Archive for May, 2011

Yesterday, the Texas House refused to concur in the Senate amendments to HB 2694 – the TCEQ sunset bill.  The bill has been sent to Conference Committee and the House has named its conference committee members (conferees).  Importantly, no instructions were made to the conferees by the House (in other words no motion was made to make sure that the House conferees support any particular provisions that were in the House-passed version of the bill – many of which were bad for the environment and for the rights of Texas citizens).

The Senate version was significantly better than the bill that came out of the House.  Please call the house 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 live in the district of any of the House conferees, do let them know that you are a constituent when you call.

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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Guest Submission by Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition

NOTE: SB 1504 is up for third reading on the House floor later today. 

On May 17, 2011 the Texas House voted 108 Ayes to 36 Nays to pass SB 1504, which will allow WCS’ Andrews County radioactive waste dump to accept wastes from around the country. We’d been able to make some improvements in the bill on the front end and there are some limits on Out of Compact waste, an amazing accomplishment in light of our current legislature. There was also good debate on the floor, which will help in having oversight and scrutiny of the radioactive waste dump in the future. Still, this bill is bad news… It has already passed in the Senate.

In an act of utter disgrace to Texas, 108 House members voted in favor of allowing radioactive waste from around the country to be dumped in Texas. They should have instead limited the site to Texas and Vermont waste. The SB 1504 vote shows many Representativesʼ disregard for health and safety and their willingness to pander to a Dallas billionaire and his waste empire.

It is disgusting to see supposedly educated legislators vote down basic amendments that would allow a study of transportation risks and whether emergency responders are trained and equipped to deal with an accident involving radioactive waste. Some legislators, including Reps. Lon Burnam, Jose Menendez, Roberto Alonzo and Pete Gallego deserve huge credit for trying to improve the bill, but overall, money ruled the day instead of common sense and decency.

Bill info can be found by searching the bill number at www.capitol.state.tx.us

The Vote

As shown by Texas Legislature Online: Legislative Session: 82(R) Unofficial Bill: SB 1504

Disclaimer: This vote has not been certified by the House Journal Clerk. It is provided for informational purposes only. Once the vote is certified, it will be recorded in the journal according to Rule 5 of the House Rules and made available on this web site.

RV# 1140 — Unofficial Totals: 108 Yeas, 36 Nays, 2 Present, not voting

Yeas – Aliseda; Alvarado; Anderson, R.; Aycock; Beck; Berman; Bohac; Bonnen; Branch; Brown; Burkett; Button; Callegari; Chisum; Christian; Coleman; Cook; Craddick; Creighton; Crownover; Darby; Davis, J.; Davis, S.; Deshotel; Driver; Eiland; Eissler; Elkins; Fletcher; Flynn; Frullo; Garza; Geren; Gonzales, L.; Gooden; Guillen; Hamilton; Hancock; Hardcastle; Harless; Harper-Brown; Hartnett; Hilderbran; Hochberg; Hopson; Howard, C.; Huberty; Hughes; Jackson; Johnson; Keffer; King, P.; King, S.; King, T.; Kleinschmidt; Kuempel; Landtroop; Larson; Laubenberg; Lavender; Legler; Lewis; Lozano; Lyne; Madden; Mallory Caraway; Margo; Martinez; Miller, D.; Miller, S.; Morrison; Muñoz; Murphy; Nash; Oliveira; Orr; Otto; Parker; Patrick; Paxton; Peña; Perry; Phillips; Pickett; Pitts; Price; Quintanilla; Riddle; Ritter; Schwertner; Scott; Sheets; Sheffield; Shelton; Smith, T.; Smith, W.; Smithee; Solomons; Taylor, L.; Taylor, V.; Truitt; Veasey; Weber; White; Woolley;  Workman; Zedler; Zerwas

Nays – Allen; Alonzo; Anchia; Burnam; Cain; Carter; Castro; Davis, Y.; Dukes; Dutton; Farias; Gallego; Giddings; Gonzales, V.; Gutierrez; Hernandez Luna; Howard, D.; Isaac; Kolkhorst; Lucio; Marquez; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Menendez; Miles; Naishtat; Raymond; Reynolds; Rodriguez; Simpson; Strama; Thompson; Turner; Villarreal; Vo; Walle

Present, not voting – Gonzalez; Mr. Speaker(C)


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 have tested the pipes with Geiger counters.

The City of Brady city made the discovery when it recently dug up older steel water pipes from the ground in an attempt to replace them.  When the city brought the older pipes to a local recycling scrap yard, the scrap yard turned them away as “too radioactive” to recycle.   Could this be even more radioactive waste that will be traveling through Texas to the WCS dump in Andrews County?  Check out the KHOU story at Texas drinking water makes pipes and plumbing radioactive.

Check out these news stories on the bill.

Texas House OKs taking in more radioactive waste

Texas House OKs plan for radioactive waste dump owned by Dallas billionaire Simmons

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According to a press release from ERCOT, Texas posted a 30 percent increase in energy from renewable sources in 2010 with voluntary participation in renewable energy credits up 45 percent

Below is ERCOT’s press release:  

MAY 13, 2011, AUSTIN – Texas posted a 30 percent increase in energy generated by renewable sources in 2010, according to the state’s renewable energy credits registry administered by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of the state. 

The renewable energy recorded in the state’s renewable energy credit program was 28 million megawatt-hours (MWh) in 2010, compared to 21.6 million MWh in 2009 – a 30 percent increase – as reported in the Texas renewable energy credit program annual report, filed today at the Public Utility Commission.

Wind generation represented the largest share at 26.8 million MWh.  Solar energy increased the most, by percentage, going from 4,492 to 14,449 MWh.




2010 (MWhs)

2009 (MWhs)

Increase (%)









Landfill gas
















Competitive retail electric providers must annually acquire and retire renewable energy credits based on their load-ratio share of the state’s renewable portfolio standard mandate.  Any electric provider may voluntarily retire renewable energy credits to substantiate “green energy” claims. 

A renewable energy credit (REC) is a tradable instrument that represents one megawatt-hour of renewable energy produced. 

For the third consecutive year, the RECs retired in the voluntary market exceeded the mandatory retirements:

  • 11.83 million RECs were retired in the voluntary market – a 45 percent increase over 2009’s record of 8.94 million;
  • 9 million RECs were retired by the state’s 168 competitive retail electricity providers in compliance with the state renewable portfolio standard;
  • 20.86 million total RECs were retired in 2010 compared to 15.7 million in 2009 and 13.5 million in 2008.



2010 (millions)

2009 (millions)

2008 (millions)

Retired for mandate




Voluntary retirements








Since 2008, the program has also awarded compliance premiums in conjunction with a REC that is generated by a non-wind renewable energy source.  For the purpose of the renewable portfolio standard requirements, one compliance premium is equal to one REC.  Last year, 11 companies were awarded a total of 275,910 compliance premiums, representing






Number of companies




Compliance premiums awarded




The Texas Legislature established the renewable portfolio standard as part of the restructuring of the state’s electricity market in 1999 to increase incentives for renewable energy production.  The Texas Public Utility Commission implemented the renewable energy credit program in 2001 and established ERCOT as the administrator. 

The program currently includes 107 generation accounts representing a total of 10,515 MW of new renewable generation added in Texas since 1999.  (An additional 298 MW registered in the program is from six renewable generation resources that were in service prior to September 1999 for a total of 10,813 MW.)  Texas exceeded 10,000 MW of renewable capacity last year, which achieved the Texas Legislature’s goal of 10,000 MW of renewable generation by 2025 – 15 years early.


FuelType 2010 (MWs) 2009 (MWs) 2008 (MWs)
Biomass 108 40 37
Hydro 33 33 33
Landfill gas 88 80 72
Solar 21 1 1
Wind 10,265 9,915 8,158
Total 10,515 10,069 8,301

Does not include generation in service prior to September 1999.

The megawatts of capacity reported in the REC annual report may not align with total renewable resources registered in ERCOT planning reports and other reporting agencies because it includes renewable generation throughout Texas, not just ERCOT. In addition, the program is voluntary and only tracks renewable resource generation registered in the program.


Renewable Energy Credit Program – Annual Report, 2010

Texas Renewable Energy Credit Program website

PUCT Substantive Rule 25.173: Goal for Renewable Energy

ERCOT Protocols, Section 14: State of Texas Renewable Energy Credit Trading Program

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Less than halfway through 2011, this country has already seen three “exceptional” meteorological events just in the past few weeks. These events that pushed the record books to the limit include:

  • A deadly swarm of 244 confirmed tornadoes from April 25-28, (with 112 reports of tornadoes yet to be confirmed) that raked the South and Southeast, with some tornadoes up to a mile wide that remained on the ground for over 100 miles.
  • a slow-moving flood disaster with record flooding or lake levels recorded in 25 locations in 10 states, topping the Great Flood of 1927, and
  • the Southern drought that is creeping toward a new record Just under 6% of the continental US is currently suffering an “exceptional drought”. That’s 185,321 square miles (an area larger than the state of California – 163,695 sq. mi.)

This exceptional drought event has not yet broken the record drought coverage set back on Aug. 20, 2002, but it is getting close.

And while this is not yet the worst drought on record, of note is the fact that just under half (47.5%) of the state of Texas is in this “exceptional” category!  The previous maximum coverage of exceptional drought in Texas was a mere 18.8% on Aug. 25, 2009 (this since aerial coverage of records have been kept starting in January 2000).

Texas has gone from being at least 82% in drought to less than 12% in drought 14 times over the last 11 years! This probably makes Texas one of the most “feast or famine” precipitation states in the nation and we are certainly in a famine phase right now.

Right now there is little expectation that we can expect relief from this current drought in the near future, and that relief may come too late for some. If the past decade is any indication, it also means relief may come in the form of too much, and parts of the state can expect exceptional flooding. Some meteorologists think this may be evidence of the amplification of the water cycle as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), relating to greater evaporation over land and water.

As Texas rides these roller coaster weather shifts, it is clear that the state needs to carefully assess its water resources and that means looking at water usage by conventional power generators (coal and nuclear).

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Senate Bill 1504 (by Seliger: R-Amarillo and Hinojosa: D-McAllen) the riskiest bill for the environment this session will be heard on the Texas house floor on Tuesday, May 17th.  If passed in its current form, the risks include:

  • Risk that we won’t have enough space for our own waste
  • Risk of an unfunded taxpayer liability
  • Risk from a radioactive rollover
  • Risk that we might contaminate the nation’s largest aquifer, which is nearby

This bill divorces the risk from the profit in the Texas radioactive waste industry putting the liability for a private radioactive waste disposal site on the taxpayers of Texas while putting billions into the pockets of a Texas billionaire.

It’s time to call our legislators- Click here to find out who represents you in the Texas House of Representatives (make sure you select” House” as your District Type”) and give your state legislator a callTell them NO on SB 1504.

A report released April 28th by Public Citizen’s Texas office finds that we could expect a substantial increase in radioactive transportation accidents.  According to WCS’s own transportation study, Texas can expect to have 4,500 trucks rumbling across the state on I-10, I-20, I-30, I-40 and I-27 each year.  That works out to 1,000 trucks per highway, or 3 per day.  The state is simply not prepared to deal with the possibility of a radioactive roll over at an emergency response level or at a financial liability level.  In the event of a transportation accident involving radioactive waste, Texas would have only $500,000 available to cover emergency response, health care and property damage costs, that amount is far too little.

Concern about taxpayer liability is also spelled out in the report which claims that the dump site being constructed in Andrews County does not have adequate capacity to receive waste from outside the state.  It cites a 2000 study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (see http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/assets/public/permitting/llrw/entire.pdf for a copy of the study) and an estimate produced by the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, both showing the site to be short on capacity for just the Texas and Vermont waste it was originally intended to handle.

We are recommending to members of the Texas Legislature that they vote against SB 1504 and not allow importation until the risks have been addressed and capacity at the site exists.  It has taken 30 years to start construction on a site for our own waste. SB 1504 would likely send us back to the drawing board if we don’t have space for our own waste.

The people of Texas are at risk from a leak at the site, which is located dangerously close to the Ogallala Aquifer and is only 150 feet from groundwater.  If the dump site located in the west Texas county of Andrews were to leak, the cleanup cost could be anywhere from three to 50 times the amount set aside by the site operator, Waste Control Specialists (WCS). Two examples of radioactive leaks – include one in South Texas that garnered a $384 million cleanup bill, and another in New York that is estimated at $5 billion.

You can help!

Call your legislator and tell them to not put the cart before the horseTell them NO on SB 1504.When the legislature voted to let a private facility run our Compact Facility, they told us that this would help prevent it from becoming a national dumping ground, and we believed you.  Now SB 1504 is doing just the opposite.  The legislature should first look at taking our Texas waste and study the capacity of the site before turning us into the national dumping ground. Vote No on SB 1504.

Click here to read a copy of the report. (more…)

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says if an amendment to HB 2694 remains on the TCEQ Sunset bill, undermining federal regulations at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ could risk losing its permitting authority and EPA might have to intervene directly in Texas permitting cases.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), whose sunset legislation for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality won unanimous Senate approval Thursday, said she stripped out all House amendments, including one that prompted a letter from the EPA.

The most controversial House amendment, added by Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), would shift the burden of proof in a contested case from the company applying for a permit to a citizen challenging the permit.

In an April 29 letter from EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Lawrence E. Starfield to the Sunset Advisory Committee Chairman Sen. Glenn Hegar,  the EPA said House changes could affect how federal requirements apply to federal permits issued by TCEQ and that “jeopardizes EPA’s approval and/or authorization” for Texas permitting programs.  The letter also specifically addressed the shifting of burdens to a person contesting a permit, saying that affects “Texas’ public participation process.”

While contested case hearings are not required by federal law, Chisum’s change would warrant federal review to make sure the legislation doesn’t conflict with federal law.

The EPA letter to Senator Glenn Hegar can be found here.

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The House and Senate Energy Appropriations Committees are beginning to work on the FY 2012 federal budget. That means they are beginning to decide the fate of the loan guarantee program for new nuclear reactor construction.  The first vote in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy is expected before June 2–within the next three weeks.

President Obama has asked that this program be increased by $36 Billion. That’s on top of the $10.2 Billion already in the program and the $8.3 already promised to Southern Company for construction of the Vogtle reactors in Georgia. Plus there is money for uranium enrichment plants in Idaho and Ohio.

Meanwhile, partly in response to the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan–the world’s third and fourth largest economies–Japan and Germany are marching ahead with new energy policies that will focus on clean and safe renewable energy and energy efficiency.

According to a March 2011 poll conducted for the Civil Society Institute, 73% of the American people oppose federal loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors. An April 2011 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 64% oppose new reactor construction entirely.

What you can do!  National Nuclear-Free Call-In Day, Wednesday, May 18. Please call your members of Congress and demand an end to the nuclear loan program. The members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are listed below. It is especially important that these members receive your calls. You can reach every member of Congress at 202-224-3121

House Appropriations Committee
    Republican Members:
    * Hal Rogers, Kentucky, Chairman
    * C.W. Bill Young, Florida
    * Jerry Lewis, California
    * Frank Wolf, Virginia
    * Jack Kingston, Georgia
    * Rodney Frelinghuysen, New Jersey
    * Tom Latham, Iowa
    * Robert Aderholt, Alabama
    * Jo Ann Emerson, Missouri
    * Kay Granger, Texas
    * Mike Simpson, Idaho
    * John Culberson, Texas
    * Ander Crenshaw, Florida
    * Denny Rehberg, Montana
    * John Carter, Texas
    * Rodney Alexander, Louisiana
    * Ken Calvert, California
    * Jo Bonner, Alabama
    * Steve LaTourette, Ohio
    * Tom Cole, Oklahoma
    * Jeff Flake, Arizona
    * Mario Diaz-Balart, Florida
    * Charlie Dent, Pennsylvania
    * Steve Austria, Ohio
    * Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming
    * Tom Graves, Georgia
    * Kevin Yoder, Kansas
    * Steve Womack, Arkansas
    * Alan Nunnelee, Mississippi

    Democrat Members
    * Norman D. Dicks, Washington, Ranking Member
    * Marcy Kaptur, Ohio
    * Pete Visclosky, Indiana
    * Nita Lowey, New York
    * José Serrano, New York
    * Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut
    * Jim Moran, Virginia
    * John Olver, Massachusetts
    * Ed Pastor, Arizona
    * David Price, North Carolina
    * Maurice Hinchey, New York
    * Lucille Roybal-Allard, California
    * Sam Farr, California
    * Jesse Jackson, Jr., Illinois
    * Chaka Fattah, Pennsylvania
    * Steve Rothman, New Jersey
    * Sanford Bishop, Georgia
    * Barbara Lee, California
    * Adam Schiff, California
    * Mike Honda, California
    * Betty McCollum, Minnesota

    Senate Appropriations Committee
    Democrat Members
* Daniel Inouye, Hawaii, Chairman
    * Patrick Leahy, Vermont
    * Tom Harkin, Iowa
    * Barbara Mikulski, Maryland
    * Herb Kohl, Wisconsin
    * Patty Murray, Washington
    * Dianne Feinstein, California
    * Dick Durbin, Illinois
    * Tim Johnson, South Dakota
    * Mary Landrieu, Louisiana
    * Jack Reed, Rhode Island
    * Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey
    * Ben Nelson, Nebraska
    * Mark Pryor, Arkansas
    * Jon Tester, Montana
    * Sherrod Brown, Ohio
Republican Members
    * Thad Cochran, Mississippi, Vice Chairman
    * Mitch McConnell, Kentucky
    * Richard Shelby, Alabama
    * Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas
    * Lamar Alexander, Tennessee
    * Susan Collins, Maine
    * Lisa Murkowski, Alaska
    * Lindsey Graham, South Carolina
    * Mark Kirk, Illinois
    * Dan Coats, Indiana
    * Roy Blunt, Missouri
    * Jerry Moran, Kansas
    * John Hoeven, North Dakota
    * Ron Johnson, Wisconsin

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The Texas Senate just unanimously approved House Bill 2694, the sunset bill for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Senate sponsors Huffman and Hegar fought to pass a clean TCEQ sunset bill and Senators Watson and Huffman clarified the intent of Senators to keep this bill clean in an anticipated House-Senate conference committee.

In the months leading up to the 82nd Texas legislative session, Public Citizen and numerous other organizations who are members of a coalition, the Alliance for Clean Texas (ACT) worked to alert the public to their opportunity to participate in the Texas Sunset process, turning out thousands of Texans at local town hall meetings to ask the Sunset Commission to make the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality do its job better — to more strongly protect our environment and communities from pollution.

The Sunset Commission heard the public and recommended that TCEQ be continued and that its powers to enforce pollution control laws be strengthened.   House Bill 2694 as introduced in this session reflected those sunset recommendations.   Although the bill was not perfect, it was a decent bill that would further environmental protection.  The partner groups in the Alliance for a Clean Texas have supported it on that basis.

Unfortunately, the bill was hijacked on in the House floor by pro-polluter interests and amended to limit the rights of Texans to challenge permits to polluters for air emissions, wastewater discharges, hazardous waste disposal, and other pollution and to weaken the enforcement improvements in the original bill. 

Fortunately the Texas Senate came to the rescue and jettisoned those pro-polluter amendments before passing the bill on the Senate floor today. Texans should express their thanks to the Senators and support the position of the Senate in conference committee.

 We will update this blog with the names of the conference committee members as soon as they are named and encourage all who are concerned to call the conference committee members and ask them to pass out the senate version of the bill.

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Towards the end of January an independent panel of judges, the Office of Public Interest Counsel, and the EPA all recommended that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality deny the proposed permit for the Las Brisas petroleum-coke burning plant based on its multiple deficiencies and clear violations of the Clean Air Act. The Perry-appointed commissioners approved it anyways. According to its permit, Las Brisas will emit 220 pounds of mercury, 100 pounds of lead, 8,096 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and 1,767 tons of particulate matter every year.

Communities in Corpus Christi are left with few options: the ultimate authority of the EPA, and the leadership of their elected officials.

“This is my hometown, and I love it,” Rebecca Lyons, a graduating honors student at TAMU Corpus Christi, told Matt Tresaugue of the Houston Chronicle back in January, “But I don’t want to raise a family here because of the health risks…There has to be a better way.”

After hundreds of letters, petitions, and phone calls made to the EPA, Corpus Christi residents are taking their fight to the online world. Join us!


Take Action Online!

Copy and paste this status and video to the EPA’s Facebook pages!

Corpus Christi doesn’t want Las Brisas. Stop the air permit now! http://bit.ly/merA7n

EPA’s Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/X4FYe

EPA Region 6 Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/lBXW9C

Administrator Lisa Jackson’s Facebook Page: http://on.fb.me/130rQ6

Are you on Twitter? Tweet with us!

@epaGOV @lisapjackson I want clean air! Stop the Las Brisas air permit in Corpus Christi, TX!

Ready to go the distance?

Ask your elected officials if they support responsible growth, or Las Brisas. Copy and paste this to their Facebook pages:

I’m a voting constituent, and I don’t want Las Brisas. Do you?

US House Rep Blake Farenthold: http://on.fb.me/f2XnkP

State Rep Connie Scott: http://on.fb.me/jj0qJv

State Rep Todd Hunter: http://on.fb.me/mpSG5d

Mayor Joe Adame: http://on.fb.me/km137a

State Senator Judith Zaffirini: http://on.fb.me/lbxOW5

State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa does not have a Facebook page.
Send his office an email instead!

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STP Houston and Corpus ChristiMost of us are familiar with the 10 and 50 mile zones around Fukushima, this map shows those same zones around the South Texas nuclear plant located just 76 miles outside of Houston.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff will meet in Bay City, Texas, on 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 the Wharton County Junior College (Center for Energy Development) 4000 Avenue F, Bay City, Texas.

In addition to the performance assessment, the NRC staff will be available to answer questions from the public on the safety performance of the South Texas (Nuclear) Project and the NRC’s role in ensuring safe plant operation.

The meeting will provide an opportunity for NRC to discuss their annual assessment of the plant with the company, local officials and the public.   NRC will answer any questions attendees may have about their oversight.

A letter sent from the NRC Region IV office to plant officials addresses the performance of the plant during 2010 and will serve as the basis for discussion. It is available on the NRC website – click here to read the letter.

In light of public concerns that have emerged regarding the safety of nuclear plants here in the U.S. in the wake of the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima, this public meeting provides an excellent opportunity for citizens living 10, 50, or even 150 miles away to find out what measures are in place at South Texas Project to protect it’s neighbors.

Related Articles

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In a memo issued today, the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said that the failure of a low pressure coolant injection valve last fall at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant, located near Athens in north Alabama, was of “high safety significance

NRC inspection findings are evaluated using a safety significance scale with four levels, ranging from “green” for minor significance, through “white” and “yellow” to “red” for high significance. On Oct. 23, 2010, a valve failed to open when operators attempted to use a shutdown cooling loop during refueling. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the plant operator, later determined that the last time the valve had definitely worked as required was on March 12, 2009 when the loop was placed in service. At the time, the public was not endangered because no actual event occurred. However, the system is counted on for core cooling during certain accident scenarios and the valve failure left it inoperable, which potentially could have led to core damage had an accident involving a series of unlikely events occurred.

An accident such as the one that occurred on April 27th when the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, only 100 miles south of the Browns Ferry nuclear plant, was devastated by an estimated EF-4 tornado over a mile wide that stayed on the ground for 2 hours, leaving behind a shocking landscape of twisted wreckage for seven miles.  That same storm cell took out transmission lines to the plant causing it to lose offsite power and triggering the three units at the plant to shut down automatically.

A regulatory conference to discuss the issue was held on April 4, just weeks before the massive tornado cell swept through the southeast. TVA stated that the failed valve was the result of defective manufacturing but still would have opened and supplied the necessary cooling water. The NRC review disagreed and concluded the violation was “red” or of “high safety significance.” The valve was repaired after its failure was discovered last October and prior to returning the unit to service, however the NRC has determined that significant problems involving key safety systems warrant more extensive NRC inspection and oversight. 

Had the problem not been discovered and repaired six months before the the tornados shut down the plant, would the outcome have been different?  More Fukashima-like?  The increased scrutiny of the nation’s aging nuclear industry, due in large part to the disaster in Japan, is uncovering some disquieting issues.  Will the NRC’s return to being a regulatory agency instead of a shill for the industry, and their heightened oversight prevent another nuclear disaster – or is it only a matter of time before an undetected problem at a plant, coupled with unforeseen events, has the US coping with its own disaster?

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keystone 500 barrel spill

Spill Site 2 Days Later (click to enlarge)

On Saturday, May 7 the Keystone pipeline had a major rupture and spill near Cogswell, North Dakota spewing 500 barrels of oil in a geyser twice the height of the surrounding trees (about 60 feet). This pipeline is owned by TransCanada, the same company proposing to build the Keystone XL pipeline (an extension of the Keystone pipeline) down through Oklahoma and Texas.

Here is a video from WDAY Channel 6 out of Fargo, North Dakota covering the spill. The pipeline spill was the lead story.

What this video doesn’t cover is that this was not ordinary crude oil, but rather a far more toxic and dangerous substance called “tar sands” oil, mined in the vast tar sands strip mines in Alberta, Canada. It should also be remembered that this pipeline is only a year old (more or less brand new) and has already had 10 other “small” spills. Such a deplorable record should be sending off massive alarm bells for the expansion project proposed for Texas.

TransCanada is a private, foreign (Canadian) company which has been granted, for some reason, powers of eminent domain throughout the US – including Texas. This company has been using the threat of this power to bully landowners into signing contracts they do not want to sign. The permit for their expansion project, the Keystone XL, is still pending at the State Department. In light of this recent spill there is no way the state department should consider granting this irresponsible and reckless company the ability to further endanger the lives and well-being of Texans and US citizens.

As Alex Moore with Friends of the Earth recently stated, “Nobody should have to wake up on a Saturday morning to the sight of oil spraying 60 feet into the air near her home.”

For more information on tar sands and what makes it the “dirtiest oil on the planet,” see some of our previous blog posts on the subject:

Tailing Pond Duck Deaths

Stop Tarsands Oil Pipeline

Voices From Texas Landowners

Stop TransCanada

Bad Faith Tactics

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UPDATE: We’ve added a little here and there based on some new information we’ve gotten since first publishing this, specifically some information from NRECA (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association) and Pedernales’ counsel about the effects of converting to SMDs.

Well folks, yesterday marked the beginning of voting for the board of the Pedernales Electric Coop.  I’m a proud co-op member, something I couldn’t have said several years ago when the co-op board met behind closed doors and the board nominated its own members. But now we have returned to the principle of democratic control by the member-owners of the co-op, in no small part due to the work of Public Citizen and others.

There’s been a lot of news recently about PEC and Public Citizen’s involvement in the reform effort.  We’re not going to comment on that just yet, as we want to keep this focused on the issue at hand, which is the election.  Voters across the co-op have the opportunity to vote for two board seats and on a member referendum about future elections and how they should take place.

You can vote in three ways.  A ballot should have been mailed to you on Wednesday according to PEC staff.  In it you will see that you can vote for candidates in Districts 2 and 3 and on the question of single member districts.  You can see videos of each of the candidates at the PEC Candidate Forum online here. We’ll let the candidates speak for themselves on why they should get your vote, as we do not and will not endorse anyone in these races.

However, what’s missing in all of this is a discussion about the pros and cons of single member district voting. Below I’ve attached the presentation we made to board candidates about what we would like to see in the future for PEC. We lay out a broad vision that investing in the future and the key to lower rates is efficiency and renewables. These also just so happen to help things like clean air, create jobs, and use little water in comparison to traditional power generation.  We believe that as a co-op, based on the principles of what a cooperative is (as opposed to a private utility or municipal utility), we have a special place in the community to be responsible, ethical, and think about the greater good of our policy choices.

Beware– this presentation is loooooooong, but I wanted to bring attention specifically to the slides about the pros and cons of single member districts. (pgs 15-19)

But in the spirit of transparency we wanted to put the entirety of what we spoke to the board candidates about out there. You know, in case someone publicly accuses you of being a secretive, corrupt cabal that pulls the strings at the co-op.

[scribd id=54650680 key=key-w92e1zwplb1yqkw42rp mode=list]

So, let’s discuss single member districts, or SMDs for short. I’m putting on my political science hat (my Political Science 350:  “Theories of Democracy and Democratization” professor would be so proud of me) and let’s talk about what SMDs actually do.  I’m personally agnostic about how people should vote on this. I see good sides and down sides to it, but both sides deserve an airing.

But first, what are we voting on?  This is how it will appear on the ballot: (more…)

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Tuesday, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule allowing it to take over greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting authority in Texas .

The agency said that EPA’s permitting authority to process Texas’ permit applications for GHGs was effective on May 1.  The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has indicated that 167 GHG-emitting sources will require PSD permits during 2011.

EPA said its final rulemaking is intended to assure that large GHG-emitting sources in Texas, which became subject to GHG permitting requirements on January 2, will continue to be able to obtain pre-construction permits under the CAA’s New Source Review program after the April 30, 2011, expiration date of the Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) that EPA put in place in December under an interim rule.  The GHG program would apply to large stationary emission sources of CO2, including power plants and refineries.

In December, the EPA told TCEQ that it was planning a temporary takeover of GHG permitting authority from the state after Texas officials made clear that they did not intend to enforce that part of the federal air permitting program.

EPA said its 1992 approval of a State Implementation Plan for the TCEQ was in error because the Texas did not address how its permitting program would apply to any and all pollutants subject to future federal regulation.  EPA said it has changed the approval to a “partial approval and partial disapproval,” with the GHG FIP covering the “gap” in the state’s plan.

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Good news! Yesterday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee took important steps toward getting the TCEQ Sunset bill back on track. They did this by doing two things. First, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Huffman, offered the original bill language as the committee substitute for HB 2694.

Making this substitution means that the Senate version doesn’t have the modifications made by the House–including the Chisum amendments that changed the contested case hearing process.

Second, the set of amendments offered at the hearing did not include the Chisum amendments. What this means is that the Senate will not be able to put those amendments on the bill when it comes to the Senate floor. (This is a technicality of the Senate rules.)

Taken together,  Senate Natural Resources set the Senate up to pass a “clean” version of the TCEQ sunset bill.

This is a major accomplishment that would not have been possible without the calls, email and personal communication from Texans all over the state.

On behalf of everyone working on this legislation in the Capitol and around the state, we would like to thank you for your efforts on this bill.  Honestly, there were a couple of industry lobbyists who looked pretty surprised and downtrodden at the end of the hearing. 

However, we are far from being out of the woods on this bill–and on the attack on contested case hearings.

Once HB 2694 gets through the Senate, it will go to conference committee where the difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill will be worked out, you got it, behind closed doors.

That’s one reason to keep up the pressure on the senators–to let them know in no uncertain terms that we will not stand for the House version of the bill–and that we expect them to stand up for the clean bill.

The attack on contested case hearings continues on the House side in the two stand alone bills the amendments came from–HB 3037 and HB 3251. If and when these bills are scheduled to come to the House floor, we will alert you again to ask for your help.

Thanks in advance for any work you can do on these two bills now–calling your representative today or tomorrow would be a great way to start building awareness that Texans are against these two bills because they attack our right to protect our property.

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