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Archive for May, 2011

Last week, the seven-member Federal Council of Switzerland called for the decommissioning of the country’s five nuclear power reactors and development of new energy sources to replace them.

The recommendation will be debated in the Swiss parliament, which is expected to make a final decision next month. If approved, the five reactors (at four facilities) would go offline between 2019 and 2034 as they reach the end of their average 50 year.

The Swiss Energy Minister Doris Leuthard and other Swiss energy officials hope to turn to entirely non-nuclear sources of power like hydropower, wind energy, biomass and photovoltaics combined with energy efficiency to replace the two-fifths of the nation’s energy needs that the nuclear reactors now supply.

The announcement comes days after an estimated 20,000 people took part in the biggest anti-nuclear protest in Switzerland in 25 years by people concerned about the continuing crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

The German government has also signaled its determination to ditch nuclear power and replace it with renewable energies.

While nuclear power proponents will argue that nuclear power is safe, a number of nations are coming to grips with the fact their their citizens are not willing to live with the consequences of something going wrong.  While those incidents may be few and far between, the aftermath can be devastating for the surrounding environment, the health and safety of the people living near the facilities and the economy of a country that has to deal with the cleanup should a disaster of the magnatude of Japan’s Fukashima Dai-ichi happen.

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If you have been thinking about a new appliance, this weekend is a good time to get one, just remember to look for the energy star label and you will save dollars now and for the life of the unit. Something new for you that will help preserve our scarce resources and some cash at the same time.
Here is the announcement from the state on the offer

REMINDER: Save on Appliances This Weekend During the ENERGY STAR® Sales Tax Holiday – May 28-30, 2011 (more…)

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Yesterday, Texans from across the state made their voices heard in the Texas state house by calling their state senators and asking them to stand up to  industry’s power play to pollute at will. 

On Tuesday night, Rep. Dennis Bonnen (HB 25, Angleton), offered an amendment on SB 875 that would provide industry an affirmative defense against civil suits. This amendment would severely restrict Texans’ ability to protect their property by giving industry immunity from nuisance and trespass action on nearly every type of regulated activity.  On Wednesday afternoon, after an hour-long debate, the House tried to remove the Bonnen amendment from SB 875. The vote was 82-63 to take it off the bill, but the motion failed because, according to the House rules, an amendment on 3rd reading, requires a 2/3rd majority for passage.  So the bill passed on 3rd reading with the Bonnen amendment on it and headed back to the Senate.

Last night, due not by any small amount to all of you who called in expressing your concern about this bill, the Senate refused to concur on the bill, sending it to conference committee.  The senate members of the conference committee (conferees) are:

  • Senator Troy Fraser – Chair, R-Horseshoe Bay – 512-463-0124 
  • Senator Robert Duncan – R-Lubbock – 512-463-0128
  • Senator Kirk Watson – D-Austin – 512-463-0114
  • Senator Mike Jackson – R-La Porte – 512-463-0111
  • Senator Craig Estes – R-Wichita Falls – 512-463-0130 

Later today we expect the House to announce their conferees and we will update this blog with that information.

UPDATE

The house appointed their conferees.  They are:

  • Rep. Kelly Hancock – Chair, R-North Richland Hills – 512-463-0599
  • Rep. Dennis Bonnen – R-Angleton – 512-463-0564
  • Rep. Warren Chisum – R-Pampa – 512-463-0736
  • Rep Craig Eiland – D-Galveston – 512-463-0502
  • Rep Wayne Smith – R-Baytown – 512-463-0733

This all sounds familiar to those who have followed the TCEQ Sunset legislation and industry’s attempt to weaken the public’s ability to contest a permit.    The original bill (SB 875) only limited local governments’ right to bring nuisance or trespass lawsuits for greenhouse gases that negatively impacted their communities, but that was significantly expanded with Bonnen’s amendment, that upon review was so broad that it took away people’s right to protect their property from pollution beyond greenhouse gases.  The Senate conferees have said they are committed to taking the Bonnen amendment off, however this is still a bad bill.   

How can you help? Call your representative and senator’s Capitol office today. Here’s what you need to say:

Vote no on SB 875 as it comes back from the Conference Committee.  Texans believe in private property rights–and they will rightly object to laws passed to restrict these rights and the rights of our local governments to protect our interests.

If you’re not sure who represents you, you can find out here.

Thank you again for your efforts to keep this bad bill from becoming law. 

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SENATE ENERGY COMMITTEE TO CONSIDER “CLEAN ENERGY” BANK BILL MAY 26, 2011

ACT NOW TO BLOCK “CEDA”!

The Senate Energy Committee is scheduled to consider today–May 26, 2011–a bill establishing a new “clean energy” bank called the Clean Energy Development Administration (CEDA).

Unfortunately, this “clean energy” bank is anything but a source for funding genuinely clean energy. In fact, both new nuclear reactors and certain coal projects would be eligible for unlimited taxpayer backed loans if this bank were to be realized.

Take action now: tell your Senators to reject CEDA unless nuclear power and coal are removed.

Please act quickly and tell your Senators–especially if they are on the Energy Committee (members listed below)–to reject CEDA as currently written. There is nothing “clean” about nuclear power and they have a 50% default rate on financing for new plants.  A glance at any photo of Fukushima should make it clear that “clean” can no longer be considered a way to describe nuclear power. Unless nuclear power and dirty coal are taken out of the CEDA program, it should be defeated.

If one of your Senators is on the Energy Committee (members listed below), please also call him/her today and urge him/her to reject CEDA unless nuclear and coal are removed from the program. Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121.

Senate Energy Committee
Democrats:    
Chairman Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Ron Wyden (OR)
Tim Johnson (SD)
Mary L. Landrieu (LA)
Maria Cantwell (WA)
Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)
Debbie Stabenow (MI)
Mark Udall (CO)
Jeanne Shaheen (NH)
Al Franken (MN)
Joe Manchin (WV)
Christopher A. Coons (DE)
   
Republicans:
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
John Barrasso (WY)
James E. Risch (ID)
Mike Lee (UT)
Rand Paul (KY)
Daniel Coats (IN)
Rob Portman (OH)
John Hoeven (ND)
Dean Heller (NV)
Bob Corker (TN)

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Bad Bill Alert Vote NO on SB 875

The House passed on 2nd reading a bill which would give polluters a shield against being sued for nuisance over their greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, greenhouse gases include all sorts of bad pollution, like methane, and even the pollutants that cause smog: NOx and ozone. 

Even worse, there is concern that the Bonnen amendment would apply to every area of the state of Texas water code. 

This is a bailout for polluters and would take away your rights to stop emissions in your backyard that affect your family, your home, your farm, or ranch.

They say this is just about global warming, but it’s not!

Please call your Representative and tell him or her to

VOTE NO ON SB 875

Talking points to tell your legislator when you get their staff on the phone:

This bill is far more than a global warming bill – it’s immunity for polluters

The original bill was a bad concept, but it only limited local governments’ right to bring nuisance or trespass lawsuits for greenhouse gases.  The new version significantly expands the scope of the bill and TAKES AWAY PEOPLES’ (INDIVIDUALS, FARMERS, RANCHERS, BUSINESSES AND LOCAL GOVTS) RIGHT TO PROTECT THEIR PROPERTY FROM POLLUTION.

The Bonnen amendment went way too far

Please vote no

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In honor of SB 1605, a Simmons‘ led bill on the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, we decided to post a music video speaking of more sensible, viable options for clean energy. Hope you enjoy it!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHORHE7YcbM]

And the lyrics after the jump if you want them: (more…)

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Are the recent tornadoes in Missouri caused by global warming?  In an op-ed published yesterday in the Washington Post, 350.ORG founder Bill McKibben connects the dots between recent natural disasters and climate disruption.

We have reprinted the op-ed below.

Keep Calm and Carry On
By Bill McKibben

Caution: It is vitally important not to make connections. When you see pictures of rubble like this week’s shots from Joplin, Missouri, you should not ask yourself: I wonder if this is somehow related to the huge tornado outbreak three weeks ago in Tuscaloosa, or the enormous outbreak a couple of weeks before that—together they comprised the most active April for tornadoes in our history. But that doesn’t mean a thing.

It is far better to think of these as isolated, unpredictable, discrete events. It is not advised to try and connect them in your mind with, say, the fires now burning across Texas—fires that have burned more of America by this date than any year in our history. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been—the drought is worse than the Dust Bowl. But do not wonder if it’s somehow connected.

If you did wonder, you’d have to also wonder about whether this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest—resulting in record flooding across the Mississippi—could somehow be related. And if you did that, then you might find your thoughts wandering to, oh, global warming. To the fact that climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold.

It’s far smarter to repeat to yourself, over and over, the comforting mantra that no single weather event can ever be directly tied to climate change. There have been tornadoes before, and floods—that’s the important thing. Just be careful to make sure you don’t let yourself wonder why all these records are happening at once: why we’ve had unprecedented megafloods from Australia to Pakistan in the last year. Why it’s just now that the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years. Focus on the immediate casualties, watch the videotape from the store cameras as the shelves are blown over. Look at the anchorman up to the chest of his waders in the rising river.

Because if you asked yourself what it meant that the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year-drought in the last four years, or that the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the last decade—well, you might have to ask other questions. Like, should President Obama really just have opened a huge swath of Wyoming to new coal-mining? Should Secretary of State this summer sign a permit allowing a huge new pipeline to carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta? You might have to ask yourself: do we have a bigger problem than four-dollar-a-gallon gasoline?

Better to join with the US House of Representatives, which earlier this spring voted 240-184 to defeat a resolution saying simply “climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.” Propose your own physics; ignore physics altogether. Just don’t start asking yourself if last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heatwave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas, and the inability of Midwestern farmers to get corn planted in their sodden fields might somehow be related. Surely the record food prices are just freak outliers, not signs of anything systemic.

It’s very important to stay completely calm.  If you got upset about any of this, you might forget how important it is not to disrupt the record profits of our fossil fuel companies. If worst ever did come to worst, it’s reassuring to remember what the US Chamber of Commerce told the EPA in a recent filing: there’s no need to worry because “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of range of behavioral, physiological, and technological adaptations.” I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re telling themselves in Joplin today.

Bill McKibben is founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, and Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College.

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All rights reserved by Public Citizen Texas

Infamously dubbed by Dallas Magazine “Dallas’ Most Evil Genius”, socialite and energy tycoon Harold Simmons is no stranger to Texas lobbying.  As this blog previously reported in January, Simmons has contributed $1.12 million from 2001 to September 2010 to Rick Perry significantly increasing his contributions between 6/25/2009 and 9/30/2010 totaling $600,000 in a 15 month period or more than doubling his previous contributions. Now why did Simmons increase his campaign contributions? Perhaps it’s been used to grease the wheels on his  recently passed radioactive waste bill SB 1504 allowing Simmons’ company Waste Control Specialists a monopoly on Texas low-level radiation waste disposal.

Simmons’ money didn’t stop at Perry. According to the Texans for Public Justice, Simmons paid $182, 350 in the 2010 election cycle to 92 members of the House, 94% Republicans and 6%  Democrats. Obviously, all of this is significant because of the recent vote in the House on bill SB 1504. 76% of the members who received Simmons contributions or $138,350 voted with the money, yea, while only 13% or $24, 500 voted nay and 11% or $19,500 abstained from voting. Contrary to a damning report by Public Citizen addressing the dangers of nuclear waste disposal , 84% of the House members who took Simmons’ money voted following the company line while only 16% or 15 members abstained from voting or voted nay.

Simmons granted a rare interview to the Dallas Business Journal in 2006 offering an eerie outlook on his lobbying efforts “It took us six years to get legislation on this passed in Austin, but now we’ve got it all passed. We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license [to handle radioactive waste], and we did that. Then we got another law passed that said they can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied.

Most House Members Who Took Simmons’ Money Voted To Grant Him A Monopoly to Import Nuclear Waste

Simmons BillVote in House No. of Members Percent of Members Total Amount From Simmons Average Amount from Simmons
Yea 108 72% $138,350 $1,281
Nay 36 24% $24,500 $681
Not Voting 6 4% $19,500 $3,250
Totals 150 100% $182,350 $1,216

House Members Taking Simmons’ Money but Bravely Went Against Their Benefactor

House Member Dist. Party Simmons Amount in 2010 Cycle 2nd Reading Vote 5/17 3rd Reading Vote 5/18
Anderson, Charles 56 R $2,000 Absent Absent
Carter, Stefani 102 R $2,000 Nay Nay
Coleman, Garnet 147 D $15,000 Yea Nay
Davis, Sarah 134 R $500 Yea Nay
Dukes, Dawnna 46 D $1,000 Nay Nay
Farrar, Jessica 148 D $500 Absent Nay
Gallego, Pete 74 D $15,000 Nay Nay
Giddings, Helen 109 D $1,000 Nay Nay
*Howard,  Donna 48 D $500 Nay Nay
Hunter, Todd 32 R $2,000 Absent Absent
Issac, Jason A. 45 R $1,000 Nay Nay
Kolkhorst, Lois 13 R $1,000 Nay Nay
*Martinez Fischer, Trey 116 D $1,000 Nay Nay
Reynolds, Ron 27 D $500 Nay Nay
Straus, Joe 121 R $15,000 Not Voting Not Voting
Villarreal, Mike 123 D $1,000 Nay Absent

*Member of House Natural Resources Committee that first approved bill.

Note: If you are interested to see  if your representative voted with the money or even received 2010 campaign contributions from Simmons please visit this link provided by TPJ, Bankroll Call: Correlating Simmons Contributions To Texas House Votes.

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If you live in the Houston area, you may be in the danger zone of a toxic chemical facility, and oil and chemical industry executives are trying to keep it that way. These toxic chemical facilities are vulnerable to accidents or terrorist attacks, even though safer alternatives are available. Now Congress is considering industry-backed legislation (HR 908) that would deny the Department of Homeland Security authority they have requested to require high risk facilities to prevent chemical disasters by using safer, available alternatives.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee could be voting on this within days, and your representative, Congressman Gene Green, is a critical vote.

Call Congressman Green’s office today and ask him to VOTE AGAINST HR 908. (202) 225-9903

If you can eliminate the risk of chemical disaster or the consequences of a terrorist attack, you should, right? Well if Congress passes this legislation, that common sense thinking will be held hostage for up to seven years.

This legislation also contains huge loopholes. It would exempt 500 port facilities including 125 refineries, as well as 2,400 water and waste-water treatment facilities. These facilities put millions of people at risk and will not be covered if this bill is passed.

Disaster prevention should be the heart of any chemical plant security legislation. A comprehensive approach should be taken that closes the current loopholes, requires the highest risk facilities to switch to safer alternatives, and gives workers and communities the ability to hold these facilities accountable.

An independent analysis of comprehensive legislation passed in 2009 showed that the bill would create jobs and provide a stimulus for local governments.

Congress should stop wasting its time and risking our lives with seven more years of delay, and should focus on constructing a comprehensive approach that focuses on preventing chemical disasters in Houston, and around the Country.

Call Congressman Green’s office today and ask him to VOTE AGAINST HR 908. (202) 225-9903

After you call his office, send him an email through our main website.

Not sure if you’re in Congressman Green’s district (district 29)? Check out the map. Still call even if you aren’t in his district. Though voices of his constituents are the most effective, anyone living in Houston should be concerned with this issue and you have every right to let him know your concerns.

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Yesterday, the Senate named its conference committee members (conferees) for the important TCEQ Sunset Bill (HB 2694).

The Senate version of the bill that the conference committee is considering was significantly better than the bill that came out of the House.  Please call the senate conferees this week and tell them you want them to pass out the Senate version of the bill as it is, without any of the House amendments If you have not already done so, also call the house conferees and if you live in the district of any of the House conferees, do let them know that you are a constituent when you call.

The Senate conferees named were:

  • Joan Huffman (Chair) of Southside Place (District 17) – 512-463-0117
  • Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay (Distict 24) – 512-463-0124
  • Glenn Hegar of Katy (District 18) – 512-463-0118
  • Juan Hinojosa of McAllen (District 20) – 512-463-0120
  • Robert Nichols of Jacksonville (District 3) – 512-463-0103

The House conferees named were:

  • Wayne Smith (Chair) of Baytown (District 128) – 512-473-0733
  • Dennis Bonnen of Angleton (District 25) – 512-463-0564
  • Lon Burnam of Fort Worth (District 90) – 512-463-0740
  • Warren Chisum of Pampa (District 88) – 512-463-0556
  • Charlie Geren of Fort Worth (District 99) – 512-463-0610

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The Fracking Song

A little ditty for your enjoyment by David Holmes.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHQu3SeUwUI]

Sorry, it comes with commercials, but was so cute I wanted to share with everyone regardless.

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Back in November we blogged about a story that KHOU broke in Houston about radioactive contaminants in the Houston area drinking water. Revelations that came to light showed hundreds of water providers around the Gulf Coast region were providing their customers with drinking water that contains radioactive contaminants that raise health risks.  State tests by the Texas Department of State Health Services that were reported to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality showed utilities provided water that exceeded the EPA legal limit for exposure to alpha radiation.  But the kicker was that for more than 20 years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under-reported the amount of radiation found in drinking water provided by communities all across Texas by subtracting off the margin of error for all radiation readings it would receive (which was not in compliance with EPA rules that have been in place since Dec.  7, 2000).  Click here to see that post.  

It appears that TCEQ was using this method to help water systems escape formally violating federal limits for radiation in drinking water, maintaining their calculation procedure eliminated approximately 35 violations.  Without a formal violation, the water systems did not have to inform their residents of the increased health risk.

In this recent report by KHOU, newly-released e-mails from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality show the agency’s top commissioners directed staff to continue lowering radiation test results, in defiance of federal EPA rules.  It goes on to revisit a Texas Water Advisory Council (comprised of some of the highest ranking public officials in Texas) meeting in June of 2004 where they reviewed and discussed TCEQ testimony regarding this issue, yet nothing seems to have changed in how TCEQ handled the under reporting, and they continued their policy of subtracting the margin of error from the result of each water-radiation test until an EPA audit caught them doing so in 2008.   The state has since complied with the EPA regulation.     So if you didn’t drink tap water in the Houston area before 2008, you’re probably good.  Click here to to see this most recent KHOU story.

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It looks like we can expect an above average Atlantic hurricane season according to the most recent forecasts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project (CSUTMP).

Last year we dodged the bullet and no major hurricane made a U.S. landfall (as was the case in the previous four years) even though last year’s hurricane season was one of the busiest on record with 19 named storms, with 12 strengthening into hurricanes.

This year NOAA predicts between 12 to 18 named storms of which six to 10 are likely to be hurricanes, and three to six of those could become major hurricanes, ranging from Category 3-5.

The factors indicating an above average season (11 named storms and six hurricanes, of which 2 are major):

  • In the regions of the Atlantic where storms often develop, sea surface temperatures are up to two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average.
  • La Nina, is likely to still have an impact.
  • The last sixteen years, ocean and atmospheric conditions have been conducive to more active Atlantic hurricane seasons.

Last month CSUTMP forecast an above average season of 16 named storms of which 9 are expected to turn into hurricanes, with five developing into major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.

Their probabilities for a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. are:

  • A 72 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the U.S. coastline (the long-term average probability is 52 percent).
  • A 47 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the Gulf Coast from the Florida Panhandle west to Brownsville, Texas (the long-term average is 30 percent).
  • A 48 percent chance that a major hurricane will make landfall on the East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula (the long-term average is 31 percent).

Forecast updates are expected June 1 and Aug. 3 after which they should know better if La Nina affects are still likely to have an impact and if an El Nino is developing.

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We wrote about this a while back, but in case you forgot – the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is holding a meeting in Bay City, Texas, today, Thursday, May 19, with representatives of South Texas Project (STP) Nuclear Operating Co., to discuss the agency’s assessment of safety performance for the South Texas Project nuclear power plant located near Bay City.

The meeting, which will be open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at:

Wharton County Junior College
Center for Energy Development
4000 Avenue F
Bay City, Texas.

Click here to read our earlier blog for more details.  If you live within the now infamous 50 mile circle around the nuclear plant, you might want to stop in to ask questions about the safety of this plant and what measures have been put in place to protect you and your family in the event of an accident.


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According to a story by KHOU-Channel 11 out of Houston, radiation has contaminated the underground pipes, water tanks, and plumbing that provide drinking water for much of Central Texas and the Hill Country, much to the consternation of  concerned city officials in the region, who tested some pipes with Geiger counters.

Recently, the City of Brady made the discovery when replacing older steel water pipes.  When the city took the pipes to a local recycling scrap yard, the scrap yard turned them away as “too radioactive” to recycle.   Check out the KHOU story at Texas drinking water makes pipes and plumbing radioactive.

Could this be even more radioactive waste that will be traveling through Texas to the WCS dump in Andrews County?  Did the legislature act too hastily in not requiring a study of the capacity of the site before opening it up to the rest of the nation?  Will the WCS site be filled up by the time Central Texas cities need to get rid of old radioactive pipes?

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