of high-level nuclear waste transport in Texas. Together, these organizations kicked off the “Protect Texas from Radioactive Waste” Tour in Houston in late September.

At a community meeting in Fifth Ward on Sept. 24th and a press conference near downtown on Sept. 25th, Karen Hadden shared details on the proposal and its potential impact on communities around the state.

The Plan

What’s the plan? Some 40,000 tons of irradiated fuel rods from nuclear reactors around the country would be brought to Texas and stored at an existing low-level radioactive waste site for 40 years or longer.

What’s at risk? By creating a consolidated interim storage facility, a permanent disposal facility may never be created. Deadly nuclear waste must be isolated from people and the environment for a million years. Exposure to radiation can cause cancer, genetic damage and birth defects, and being close to unshielded waste is lethal.

Diane D’Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director with Nuclear Information Resource Service, discussed how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held only one meeting in all of Texas on the original application, over a year ago in West Texas. By contrast, the NRC hosted five meetings this year in New Mexico for a similar high-level radioactive waste proposal by Holtec for a site near Carlsbad and two dozen for a proposed Nevada dump. Texan voices are being left out of the process. The NRC needs to let the voices of Texans be heard by holding public meetings across the state: in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, El Paso and Midland, where people would be at risk from potential radioactive waste transport accidents.

Kerstin Rudek, from Gorleben Germany, spoke about the high-level radioactive waste storage experiences of her community and warned people to fight.Waste Control Specialists’ re-started license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has created a brief time for public input. The group shared that public opposition has stopped the siting of radioactive waste dumps in the past, and it can be done here.

A single train car could carry as much plutonium as was dropped on Nagasaki. While not in bomb grade form, radioactive waste could leak and cause catastrophe for communities living its wake. There is no need for deadly waste to come through Houston or any other community in Texas.

Public health and safety, including protection of the millions of people here in Houston, should take precedence over the potential profits of a company that wants to bring deadly nuclear reactor waste to Texas

Rail lines run close to many homes, schools and businesses and insurance policies generally don’t cover radiological impacts. An accident with a radiation leak could cause disaster, impacting our health and costing billions of dollars to remediate. The NRC should protect Texans’ health and safety and deny the license application.

Traveling from Gorlaben, Germany, Kerstin Rudek shared her story:

“Our rural farming community was targeted to take high-level radioactive waste in Gorleben, Germany, and in 2011, we stopped the the nuclear industry from bringing transports to our area with protests on the streets and on the railroads with 50,000 people,” said Kerstin Rudek. “We have serious concerns about risks to our health, our water, and our food. There’s been massive opposition, even from conservative people who never took action before. We don’t want the dangerous waste that is being dumped on us. I am here to share our successes and hope that Texans can prevent being dumped on!”

Texans Have Options

What could we do instead? The least risky approach to dealing with high-level radioactive waste would be to keep it at reactor sites, or nearby, for now and use more robust canisters and casks. There’s no need to move the waste anywhere and no need to centralize the waste, since a permanent repository is not available. Spent nuclear fuel can be kept onsite in dry storage for 60 years after reactors cease operating.

To learn more, go to www.NoNuclearWaste.org.

The public can comment on the license application until Oct. 19th. Comments on WCS/ ISP’s Consolidated Interim Storage Facility should include Docket ID NRC-2016-0231, and be emailed to [email protected]. Comment letters can also be sent from www.NoNuclearWaste.org.

The public can also submit requests for a hearing and petition to intervene in the licensing proceedings until October 29th. Information is available on the August 29, 2018 Federal Register

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/08/29/2018-18758/interim-storage-partners-waste-control-specialists-consolidated-interim-storage-facility

On Tuesday, September 17, the Dallas City Council passed its new biennium budget, funding an environmental plan with the development of a climate plan.

The historic vote was marked by a press conference with ten environmental and health groups and Council Member Sandy Greyson, who fostered the $500,000 budget amendment for the plan.  The Office of Environmental Quality, that will oversee the climate planning process, also participated in the press event.

The Dallas Mayor issued a statement regarding the vote noting:

 “With no current state or federal action on climate change, it is apparent that local governments must shoulder the burden. The City of Dallas accepts this responsibility and is actively working towards building a greener, more resilient city.  Addressing climate change should not be a controversial or partisan issue, and local leaders and the marketplace should work together in pursuing climate action.”

“That’s why I am excited that we have approved funding for a Comprehensive Environmental Action Plan.  The City’s Office of Environmental Quality & Sustainability will have the resources and responsibility to chart a path of environmental and climate action for the coming years in alignment with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings signed onto the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda in June 2017, which was formed after the United States withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement and commits cities to the goals of the Paris accord.

A total of five cities in Texashave signed the Mayors’ Climate letter. Austin passed a climate plan in 2015. San Antonioisdeveloping a climate plan now, while Houston has just initiated its planning process.  San Marcos and Smithville have also signed onto the Mayor’s Agreement.

More cities in Texas, both large and small, need to step up to the plate and do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint. When an area reduces its dependence on fossil fuels, it can also be beneficial to improving overall air quality in regard to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), both major components of ozone.

In Dallas, 1 in 10 children suffer from asthma, costing Dallas County more than $60 million annually, yes annually, in direct and indirect costs.  Clearing the air can only help improve the health and vitality of all our communities.

The U.S. is the only country worldwide that is not part of the Paris Climate Agreement, after the current Trump Administration pulled out of its commitment.  As a result, the Mayors Climate Coalition was formed, with more than 400 Mayors representing 70 million Americans dedicated to taking action to reduce their communities’ carbon footprint.

So I urge citizens to band together, to talk to their City Councils, and ask their municipalities to join the Mayors Climate Coalition.

Now that Dallas has stepped up to begin its climate planning process, it is my hope that neighboring Ft. Worth and other cities around the state, will take on the challenge, for the health and welfare of their communities.

For more than fifteen years, Rita Beving has been a volunteer and professional advocate on environmental issues including air, water, and landfill in North and East Texas coordinating with numerous environmental groups across the state.

Currently, she serves as a consultant for Public Citizen on clean energy and eminent domain work in North Texas.   Rita conducts ongoing monthly clean air meetings to educate the public on energy efficiency, PACE renewable energy districts, and other clean air issues in North Texas.

Scoping Meeting

Wednesday, September 12th, a scoping meeting was held for the Texas Gulf Coast Terminals Project- Deepwater Port Application. Texas Gulf Coast Terminals is a subsidiary of Trafigura, a Swedish company. I attended and commented at the meeting as a representative of Public Citizen and as a Corpus Christian, my hometown being Corpus Christi. Public Citizen recognized the importance of this application on both a local and national level. Along with our efforts were local Sierra Club members including Hal Suter and Lois Huff, Jim Klein president of the Clean Economy Coalition, Lauren Loney a UT Law Environmental Justice and Community Development Fellow, as well as other passionate local environmental scientists and activists. 

The Application

Corpus Christi is known as the “sparkling city by the sea”, however, the city’s  attachment to the oil industry has given our home other reputations. For instance, I was visiting Corpus Christi two Christmases ago when an erosive chemical from Valero polluted the city’s water. We could not drink, shower, or even boil the water for use. Local businesses were greatly disrupted financially by this industry event and we became dark humored memes across the state and nation. Corpus Christi is now known as the city with bad water. Moreover, when I learned about the proposed deepwater port license, I had great concerns as to the potential repercussions this level of industry could bring to the health of the Corpus Christi community, gulf coast tourism, fragile marine ecosystems, as well as the big picture consequences this application is tied to. The Trafigura offshore port is designed to accommodate very large crude carriers – called VLCCs – that each can carry 2 million barrels of oil. Trafigura is a secretive, privately-held company that has refused to provide details about its ownership structure as part of this application. 

Local Impacts

With the massive amounts of fracked oil exportation that this license allows (which will be traveling through a pipeline that cuts across the vital and sensitive Laguna Madre), if any accident were to occur, as they do, this would be catastrophic to our coastal marine ecosystems. The pipeline (as mapped in the photo below) is also placed less than a mile from Padre Island National Seashores, where nature is preserved and tourism flourishes.

The Laguna Madre is the only hypersaline lagoon in North America and is one of only 6 hypersaline lagoons in the world. The Laguna Madre, Padre Island, and surrounding habitat in the Lower Rio Grande Valley are critical for several endangered species, including the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, ocelots, and millions of migrating waterfowl such as the federally-listed piping plover. The seagrass beds of the Laguna Madre also provide habitat for one of the world’s most productive fisheries, supporting vibrant angler and eco-tourism industries. The Laguna Madre, Padre Island, and surrounding habitat have been the focus of conservation efforts for decades.

This project would put this unique resource at risk and directly threaten the years of work that have gone into conserving both the habitat and the species that call Laguna Madre home. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should consider the impact on federally and state-listed threatened or endangered species as well as their associated habitat requirements, the fishery, migratory birds that winter in the Laguna Madre, as well as the local eco-tourism industries. 

If this port is built, we would also expect locally to feel the effects of increased water use and pollution issues, and a worsening of our air quality leading to further public health risks. Exporting high volumes of crude will also impact the energy direction of our state. This opening of the gates would lead to increased fracking and the environmental issues associated with fracking – impacts largely felt in Permian basin and other oil-producing areas in Texas where fracking is common.

This proposed license serves up the question, “What would we like Corpus Christi to be known for?” Is it indeed the sparkling city by the sea, or is it the city of industry, of industry pollution? 

Why should Corpus be making such a choice? When the city could be investing in long term health and energy reliability like that of renewable energy?

US Energy Policy Impacts

The Trafigura offshore oil port has global implications for the crude oil trade, as it will vastly expedite the ability to export greater volumes of fracked crude oil out of the United States. Facilitating crude oil exports will increase the financial incentive to expand fracking in Texas – leading to environmental and water challenges in the Permian and Eagle Ford. There will be not only local environmental impacts, but global climate impacts because of the Trafigura port influence on global oil markets.

The port would ultimately allow the United States to reach new heights of oil exporting. The financial temptation has come in the form of a Swedish company wanting to build a port in international waters with minimal accountability if a pollution event were to occur. To make matters worse, Trafigura’s informational holes in it’s application only lends to further distrust by local activists. The public has a right to know who exactly owns Trafigura.

What Comes Next?

Stay tuned to Public Citizen for future opportunities to comment. We will keep you updated when the EIS is released. In the meantime, click here to view the notice of application.

 

 

There is a lot of misinformation spreading around Texas right now about wind energy.

This summer, Texas set new records for energy demand, the product of millions of Texans running their air conditioning to beat the extreme heat. Earlier this year, several coal plants were retired, taking hundreds of megawatts of power off the grid and raising the question whether Texas’ energy supply could meet demand. The grid responded well, and Texans have not faced energy shortages, price spikes, or reliability issues. (You already know this. Did you experience blackouts? Did your bills spike?)

But lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry have taken this opportunity to spread misinformation about the role of wind and other renewable energy sources. They have claimed, for example, that wind energy is detrimental because the wind blows the most at night, when demand is low. (This is nonsense. Energy demand never drops to zero, and Texas is able to use the energy produced by wind at all hours of the day.)

We have also been told that renewable energy subsidies are disrupting energy markets, forcing sources like coal out of business. If you are a 19th century energy tycoon, you think of the situation something like this:

Original Image from Texas Public Policy Foundation

 

It is true that coal is having trouble competing, but that has nothing to do with energy subsidies and everything to do with Texas’ competitive energy market. Simply put: where wind is more affordable than coal, coal can’t compete and is priced out of the market.

That’s a good thing. We’ve replaced a dirty, fossil source of fuel with a clean, renewable source, and we’ve saved consumers money. That is a robust energy market at work.

But what about energy subsidies? We’re told that wind can only compete because it is propped up by government handouts. Is that true?

It is true that wind receives subsidies, but every source of energy receives subsidies, and always has. Subsidies for coal, oil, and natural gas have been in place for decades. The list of subsidies that have been available over the years is overwhelming: https://www.stopthesubsidies.com/.

In Texas, the fossil lobby’s ire over subsidies is directed at Chapter 313 of the Tax Code, the Texas Economic Development Act.

Chapter 313 was created in 2001 to incentivize large industrial projects by allowing school districts to lower property taxes for up to ten years. The theory behind Chapter 313 is that lower taxes will attract investment that would otherwise go elsewhere. From its creation through 2015, Chapter 313 has incentivized more than $81 billion in investment. Out of 311 approved projects, 144 were for wind energy and 22 were for other non-wind renewable energy projects. Oil and gas projects are lumped into a category of “manufacturing” projects that has included 139 projects over the years. Chapter 313 has also been used twice for nuclear projects and four times for research and development projects. At present, Chapter 313 is set to expire in 2022. Public Citizen supports Chapter 313 and believes that it should be continued by the state legislature. (We would like to thank Vanessa Tutos and Sarah Greenberg with EDPR for their research on Chapter 313. Greenberg, S. (2018) Chapter 313 Research Summary. Internal EDPR report. Unpublished.)

Here’s the thing about Chapter 313: it’s a tax break. Tax breaks are tried and true economic incentives. If you lower taxes, you incentivize investment. That’s a position long held by fiscal conservatives. If we were drawing our own version of the cartoon above (and guess what? we did!) it would look something like this:

Chapter 313 isn’t taking money out of anyone’s pocket. It is providing school districts with a way to incentivize economic investment within their borders. If a school district attracts a wind energy project (or any project) with a Chapter 313 incentive, then it increases its tax base and gets more money for its schools. There are small school districts in West Texas that have built entire schools with revenues from Chapter 313 projects.

So why are the fossil lobbyists so opposed to Chapter 313? Before we answer that question, here’s another surprising fact about Chapter 313.

It’s been used by the oil and gas industry nearly twice as much as by the wind industry.

From the beginning of the program in 2001 through 2015, oil and gas companies have received $3,244,574,036 in tax breaks from Chapter 313. Wind companies have received $1,563,876,000.

So don’t believe the fossil lobby when they talk about Chapter 313 as a “renewable subsidy.” It’s benefited the oil and gas industry more than twice as much as the wind industry. And if Chapter 313 tax abatements are ended, Texas communities and schools could miss out on the economic support brought by these wind projects, while all Texas residents could miss out on having more affordable electricity.

The fossil tycoons are scared. They can’t compete in the 21st century energy economy. They are lashing out with big-money lobby campaigns and misinformation. If they are successful, they could set the transition to renewable energy back several years. But they can’t stop the inevitable: clean, affordable energy for all Texans.

Drive Electric

UPDATE:  Yes the Austin Drive Electric Event is still happening on Saturday 9/15/2018 (as of 9/14/2018 3:30 PM)

Guest submission by Michael Osborne, founding member and current Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA) board Chair. 

There is something to driving electric that is more than the sum of its parts.  Sure, they are faster (generally), they are quieter, you don’t have to breath dangerous chemicals to make them go, and there is some comfort in the fact that if you accidentally fall asleep in your car while parked in the garage, you actually will wake up.

Most electric cars are smarter than their smoking hillbilly cousins and they are definitely cheaper to drive.  Want to pay a dollar for gas… drive electric.  Want to never spend $129.00 dollars on an oil change, oil filter, and air filter again… drive electric.  Tired of waiting for your car as your mechanic finishes that brake job on your 3 year old car…drive electric.

Plus, you might experience what I experienced several months ago.  I was driving east on Hwy 290, a little faster than the speed limit, when this huge “dually” truck  (four tires on the rear axel) comes roaring around me.  It’s a real fancy black truck with shiny dual vertical chrome exhaust pipes running up on both sides of the cabin. There was probably some stickers that I didn’t read but I suspect that the long haired driver was a member of a political class that rhymes with bumper.

So this guy passes me, then abruptly slows down in front of me. Then, with the flick of some switch, he zooms off leaving a huge noxious black cloud of smoke in his tracks, with me in those tracks; I mean thick black smoke like a locomotive in a western movie.

I had been “smoked”.

And yes, that is a thing.

Surely, I deserved it in his eyes, I was driving the fastest, smartest car on the road in my judgment, and he needed to communicate his unhappiness with that. It was a first amendment thing.

So watch out for those smokers.

Personally, I’m on my second electric car.  The one I have now is all electric, and the one I had before was a plug-in hybrid. The plug-in hybrid went about 40 miles on electric fuel, and then if I needed to travel, the on-board generator would kick in.  There was zero range anxiety and as a cultural transition vehicle, it is pretty smart.  A plug-in hybrid embodies the 80/20 rule quite nicely.  With 80% of trips under 40 miles, then make those emission free trips.  When you drive to Memphis, do that with gas.

I don’t have that option with my “S”.  If I’m traveling out of town, I need to do a little planning.  Fortunately, the computer makes that easy.  One night I got down to about 25 miles before I pulled into the high-speed charger behind the discount mall at mile 202.  Within a few minutes, I had 120 miles again, and Austin was only 30 miles away. Most of the time I charge overnight and wake up to a car that is almost always full and ready to go.

But electric driving is different.  You don’t think of getting a fill-up.  You think of getting home.  Because, unlike a gas car, you get most of your “go” at home.

Electric Car sales are gearing up so to speak.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “cumulative passenger EV sales worldwide are set to hit 4 million this week.  Including electric buses, the 4 million threshold has already been reached. At the end of June, there were more than 3.5 million passenger EVs sold globally and about 421,000 electric buses, bringing the total number of EVs sold to 3.97 million.

Sales were driven in large part by China, which is responsible for around 37 percent of passenger EVs sold around the world since 2011 and around 99 percent of e-buses.”

Bloomberg goes on:

Setting e-buses aside, we expect cumulative passenger EV sales to reach 4 million units before the start of September 2018. There are several new EV models that we expect to come to the market before the end of 2018, which should help increase sales numbers globally.

The next million EVs will take just over 6 months. We expect the five-millionth EV to be sold in March 2019.

 

There is a professor at Texas A & M who considers himself an electric car expert.  He doesn’t believe that we will ever replace the advanced gasoline cars of today because they are just so good.

He also doesn’t drive an electric car.

He also doesn’t believe that climate change is a transcendent problem. That in order to get the carbon out of our world, we will need to run our cars on wind and solar.  And with enough electric cars, we will have enough stored energy to do it.

Driving Electric is more than the sum of its parts, because electric transportation is the building block to a carbon-free world.

September is a good a time to start because it’s Drive Electric Week from the 8th to the 16th.  Here in Texas, there will be events in Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, and Austin.  The Dallas event is in Grapevine on Sept 8th, and the Austin event is on the 15th.

Join us in Austin on Electric Drive Saturday, September 15th, and climb into the driver’s seat of the newest electric vehicles available. There will also be the latest scooters, motorcycles, mopeds, buses, skateboards and bikes. Grab lunch from one of our food trucks and enjoy the live music, workshops and activities for kids!

Sponsored locally by Public Citizen, the Texas Electric Transportation Resources Alliance (TxETRA), Austin Energy, and SmartCharge America, it might be your opportunity to become part of the solution.

Hopefully, it will help keep us all from getting “smoked”.

Michael Osborne led the Plug-in Partners effort to develop the 10,000-plus  soft orders that led to the production of GM’s Chevy Volt.  In the 1980s, Osborne saw the potential of Texas’ vast wind and solar energy resources. He co-founded the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Alliance (TREIA) and The Wind Coalition, both of which successfully advocated policies that helped make Texas the No. 1 wind energy producer in the nation and fifth in the world for wind energy production.

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.

We have been posting a lot about climate change impacts on our facebook page the past several months and when I read articles about a climate action plan goal of keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, I realize that that means very little to me intuitively (and not just because I am American and think of temperature in Fahrenheit), because I cannot translate that to my day to day life.  However, living here in Central Texas, I can relate to what a 100 degree temperature high is like.

Last week a co-worker forwarded a link to a New York Times page “How Much Hotter Is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born?” that lets you put in your hometown (or any location) and the year you were born, and it shows you the number of days over 90 degrees when you were born, today and by the end of this century.  Obviously, here in Central Texas, 100 is the benchmark by which we deem a day as really hot, and over the Labor Day weekend, Austin, Texas had logged 52 days of 100+ degree highs making it the 5th most in the area since our weather record keeping began.  One of the local weather stations also reported that this has been the 3rd hottest summer in Austin, falling below the years of 2009 and 2011.

Over the past several weeks, as I heard more and more people expressing their intolerance for the relentless heat, I started to think about my 40 years of summers here in Central Texas.  My recollection was that there used to be summers with fewer days at 100 degrees when I first moved here.  Rather than depend upon my intuitive statistics, I decided to look at historical highs for the past 40 years, and they in fact bore out my initial thesis that we were experiencing more high heat days since 1978.  Now I should point out that the City of Austin has grown from a population of 331,900 in 1978 to 950,715 in 2017 along with commensurate development, creating a heat island, but even areas that have not had explosive population growth such as Clovis, NM, when I plug that into the NY Times site it still showed increasing numbers of hot weather days.  That said, I decided to look at recorded high temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the months of May through September from 1978 through 2018 in Austin, TX.  This is what I found.

  • Between 1979 and 1988 we averaged 6.5 days of 100+ degree days per year.
  • Between 1989 and 1998 we averaged 10.1 days of 100+ degree days per year.
  • Between 1999 and 2008 we averaged 18.7 days of 100+ degree days per year.
  • Between 2009 and 2018 we averaged 41.3 days of 100+ degree days per year.

Keep in mind we had 90 100 degree days in 2011, screaming past the previous record of 62 days, and perhaps skewing the average for this past decade, but even if we corrected for that the data is daunting, especially since Texas climate scientists are telling us that 2011 could become our new norm.

As you can see, yearly we can see weather patterns, but over time you can see the number of 100 degree days trending upward.

Again looking at this information graphed out, really drove home the trends of increasingly hot years, confirming my personal perceptions which I recognize can be biased based on other things going on in my life from year to year, such as having my air conditioning unit go out during a heat wave and having to endure the heat without AC for a couple of days before a service company could get to me because they were overwhelmed.  Or my conviction that 1987 was unendurable even though we had no 100 degree days that summer, but rather because I was in my 3rd trimester during the height of a central Texas summer, had gained 40 pounds and the volume of blood in my body had increased by a whopping 50 percent. 

So if you have a spare couple of days and want to actually look at high temperatures over time, you can do you own research using Weather Underground‘s actual recorded temperatures by day in your area.

 

 

Photo by Stephanie Thomas

Flares along the Houston Ship Channel during Hurricane Harvey.

Public Citizen has been pushing back against the EPA’s rollbacks of the Chemical Disaster Rule. The Chemical Disaster Rule came into being following an explosion at a Texas fertilizer facility in 2013, an incident that killed 15 people and injured 160. The Chemical Disaster Rule would put further protections in place to better ensure the safety of communities surrounding facilities.

Under the Trump presidency, the EPA delayed the implementation of the Chemical Disaster Rule, which was finalized in early 2017. However, that delay was met with a legal challenge, Air Alliance Houston v. EPA. (Public Citizen’s Litigation Group provided an amicus brief to the court on this challenge).

On August 17th, an appeals court ruled that the delay of the Chemical Disaster Rule was unlawful. The judges went so far as to say that the EPA’s tactics made a “mockery” of federal statute. But even though the judges shut down the Trump Administration’s attempt to delay the Chemical Disaster Rule, the EPA is still looking to rollback the rule through a proposed reconsideration rule.

Photo By Stephanie Thomas

Petrochemical processing and storage stretches for miles along the Houston Ship Channel.

Houston’s Chemical Footprint

To better understand the impact of the Chemical Disaster Rule and the Risk Management Program under the EPA, Public Citizen analyzed data publicly available through rtk.net from facilities that are required to submit risk management plans. Basically, these are facilities that store or use large amounts of hazardous chemicals.

In our new report, we found that chemical facilities currently registered as RMP facilities use 2.4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals and 38.5 billion pounds of flammable chemicals in their processes. And the bulk–two-thirds–of those toxic chemicals reside in the eight-county area of the Houston region.

In the Greater Houston region, 442 facilities have reported to the Risk Management Program (RMP) database over the past 5 years, and 314 facilities meet the conditions that require them to report to the Risk Management Program (RMP) database as of April 2018. Among the 314 facilities that are currently reporting, there are 892 processes that could have offsite consequences. This means that should an accident happen, these processes could harm communities.

The RMP facilities within the 8 county region use 51 different toxic chemicals in processes, which total to over 1.6 billion pounds. Those chemicals include chlorine, chloroform, formaldehyde, and hydrofluoric acid. Many are known to be hazardous to human health, and some are carcinogenic. Those facilities also use 29.9 billion pounds of flammable chemicals, which is 78% of the total of flammable chemicals in RMP facilities across Texas.

Accidents and Injuries

Every five years, companies submit risk management plans. When data is pulled from rtk.net, it reflects companies’ latest submissions. For instance, Company Y’s last plan may have been submitted in 2018, but Company Z’s last plan was submitted in 2013. In that way, the information summarized here doesn’t necessarily  reflect an apples-to-apples comparisons, and is not entirely current. But all these RMP submissions taken together gives us a broader understanding of the chemical risks that Houston faces.

The report shows that 89 5-year accidents were recorded in the Greater Houston area. What that means is 89 accidents happened during the 5 years that the reports are compiling. For some companies that could reflect 2008-2013, for others it could be 2013-2018, or some other five year period in the mix.

For those 5-year accidents, 5 deaths and 112 injuries were reported. The amount of property damage from 5-year accidents exceeded $175 million. Again, because RMP facilities are supposed to provide reports every 5 years, this number does not reflect the amount of property damage that took place from 2013-2018; this number reflects the amount each facility has reported over the 5 years previous to their last RMP submission.

Chemical Safeguards

The Chemical Disaster Rule helps protect workers, first responders, and the wider community from potentially injurious or life-threatening chemical exposure. With 1.6 billion pounds of toxic chemicals in a region that is home to nearly 7 million people, let’s keep the rules that protect human life.

By Briauna Barrera
August 27, 2018

 

This is a story about one city and two neighborhoods that exist within its borders. A tale of two geographies that exist in a microcosm. These two neighborhoods, separated only by ten minutes of time, might as well be across the world from each other, a difference in demographics creating a rift as wide as a sea. The four miles from one to the other creates the thin line between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

One of these neighborhoods, Monte Vista National Historic District, its very name exuding importance and wealth, is situated in central San Antonio, about two miles north from downtown. Monte Vista started development in 1889 in what used to be a goat pasture and is home to about 3,000 people spread over approximately 100 blocks. Originally considered a suburb, it is now praised by real estate websites for its close proximity to downtown and is considered part of the very heart of the city. It is a treat to walk around Monte Vista. The blocks have many old oak trees whose tall, lush canopies spread out and provide shade over lawns, sidewalks, and streets. The sidewalks exist, which is no small feat in San Antonio, with ample room to boot. The architecture is particularly notable in this neighborhood, as a variety of architectural styles exist within its boundaries, from Spanish colonial to European cottage.

The other neighborhood is Dignowity Hill, a similarly historic neighborhood. Founded in 1854, Dignowity Hill was the first residential neighborhood in San Antonio. It is located about a mile and a half from downtown, on the east side of I-37. This neighborhood may not have the architectural diversity of Monte Vista, but its abundance of mansions, Folk Victorian houses, and Craftsman Bungalows radiate coziness and charm. Like Monte Vista, Dignowity Hill started off as a place of affluency, settled by Dr. Anthony Michael Dignowity, a physician and Czech immigrant. After his and his family’s settlement, the neighborhood became known as a place for upper-class residents. However, with the introduction of the railroad in 1877, an increase of urbanization and a concentration of industry came to the area. By the mid-1910s, the neighborhood was surrounded by industry and by the 1920s, the wealthy residents were moving further out to newer housing developments and with the building of smaller houses and creation of working-class, industrial jobs, people of lower socioeconomic status started moving in.

Dignowity Hill became a poorer neighborhood as the decades went on. First the wealthy moved to the edges of the town to escape the ever growing expansion of urbanization and industry, and then after WWII, with the availability of Federal Housing Administration mortgage loans to returning soldiers and the mass development of suburbs, the United States saw a boom in its, primarily white, middle class. This left the urban core deteriorating as government and private funding funneled outside city centers and forced those who could not afford to leave – primarily people of color – to remain living in urban environments with degenerating conditions. Dignowity Hill was one of the core neighborhoods. Monte Vista never experienced this change in demographics because at its advent, it was considered a suburb. It was the place that wealthy people were escaping to and it stayed desirable once people began to move back into the city, as by that point, it was considered to be part of the city core. The history can still be seen today and are illustrated in the maps below.


Figure 1. Race and ethnicity (right) and education attainment for bachelor degrees (left). Monte Vista on top, Dignowity Hill on bottom.

Figure 2. Median income (right) and poverty (left). Monte Vista on top, Dignowity Hill on bottom.

San Antonio is the one of the most economically segregated cities in the country. Economic segregation is based on racial segregation in a country where racist policies such as red-lining was only made illegal in 1968 and others, such a gerrymandering, are still exist today. Those who have historically had access to wealth and power made sure to set up systems of governance and economics that ensured their continuing wealth, while ensuring the continuing poorness of other groups. As a result, black and Latinx people experience higher rates of poverty than white people. Thus, the economic segregation of San Antonio also translates to, in large part, to the racial and ethnic segregation of it as well. Our circular highway system conveniently categorizes the city into a pie chart of the segregation: northside is predominantly white, the southside and westside are predominately Latinx, and the eastside has the highest concentration of Black people. This segregation is perpetuated by systems like property taxes funding public schools so that schools in wealthy areas with high land value do well, while schools in poorer areas are unfunded, and city bonds that distribute money evenly over districts, even though districts are not evenly wealthy. This is why some city districts use their bond money for libraries and parks and others have to use them for infrastructure creation and maintenance. Just like the landscape of the Hill Country, we are not all on even ground.

 

*****

 

During the summer of 2016 I did research on food deserts and community gardens in San Antonio. Part of this research involved surveying blocks of houses. Considering it was summer in Texas, it was miserable, but it was noticeably more miserable in neighborhoods in the westside and eastside because of a lack of trees (and often also a lack of sidewalks and the packs of stray dogs). These areas didn’t only feel hotter, they were hotter due to the heat island effect, the warming of urban areas due to greater human presence and activity. Trees help mitigate this effect, but there was also a noticeable difference in the tree density of these areas. When I was in these eastside and westside neighborhoods, there would often be little to no trees shading front lawns and sidewalks, much less shading the actual streets. Walking around, I could feel the sun bearing down on me from above while also reflecting up from the ground. No one wants to walk in environments like this. The times I have spent walking around Monte Vista have been far more pleasant, even during the summer, partly due to the presence of those great, old oaks providing shade and some degree of relief from the summer sun.

 

The utility of trees goes far beyond providing shade relief for pedestrians through:

 

Social Environmental

Economic

  • Improve concentration and learning 
  • Improve health and wellbeing 
  • Provide aesthetic benefits 
  • Increase the quality of life where we live, work, and play 
  • Trees absorb and block noise from the urban environment 
  • Screen harsh scenery 
  • Soften the outline of masonry, metal and glass 
  • Can be used architecturally to provide space definition and landscape continuity 
  • Create feelings of relaxation and well-being 
  • Provide privacy and a sense of solitude and security 
  • Shorten postoperative hospital stays when patients are placed in rooms with a view of trees and open spaces
  • Lower air temperature through shade 
  • Reduced surface runoff of water from storms 
  • Reduce air pollution 
  • Reduced soil erosion and sedimentation of streams 
  • Increased groundwater recharge that is significantly reduced by paving 
  • Lesser amounts of chemicals transported to streams. 
  • Reduced wind erosion of soil 
  • Increase humidity in dry climates through evaporation of moisture 
  • Reduce glare on sunny days
  • Reduce wind speed 
  • Increase biodiversity  
  • Help to settle out, trap and hold particulate pollutants (dust, ash, pollen and smoke) that can damage human lungs 
  • Absorb CO2 and other dangerous gases and, in turn, replenish the atmosphere with oxygen 
  • Produce enough oxygen on each acre for 18 people every day
  • Reduce heating and cooling costs 
  • Trees enhance community economic stability by attracting businesses and tourists 
  • People linger and shop longer along tree-lined streets 
  • Apartments and offices in wooded areas rent more quickly, have higher occupancy rates and tenants stay longer 
  • Businesses leasing office space in wooded developments find their workers are more productive and absenteeism is reduced 
  • Healthy trees can add up to 15 percent to residential property value 
  • Office and industrial space in a wooded setting is in more demand and is more valuable to sell or rent
Figure 3. Benefits of trees. Source: https://www.state.sc.us/forest/urbben.htm.

If those aren’t enough reasons, there are other resources that compile the research on the benefits of trees such as this one, this one, and this oneTrees come with many benefits and contribute greatly to increasing people’s standard of living, while also contributing to the environmental and economic health of areas too.  

However, San Antonio is segregated and where you live fundamentally shapes your opportunities, your access to education and healthcare, your mental health, your physical well being, how long you live, and even to some degree, your personality. Your social security isn’t the most important number you have, it’s your zip code. That inequality of access extends to tree coverage too (see figure 4).


Figure 4. Map of tree coverage in Dignowity Hill (right) and Monte Vista (left).

It is clear that Monte Vista has more tree coverage than Dignowity Hill. Considering the wealth of benefits trees give us, our environments, and our pocketbooks, we should be doing all we can to expand coverage for all of San Antonio, not just the ones who can afford it.

 

*****

 

San Antonio has had a Tree Preservation Ordinance since 1997 and was officially declared a Tree City in 2016. Progress is being made, but it is concentrated in wealthy areas. That is not enough progress. This tree ordinance has a 40% canopy goal for the city. The ordinance also states that it can be strengthened as needed. Considering the tree canopy in San Antonio at 22%, it’s needed.

There are programs that do exist in San Antonio to encourage the spread of tree coverage, such as a rebate program from CPS, but more can and should be done. A report released in 2009 from the nonprofit, American Forests, recommends an increase in education about the benefits of trees, but even that isn’t enough because at the heart of this matter is the inequality of access. A rebate is great, but what if you lack the resources to purchase trees in the first place? A Tree Preservation Ordinance, but what if they area you live isn’t experiencing development like other areas are? Or worse, what if the area where you do live in, like Dignowity Hill, is experiencing development so much so you can no longer live there?

The larger issue of all of this is the displacement that comes from gentrification and lack of access that exists in these neighborhoods before gentrification occurs. They both need to be addressed. If more trees are planted, land values will rise, leading to an increase in property taxes and rent prices, which will eventually price out and dislocate the people that an increase in trees was supposed to benefit in the first place. The people that have lived there for generations leave, forced to live in low-access neighborhoods elsewhere before the process begins anew.

It would be great if planting trees could be a cure-all for the problems in San Antonio, but it’s only one action of many that need to happen. The root, systemic issues of poverty and racism need to be carefully and thoughtfully examined and tackled, not just the symptoms they create. Just as with trees themselves, it is the roots that give hold so much importance and yet, are so often overlooked.

Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. (JULIAN STRATENSCHULTE / EPA)

Earlier this month, the Texas Commission on Environmental Policy (TCEQ) released it’s long-awaited plan to spend Volkswagen settlement funds–$209 million in all for Texas. Our first impression was that the plan was a mixed bag: some good elements, but also some head scratchers.

A preference for electric vehicles.

On the good side of things, Texas’ plan to spend VW funds charts a future for electric vehicles in Texas. The plan dedicates 15% of the funding–the maximum allowable amount–to the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) program, which will build electric vehicle (EV) charging stations around the state. Notably, while the plan does allow that ZEV funding could be used for hydrogen fueling projects, it includes the caveat that funding will only be given to hydrogen projects “where there will be a sustainable market for use of the hydrogen fuel.” Houston, with it’s robust petrochemical infrastructure that includes hydrogen pipelines, may be such a place.

The bulk of the ZEV funding, though, will go to electric vehicles charging stations. This means that Texas will spend $31 million on EV charging in the next few years, along with a 1-to-1 match of local funding for each project. You may also know that, due to a separate portion of its settlement agreement, Volkswagen has also started Electrify America, a company that will invest $2 billion in EV charging in the next ten years. (We have commented previously that allowing VW to start a for-profit company to install infrastructure for the benefit of its own products is hardly a punitive measure appropriate to the scale of its illegal acts, but for now we will just take note of the investment in EV charging that will ultimately benefit us all.)

The ZEV program in Texas will spend $31 million. The bulk of our VW funds, some $180 million, will go into a program that allocates funding to priority areas for a variety of clean transportation projects. The projects eligible for funding are:

Electric trucks like this one can be purchased with VW funds.

  1. Class 4 – 7 Local Freight Trucks
  2. Class 8 Local Freight Trucks and Port Drayage Trucks
  3. Class 7 – 8 Refuse Vehicles
  4. School Buses
  5. Transit and Shuttle Buses
  6. Electric Forklifts and Port Cargo Handling Equipment
  7. Electric Airport Ground Support Equipment
  8. Ocean-Going Vessel Shore Power

These categories create some very interesting possibilities. A few months ago we were critical of Houston’s proposal to purchase more than 75 diesel refuse trucks. Perhaps incentives for electric refuse trucks will encourage the city to purchase those in the future. And shore-power for ocean-going vessels could mean cleaner air for residents of the Houston Ship Channel, or even a cleaner cruise ship terminal in Galveston.

Our research in communities over the years has shown, unsurprisingly, that school bus projects are always very popular with the public. And I know from my days monitoring air quality in the Houston area that clean freight and drayage trucks are sorely needed in ship channel communities. All told, the $180 million eligible for projects in the above eight categories will, if invested wisely in zero-emissions technologies, be very good for public health in Texas.

There are three project categories eligible for funding under the VW Settlement Agreement that Texas has decided not to include in its draft plan. These are:

  1. Freight Switchers
  2. Ferries and tugs
  3. Diesel Emissions Reduction Act

We know from research by our friends at Environmental Defense Fund that freight switchers and ferries/tugs are among the most cost effective options available, measured by cost per tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) reduced. TCEQ states that it left these projects out of the VW plan because they are already eligible under the TExas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP), another state program for clean transportation projects. But in fact these projects are limited under TERP, with a stricter cost per ton of NOx cap than that for other projects. The rationale for this treatment in TERP is that these vehicles do not pay into the TERP fund as do passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, and other vehicles. The result is that freight switchers, ferries, and tugs are not eligible for VW funding and are disfavored under TERP. This is a shame, as these may be among the most cost effective projects.

Texas also left projects out of its plan that require a match with federal Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) funds. Texas says that it doesn’t want to bear the cost of administering DERA funding and that’s why those projects are left out of the VW draft plan. In fact Texas has declined DERA funds for the last few years, unrelated to the VW Settlement. We think that it is foolish to leave federal money on the table, but Texas does seem to have a habit of it (witness our disastrous decision to reject federal Affordable Care Act funding). We also don’t agree with Texas excuse that it doesn’t want to pay to administer DERA funds. Texas administers TERP, and now VW, at a cost of about 4% of the total funding available. Texas could administer DERA as well if it wanted Texans to have access to those clean transportation funds. Doing so would provide cleaner air to more Texans.

Austin is left out and Houston is left wanting.

When Texas allocated 81% of the VW funds to priority areas, it did so to within a hundredth of a percentage point, as follows:

Those percentages, along with what we know about the timing of the plan’s release, suggest that careful deliberation went into these allocations.

I don’t want to pit one region of the state against another, but I can’t help but wonder why San Antonio gets more funding than Dallas and Houston combined. Was Houston slighted because, in the words of Harris County Judge Ed Emmet, “They wrote us off as a lost cause.”?

And why was Austin left entirely out of the plan? It is well known that Austinites purchased more VWs per capita than other areas of the state. Texas’ VW plan takes great pains to define “impacted community” as one that has offending VWs AND doesn’t meet ozone pollution standards, a definition that could be used to exclude Austin. Texas also points out that VWs could have moved around the state after purchase, though the state offers no evidence to indicate that there are fewer VWs in Austin today than past purchase records would suggest. Taken altogether, the state’s justifications for which areas it included and excluded don’t add up. Governor Greg Abbott’s disdain for Austin is not a secret, and I wonder if this was another not political slight by him.

If the people of Austin have become players in a political chess match, then our children and elderly are the pawns that will pay first, and most dearly.

What you can do.

Between now and October 8, you can share your thoughts about Texas VW draft plan with the TCEQ. Send comments on the plan to [email protected]. You can also attend one of a series of meetings on the plan happening across the state (below). In the coming weeks, we will share more thoughts about what’s in Texas’ VW plan: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Houston
September 10, 2018 2:30PM
Tracy Gee Community Center
3600 Westcenter Drive
Houston, TX 77042

Beaumont
September 11, 2018 2:00PM
South East Texas Regional Planning Commission
2210 Eastex Freeway
Beaumont, TX 77703

Arlington
September 14, 2018 2:00PM
North Central Texas Council of Governments
616 Six Flags Drive
Arlington, TX 76011

San Antonio 
September 17, 2018 2:00PM
Alamo Area Council of Governments
8700 Tesoro Drive, Suite 100
San Antonio, TX 78217

El Paso 
September 19, 2018 10:00AM
Rio Grande Council of Governments
8037 Lockheed, Suite 100
El Paso, TX 79925

Austin 
September 26, 2018 2:00PM
TCEQ Austin, Building E, Room 201-S
12100 Park 35 Circle
Austin, TX 78753

 

Even as we struggle with heat waves, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, drought, and rising sea levels are as a result of climate change, the potential to sequester carbon in forests and soils offers hope. Humans have caused climate change by burning fossil fuels and disrupting the balance of nature, but there is an opportunity to restore these natural systems for carbon sequestration. Since we already used the carbon budget to keep global temperature increase to 1.5 degree Celsius, an action is needed to not only eliminate emissions but to recapture carbon dioxide that has already entered the atmosphere.

By stopping deforestation, and restoring degraded forests and soils we can combat climate change while improving biodiversity, soil productivity, and food security. Implementing better land management practices could be an important strategy to store carbon in the ground and lowering carbon emissions. Thus, curbing the rate of deforestation and improving land management and agricultural techniques should be a priority for policymakers at the federal and state levels in order to slow climate change, which has posed a significant threat to U.S agriculture.

Deforestation:

Forests are one of the largest carbon sinks and are currently absorbing and storing 450 billion tons of carbon. Forests are not only important in storing carbon, but they also play a significant role in preventing floods, supporting wildlife, moderating extreme temperature, presenting cultural values and providing recreation. However, after the industrial revolution, people started cutting down and burning trees for construction, shipbuilding, and energy producing, which resulted in turning a large amount of carbon back into the atmosphere. Human activities are the main reason for releasing carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere, including through deforestation.

Between 2001 and 2017, 5.57 gigatons of carbon (Gt) was released into the atmosphere as a result of tree cover loss in the United States. The U.S is cutting trees to make wood chips and wood pellets and export them from ports in the Southeast to Western Europe. Last year, Southern U.S. was identified as the largest exporter of wood pellets in the world as a result of a 70 percent increase in wood pellet exports from Southern. In 2017, the U.S lost 2.3 million hectares (Mha) of forest equivalent to 175 metric tons (Mt) of CO₂ emissions. Continued deforestation will neutralize all climate action efforts and strategies.

Afforestation and Reforestation Opportunities:

Afforestation is the process of planting forests in areas that have never been forested, while reforestation is the recovering of forests in areas where forests were destroyed.  Reforestation and afforestation could make an important contribution to curb climate change and to improve the quality of air if managed appropriately. Thus, afforestation and reforestation are identified as negative emissions options since they are able to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.  Afforestation, reforestation, and improving land management and conservation practices as a means of solution for removing CO2 from the atmosphere have several benefits to the society and environment. Planting new trees and recovering forests protects against soil erosion, helps retain soil moisture, increases biodiversity, and controls flooding. Also, these efforts can enhance agricultural productivity and develop resilient food systems. Moreover, planting trees has lower cost and environmental impacts compared to other negative emission technologies such as Bioenergy Carbon Capture & Storage.

Enterprise 50 Year Tree Pledge Surpasses 12 Million Plantings, 100 Reforestation Projects.Photo by Eterprise holdings

Afforestation and Reforestation:

The main problem is that planting forests is not an instant solution, since it takes time for seedling trees to be matured. Also, if afforestation is not properly managed, it can result in a reduction of local biodiversity, the modification of particular biomes, the introduction of non-native and potentially invasive species, and lost revenue from agriculture. Native grasslands that are altered to forests may not contain the same habitat for local species, and ill-managed reforestation efforts may result in the production of a monoculture (the practice of growing a single tree species) that lacks not only plant diversity but reduces the number of available habitat types for forest inhabitants. In addition, the application of nitrogen fertilizers would have several negative impacts on the environment. The production of nitrogen fertilizer releases a group of potent greenhouse gases known as nitrous oxides, along with CO2. Nitrogen pollution is identified as a threat to the biodiversity of species and biodiversity loss is a major environmental challenge

Soil Carbon Sequestration Opportunities:

Soil is a major sink of carbon and can store twice as much CO2 than is in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, farming currently plays a significant role in releasing a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere. As a result of an increase in the global population and the demand for food, commercial planting with the use of nitrogen fertilizer has increased, and frequent harvesting has resulted in reduced carbon levels in the soil. However, there are several land management practices which help promote inappropriate farming techniques. “Soil Carbon Sequestration” is one of the techniques which implements as a tool to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in the ground. Thus, soil as a carbon sink can play a vital role in agricultural strategies to curb climate change and offset greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture, forestry and other land use techniques that store CO2 in the ground offer an opportunity to mitigate climate change. Farmers can help soil hold more CO2 by making sure crop residue and animal manure re-enters the soil. However, the amount of carbon that soil can hold depends on several factors such as types of soil, regional climate, and characteristics of soil microbes. Healthy soils with more organic matter can store carbon while providing agricultural and environmental benefits. Soil carbon storage directly benefits farmers by improving soil fertility, reducing erosion and increasing resilience to droughts and floods.

Conservation practices such as agroforestry, no-till agriculture, planting cover crops, forest farming, and silvopasture all increase the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in the soil.

  • In agroforestry, crops are planted between rows of trees while the trees mature. The system can be designed to produce fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, herbs, bioenergy feedstocks, and more. Agroforestry helps improve land productivity with several potential benefits for the communities such as reducing soil erosion, increasing plant growth, climate change adaptation, and increasing food security.
  • “Forest farming” also is a way to grow food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy that is managed to provide ideal shade levels as well as other products.
  • “Silvopasture” integrates trees with livestock and their forages on one piece of land. The trees provide timber, fruit, or nuts as well as shade and shelter for livestock and their forages, help animals from the hot summer sun, cold winter winds, or a heavy rainfall.

Soil Carbon Sequestration Challenges:

Land Management Techniques: Forest farming & Agroforestry methods to keep CO2 in the ground & improve soil fertilizing

The main problem is that the initiatives are all voluntary and have not been adopted on a large scale. Farmers are experiencing several barriers in the way of implementing smart agriculture. For example, tilling the soil is a traditional practice for controlling weeds, and shifting to no-till technique requires changing farm equipment and using other weed-control methods. Therefore, farmers have to encounter with the high costs of altering farm equipment and the risk of lower yields in the short-term.  Furthermore, the benefits of soil carbon-rich take a long time to be viable and the long-term benefits of healthier crops and resilient communities are spread among societies. Thus, incentives and subsidies play a vital role in encouraging farmers to invest in cultivating healthier soils and split costs of shifting to new techniques since implementing the sustainable land management practices is critical to curb climate change and keep CO2  in the ground.

However, in the Midwest, for instance, around 50% of U.S farmland is operated by renters, and around 80% of agricultural land is owned by a non-farming landlord. Therefore, it would be difficult to encourage investments in soil health because renting tenants face short-term costs but might not receive the long-term benefits. Thus, policy-makers should provide tax incentives and subsidies for renters and non-farming landlords to be able to apply the land management practices. Since enhancing soil carbon by practicing land management techniques can prepare us to be well adapted for the negative impacts of climate change on the agriculture industry, there is an imperative need to invest in this solution and develop more helpful regulations to improve farmland productivity and communities’ resiliency.

Overall, fixing these barriers need providing the greatest financial and technical assistance and improving research and development (R&D) efforts as well as increasing private partnerships and offering incentives for farmers and renters. Improving the land management practices and the climate-smart agriculture is required a coordination and integration between various sectors dealing with climate change, agricultural development, and food security at the national, regional and local level. Local governments can provide tax credits for private companies to invest in different types of research with an emphasis on supporting soil carbon storage and to encourage them to offer useful consultant for farmers.

In Conclusion:

Well-managed natural systems carbon sequestration projects, along with the arrangement of sustainably produced timber, agriculture, and energy will produce numerous benefits including additional income for rural development, improve communities’ resiliency, and promote conservation programs. In order to improve climate change mitigation and sustainable development programs, governments must carry out the resolution of sustainability practices and oversee the implementation of these practices. The success of carbon sequestration projects will depend on the high carbon prices and aggressive emission reduction goals. Also, the political willpower plays an important role in prioritizing forestry activities and land management practices as part of mitigation portfolios. Care should also be taken to avoid unintended environmental and socioeconomic impacts that could threaten the overall value of natural systems carbon sequestration projects.

CASE STUDIES: Continue Reading »

What does it mean to make a climate action plan “Paris compliant”?  You may have heard this phrase, but do you really know what it means?  “Paris” refers to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, which every nation in the world except the United States is committed to. “Compliant” refers to the goals set in the agreement to keep global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and attempt to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial temperatures.  So, what does that mean for a city wanting to do its fair share to avert climate crisis?

1.5 vs. 2 Degrees Celsius

The Paris Climate Agreement names two goals, but which one should we focus on – limiting warming to 1.5 or to 2 degrees Celsius?  Half of a degree might not sound like much, but, as NASA puts it, it’s a “big deal.”  That’s because the temperature increase won’t be spread out evenly over the area of the Earth or evenly throughout the year or time of day.  Some places and times will see much greater increases, resulting in more extreme weather. Heat-waves would be longer, rainstorms more intense, sea levels would rise further, tropical coral reefs would be totally destroyed, and agriculture would be hit harder.

There’s also a strong equity argument to be made for the 1.5 degree Celsius goal.  The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) advocated for this more protective goal during the Paris Climate Agreement negotiations because their very existence is threatened by climate change.  Rising sea levels are already making some low-lying coastal areas uninhabitable, and a 2 degree increase would completely inundate many of the 44 low-lying AOSIS member countries.

Beyond the clear and present threat to low-lying nations, warming has been and will continue to be most pronounced in the tropics, which includes many poorer nations.  And poor people around the world will be most negatively impacted by climate change because the poor often live in more marginal areas – in flood plains or in drought-prone regions – and because the poor lack the resources to cope with extreme weather.

Global temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree Celsius and climate change is causing health problems.  As this trend continues, those without access to medical care or living in flood plains will struggle to cope.

Global Carbon Budget

Understanding the concept of the global carbon budget (which is really a greenhouse gas budget) is important.  Fundamentally, limiting warming requires limiting the total quantity of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, with emissions accumulating in the atmosphere year after year.

Determining an exact number is challenging and various climate models yield different results.  Some models indicate that the carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius has already been exceeded.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes the need for additional analysis of the carbon budget to meet the 1.5 degree goal and is working on a report focused on this topic.

In the meantime, the carbon budget values provided in the IPCC 2013 AR5 Synthesis Report are the most comprehensive source of guidance because they include all GHGs from all sources, identify pathways to likely (defined as a two-in-three chance) meet the 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius goals, and are based on modeling out to 2100.  Using the IPCC budget for the 1.5 degree goal, and accounting for emissions since that report was released, the remaining carbon budget at the start of 2017 was 162.02 gigatonnes.  Limiting emissions to this amount would give us a 66% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A 66% chance of success also translates to a 34% chance of failure.  Failure to preserve a livable climate.  Ideally, we would aim to keep cumulative GHG emissions well below this budget to increase our chances of keeping to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

Negative Emissions

Past inaction to reduce GHG emissions now makes negative emissions, or carbon sequestration, necessary to meet the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and likely even to meet the 2 degree goal, but the assumed scale of such efforts can easily be overestimated.  The vast majority of the climate models relied on by the IPCC – and therefore, the underlying Paris Climate Agreement – assume massive negative emissions.  While there are existing technologies and techniques for achieving negative emissions, all face significant challenges, including cost, other impacts on the environment, and use of land needed to feed the growing world population.  Recent research suggests that negative emissions technologies are more limited than climate scientists have assumed in their modeling.

GHG Emissions Reductions Goals for U.S.  Cities

The realities of the carbon budget and limits of negative emissions technologies makes a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to avert climate crisis.  While meeting the goals set in the Paris Climate Agreement is still possible, there is no time to waste on inactionNet zero global GHG emissions must be reached by around 2050, and substantial near-term emissions reductions are critical.

C40 has developed a roadmap, called Deadline 2020, for how cities can translate these global goals and carbon budgets to local goals and actions.  The emissions reduction curve for a given city depends on how much greenhouse gases the city emits and how much wealth the city has.  Compared to the global average, U.S. cities are high emitters and have high wealth (defined as greater than $15,000 per capita gross regional product per year).  The Deadline 2020 roadmap calls for such cities to get on a “steep decline” GHG emissions trajectory, with emissions reaching zero before 2050.  The roadmap makes it clear that wealthy, high emitting cities, such as those in the U.S. must take significant action prior to 2020 to make it possible to achieve the 1.5 degree goal.

The good news is that more and more cities are engaging in climate planning.  In Texas, that includes Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and hopefully soon Dallas.  While each city has its own challenges and opportunities, the C40 Deadline 2020 roadmap can and should be used to set fair, science-based goals.