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Archive for May 27th, 2009

Inside a Hog Confinement

Inside a Hog Confinement

I would like to discuss an issue that has been important to me for several years, but does not get much attention outside the Midwest or agriculture heavy states like North Carolina. In these states much of the landscape is covered by large indoor animal feeding units. These confinements, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS), hold thousands of hogs or turkeys and are typically disliked by the people living near them.

Unfortunately, CAFOs are also common here in Texas. The last several years have seen an increase in the number of CAFOs in Texas. McLennan and Erath counties are home to many CAFOs that house cattle and chickens, and their is a major hog confinement industry in much of the panhandle.

Regardless of what kind of animals are produced in CAFOs they inevitably generate several tons of animal waste, which is accompanied by persistent and strong foul odors that are easily detectable miles away. This also generates spills and runoff that contribute heavily to water pollution, making local rivers and lakes undesirable for fishing, swimming and most other purposes. The confinements are often owned by absentee land owners, including some of America’s largest corporations, who are frequent recipients of government money which is used to expand their operations.

Here are some of the facts:

1. A typical hog confinement can hold up to 10,000 pigs.

2. Confined livestock produce an estimated 500 million tons of excrement per year.

3. CAFOs release Hydrogen Sulfide, Ammonia, particulate matter and other highly toxic pollutants into the air and water.

4. These pollutants are detrimental to human health and individuals living near these have high levels of: diarrhea, excessive coughing, sore throats, fatigue and depression.

5. Workers in CAFOs are found to be at high risk for respiratory diseases: asthma, acute bronchitis, sinusitis, rhinitis, and pulmonary endema.

6. Manure from these is stored liquid forms in lagoons that spill and leak into soil and water.

7. A spill from a single lagoon in North Carolina once released 25 million gallons of liquid hog waste into local water ways. Hundreds of smaller spills of thousands of gallons occur each year. EPA estimates: 35,000 miles of contaminated rivers. (more…)

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Earlier this morning, I offered the consolation that bills which died due to the Voter ID debacle could be revived as amendments to other bills.  This afternoon, I’m keeping an eye on the Senate to see if my solar dreams will come true.

rays-of-hopeThis afternoon, the Senate has HB 1243 on their intent calendar.  HB 1243 is a “net metering” bill which would ensure that owners of solar installations, small wind turbines, or biogas generators get paid a fair price for the excess power they produce.  As HB 1243 is a solar-related bill, it can be deemed germane, or related, to solar SB 545, which “died” last night (as a reference, I’d also recommend this Houston Chronicle article).

Which means that SB 545 can (maybe, possibly) be amended to HB 1243.  Tentative huzzah!

It gets better.  HB 1243 is co-authored by Senator Troy Fraser — the same fellow who sponsored SB 545.  As both of these bills are Fraser’s babies, the chances of SB 545 living on as an amendment are looking pretty good.

Senator Fraser has yet another opportunity with this bill to fix a gaping hole in the 500 MW non-wind renewable portfolio standard (RPS) passed last session.  When this bill was passed, the RPS was described as a “goal” rather than a “target” — which due to a rather frustrating determination by the PUC, means that it can be interpreted as a recommendation rather than a requirement. Fraser was heard in committee calling this determination “the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.”  Translation: PUC has decided they don’t actually have to do anything to work toward that 500 MW of non-wind renewables.

fraserDuring these dark, cloudy times at the Texas legislature, Senator Fraser can shine a ray of hope into the Senate chamber.  He can create a pool of $500 million in solar rebates over the next 5 years, start a pilot program to put solar on schools, and create as many as thousands of green, local jobs in one fell swoop.  He can fix net metering so that individuals get a fair buy-back for the excess electricity they produce and actually have an incentive to shell out the cash for a new solar installation.  He can also ensure that Texas ends up with an additional 500 MW of non-wind renewables.

So cross your fingers, cross your toes… cross your arms and legs if you think it will help.  If Senator Fraser is your representative, give him a nudge — but otherwise, I’d stick to chanting.

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If you’ve been following the Texas Legislature at all over the weekend, you’ve probably heard the term “chubbing” at least once.  Yesterday marked the deadline for all bills that originated in the Senate to pass second reading — which means that any bills that didn’t make it through the House by midnight last night are dead for the session.  One of the bills on that list was the contentious Voter ID bill, which would have required Texas voters to present a valid driver’s license to vote.  In order to block this bill, which would have suppressed voter turnout across the state, House democrats adopted the “chubbing” tactic — talking bills to death — to avoid getting far enough down the bill list to have to vote on Voter ID.

Unfortunately, this stalling technique killed a tragically long laundry list of bills that were scheduled after Voter ID.  Among these were many of the bills we have been pushing hard this session to improve air quality in Texas, increase our energy efficiency standards, reform electric coops, and encourage solar development.

Missing Tuesday’s deadline is an enormous set-back, but not all hope is lost.  Bills that died last night can still be revived as amendments, which can be tacked on to House bills that are alive in the Senate.  As the Austin American Statesman reports,

Legislators now have two ways of bringing proposals back to life. The first option is for senators to tack dying proposals onto other related bills that did not fall victim to the voter ID fight in the House. For example, Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, said Tuesday that he may be able to salvage some, but not all, of a comprehensive air quality bill that he has worked on for two years.

“I’ve come to expect tragedy at the end of the session, and tragedy always appears,” Averitt said.

The other option is for the House to take a two-thirds vote to bring up bills.

The two-thirds vote is a pretty enormous step, and highly unlikely for most of the bills we’ve been working one, but the amendment strategy is tried and true.  We’ll be scrambling this week to salvage what we can — it ain’t over til its over, and you can bet we’ll be doing everything we can to fight for what matters for Texas.

Thanks to all you citizens for all your hard work, e-mails, and phone calls to representatives this session.  In the next few days, we’ll be needing your help more than ever.  Stay posted, and we’ll let you know what you can do to help save solar power, air quality, and energy efficiency.

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