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Archive for October, 2009

I lived in New York City before I moved to Austin. NY is a city that glorifies walking. Almost everyone walked everywhere and having a car wasn’t considered that “cool.” When I told one of my friends from NY that I was moving to Texas, he said, “People in Texas, if they wanted had to go to a restaurant that was across the street, they would get in their car, drive it, make a U turn, and park at the restaurant.” His comment was a little exaggerated but I must say, I agree with him a bit. People drive a lot here and I am guilty of it too.

I don’t put the blame completely on Austinites, after all, Austin doesn’t have the same public transportation that New York has and the streets of Austin aren’t the safest for biking. But there is no reason why a city like Austin shouldn’t encourage walking or biking. It is not only good for the environment but it is also good for our health and pockets.

I was thrilled to learn about Austin Safe Routes to School Project. The project is managed by the Health and Human Services Department of Austin. It was started to ensure safe biking or walking to school.

The website for the project advocates walking and biking in general. It is very thorough. The website has tips on how to bike or walk safer to school. As I mentioned before, it is hard to bike in Austin’s streets being so narrow and crowded. If you are a driver, you have complained about that one biker that is made you go around him. Well, the website has a whole section for you. Besides drivers, there are sections for parents, and even educators. There are lesson plans for teachers so they can teach students and encourage them bike and walk to school.

You can also visit Austin on Two Wheels and Bike Texas, it is a great website to get you connected with other bikers, learn more about safe biking routes, and much more.

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The Catholic Diocese of Austin states on its website that Austin’s plan to increase its dependence on renewable energy in providing electricity to the city will have a negative impact on the poor, “We support initiatives to preserving and protecting our environment, but not at the expense of those who can least afford it.”  As written on Rep. Rodriguez’ website, “that’s especially disingenuous considering that the poor are disproportionately affected by the impacts of dirty energy.”

There’s no good reason that switching to a clean energy economy would disproportionately impact low-income communities.  In fact, if done correctly (i.e. lots of energy efficiency and a localized work force to do audits and make those improvements), switching to a clean economy would actually be a boon for low-income folks in terms of lowered electricity use and bills, job opportunities, and lowered pollution levels.  Still not sure what we’re getting at?  Check out this video from Green For All to spell it out:

Church powered by wind turbine

Church powered by wind turbine

In response, Rep. Eddie Rodriguez along with Texas Impact, a local advocacy organization have organized Going Green, a community forum where the issue of Austin’s Energy Plan will be discussed and the public concerns will be addressed. It will be followed by an open discussion with representatives from Austin Energy.

The event will be held on Thursday, the 22nd of this month from 5:00 to 7:30 at the Education Center of Cristo Rey Catholic Church. Food and beverages will be provided for the attendees.

Mark your calendar, tell you friends, and come join us supporting Austin in becoming more green.

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sasaysno

JOIN THE LARGEST COMMUNITY ACTION YET! Say NO to NUCLEAR

Community Demonstration!
Wed Oct 14th
4pm – 8pm
City Hall
{103 Main Plaza,78205}
..next to Main Plaza downtown SA

Come to the demonstration! BRING 3 people with you!
BRING: street theatre props & political costumes, signs, puppets, bikes, hats, banners, CPS suits, etc!
Download flyers and more information at www.esperanzacenter.org

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Texas only State in Nation with such a Deadly, Costly Coal Rush Advancing

(Austin) Attorneys for Sierra Club and a Goliad and Victoria county-based group, Citizens for a Clean Environment, plus Environmental Defense Fund began arguments today against one of a large number of proposed new coal plants that are in various stages of the permitting, appeal, or construction process in Texas.

“Nowhere else in the United States are citizens facing such serious public health and financial risks as we are facing in Texas because of the large number of proposed new coal plants,” said Eva Hernandez with Sierra Club.

“Texas is also the only state in the nation where the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed to reject the state agency’s air permitting regime. We are asking the EPA to take action and place a moratorium on new coal plant permits until the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) follows the law of the Clean Air Act.”

The Sierra Club is challenging five coal plant permit applications this Fall and Winter in Texas:

• NRG Limestone near Jewett east of Waco
• IPA Coleto Creek between Goliad and Victoria
• Tenaska in Sweetwater west of Abilene
• Las Brisas in Corpus Christi
• White Stallion near Bay City south of Houston

Today, attorneys for the Goliad and Victoria Counties-based Citizens for a Clean Environment, Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund are protesting the coal plant permit application of IPA Coleto Creek at the State Office of Administrative Hearings in Austin. The company is asking the TCEQ for a permit to expand an existing coal plant by a second unit. This week’s contested case hearing will consider proposed air emissions, while Sierra Club and the Citizens for a Clean Environment also have concerns about water usage and water quality.

“The existing coal plant at Coleto Creek has been dumping pollution and toxins on local residents for years, harming their health and property, using huge amounts of water. The Citizens for a Clean Economy are now rightly standing up to ensure that this destruction and injustice does not continue,” said Ryan Rittenhouse with Public Citizen Texas. “If this expansion is allowed, the environmental damage, health impacts, and lowered property values in the community will increase significantly. TCEQ can’t let that happen.”

Background Information

At a preliminary hearing in Sweetwater, Texas tomorrow, Sierra Club and the Multi-County Coalition a citizens group from Nolan and surrounding counties will request standing to challenge the Tenaska coal permit application.

Other upcoming hearings in what environmentalists consider the ‘second wave’ of the Texas coal rush are: Las Brisas coke plant contested case hearing, November 2 in Corpus Christi; NRG Limestone, TCEQ Commissioners Hearing and decision in Austin, November 18.

The Las Brisas contested case hearing on November 2nd is expected to be heavily attended due to extensive opposition to the permit from the Coastal Bend area Clean Economy Coalition, Sierra Club, and Public Citizen. The proposed urban coke plant would emit more air pollution than all of the existing gas refineries in Corpus Christi.

The TCEQ Commissioners decision on NRG Limestone on November 18th could signal the start of construction of this proposed coal plant in a region surrounding Waco with two new coal plants already under construction – Sandy Creek in Riesel and Oak Grove in Franklin.

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Environmentalists may soon find a powerful ally in big business.  Some of the United States’ top corporations are now rallying together in support of climate and energy reform, after finally realizing the severity of climate change and the negative effects of global warming on our society.  Several Fortune 500 companies, including GE, Johnson & Johnson, HP, eBay, and the Gap, have joined together to form two core coalitions.  The groups—armed with million dollar advertising budgets—plan to nudge Washington toward the passing of comprehensive climate change legislation.  Participating business executives claim that “many businesses, and the overall economy, would eventually benefit from the new law.”

This week, an assemblage of over 150 entrepreneurs, investors, manufacturers, and energy providers—under the banner of the We Can Lead business group—will march to Capitol Hill to show their support for energy legislation such as this year’s American Clean Energy and Security Act.  The attendees will receive media training, go to policy briefings, and have the opportunity to meet and greet with key policy makers.  The main message for the event?  A climate bill is good for the earth, AND good for business.

Contrary to popular belief, not all businesses are alarmed by the alleged high costs of a new climate bill.  Some 28 companies and green groups, including United Technologies and the Nature Conservatory, are paying a pretty penny in advertising to publicly voice their support of energy reform.  The seven-figure campaign will be launched this Tuesday and, hopefully, other companies will take note and realize that there aren’t sufficient financial reasons to fear a climate bill.

Exelon Corp. is one such company participating in both the advocacy events on Capitol Hill and the allied advertising campaign.  As the largest nuclear power company in the nation, Exelon made waves earlier this month when the company left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  The company claims the two bodies simply did not see eye-to-eye on climate change issues.  Exelon is not alone in its flight from the Chamber.  California’s PG&E Corp. and New Mexico’s PNM Resources also announced plans last week to disband from the national business alliance.  Most recently, Apple pulled out and Nike relinquished its spot on the group’s board of directors.  The latter also claims its views on climate change differ drastically from those of the Chamber; however the company plans to retain their membership and continue their efforts toward new climate change legislation.  Much of this disapproval came directly after the Chamber publicly challenged positive findings from the federal EPA concerning the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions by the Clean Air Act.

Built at the peak of a major Republican decade, some would say that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a mostly conservative, antiregulatory lobbying group.  Now that Washington seems to be swaying to the liberal side—essentially becoming more populist and green, the major faces of big business are skeptical of being associated with institutions as such.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website, the group hopes to promote five core principles in regards to climate change.

Any legislation or regulation introduced must:

  1. Preserve American jobs and competitiveness of U.S. industry;
  2. Provide an international, economy-wide solution, including developing nations;
  3. Promote accelerated development and deployment of greenhouse gas reduction technology;
  4. Reduce barriers to the development of climate-friendly energy sources; and
  5. Promote energy conservation and efficiency.

The group’s stance on global warming legislation is currently and constantly publicly disputed by various parties on the big business roster, including their former members.

From the We Can Lead two-day rally in Washington to the powerfully proclaimed ‘pro-climate bill’ advertising campaigns; from the recent exodus of corporate icons from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the overall vocal support for climate change legislation.  It seems as if corporate America and the American public alike view climate change as a business worth investing in.

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The Texas Progressive Alliance is enjoying the fall weather too much to think of a clever opening to this week’s blog roundup.

This week on Left of College Station, Teddy writes about what it is like to share a birthday with a war and how we have been unable to learn from the mistakes we have made during the last eight years. In the weekly guest column about teaching in Aggieland, Litia writes about the reasons why they are a teacher. Left of College Station also covers the week in headlines.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notices that Republicans running Texas agencies don’t care whether doctors are bad as long as you can’t sue.

WhosPlayin investigated complaints by parents that schools were allowing church groups on campus during lunch hour to proselytize, while preventing parents from accessing their kids.

Communities all across the nation are watching DISH, Texas to learn how natural gas drilling is threatening our health but TXsharon wants to be sure you don’t forget about the public meeting Monday, October 12th at 7:00PM.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote about a 17th-Century book by Rhode Island founder Roger Williams that was ahead of its time in offering respect for Native Americans and women.

The Texas Cloverleaf watches as Denton County comes out for LGBT equality.

Justin at Asian American Action Fund Blog provides detailed coverage of the Houston Asian American Mayoral Forum.

Off the Kuff notes that at least some conservative candidates are not interested in learning from the mistakes of others.

Over at McBlogger, Captain Kroc takes a look at the latest GOP plot to make people think they actually care about the poor.

Harris County Clerk Beverly Kaufman announced her retirement, and PDiddie at Brains and Eggs threw the names of a few Democratic and Republican potential successors into the rumor mill.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson TxDOT again says the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) is dead, but How many times will the TTC die?.

Over at Texas Kaos, libby shaw asks: Republicans Are On Board with Corporate Communism?. They can’t make up their minds, but it is sadly funny to read about.

Burnt Orange Report explores the value, or lack thereof, of proposing an opt-out of the public option as a strategy to pass the health care bill out of the U.S. Senate.

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I was outraged when I heard Jim Rower’s response to Lesley Stahl’s question on 60 Minutes on Sunday, the 4th: “We shouldn’t get rid of coal,” said the power industry lobbyist. People like him don’t quite understand the risk caused by waste that results from burning coal, or they might just simply ignore it.

This is an issue that has not been addressed and covered much by the media ,which is disturbing when you know how much coal combustion waste impacts our lives. A 2007 report about the EPA’s Human and Ecological Risk Assessment of Coal Combustion Wastes, stresses the fact that waste from coal combustion such as fly ash, bottom ash, and slag do pose risks to human health.

For humans exposed via the groundwater-to drinking- water pathway, arsenic in CCW [coal combustion waste] landfills poses a 90th percentile cancer risk of 5×10-4 for unlined units and 2×10-4 for clay-lined units. The 50th percentile risks are 1×10-5 (unlined units) and 3×10-6(clay-lined units). Risks are higher for surface impoundments, with an arsenic cancer risk of 9×10-3 for unlined units and 3×10-3 for clay-lined units at the 90th percentile. At the 50th percentile, risks for unlined surface impoundments are 3×10-4, and clay-lined units show a risk of 9×10-5. Five additional constituents have 90th percentile noncancer risks above the criteria (HQs ranging from greater than 1 to 4) for unlined surface impoundments, including boron and cadmium, which have been cited in CCW damage cases, referenced above. Boron and molybdenum show HQs of 2 and 3 for clay-lined surface impoundments. None of these noncarcinogens show HQs above 1 at the 50th percentile for any unit type.

This is a risk and a struggle for a lot of people. As it shows in 60 Minutes, people who reside in water areas that are exposed to coal ash, they are advised to not swim or drink from the water. Also, those people are at higher risk of being wiped out by coal ash spills like the one of the Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee.

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You might think that since many of us don’t live in such areas, it shouldn’t be our concern. But it should be because many companies, in order to spend less on coal waste disposal,  recycle it. Coal waste is used in the manufacturing of carpets, cement, asphalt, tile, sinks and other, as some misleadingly call them, “green products”. All of these products put us in direct exposure to these toxics.

It is time to voice out our opinions against the usage of coal to produce energy. It poses major risks in many areas of the country, especially Texas that has 17 existing coal plants and 11 proposed or already under construction. People’s lives shouldn’t be jeopardized when we know we can use sources of energy that are cleaner and better for us and our environment.

Note: You can watch and comment on the Leslie Stahl’s 60 minutes piece by clicking at this link

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Today students from across the city of Austin came together in support of Austin moving forward in the direction of clean, renewable energy. University Democrats from the University of Texas, Campus Democrats from St. Edward’s University, the ReEnergize Texas Coalition, the University of Texas Campus Environmental Center and student Sierra Club members, among others, held a press conference to announce their support for a clean energy future for Austin.

Students also announced an exciting new development: The Student Government of the University of Texas has officially endorsed the call by environmental groups and citizens from across the city to divest from the Fayette Coal Plant and invest more in renewable energy sources.

Students spoke to points featured in Austin Energy’s PACE proposals and proposals submitted by a coalition of partners including the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Environment Texas, and Power Smack.

Students also discuss how divesting from the Fayette Coal Plant benefits students and the community at large.

Featured speakers included Brittany Dawn McAllister, Austin Student Outreach Director for the Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter, Andy Jones, Vice-President of University Democrats and President of Texas College Democrats, and Jimmy Talarico, UT Student Government University-Wide Representative and Legislative Policy Committee Vice-Chair.

Want more? Check out this video from the press conference, and don’t forget to join the Facebook group “Austin has a dirty secret”.

And an interview from ReEnergize Texas’ own Jacob Bintliff:

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By Kirsten Bokenkamp

organic-boxDo you ever find yourself in the grocery store stuck in a moment of indecision?  Should you go with the $2 conventionally grown – flawless enough to win a beauty contest – cantaloupe, or the $4 smaller, uglier, but organic one; a regular tube of toothpaste for $3.50 or the organic brand that costs double the price for half the amount; Wolaver’s sustainably produced organic beer for $9, or good old Lone Star for half the price?  The marketplace sure doesn’t make it easy on our wallets to do the earth-friendly thing – that’s for sure.

True, organic products are almost always more expensive than their conventional counterparts and it is not unanimously agreed upon that they are always safer to eat, or that they offer greater health benefits. But one thing is certain: Organic farming practices reduce harmful greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Organic agricultural practices reduce carbon dioxide emissions by sequestering carbon in the soil. In Europe it has been shown that organic farming decreases greenhouse gas emissions by 48-66%.  According to the Rodale Institute, “if all 434 million acres of U.S. cropland were converted to organic practices, it would be the equivalent of eliminating 217 million cars” from the road.  The University of Puget Sound shares similar findings: If all corn and soybeans were raised organically, 580 billion pounds of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere.
Some argue that we would not be able to feed the almost 7 billion people on the planet with strictly organic practices, but many studies actually show increased yields from organic farming. And, let’s be honest – with more than enough food to feed all people on earth, more than a billion people are still not getting enough food to eat – which leads one to believe it is a problem of distribution and access, not of quantity.  An added bonus of organic farming is that it is more labor intensive, which would help decrease the current rate of unemployment.
But back to the subject at hand. Organic farming:

  • Promotes healthy soil, which reduces erosion and increases soil nutrient retention;
  • Reduces ground water pollution attributed to industrial agricultural practices that often lead to various problems from the threat to public health caused by pesticide ridden water coming out of our kitchen sinks to the dead-zones as seen in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay;
  • Maintains biodiversity which helps crops naturally resist diseases and adapt to different weather patterns;
  • Collects 180% more solar energy than conventional agriculture – which saves 64 gallons of fossil fuel per hectare.

Are you convinced?  If so, start shopping more at an organic-foods store, or ask the manager of your neighborhood store to increase the amount of organic products on the shelves. (While organic is important in and of itself, buying fresh and local will always cut down on carbon emissions.  Frozen foods take 10x the energy to produce, and buying local can cut emissions by up to 20%.)

It doesn’t stop with food,either.  According to the Pesticide Action Network, “conventionally grown cotton uses more insecticides than any other single crop and epitomizes the worst effects of chemically dependent agriculture.  Each year cotton producers around the world use nearly $2.6 billion worth of pesticides — more than 10% of the world’s pesticides and nearly 25% of the world’s insecticides”.  Wow – pretty gross! Luckily, a growing number if stores sell clothes made with organic cotton (Patagonia is a good one).  Don’t have organic clothing stores at your fingertips?  Check out online sources, such as the Organic Mall.  Finding that buying new, organic clothing doesn’t fit in your budget?  Find a thrift store – buying used clothes is even more environmentally friendly than buying organic ones.

As environmentally aware consumers, the more we demand organic goods, the more the market supply will adapt to fulfill our needs, the more inexpensive these products will become, and the happier our planet will be. Think about changing products from your shampoo to your coffee; from your bed sheets to your sunscreen; and from your carrots to your wine.  It all makes a difference.  Next time on Green-up your life: how composting reduces global warming.


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Statement from Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

Duncan_R_0_2Roger Duncan announced his retirement today. Although it is sad to see a dedicated public servant move on, Public Citizen congratulates him on a fine career as general manager of Austin Energy, a municipal power company.

Austin is a national and world leader in fighting climate change due in large part to Duncan’s leadership.

Roger is a true genius who has developed world-class energy efficiency, renewable energy and distributed generation programs that save Austin citizens money every month on their electric bills. He understands the value of plug-in hybrid cars and trucks as a way to reduce air pollution and save consumers money while creating a new source of revenue for the city’s utility. He created a coalition of governments that gave so many “soft” orders for the vehicles that they were able to convince major auto manufacturers to build them.

He is probably the only utility executive in the country who takes a vacation to sit under a tree by the beach to think about how his utility can solve global warming. Such dedication is rare in his line of work.

As Austin conducts its national search for a new director, it should look for someone who will continue the city’s vision of sustainability. The new director also should have a solid commitment to public power and public process – hallmarks of what has made Austin’s city-owned utility one of the best in the country and so famous worldwide.

Duncan retires as Austin faces many energy challenges. The 2020 generation resource plan currently under review puts the city on a path toward eventual divestiture from the Fayette coal plant. It remains to be seen how quickly Austin can do this.

Whether Roger’s future entails continuing to fight climate change or just sitting on a beach under a tree to relax, we wish him the very best.

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Yesterday marked the end of a State-Wide “Roll Beyond Coal” press tour of Texas coal plants. This tour has seen representatives from Public Citizen of Texas and Sierra Club travel across the state visiting communities which would be impacted by proposed coal plants and meeting with local organizations. This was all in a bid to support recent bold action from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning the coal plant permitting process of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and to request that the EPA take further steps to create a moratorium on the permitting or operation of any new coal-powered plant (Texas currently has 11 in either the pending, permitted or under-construction phase).

The crux of the matter is the discrepancy between the TCEQ permitting standards and the Federal Clean Air Act. The TCEQ is responsible for the permitting process of coal plants in Texas. For some time now the TCEQ has been issuing what it calls ‘flex permits,’ which essentially allow individual polluters to emit over the limits of the Federal Clean Air Act, as long as the aggregate pollution of an umbrella of regional sources is below the allowed level. In summation: “EPA ruling claims Texas’ air permitting standards are so flexible and record keeping so vague that plants can circumvent federal clean air requirements [emphasis added].” I suppose these ‘flex’ permits are aptly named.

Here are some of the steps the EPA should take as it reviews the relevant TCEQ policies over the coming months (taken from the Texas Sierra Club web site, where you can take action and contact the EPA):

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1) Halt any new air pollution permits from being issued by the TCEQ utilizing the TCEQ’s current illegal policy.

2) Create a moratorium on the operations of any new coal fired power plants in Texas until the TCEQ cleans up its act by operating under the Federal Clean Air Act.

3) Require companies to clean up their old, dirty plants – no exemptions, no bailouts, and no special treatment by reviewing all permits issued since the TCEQ adopted its illegal policies and require that these entities resubmit their application in accordance with the Federal Clean Air Act.

(Read this blog concerning plans to “grandfather” Texas coal plants, where you can also contact Texas senators about these issues)

The tour visited communities in Waco, Dallas, Abilene, College Station, Corpus Christi, Bay City, Houston, and concluded today in Austin. The travelers included a giant coal plant float and local protestors at each site, attracting much local media attention. I’ve included some of the media links below:

9/23: WFAA (Dallas)

9/29: Corpus Christi Caller Times

9/29: KRIS-TV (Corpus Christi)

09/30: KIII-TV (South Texas)

09/30: Houston Press

10/01: TheFacts.com (Brazoria County)

This is a long-overdue first step taken by the EPA, and it now needs to be followed by some decisive and bold action in the coming months.

J Baker.

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Great news from the Edmunds.com Green Car Blog:

Southern California Port Pollution Drops Dramatically Under Clean-Truck Program

port-of-los-angeles.jpgA clean-trucks program at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in California has shown quick progress, with an 80 percent decline in diesel emissions expected by the end of 2010 — a year ahead of schedule.

“This is the most successful effort to clean a port in the world,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “I mean, think about it. Nobody thought it was possible to retrofit 5,000 trucks in a year, and we’re at 5,500 and growing.”

So far, the program has reduced diesel truck emissions at the Los Angeles port (pictured) by 70 percent compared with 2007 levels, Villaraigosa said. Long Beach has seen similar results, according to Mayor Bob Foster.

The program is part of a larger effort to reduce diesel emissions at the port complex, one of the major sources of pollution in Southern California. Increased rates of cancer, asthma and other serious health ailments for area residents have been attributed to port pollution.

Villaraigosa and Foster unveiled the promising figures during a briefing at the Port of Long Beach on Thursday, when U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced $26.5 million in federal grants for clean-air programs throughout Southern California.

This is really great news for our port cities, whose dirty air is tied at least partially to the pollution from the ports.  Diesel emissions also contain black carbon particles, which can have a much greater effect on the climate than CO2, methane, or any of the other greenhouse gases.  Also, as a particulate, it can get lodged in your lungs and cause all sorts of respiratory ailments.  Cutting black carbon should be a major goal, and one which the Ports of LA and Long Beach seem to be tackling very well.

Farbeit from me to advocate that Texas ever in any way should try to be like California, (*smirk*) but this shows that specific programs designed to tackle specific problems can be very effective.

LA and Long Beach Together– Now You Know You’re In Trouble…”

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Green Jobs UnicornTexas is a sparkly mythical wonderland full of unicorns.  And by unicorns, I mean green jobs.  And by green jobs, I mean well-paying, long-term jobs ranging from maintenance to operations, project management, and high-tech engineering.

Wortham: Unicorns are alive, well and working the wind out west

Greg Wortham, Special Contributor

Monday, October 05, 2009

Texas Texas Comptroller Susan Combs was quoted recently in The Wall Street Journal as saying the wind power industry in Texas has created only 500 to 800 jobs and that finding a “green” job in Texas would like finding a unicorn.

“I don’t know where the new jobs are going to come from,” Combs said. “They’re not going to come from wind.” Well, apparently the unicorn is alive and well in Texas. I am the mayor of Sweetwater, the wind energy capital of the Americas and America’s energy solutions center. I guess my town would be as good a place as any to find “the mythical beast” that Combs says does not exist.

A detailed study of the economic impacts of wind energy in our single county was released at the Texas Capitol in summer 2008 that details that Nolan County hosts more wind energy jobs than the Lone Star State’s chief accountant says exist in the entire state. Interviews directly with more than 20 local wind energy companies demonstrated that we have well more than 1,000 wind energy jobs just here.

Even with a temporary reduction in 2009 construction (which is already beginning to gear back up), our community alone has more permanent wind energy jobs than the comptroller says exist in all of Texas. More than $4 billion of capital investment has been spent here since 2001, and the county tax base has increased 500 percent due substantially to wind energy capital investment, numbers that are reported to the comptroller.

And we are not an isolated “greenie” subculture. We are a proud Texas energy community, where 20 percent of the work force is in wind energy, 20 percent is in oil and gas, and 10 percent is in nuclear energy (www.ludlums.com). We are also scheduled for the world’s first commercial-scale carbon sequestration coal-fired power plant (www.tenaskatrailblazer.com). (more…)

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Carbon offset mafiaFor any of you worries about the 1 Billion tons of carbon offsets in the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, or the 2 billion tons in the just-released Kerry-Boxer draft, here’s another reason to be worried.  Some have decried offsets as being similar to a medieval indulgence, where the bearer pays to be able to have the right to sin later (most recently Jon Stewart in his hilarious “Cap’N Trade” segment from Oct 5, 2009)

But now news that among the people getting into the carbon offsets craze are various international crime rings and mafia groups.  This from the Guardian UK:

A revolutionary UN scheme to cut carbon emissions by paying poorer countries to preserve their forests is a recipe for corruption and will be hijacked by organised crime without safeguards, a Guardian investigation has found.

The UN, the World Bank, the UK and individuals including Prince Charles have strongly backed UN plans to expand the global carbon market to allow countries to trade the carbon stored in forests.

If, as expected, this is agreed at crucial UN climate change talks taking place in Bangkok this week and concluding in Copenhagen in December, up to $30bn a year could be transferred from rich countries to the owners of endangered forests.

But experts on all sides of the debate, from international police to politicians to conservationists, have warned this week that the scheme, called Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (Redd), may be impossible to monitor and may already be leading to fraud. The UN itself accepts there are “high risks”.

Interpol, the world’s leading policing agency, said this week that the chances were very high that criminal gangs would seek to take advantage of Redd schemes…

“Alarm bells are ringing. It is simply too big to monitor. The potential for criminality is vast and has not been taken into account by the people who set it up,” said Peter Younger, Interpol environment crimes specialist and author of a new report for the World Bank on illegal forestry.

“Organised crime syndicates are eyeing the nascent forest carbon market. I will report to the bank that Redd schemes are open to wide abuse,” he said.

So, to sum up, carbon offsets not only mean that we won’t have to actually reduce our emissions, instead relying on Enron-style accounting where we just make “reductions” on paper, but these offsets may be going to fund international crime, human trafficking, drugs, etc.  When criminals are running carbon offset schemes, it’s likely the forest we actually paid to protect was clearcut months ago.
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One of my favorite quotes on carbon offsets comes from, of all places, the Wall St Journal, Oct 20, 2008:

“The Federal Trade Commission also is examining whether…credits really represent emission cuts that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. With a tangible product, say, an apple, a buyer can easily judge a seller’s claims that it’s “crisp and juicy and red,” says James Kohm, associate director of the FTC’s enforcement division. Intangible products, such as pollution credits, “have a greater potential for deception.”


However we decide to regulate greenhouse gases, we need to keep our eye on the enforcement mechanism for offsets.  Kerry-Boxer offers some language to monitor domestic monitoring, but with the possibility of so much monkey business overseas, is it even worth dealing with offsets?

Slide 19

“The Federal Trade Commission also is examining whether…credits really represent emission cuts that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. With a tangible product, say, an apple, a buyer can easily judge a seller’s claims that it’s “crisp and juicy and red,” says James Kohm, associate director of the FTC’s enforcement division. Intangible products, such as pollution credits, “have a greater potential for deception.”
Wall Street Journal, Oct 20, 2008

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AUSTIN – Saying that climate change must be considered when new coal plants and other facilities are approved, Public Citizen today sued the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in the Travis County District Court to require the commission to regulate global warming gases. This case seeks to extend to Texas law the precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts  v. EPA, which held that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must regulate it.

“Texas leads the nation in the emissions of global warming gases. If we were a nation, we would rank seventh in emissions among the countries on earth,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The time has come for the TCEQ to take its head out of the sand and begin the process to regulate CO2 emissions from Texas sources. Because the agency will not do so on its own, we are seeking to have a Texas court order it to do so.”

In the past four years, 11 coal plants have applied for permits under the EPA’s New Source Review program, which requires companies to install modern pollution controls when building new plants or expanding existing facilities. If they were all to be built, they would add 77 million tons of CO2 to Texas’ already overheated air. Six permits already have been granted for plants that will produce CO2 emissions of 42 million tons per year. Another five are in the permitting stages, and they would add 35 million tons of CO2 per year.

The issue of global warming has been raised by opponents in permit hearings in all but one of the six power plant cases, but the TCEQ has said it would not consider global warming emissions in the permitting process. Beginning this month, hearings will begin on permits for the remaining five plants.

Texas law gave the TCEQ the authority to regulate climate change emissions in 1991. In May 2009, the Texas Legislature passed a series of laws that would give incentives for new power plants that capture carbon dioxide, allow the TCEQ to regulate the disposal of CO2 emissions, set up a voluntary emissions reduction registry and develop a “no-regrets” strategy for emissions reductions to recommend policies that will reduce global warming gases at no cost to the state and its industries.

Smith noted that the TCEQ is undermining even the inadequate mitigation strategies that several coal plant builders are proposing. The NU Coastal plant promised to offset 100 percent of its CO2 emissions, but the TCEQ refused to make that promise part of the permit. Tenaska is promising to separate 85 percent of the carbon it emits, but it is not in the draft permit from the TCEQ. The Hunton coal gasification plant will separate 90 percent of its CO2, but the TCEQ classified it as an “experimental technology” so it wouldn’t set a precedent for other coal plant applications. NRG is promising to offset 50 percent of its emissions.

“Without the TCEQ putting these limits in the permits, there will be no guarantee that the power plant builders will keep their promises,” Smith said.

“The TCEQ steadfastly refuses to allow any discussion or consideration of CO2 or climate change issues during permit proceedings,” said attorney Charles Irvine of Blackburn & Carter, who is representing Public Citizen in the case. “The State Office of Administrative Hearings administrative law judges have deferred to TCEQ’s position that CO2 is not a regulated pollutant and therefore not relevant during contested case hearings. As a result, all evidence and testimony submitted on these issues has been repeatedly stricken in multiple coal plant cases. We now ask the court for a declaratory judgment to force the agency to follow the broad mandates of the Texas Clean Air Act and recent Supreme Court decisions.”

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts  v. EPA recognized that CO2 is an air pollutant within the definition in the federal Clean Air Act. Public Citizen contends that the Texas Clean Air Act’s definition of “air contaminant” similarly must include CO2. Specifically, the state law says that:

“ ‘Air contaminant’ means particulate matter, radioactive material, dust, fumes, gas, mist, smoke, vapor, or odor, including any combination of those items, produced by processes other than natural.” [Texas Health and Safety Code § 382.003(2)]

“So any gas created by non-natural processes – including CO2 generated by a power plant – under the plain language of the definition is an air contaminant,” Irvine said.

The lawsuit is can be read in full here.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., with an office in Austin, Texas. For more information, please visit .

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