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satellite-image-of-the-methane-hotspot_1_NASA and University of Michigan scientists have discovered a massive cloud of methane that spans 2500 square miles (about the size of Delaware) located above the the Four Corners intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

The atmospheric methane concentration of methane in that area is equivalent to 1.3 million pounds of emissions a year, which is 80% higher than EPA estimates.  This is the largest concentration of methane in the United States.  It was so large in fact that scientists “weren’t sure if it was a true signal or an instrument error,” but they recently verified the levels of methane in the affected area.

Eric Kort of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor attributed the dramatic methane emissions to leaks in natural gas production and processing equipment in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.  The San Juan Basin is the most active coalbed methane production area in the US.  The coalbed methane covers the pores and cracks in coal.  As this methane seeps out from underground coal mines, it causes fatal explosions almost yearly.

While the methane concentrations in that area are not an immediate health risk to the local inhabitants, it has significant implications for climate change.  As a greenhouse gas, methane is 86 times more potent in its atmospheric effect than carbon dioxide in the first two decades after release.  25% of human-induced global warming is caused by methane emissions in the environment.

As the U.S. considers transitioning from coal to natural gas as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is critical that accurate assessments of leaking methane are accounted for in all calculations.  If leakage of natural gas isn’t greatly reduced, switching fuels may make little or no difference in combating climate change.  This methane hot spot should serve as a warning that other undiscovered leaks are probably out there and having a significant impact.

China Heat Wave- US China Daily Australia experienced record-breaking temperatures and many other countries are experiencing uncharacteristically intense heat waves. Whether or not these events are related to climate change has been questioned in the past, but has recently come to light as something that is very probable.

Recently, researchers and scientists come up with the phrase “extreme event attribution” which acts as a unit of measure for the extent to which these weather events are human-caused. For instance, according to extreme event attribution, the heat wave in Korea was 10 times more likely due to human caused climate change. Scientists want extreme event attribution to be in real-time by the end of 2015.

The American Meteorological Society recently released a bulletin based off of 22 case studies. It concluded saying that high temperatures made heat waves more intense and more likely and that the emission of greenhouse gases is causing these extreme weather events. Recent heatwaves in Australia, Korea, Japan, China, and Western Europe are all judged to be due to climate change. The National Climate Assessment also made a connection between climate change and the drought in Australia.

The impact of climate change seems clear, with China experiencing its biggest heat wave in 140 years August of 2013, during which at least 40 people died. Health effects of heat waves range from heat strokes to aggravated chronic diseases. The heat also increases ground-level ozone levels, causing lung injury and increasing the severity of respiratory diseases.
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Texas Tribune will present a daylong symposium, in partnership with the University of Texas at San Antonio, on the impact of the shale boom in Texas. Topics of discussion will include the transformation of the state economy, the energy sector, and physical and social infrastructure in cities and counties across Texas.

 

  • 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
    Various panel times. Schedule to be announced soon.

Confirmed panelists include

 

  • State Sen. JUDITH ZAFFIRINI, D-Laredo;
  • State Sen. CARLOS URESTI, D-San Antonio;
  • State Rep. JIM KEFFER, R-Eastland;
  • State Rep. MIKE VILLARREAL, D-San Antonio;
  • State Rep. MYRA CROWNOVER, R-Denton;
  • State Rep. PONCHO NEVÁREZ, D-Eagle Pass;
  • State Rep. JOSÉ MENÉNDEZ, D-San Antonio;
  • DAVID PORTER, Texas railroad commissioner;
  • IVY TAYLOR, mayor of San Antonio;
  • JERRY MORALES, mayor of Midland;
  • BEN SHEPPERD, president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association;
  • LEODORO MARTINEZ, executive director of Middle Rio Grande Development;
  • SHERYL LYNN ROBERTS, research economist for the Center for Community and Business Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio;
  • OMAR GARCIA, president of the South Texas Energy & Economic Roundtable;
  • THOMAS TUNSTALL, research director for the Institute for Economic Development at the University of Texas at San Antonio;
  • DON TYMRAK, city manager of Karnes City;
  • JOEL RODRIGUEZ, LaSalle County judge;
  • DARYL FOWLER, DeWitt County judge; and
  • Sister ELIZABETH RIEBSCHLAEGER, environmental advocate.

Full schedule announced soon.

RSVP:  click here.

ABOUT THIS EVENT
The day-long symposium will be held at the UTSA Downtown Campus in the Buena Vista Theatre (BV 1.326). Complimentary parking for attendees will be available in UTSA’s Lot D3. A light breakfast and lunch will be provided. The event is free and open to the public.

 

  • UTSA Downtown Campus
    501 César E. Chávez Boulevard, San Antonio, TX 78207 (map)

 

This event is generously sponsored by UTSA, CPS Energy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, The University of Texas at Austin, Permian Basin Petroleum Association, Texas A&M University and Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas.

 

 

2014-09-29 Austin Mayoral Candiate Forum on AE Issues - YouTubeOn Monday, we concluded our series of Austin City Council and mayoral candidate forums.  Over the course of two and a half weeks, we heard a variety of views on Austin Energy issues from an astounding 54 candidates.  On top of that, 49 candidates submitted responses to our questionnaire on Austin Energy issues.

Many of our Austin supporters joined us in person for the forums, but for those of you who weren’t able to make it out to your district forum or the mayoral forum, we have posted all of the videos on a special Austin Elections page of our blog. Or you can view them directly on the Public Citizen’s Texas Office YouTube channel.

If you care about climate change, shutting down polluting power plants, expanding the use of solar energy, energy efficiency, preserving our water, or keeping electric bills affordable for low-income customers, you’ll want to check out the Austin Council candidate forum videos for your district and the mayoral race.  Get the information you need to make an educated vote on November 4.

Public Citizen didn’t host these forums on our own.  We were joined in this effort by the 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, and the Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church.  Many thanks to everyone who helped with the forums, especially former Austin Mayor Will Wynn for moderating the mayoral forum, Progress Texas deputy director Phillip Martin for moderating the districts 6 and 10 forum, and Treehouse for donating their space for the districts 5 & 8 forum.

Wildlife Decline Graph - from The GuardianResearch published in a new report by the World Wildlife Foundation and the Zoological Society of London found that the population of wild animals on Earth is now half of what it was in 1970. Freshwater species have seen an even more dramatic decline of 75%.

The researchers concluded that the decline in wildlife populations is due to human activity: unsustainable hunting, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change.

Though climate change in this report accounts for 7% of the loss of wildlife in the past 40 years, climate change’s impact on the Earth’s ecosystem is expected to dramatically increase.  Some experts estimate that a-fourth of the Earth’s species could be extinct by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.

Climate change will also have negative impacts on humans.  Global temperatures are projected to rise 4 degrees by 2100.  In the hotter months of the year we can expect exposure to temperatures above 38 degrees Celcius (100ºF) on a common basis, which can cause organ damage and death.  Crops and livestock will struggle with the rising temperatures and water shortages.  Humanity’s staple crops, corn, rice, wheat and soybeans have a temperature limit of 40 to 45 degrees Celcius (104ºF to 113ºF), “with temperature thresholds for key sowing stages near or below 35 ºC (95ºF).”

The current human consumption of natural resources is unsustainable.  Climate change exacerbated by human activities at this rate is detrimental to both wildlife and the human species.  At this rate, we can expect to see the collapse of ecosystems on which we depend for our survival.   The scientists behind these various reports hope that these statistics and projects will serve as a wake-up call to ramp up conservation efforts and mitigate the effects of climate change and our exploitation of the environment and its resources.

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
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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.