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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contributed by Citizen Rita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state of Texas allows industrial facilities to repeatedly spew unauthorized air pollution — with few consequences

For more than two decades, Dennis Gallagher was a proud Shell employee.

During his 22 years working at the energy juggernaut’s sprawling, 80-year-old complex in this Refinery Row suburb of Houston, he learned to oversee different parts of the massive chemical plant and refinery. The facilities manufacture not only oil but a variety of hazardous chemicals that — if mishandled — could easily explode and level the 2,300-acre compound, located less than a mile from residential neighborhoods.

Until two years ago, the Michigan native’s only truly bad day at work was in 1997, when a gas compressor exploded and he was “picked up like a leaf” and blown back 25 feet. Then came what should have been a quiet Sunday in August 2015, when everything went wrong.

A critical pump failed. A small tank overfilled. Then more than 300,000 pounds of 1,3-butadiene — a highly explosive chemical and known human carcinogen used to manufacture rubber — escaped into the atmosphere.

It was the largest malfunction-related air pollution event in the Houston area that year — in less than an hour, the plant spewed 258 times more butadiene into the atmosphere than allowed by state law — and air pollution watchdogs say it was one of the most dangerous they’ve seen.

An internal investigation later noted that the amount of hydrocarbons released that day was more than eight times higher than the amount released during the 2005 fire and explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery that killed 15 people and injured 180 others.

There was no explosion that day. But Gallagher says the incident cost him his job and maybe his health. He struggled with chest pains and balance issues afterward — the latter is a known side effect of butadiene exposure — and had to take a year off. When he came back, Gallagher said he was put on probation for the incident and, after a minor screw-up during a routine re-training, promptly fired.

And yet it cost Shell Chemical, a subsidiary of the fifth-largest company in the world, next to nothing.

State records show the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the state’s environmental regulatory agency, fined the company just $25,000 — the maximum allowed for an air permit violation under state law — and required it to execute a “corrective action plan,” which called for mostly refresher training.

It’s a scenario that plays out again and again in Texas when industrial polluters spew noxious chemicals into the air during malfunctions and other unplanned incidents, exceeding the emission limits of their state-issued air permits.

A Texas Tribune analysis of self-reported industry data shows that thousands of such rogue releases occur at Texas industrial sites each year. They are known generically as “emissions events”— a term that refers to both malfunctions or “upsets” and unplanned “maintenance, start-up or shutdown” activities.

Whether they are truly unavoidable is a point of dispute.

Read the full article by the Tribune here.

The Center for Nonprofit Studies at Austin Community College has developed a series of “civil” discussions of the significant issues which Austin, TX faces entitled Civil Society.  This is a moderated discussion exploring significant issues confronting our society.

Public Citizen applauds ACC’s efforts in advancing civil dialogue and greater awareness of the critical role nonprofit organizations play in our communities, we honor the passion, persistence, and life changing results of those who make the Austin community stronger, more inclusive, and more vibrant.

Episodes 3 and 4 can be viewed below and you can watch previous episodes and find resources at:  nonprofitaustin.org/civilsociety

Civil Society Episode 3: 
Diversity and Equity in Central Texas
As recently as 2014, Austin was rated the 10th most segregated city in America. In 2015, the Martin Prosperity Institute named Austin the most economically segregated metro area in America. Texas is well represented on that list: San Antonio is #3, Houston is #4, and Dallas is #7. This episode explores what this means for African Americans in Central Texas.
Civil Society Episode 4:
Digital Divide in Central Texas
Right now, a majority of Austin residents have access to computers and the internet. Most of us are logging in on a daily basis, specifically with mobile technologies, but there is a segment of the population, that represents the digital divide. These are people who do not have access to, or knowledge of how to use computers and the internet, making it harder to get a good job, to have access to social programs or even keep in touch with family and to make ends meet overall. In this episode we talk about what Austin is doing to close that gap.
Barry Silverberg and Lisa Bussett, CNS Director and Coordinator, are co-Executive Producers; Julie Niehoff and CJ Niehoff, principals of Distance Learning Media, LLC, are Moderator and Director.  All programs utilize ACC television studios and staff, to record and broadcast the shows.

You can watch episodes and find resources at:  nonprofitaustin.org/civilsociety

Map of air monitoring sites in Austin. Light blue sites monitor for ozone.

On June 12, Governor Greg Abbott signed a $217 billion budget for Texas into law. Abbott also exercised line-item vetoes to eliminate $120 million from the budget. Among those cuts were $87 million for the Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, a voluntary program that helps low-income Texans replace their old, polluting vehicles with newer ones.

Continuing the assault on clean air, Abbott also cut $6 million for air quality planning in certain areas of the state (see pdf p. 5). The governor’s comment on this funding cut is worth quoting in full, beginning with the item vetoed and then the comment in italics:

  1. Air Quality Planning. Amounts appropriated above include $6,000,500 for the biennium out of the Clean Air Account No. 151 in Strategy A.1.1, Air Quality Assessment and Planning, for air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas during the 2016 17 biennium and as approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These areas may include Waco, El Paso, Beaumont, Austin, Corpus Christi, Granbury, Killeen Temple, Longview Tyler Marshall, San Antonio, and Victoria. These activities may be carried out through interlocal agreements and may include: identifying, inventorying, and monitoring of pollution levels; modeling pollution levels; and the identification, quantification, implementation of appropriate locally enforceable pollution reduction controls; and the submission of work plans to be submitted to the TCEQ. The TCEQ shall allocate $350,000 to each area and the remaining funds to each area based on population in excess of 350,000. The grant recipients shall channel the funds to those projects most useful for the State Implementation Plan (SIP).

This program funds, among other items, bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs in near non-attainment areas, which can be funded at the local government level. Resources in the Clean Air Account should be prioritized to directly address problems in our non-attainment areas of the state so that we are better positioned to combat the business-stifling regulations imposed on these areas by the Environmental Protection Agency. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.

This is an unfortunate description of air quality planning activities and of the purpose of the Clean Air Account itself. So what are “air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas”?

Ozone is a harmful pollutant that is linked to everything from asthma attacks and difficulty breathing to heart attacks, stroke, and premature death. Ozone is formed in the atmosphere through the mixing of other pollutants that are emitted by vehicles and industrial sources such as refineries. There are two areas of the state—Houston, and Dallas—that do not meet the federal air pollution standards for ozone. These are our “nonattainment” areas. There are many other areas in the state—including San Antonio and Austin—that do meet the federal ozone standard but still have numerous bad ozone days throughout the year. These areas, especially San Antonio, risk worsening air quality and an eventual “nonattainment designation” by the Environmental Protection Agency. Such a designation would subject the area to decades of regulation and costs that could reach the billions.

All of us have seen the ozone action day announcements.  Those alert at-risk citizens (like children, the elderly and those who have certain health risks) to curtail their outside exposure to mitigate the negative health impacts.  Local air quality monitors are what alert us to those dangers.

In order to keep the “near-nonattainment” areas clean and healthy (and to avoid the federal designation), Texas appropriates several million dollars for air quality planning activities. This money enables these areas to participate in programs like the ozone Early Action Compact. So far, these programs have been successful, though San Antonio may inevitably face a nonattainment designation as it grows.

Surely Governor Abbott understands the importance and success of these air quality planning activities. Describing the program as consisting of “bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs” is an obvious straw man. Bicycle and carpooling programs—while important in their own right—are not all that goes into air quality planning.

Air quality planners in Houston demonstrate how that city’s air monitors operate.

In Austin, for example, the city maintains eight ozone monitors in addition to the two maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These additional monitors help with air quality forecasting. They also help us to better understand large-scale impacts on air quality to our region by sources such as the Fayette power plant to the southeast, or Dallas to the north.

San Antonio just announced that it will shut down six ozone air monitors and lay off four staff members in response to the governor’s cuts. This is truly unfortunate for the people affected and for air quality monitoring and pollution prevention. If data is never collected, the ability to paint long-term pictures and identify trends in air pollution is lost for that time period. San Antonio may one day refund its program, but its former employees will have moved on, and the data will have been lost forever.

On the same day, San Antonio made this announcement, the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition in Austin held an emergency meeting to discuss how it would respond to the proposed funding cuts. The Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) has asked its member counties and cities to consider an additional financial contribution to support ongoing air quality planning activities in Austin. CAPCOG proposed tiered levels of funding that would alternatively fund more or less the region’s activities.

At the meeting, CAPCOG members seemed to understand the importance of a funding level that would keep all staff in place and all air monitors active. Cuts will definitely have to be made (to, for example, the regular maintenance schedule for those monitors) but if CAPCOG’s members do approve the appropriate tier of funding, then air quality planning programs in Austin will remain largely intact.

We hope that Austin is able to continue its important work by keeping Austinites safe from dangerous ozone pollution. Governor Greg Abbott may not recognize the importance of this work right now, but we hope that he does some day and that these shortsighted cuts do not continue.

Last week, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), succeeded in rushing his Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump legislation past the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee he chairs.

Now the bill (HR 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendment Acts of 2017) moves on to the full U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Full committee mark up is currently expected to take place next Wednesday, June 28th.

If passed there, it would then move on to the full House floor for consideration. If ultimately passed into law, H.R.3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would launch unprecedented thousands of truck, train, and/or barge shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel, through 45 states, bound for Nevada. These shipments would pass through the heart of many major cities. They would also pass through 370 of the 435 congressional districts across the U.S.!  But before that, it would expedite the opening of centralized interim storage sites for radioactive waste in Texas and/or New Mexico, multiplying the risks.  WCS has applied for a site in Andrews County Texas and the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance, working with Holtec, has applied for a site near Hobbs and Carlsbad, NM.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry just dropped a bombshell proposal this week, at a U.S. House hearing, to also do interim storage at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site, before ultimately burying the wastes at Yucca, all against the state’s will, without its consent.

Each shipment, whether to a permanent storage site or one of the proposed “interim” storage sites, represents a potential Dirty Bomb on Wheels risk, whether due to severe accident or intentional attack. The hazardous gamma radiation that could be emitted would expose persons who are too close (e.g. living along the shipping route, getting stuck next to a shipment in traffic, etc.) to a myriad of health impacts.  Transportation routes to either the proposed west Texas or New Mexico interim storage sites would likely have nuclear waste traveling through the DFW metroplex area, Houston and San Antonio, depending upon where the waste originated.  This is an issue that Texans should weigh in on.  Dallas, Midland, San Antonio and Andrews County have already passed resolutions asking that radioactive waste not be transported through  their communities.  What can you do?

Urge your U.S. Representative to block this dangerous legislation, by voting against HR 3053 and urging their U.S. House colleagues to do the same.

The bill itself: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF00/20170628/106210/BILLS-1153053ih.pdf

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A Delaware federal judge on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, blocked the $367 million merger of EnergySolutions Inc. and Waste Control Specialists LLC, (WCS) siding with the U.S. Department of Justice in the government’s bid to enjoin the deal on antitrust grounds.  WCS had withdrawn their application for a high-level radioactive waste storage license back in April pending this merger.  What this means for the west Texas site is not yet known, but we will keep you updated as we know more.

Janis and Evan Bookout speaking in support of renewable energy to protect the climate (Photo courtesy of Al Braden, www.albradenphoto.com)

Yesterday morning, Austinites took time out of their day to show up at City Hall and let the Austin City Council know that we expect real leadership when it comes to adopting an updated Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.  Many joined us in a call for carbon-free by 2030, and 75% renewable energy by 2027 goals.  The other common theme we are supporting is the need for additional programs to make the benefits of distributed solar accessible to low-income residents, renters and those in multifamily housing.

Join us at the public hearing on August 10 to call for a rapid transition to clean, renewable energy, while improving equity.

This process started last November with the creation of the Electric Utility Commission Resource Planning Working Group (which was partially appointed by Austin Energy).  But after months of meetings, the working group recommendations (which have been endorsed by Austin Energy) fall well short of leadership on either climate protection or energy equity.  The recommendations call for only 65% renewable energy by 2027, limited or no increases for energy efficiency, local solar and energy storage goals, and no solid commitments to improve access to distributed solar.

Thankfully, the Austin City Council is the board of directors for Austin Energy, so we all get a chance to weigh in with our elected officials to call for a plan that represents Austin values – doing right by our planet and our neighbors

That’s what the public hearing is for, so please mark your calendar.

At least 32 U.S. cities have committed to a 100 percent renewable energy goal and 5 have already achieved this goal.  If Austin is to claim leadership on combating climate change, a commitment to 100% carbon-free energy is needed.  This, of course, implies that all of Austin Energy’s fossil fuel generators would need to be retired.  That would include the natural gas-fired power plants at Decker Creek and Sand Hill, both located on the east side of Austin.  This would improve air quality in the city and end our utility’s contribution to fracking, which is responsible for groundwater contamination, air pollution (including methane – a powerful greenhouse gas), earthquakes and destroyed roads in Texas and other states.  With all of these harmful side effects of energy production, it is those with the fewest options and opportunities – those with the least among us – who are hardest hit.  It’s on all of us – as Austinites – to stop contributing to these negative outcomes as quickly as possible.

Daniel Llanes, of PODER – People Organized in Defense of Earth and her Resources, speaking in support of a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy to protect the climate; and for greater and more diverse public input (Photo courtesy of Al Braden, www.albradenphoto.com)

As we transition to clean energy, we can and should ensure that the benefits flow to everyone in our community.  As the price of solar energy has increased, more residents and businesses are going solar to reduce their bills and their impact on the environment. There is now financing available for those who can’t pay up front, making solar accessible to middle-income residents.  That’s good news, but solar has still been out of reach for those with poor credit, renters and those living in multifamily housing (either apartments or condominiums).  Making solar accessible for these populations is challenging, but utilities, governments and non-profits around the country are digging in to find solutions.  San Antonio’s CPS Energy already has a successful solar program, called Solar Host, which is accessible to low-income residents.  What we want is for Austin Energy to take on these challenges and embrace new solutions.  Local solar goals should be expanded and incentive budgets maintained to make solar an option for Austinites at all income levels and in all types of housing.

If these ideas speak to your values, please come to the public hearing on August 10 to speak your mind.

Goals are only useful if they are high enough to spur innovation and action beyond what is already happening.  We want Austin to be ambitious in taking on climate change and equity.

Here’s what we’re asking for (3rd column):

 

AUSTIN, Texas — The 85th Legislature gave all Texans a surprising bit of good news when they extended the programs for the Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), which was set to expire in 2019.

TERP is the second largest air pollution reduction program in Texas, and since its inception in 2001 it has become the most cost-effective way to reduce air pollution in the state.

Only hours before the final deadline to pass a “Conference Committee Report,” the Texas Legislature approved SB 1731, which included an amendment to reform and expand TERP. In response, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and Environmental Defense Fund — who have supported and worked with legislators and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality since 2001 on TERP implementation — praised lawmakers for their efforts, but issued a warning: the Legislature must actually appropriate the money now.

“We salute the Texas Legislature for extending and expanding TERP programs so that Texas actually complies with EPA’s health-based standards for ozone pollution in our major cities,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “However, the Legislature failed to extend the fees that pay for the program, and the budget bill actually cut appropriations for TERP by some $80 million over two years, subject to a possible adjustment by the Legislative Budget Board. This will need to be fixed for the program to work as it should.”

Recent polling has found that TERP has strong support in Houston, where air pollution is a constant problem. “We’re glad that the Legislature responded to the concerns of Houstonians,” said Adrian Shelley, director of the Public Citizen Texas office. “One of the major improvements for TERP under SB 1731 is the provision to allow more money to be spent in rail yards and port yards, where we have the greatest air pollution concentrations,” he added.

“We’re pleased that TERP has been extended and now includes modifications that will allow more cost-effective projects at ports,” said Christina Wolfe, Manager, Air Quality, Port and Freight Facilities at the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund. “There is plenty of work ahead of us to ensure that all Texans breathe healthy air, so we appreciate the Texas Legislature taking this first step in recognizing the importance of TERP. Now we need them to ensure the programs are funded.”

The bill to extend and expand the program had a somewhat tortured history. After passing the Senate early in the session, SB 26 by Craig Estes (R- Wichita Falls) was then referred to the House Committee on Environmental Regulation. There, clean air advocates — which included environmental groups like EDF, Sierra Club and Public Citizen, and industry groups like the Texas Chemical Council, the Texas Association of Business and electric utilities — worked with Chairman Joe Pickett (D – El Paso), Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Houston) and Rep. Tony Dale (R- Round Rock) to craft a revised version of SB 26, which put more emphasis on the most cost-effective programs, including the revised Seaport and Rail Yards program to clean up pollution from equipment at our ports and rail yards.

However, the House version of SB 26 was put late on the calendar and the House of Representatives did not get to the bill when the deadline of midnight occurred on May 23rd. Then, versions of SB 26 were added to three other bills as amendments, though two of them were not taken up. Finally, on May 29th, at approximately 9:30 PM, both houses passed the TERP bill as part of SB 1731 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas).

While the groups behind the TERP legislation were happy with the passage SB 1731, some last-minute confusion on the budget made it unclear how much TERP is actually funded for the next two years. During last-minute budget negotiations, TERP funding was cut from approximately $118 million per year to $78 million per year, and a contingency rider that was supposed to restore funding if a TERP bill passed was not in the final version of the budget.

In addition, separate legislation to extend the six fees that actually fund TERP did not pass, meaning the Legislature will need to come back in 2019 to extend them if the programs are to continue.

“We call on Governor Abbot to not only sign SB 1731 into law, but call back the Legislative Budget Board to adjust the budget to reflect its passage and return the nearly $40 million a year that was cut to fund these new programs,” added Reed. “Ultimately, the Legislature is going to have to decide how important it is to get the dirty air in our cities cleaned up and extend the fees — and spend the revenues — to help our children, the elderly and those with asthma to be able to breathe clean air.”

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Last night’s session at the Texas House of Representatives underscored a worrisome trait that is unfortunately becoming more and more common in our democratic process: the utter incapacity of our elected officials to compromise.
In a stunning move, state representatives from the Texas Freedom Caucus announced their intent to kill more than 100 bills in retribution for what they called “petty personal politics.” These bills, which represent thousands of hours of work by hundreds of lawmakers and staff members over the last five months of the legislative session, were undone in a few hours by members too bitter about the failure of their own pet interests.

State Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler and Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano announce their intent as part of the Texas Freedom Caucus to kill more than 100 bills on May 11, 2017. Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune.

“It’s an astonishing refusal to govern,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “A few lawmakers are willing to grind state government to a halt because of petty infighting and a failure to work together.”
Legislative paralysis in Texas leaves voters wondering if those they have elected have their best interests at heart. Among the bills that died this week were legislation to address rising mortality among pregnant mothers, air and water protections and legislation to promote transparency and open government.
“Last night’s meltdown at the House was the worst case of political immaturity I have seen in my 35 years of working at the Capitol,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, former director of the Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Chubbing by members on the last night of the session is a time honored tradition, but the self-absorbed fits of a dozen freedom caucus members is a blatant example of their utter disrespect for the needs of their fellow legislators and citizens. They should be ashamed of their actions.”
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., with an office in Austin, Texas.

UPDATE:  HB2662 Passed with an amendment by the author that took all the bad elements out and left reporting by TCEQ in.  Thanks for all of you who took action.  You made a difference.

The Texas House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill that could allow for the expansion of radioactive waste disposal in Texas.

That’s right – some Texas lawmakers actually want to bring more radioactive waste to our state.

Ask your Texas state representative to vote “no” on House Bill 2662 to stop the unnecessary expansion of radioactive waste disposal in Texas.

Most states fight to keep such waste from being shipped to their communities, but Texas lawmakers are more worried about helping out the private company that owns the disposal site than protecting Texans.

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is already deep in debt and looking for a buyout. It defies all reason to let a failing company expand in such a dangerous line of work.  

If the company goes bankrupt, Texans will be left to foot the bill for cleaning up or continuing to store this radioactive waste.

Email your Texas state representative now to oppose this bad bill.

 

Networking event at last year’ Solar Power Texas

Mark your calendar for Solar Power Texas, June 13-14, 2017 in Austin, Texas. With solar booming in the Lone Star stateleading the U.S. in use of renewable energy, increasing your visibility and company in the Texas market is more important than ever.  Click here for registration information or click on Texas_Infographic(1) for a flyer on the event.

The recently retired director of the Public Citizen Texas office, Tom “Smitty” Smith, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his 30+ years of service.

An emotional Smitty says goodbye to friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

A fixture at the Texas Capitol for more than 3 decades, Smitty has fought long and hard on issues around the environment, renewable energy, ethics reform and nuclear waste disposal, but perhaps his hardest battle will be to be able to walk away from it all. He still cares deeply about the issues and knows there is yet much to be done.

“Smitty has always been an invaluable resource for Public Citizen and for the Legislature,” said State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez on the House Floor as he warmly spoke about Smitty’s work. “Thank you for your service,” he added, prompting warm applause from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Throughout his long years of service, Smitty organized the citizens of Texas around issues close to his heart, like campaign finance reform, shutting down dirty coal plants, increasing the state’s renewable energy portfolio and combating global warming. “Organized groups of students, teachers and concerned citizens can have a powerful impact on U.S. policy,” was his mantra and he applied it over and over again.

Smitty walks through the halls of the Texas Capitol prior to his send off on the House floor.

His hard work seems to have paid off. Today, Texas leads the nation in wind energy production and solar energy is growing. Programs Smitty championed (TERP) have removed more than 170,000 tons of nitrous oxides from our atmosphere and the energy efficiency codes he helped pass have saved the average homeowner around 30% of their average energy costs.

Undoubtedly, there is still a long and bumpy road ahead for environmental issues in the Lone Star State. However, Smitty’s life’s work will serve as a blueprint for the next generation of activists. The torch is lit, Smitty. Thanks for lighting the way.

The U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) is holding a public meeting via teleconference on April 24, 2017 so that we can listen and learn from those directly impacted by our regulations. The focus of this teleconference will be on air and radiation actions only. We invite you to provide input on these rules during the public teleconference. Information on joining the teleconference and submitting comments through the docket are below. For questions about this process, please contact [email protected].

OAR’s public teleconference will be an operator assisted call. The call with start with brief remarks from EPA and the remainder of the call will be dedicated to listening to public input. Participants wishing to speak or listen do not need to register in advance for the teleconference. To hear the opening remarks, please dial in 10 minutes before the start time. You may call into the teleconference at any time during the three-hour period.

If you wish to speak, at any time, you may nominate yourself to speak by hitting *1 on your phone. Your name will be added to a queue. Speakers will be asked to deliver 3 minutes of remarks and will be called on a first come, first served basis. OAR will do our best to hear from everyone who wishes to speak. The teleconference will be transcribed and will be added to the docket. If you do not have the opportunity to speak on the call, please submit your input to the EPA-wide docket (docket number: EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190; https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190). OAR will give equal consideration to input provided through either of these methods.

For more information on upcoming public engagement opportunities offered by other EPA offices please visit: https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/regulatory-reform

El Paso Electric (EPE) – which is a for-profit company with a monopoly in the El Paso area – is seeking higher rates for the utility’s west Texas customers and launching another attack on solar customers. Despite increasing rates last year, the utility wants to collect an additional $42.5 million each year from its customers. Under the new proposal, EPE’s customers would face an overall 8.7 percent increase, amounting to $8.25 per month for the average residential customer. Solar customers would be hit even harder under the proposal, which an average bill increase of $14.09 per month.

Under EPE’s proposal, residential customers with solar would be subject to demand charges, which factors in the customers maximum demand for electricity at a single point in time. Demand charges are almost never used for residential customers because they are complex and can lead to significant fluctuations in bills.  Demand charges also make it very difficult for customers to take action to control their bills.  Solar customers would also be subject to time-of-use rates, which means electricity rates are different based on the time and day of the week.  While time-of-use rates can be a good tool, there is no justification for forcing them on customers with solar, but not other customers.

The 2017 utility tries to justify its discrimination against solar customers by using the false “cost-shift” argument. EPE plans to put the solar customers in a special class to “establish a fair rate structure that reflects the cost to serve each customer class.” To put it simply, EPE and other utilities are using the false argument that solar customers do not pay their fair share of grid-upkeep costs. This has been proven to be a false assumption by numerous studies conducted to calculate the value of solar. The improper allocation of costs to solar energy users will reduce the number of people willing to invest in solar and will leave current customers with no way to recover their costs.

EPE’s persistence in targeting solar customers has raised concerns. Several solar industry and advocacy groups, including The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and Eco El Paso are going to fight the proposal at the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) . Public Citizen is supporting these efforts by pushing the City of El Paso to make fighting the unfair solar fees and preventing the attack on solar a priority.

If you live in El Paso, take a minute to email the city to voice your opposition to the proposed unfair rates for solar customers.

“Demand charges found unreceptive audiences among regulators in 2016, and last year, Texas residents clearly rejected El Paso Electric’s same drastic and unprecedented rate design that punishes solar customers,” says TASC spokesperson Amy Heart. Senator José Rodríguez also issued a strong statement in opposition to the proposal:

I’m disappointed that El Paso Electric insists on discouraging people from installing solar on their homes. The electric company once again wants to single out solar customers by increasing their rates at least two times the amount of their non-solar neighbors. Solar customers will no longer be able to save on their electric bills, which was the reason they installed solar panels in the first place…I strongly believe these anti-solar proposals contradict the intent of Senate Bill 1910, which I passed in 2011 to authorize solar net metering in El Paso Electric’s service territory.

Fortunately for solar customers and non-solar customers alike, the evidence clearly shows that solar customers are contributing at least as much value as they get from the grid. A recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center evaluated 16 “value of solar” studies, and all but a couple that were conducted by utilities showed that the value of energy solar customers contribute to the system is higher than the retail rate they offset with net metering.

If you live in El Paso, help us and Eco El Paso fight back by sending an email to the El Paso City Council.