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Former Austin Mayor Will Wynn will host a candidate forum for the current Austin mayoral candidates tonight.

The focus of the forum is Austin Energy issues.  Questions will cover topics including climate change, solar energy, affordability, and the retirement the city’s portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project.

When: Tonight (Monday, September 29), from 7:15 to 9:30 p.m (program from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m.)

Where: First Unitarian Universalist Church (4700 Grover Ave., 78756)

Like almost all of the City Council races this year, the mayoral race features long list of candidates.  6 have committed to participate in tonight’s forum.  They are:

  • Mike Martinez (Current Council Member)
  • Sheryl Cole (Current Mayor Pro Tem)
  • Steve Adler
  • Randall Stephens
  • Todd Phelps
  • David Orshalick

While there are many forums in Austin this election season, this is the only one to focus on the city’s largest asset, Austin Energy.  Find out what the candidates have in mind for Austin’s energy future.

river water75% of Texas streams could remain vulnerable to pollution due to House Bill 5078 passed by the House of Representatives on September 9th. HB 5078 would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from applying the protections of the Clean Water Act to more than half the nation’s rivers and streams. This includes 143,000 miles of Texan streams that flow into vital waterways such as the Edwards Aquifer, the Trinity River, Caddo Lake, Galveston Bay, and the Rio Grande.

Texas waters are already considered the 2nd most polluted in the nation, according to a report by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. Data from 2012 showed the Lower Brazos River watershed as ranking first for the highest amount of toxicity released with 33,475,464 toxicity-weighted pounds. Over 80,000 pounds of carcinogenic chemicals were discharged into Texan waterways. These chemicals persist in the environment and have the potential to cause birth defects, infertility, cancers, and developmental problems in children.

“Texas’ waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.  “But too often, our waters have become a dumping ground for polluters.  The first step to curb this tide of toxic pollution is to restore Clean Water Act protections to all our waterways.”

Renewable RoundupThe Renewable Energy Roundup & Sustainable Living Expo is a full 3 day event on September 26th, 27th, & 28th at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, TX.

Booths will feature products and information on:
• Renewable energy resources; solar, wind, biomass and other resources and services – The Public Citizen booth will offer information on solar energy.
• Smart Grid solutions available to homeowners now
• Green Building and remodeling
• Sustainable transportation solutions
• Tips for improving health and well-being
• Insights on organic gardening and cooking, tree care and soil care
• Climate Change innovation
• Texas water conservation and drought solutions
Continue Reading »

Save Antiboitics for Medicine, Not Factory FarmsFood and Water Watch, which works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainably produced is hosting a campaign kickoff event in Austin this Thursday (9/16).

The focus of this campaign is the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming.  80% of antibiotics are used on factory farms, mostly as part of routine feeding, not for treating any specific illness in the animals.  This is done to help the animals overcome the deplorable conditions they are raised in.

Antibiotic overuse poses a health risk to people by allowing bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics to develop.  The few bacteria that survive an antibiotic dose reproduce quickly and create a strain of bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. This leaves some human infections with no cure. According to the CDC:

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Because the FDA and Congress haven’t done enough to deal with this urgent problem, cities across the country are acting by passing resolutions telling Congress we need legislation now to save antibiotics and stop their misuse on factory farms. This event is the beginning of this effort in Austin.

The Climate Reality ProjectClimate Reality Project - Be the Voice of Your Generation is dedicated creating a healthy and sustainable future by making a global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies. This year, they’ve decided to give a voice to the generation that will be most impacted by climate change by hosting a video contest and rewarding the winner a trip to the U.N. Climate Summit in New York on September 23 as a representative of the Climate Reality Project.

The U.N. Climate Summit is a day-long event that will feature some of the world’s leaders discussing environmental issues and solutions. Serving as a public platform for all UN Member states, finance, business, and civil society leaders from public and private sectors, the event will be educational and progressive as leaders from around the world work together to address the climate issues.

To participate, contestants must post a video to YouTube or Instagram asking “Why? Why not?” about a climate issue (Ex: Why are we still burning fossil fuels? Why not switch to clean renewable energy and protect our future?) and talk about the issue in under one minute. Six winners will be chosen and flown to New York to watch their video get played to the leaders of the world at the U.N. Climate Summit opening ceremony.

The project is global and winners will be selected based on their passion and the relevance of the issue. Contestants must be between the ages of 13 and 21 to participate.

2050 Weather Forecast

The World Meteorological Organization, the United Nation’s weather agency, challenged international weather media to come up with a futuristic weather report for September 28, 2050 as part of their call for government and business leaders to agree to ambitious action on climate change at the U.N. Climate Summit on Sept. 23 in New York.

The Weather Channel took up that challenge and Sam Champion walks us through what that might look like.

Click here to watch their futuristic weather report.

As Austin prepares to enter a new phase under 10-1 governance (10 Council members to represent geographic districts and 1 at-large mayor), many voters may find themselves overwhelmed with the large number of candidates to chose from.  A whopping 78 candidates filed to run for City Council this year.  District 3 alone has 12 candidates.

2014-08-21 Austin City Council and Mayoral Candidate Forums on Austin Energy - image for blogSo how do you, as a voter, choose between so many options?  We aren’t going to tell you who to vote for, but we are helping you get some of the information that you might want when making that important choice.  Along with some of our local allies, we are hosting a series of candidate forums focused on Austin Energy issues that are free and open to the public.

  • Districts 6 & 10: September 12, 6 – 9 p.m., First Presbyterian Church, 8001 Mesa Dr, Austin, TX 78731
  • Districts 2 & 3: September 19, 6 – 9 p.m., Austin JATC Electrical Training Center, 4000 Caven Rd, Austin, TX 78744
  • Districts 1 & 7: September 20, 12:30 – 3:30 p.m., Northwest Recreation Center, 2913 Northland Dr, Austin, TX 78757
  • Districts 4 & 9: September 22, 6 – 9 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover Ave, Austin, TX 78756
  • Districts 5 & 8: September 23, 6 – 9 p.m., Treehouse, 4477 S. Lamar Blvd, #600, Austin, TX 78745
  • Mayoral: September 29, 7 – 10 p.m., First Unitarian Universalist Church, 4700 Grover Ave, Austin, TX 78756

If you don’t know which district you are in, you can look it up. Type in only your street address. For example, if you live at 1234 Barton Springs Rd, Apt 44, type in only “1234 Barton Springs Rd.”

While there are many important issues facing Austin, we believe that governance of Austin Energy will remain one of the single most important responsibilities for any City Council member.  Valued at $3.8 billion, Austin Energy is the City’s most valuable asset.  In addition to providing power for the city, its residents and businesses, Austin Energy revenue to supports city operations such as parks, infrastructure, EMS, firefighters and libraries.

Candidates will be asked to respond to a series of questions relating to Austin Energy, including questions on climate change, energy sources, affordability and governance of the utility.  The public is invited to attend to learn more about the candidates.

Let us know that you’ll be at one or more of the forums.

Participating organizations are: Public Citizen, SEED Coalition (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development), Sierra Club, Solar Austin, Texas ROSE (Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy), Clean Water Action, Austin Climate Action Network, Texas Drought Project, First Unitarian Universalist Green Sanctuary Ministry, Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church

WMO GH Gas Bulletin CoverAccording to the annual report of the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nation’s weather agency, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2013.  CO2 rose to global concentrations of 396 parts per million last year, the biggest year-to-year change in three decades. That’s an increase of 2.9 ppm from the previous year — and is 42 percent higher than before the Industrial Age, when levels were about 280 parts per million.  The report also said the rate of ocean acidification, which comes from added carbon absorbed by oceans, “appears unprecedented at least over the last 300 million years.”

Our climate is changing, our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and time is not on our side.  Click here to read the WMO’s Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.

 

Gathering line fire from a rupture near Alice, TX in 2010.  Photo from Texas Rail Road Commission Archives

Gathering line fire from a rupture near Alice, TX in 2010. Photo from Texas Rail Road Commission Archives

NBC News has been investigating the danger that gathering lines (the pipeline installed to get natural gas from fracking sites to storage facilities and major transportation pipelines) pose to rural residents who live near the fracking sites and whose land the gathering lines crisscross with little to no regulatory oversight.

Click here to read NBC’s article resulting from their investigation”Danger Beneath: ‘Fracking’ Gas, Oil Pipes Threaten Rural Residents“.

City sets ambitious solar goal, path to zero carbon pollution from Austin Energy by 2030

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution.  Photo by Al Braden.

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution. Photo by Al Braden.

A diverse coalition of groups representing workers, people of faith, low-income residents, clean energy supporters and environmental advocates united in their of goal of expanding affordable clean energy and protections to public health cheered the Austin City Council for adopting the Affordable Energy Resolution late Thursday evening.

The resolution comes after years of community-led work to study Austin Energy’s portfolio and generation plan, identify opportunities to strengthen the municipal utility’s clean energy and climate commitments while meeting the needs of low-income communities and after community members demonstrated strong demand for more affordable clean energy and less pollution on a reasonable but aggressive timeline.

The Affordable Energy Plan calls for Austin Energy to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and eliminate carbon pollution from its generator fleet by 2030. It directs the utility phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant by investing in 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

“Solar is now cheaper than building a new natural gas plant. Our analysis shows that 600 megawatts of solar will save Austin Energy between $12 and $33 million per year,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group. “We’re grateful for the strong leadership shown by Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.”

The landmark resolution also takes significant steps to expand local solar power.  It doubles Austin’s local solar goal to 200 megawatts, with half of that goal reserved for distributed residential and commercial solar projects. And the resolution expands access to rooftop solar projects by including solar leasing as an option for residents and businesses and by refining Austin Energy’s innovative value of solar tariff.

“Local solar creates local jobs.  The Austin solar industry already employs more than 800 people and many of those jobs are in solar installation and can’t be outsourced,” said Kaiba White of Solar Austin.  “Money spent on local solar goes back into our local economy.  Allowing people from all walks of life to benefit from solar is a win-win for Austin.”

A separate resolution was also passed to establish a task force to make recommendations on expanding the utility’s energy savings goal and ensuring that energy efficiency services are provided to people of all income levels. Energy efficiency is the most easily deployed, lowest-cost option for meeting energy needs and will be a critical component of meeting climate goals for the utility.

The City of Austin has long been a leader in Texas and nationally. The City announced its plans to power all city buildings and operations with Texas wind power in 2012, and earlier in 2014 Austin Energy announced a new solar power project at the lowest cost in U.S. history. In June 2014, the Austin City Council became first elected body in the nation to endorse the goals of the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed plan to curb carbon pollution that drives climate disruption.

“The impacts of a rapidly changing climate are clear in Central Texas and as a progressive community we have a moral obligation to lead in reducing our carbon footprint while providing clean, affordable electricity to our people, businesses and churches,” said Reverend John Elford with the University United Methodist Church of Austin. “This resolution sets us on a path to meet both those needs.”

The Decker natural gas-fired power plant is a major contributor to smog pollution in Travis County. Replacing the plant with clean solar power will cut smog and improve air quality for the more than one million residents in the county, protecting children, seniors and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“In its opposition to this resolution, Austin Energy continued the tradition of marginalizing the communities near Decker by citing money as a primary concern at the expense public health. By passing this resolution, City Council members have finally recognized that every Austinite should have the right to clean air. That this is an issue of justice and that it is an issue of equality,” said Mayte Salazar-Ordonez, a volunteer leader with Austin Beyond Coal.

As Austin Energy develops its plan to meet the goals of the Affordable Energy Resolution, building new gas- or coal-fired power plants will not be an option, representing an opportunity to move beyond traditional power plants and further tap Texas’s renewable energy potential.

The coalition will now look to secure timely retirement of the Fayette coal-fired power plant to meet the city’s carbon pollution elimination goal as well as to cut the soot, smog and mercury pollution coming from the plant that impacts local communities, farms and waterways. Nationwide, 178 coal-fired power plants have been announced for retirement as clean energy solutions like wind, solar and energy efficiency have cut air pollution, lowered costs for consumers and created jobs.

Today, Austin City Council will consider an historic energy proposal from Council Member Chris Riley that would save Austin millions while demonstrating an unprecedented commitment to renewable energy.

The resolution calls for Austin Energy to bring more than 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes, to its portfolio, phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant and set goals to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources and eliminate its carbon pollution by 2030.

Councilman Riley spoke about the need to action at Tuesday's Affordable Energy Rally in front of City Hall.  Photo by Al Braden.

Councilman Riley spoke at Tuesday’s Affordable Energy Rally in front of City Hall. Photo by Al Braden.

In addition to the diverse support behind Council Member Chris Riley for his proposed Affordable Energy Resolution, Public Citizen’s analysis shows that a key component of the plan is economically sound.

An analysis of the cost of Austin Energy’s most recent solar Request for Proposals (RFP) and projected cost to generate electricity in ERCOT, the Texas grid, over time shows tremendous savings from investing in an additional 600 megawatts of solar for Austin. The cost analysis was conducted for Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group, using the same planning tools used by ERCOT and found that the solar power proposed in the Affordable Energy Resolution will save Austin consumers between $12.6 and $32 million per year on average compared to building a new natural gas-fired power plant, depending on fluctuations in the gas market.

Continue Reading »

V.C. Summer nuclear plant construction in May of 2014. Source: ScanaScana Corp., owner of two reactors under construction at the V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina, announed on August 12th that the anticipated schedule for completion of unit 2 at one of the new nuclear plants that was licensed during the “nuclear renaissance” a few years back has now been pushed back, from its original start date of March of 2017 to as late as the first half of 2019. The company has not yet provided cost estimates associated with the new schedule, but three days later, Fitch revised the Rating Outlook for each entity to Negative from Stable.

In March 2012 V.C. Summer received its licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and construction began shortly after.  Since then, six rate increases have been imposed on South Carolina ratepayers and the project is now eating up 11% of utility bills with no benefit in sight for quite some time. Fitch is particularly concerned about the extent of the potential cost increase and the utility’s willingness to have rate payers shoulder the entire burden.

Problems at the troubled Vogtle nuclear reactor project in Georgia had been getting all the national headlines, but South Carolina Electric & Gas’ V.C. Summer reactor project is now giving the well-publicized nuclear debacle in Georgia a run for its money.

At the time these plants were trying to get licensed, both South Texas (nuclear) Project (south of Houston) and Comanche Peak (west of Fort Worth) had put in license applications for expansions of two new units at both locations.  The cost overruns and construction delays of the initial plants and the problems at the current new projects in the United States are a good indicator that Texas expansions would have faced the same issues had the licenses gone forward.

Still we must be vigilant as STP is still pursuing the expansion license in spite of the fact that the project is predominantly controlled by a foreign (Japanese) company, which is against the law.  Nevertheless, an Atomic Safety and Licensing Board recently ruled in favor of granting STP a new license despite NRC staff opposing it.  The Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition has been party to a suit to opposed the licensing (with assistance from Public Citizen and a local group – STARE) but will be needing additional funds to appeal the recent ruling.

Donate to SEEDIf you can, please make a donation toward SEED’s efforts.  We don’t need Georgia and South Carolina’s nuclear constructions problems in Texas.

EW&FThe Dallas Sierra Club  is holding an “Earth, Wind & Fire Energy Summit” at the Addison Conference Centre the weekend of October 4-5, 2014. Registration is now open for this exciting event at www.earthwindfiresummit.org .

This educational conference will provide insight on both traditional and renewable forms of energy including current and future perspectives on the use of these various forms of energy, on both a national and regional scale, as well as the environmental and human impacts of these various forms of energy.

The conference will feature well-known academics, policymakers, and professional representatives from associations and institutions that focus on a wide of energy issues.

Of particular interest to Public Citizen’s efforts in Texas are:

  •  Coal — Dr. Daniel Cohan of Rice Univ. speaking about new carbon rules – retrofitting or retiring old coal plants
  •  Fuel Exports — Dr. Beach, UTAustin, speaking on oil/coal/LNG exports

This event is ideal for the public, non-profit organizations, environmental professionals, small business owners, and students who want to:

  • Gain a global perspective of the dynamic and changing nature of energy in America
  • Explore how America’s demand for energy today translates into its production and expansion in the U.S. and Texas
  • Learn about the potential human and environmental impacts caused by energy production
  • Meet and network with an array of experts, respected organizations, and other individuals working on energy issues

Space is limited for this event. Early registration is $55 through Sept. 2 and $75 thereafter.For more information or to learn about exhibitor opportunities, contact Rita Beving

Today, Thursday August 14th, the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC) is holding a regularly scheduled meeting in the Equinox in Manchester, Vermont.

They are not making a live feed for the meeting available, but say they will record the meeting and make it available on the TLLRWDCC website.  However, they have the technology available if you are present  in Building E, Room 201S, 12100 Park 35 Circle, 78753 Austin, Texas at the TCEQ beginning at 8:00am on August 14th so you can participate in the meeting.

The agenda for the August 14, 2014 meeting of the TLLRWDCC is attached and is also available on the TLLRWDCC website at http://www.tllrwdcc.org/.

http://www.tllrwdcc.org/about-the-comission/public-meetings/

vegetarian benefits 5Producing animals for consumption takes one of the biggest tolls on our environment and is increasing as developing countries and the earth’s population grows to new heights. Today about 70 billion farm animals are produced annually for consumption with approximately 2/3 raised in factory farms under harsh and abnormal conditions. What this is doing to the earth is more damaging than all transportation impacts combined. To start with, it takes a lot of plant calories to produce the same amount of meat calories. Through the long process of raising, slaughtering and transporting livestock, this market is contributing to 75% of annual deforestation, while polluting water from pesticides and fertilizers used to grow feed instead of crops that directly feed the human population.

Like so many other economically efficient yet environmentally awful routines America has, livestock farming is another sector that needs to be reformed… or everyone needs to become vegetarian or vegan. The environmental impacts of meat consumption are no small thing.

vegetarian benefits 65 reasons to be vegetarian:

  1.  Consuming less meat, especially red meat like beef and lamb, reduces your carbon footprint better than buying a Prius would!
  2. Both methane and nitrous oxides (byproducts of livestock waste) have drastically more climate change impact than CO2 over the next couple decades.
  3. More land would be available for direct food crops in a growing population
  4. Reforesting lands that have been stripped of their vegetation to make room for cattle
  5. Feeling good about yourself for being sustainable!

Although consuming less meat would help decrease the negative effects of livestock farming, the farmers themselves have the ability to do their big part as well. According to a report by FAO, the most GHG emitting step in the livestock farming process was feed production and processing, which accounted for 45% of the total GHG emitted by livestock farming. Using low-emission feed or keeping the livestock grass fed, which eliminates transportation costs for the feed, is a large change that could be made to drastically reduce GHG emissions into the air. Other changes include the use of energy saving equipment, recycling the manure produced from cattle instead of producing fertilizer and improve graze and farming management to use rotational land use and crop harvesting. These are just a few necessary changes that need to be made in the livestock farming business which effects would drastically lessen greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and deforestation.

Either our diet or our demand for sustainable livestock farming needs to change and it starts with the consumer. If eating meat is too good to give up then, try eating less meat and choosing the more climate-friendly options. Some animals are more efficient at converting plant calories into meat calories than others and therefore have impacts relating to feed production.  If you have to get beef, choose grass-fed beef which eliminates the production and transportation of grain feed. These small changes can make a big difference if people can take the leap and change.