Archive for November, 2011

The U.S. Senate is set to take a vote to stop the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rules affecting downwind communities.  This single vote – tomorrow at noon – will be an up or down vote in the U.S. Senate and will dramatically affect the EPA’s work on clean air issues from stationary sources like coal plants.

S.J. Res. 27, sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), would block the EPA from moving forward with the regulation called the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR).  Your call or email can make a difference in the air quality of your community.

Need contact information for your U.S. Senator?  Click here to find out who represents you, call or email your Senators and ask them to vote against Sen. Rand Paul’s S.J. Res. 27.

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StateImpact is a collaboration among NPR and local public radio stations in eight pilot states to examine issues of local importance. The project seeks to inform and engage communities with broadcast and online news about how state government decisions affect people’s lives.

In Texas, a collaboration between local public radio stations KUT Austin, KUHF Houston and NPR with reporters Mose Buchele, Terrence Henry and Dave Fehling traveling the state, the focus will be on reporting on how energy and environmental issues affect you.  Click here to read their reports or listen to them on NPR member stations.  Below are links to just a few of the stories StateImpact – Texas has reported on recently.

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Austinites rally outside campaign headquarters in solidarity with 12,000 in DC

Protestors spell out their message. “SAY NO TO TARSANDS!” – Photo by Don Mason  (http://ow.ly/7nbjY)

AUSTIN, TX – Campaign staff and volunteers working for  President Obama’s re-election got an earful from environmentalists in Austin on  Monday, one day after 12,000 people encircled the White House in Washington DC to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“He has given every indication that this decision is his to make,” said Hope Philips, one of the protestors at the rally. “So we’re here to  tell him to stick to his campaign promises and ‘end the tyranny of oil.’”

Many of the signs at both protests featured quotes from President Obama’s 2008 campaign when he made bold claims about reducing oil dependence to the delight of young voters and environmentalists.

Protestor holding the President to his own words

Between chants protestors celebrated signs their actions are making headway in the fight against the tar sands pipeline.

“Just today the inspector general of the US State Department agreed to investigate the environmental assessment process. The relationships between TransCanada and the State Department were too cozy resulting in a deeply flawed process,” said Chris Wilson, a retired chemical engineer who recently authored a report criticizing the State Department’s environmental  impact study.

The Austin protest drew out about 50 people who directed
their voices towards the campaign’s offices inside a small building on the  corner of East 6th and Navasota St. During the protest two representatives from the group were invited in to speak with Hector Nieto, Texas director of  Obama for America.

“It was a good conversation and I think the local and state leaders get why this is an important issue,” said Adam Hammick, one of the two representatives and a volunteer with 350.org. “They promised to take our message straight to the top of the campaign food chain, so we hope the message gets through to the President.”

Monday’s protest comes only a week after a widely reported “oil zombie” themed Halloween protest at City Hall, and organizers show no signs of slowing down. On Saturday November 12th they plan to join forces with Occupy Austin to hold a march on Citigroup who they accuse of helping to fund tar sands giant TransCanada. Then on November 28th they plan to return to the campaign headquarters along with organizers in all 50 states who will be demonstrating outside of local campaign offices.

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In recent months, the oil and gas industry has been vigorously denying that hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a technique of extracting natural gas from shale formations, is in anyway responsible for small earthquakes in areas where fracking activities have been taking place.  However, (according to Bloomberg) U.K.-based shale explorer Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. said in a report published Thursday, November 3rd it is “highly probably” that fracking caused two small earthquakes near Blackpool in northwest England earlier this year.

Of course they went on to minimize the event saying the geological circumstances were “rare” and the strongest possible tremor, of a magnitude of 3, wouldn’t be a risk to safety or property on the surface.

That being said, the findings may add to concern that fracturing is harmful to the environment.  France has already halted the practice for fear it may pollute drinking water and a small earthquake near Dallas caused concern for local residents who feared fracking in the area might have contributed to the event, even while the industry decried that possibility.

Cuadrilla halted operations earlier this year after two tremors were felt on the surface. The first, on April 1, measured 2.3 on the Richter scale and another on May 27 measured 1.5. Homeowners in the English seaside resort of Blackpool called the police after feeling their houses shake, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Pressure from fluids on a so-called stressed fault zone probably caused the quakes, the report showed.  This should be of concern for other areas around the world where fracking activity is occurring near faults (for instance the Eagle Shale area near San Antonio).

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In the 2011 ozone season, North Texas pushed ahead of Houston in the battle for the worst air quality in the state. Both metro areas have significant pollution problems, and both continue to exceed federal ozone limits.

Dallas-Fort Worth now has the distinction of beating the Bayou City as the former longtime state champ, and one that has been contending for years for the worst smog problem in the country.

The release of the 2011 ozone season stats has been met with little concern by those in positions of power.

The Texas leadership keeps telling Texans that the feds are out to get us with their onerous and unnecessary environmental rules and regulations. But as the ozone readings reveal, the state isn’t troubling itself with meeting even basic standards.

North Texas and Houston are still exceeding the now-outdated ozone limit of 85 parts per billion and are nowhere near complying with the new standard of 75 ppb.  We all pay for failing to meet this bar with public health consequences — more respiratory illnesses, hospital visits, lost work days and premature deaths.

Texas is under federal mandate to reduce ozone levels. The state is required to submit and to abide by plans to improve air quality — but too many deadlines have been missed, and too many plans have been little more than Band-Aids.

The story the numbers tell is, not enough has been done to bring North Texas into compliance. The metropolitan area needs a more aggressive clean-air plan, but it also needs state environmental officials to lead the way to reduce pollution from sources outside the cities’ purview – like coal-fired power plants – that blow into these urban areas making it even more difficult to meet air quality standards.

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San Antonio’s dreams of becoming a solar manufacturing hub have been deferred temporarily.  CPS Energy, the city’s municipally owned utility, couldn’t come to agreement with two unnamed finalists and will restart a bidding process that would put San Antonio into the top tier of solar users around the globe by seeking bids for 400 megawatts of solar power, enough to power 80,000 homes, and will require the winning bidder to bring manufacturing jobs to the Alamo City.

San Antonio is trying to marry investment in renewables with economic development in an effort to keep the cost of electricity as low as possible while getting as many jobs as possible, but the city has had a learning curve in this process, yet they remain confident that this vision can come to fruition.

Thirty two companies initially submitted 111 proposals several months ago. The utility then re-opened the bidding process and expected to make a decision by Sept. 1. Even as CPS Energy zeroed in on two finalists, Lewis said, other companies around the globe approached the utility with their own ideas and CPS Energy officials decided to end negotiations and open a third round of bidding after rewriting the specifications of what it wants.

So the problem lies not with no takers, but with many and new ideas coming forward to possibly make this move by San Antonio more profitable.  What this Central Texas metroplex does with this process could set the trend for the country and remains an experiment to watch.

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According to the Texas Energy Report, Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, called the energy industry a bit too “thirsty” during a record one-year drought, and warned the oil and gas companies to ramp up the recycling of water consumed during hydraulic fracturing.

Currently much of the chemical-laced water and sand that Texas companies blast into shale formations to release oil and gas is later pumped back underground for disposal.

“It’s going to be an issue next session. I continue to tell the industry they’ve got to get aggressive about water reuse,” Fraser, a Republican from Horseshoe Bay in the Central Texas Highland Lakes region, said during a joint interim hearing on drought held by the Natural Resources and the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees.

“In a drought situation, it’s starting to be a problem, a big problem in some areas,” Fraser added of the millions of gallons of water used in fracking. “I’ve been projecting for multiple months that this is coming and we’ve got a crisis out there.”

When asked about the water recovery program and how much water is being recovered from fracking, the industry representative responded that he did not have a specific number of how many companies recycle frack water but added that TXOGA has requested data from its members. He noted that while some companies do have significant recovery operations, others do not.

“Significant,”said Fraser. “That implies a lot.”  But the numbers from the industry were not there to back that implication up.

Fraser said he’d like to see more efficient water reclamation by cities, manufacturers and refiners as well, but he also took aim at the electric power industry.

“Long-term the power industry is going to hear me talking about figuring out a way to convert and get that technology,” he said. “We can’t continue to use the amount of water that we’ve used in the past. The way we are treating our water right now is not sustainable.”

John Fainter, president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said everyone in the state needs to learn more and do more about conserving and saving and reusing water, but he added a threat of his own.  “There is a cost, and the public needs to be aware of that, just like the environmental requirements we’re facing,” he said.

Click here to watch the hearing.

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According to the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated the global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide soared by six percent in 2010, the biggest single year increase on record and a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined

The world pumped about 564 million more tons of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, and extra pollution in China and the U.S. account for more than half the increase in emissions last year.

Burning coal is the biggest carbon source worldwide and emissions from that jumped nearly 8 percent in 2010 with India and China’s increased use of coal contributing to those emission increases.  And while broader economic improvements in poor countries has been bringing living improvements to the people of those countries, doing it with increasing reliance on coal is imperiling the world.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report on global warming, using different scenarios for carbon dioxide pollution.  At that time the IPCC said the rate of warming would be based on the rate of pollution.  The latest figures put global emissions higher than the worst case projections from the climate panel. Those forecast global temperatures rising between 4 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century with the best estimate at 7.5 degrees.

Even though global warming skeptics have attacked the climate change panel as being too alarmist, most climate scientists have generally found their predictions too conservative. The IPCC’s worst case scenario was only about in the middle of what MIT calculated are likely scenarios.

One bright spot is the developed countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas limiting treaty have reduced their emissions overall since then and have achieved their goals of cutting emissions to about 8 percent below 1990 levels. The U.S. did not ratify the agreement.

In 1990, developed countries produced about 60 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, now it’s probably less than 50 percent.  The real challenge will be to get buy in from the developing world.  If we don’t, the problem will only get worse . . . and well . . . see yesterday’s blog.

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burning-worldWith weather catastrophes in abundance this year, the latest warning from top climate scientists paints a grim future: more floods, heat waves, droughts
and with the world’s population nearing 7 billion, greater costs to deal with them.

A soon to be released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change marks a shift in climate science from focusing on subtle changes in average temperatures to concentrating on events that grab headlines, hurt economies and kill people, saying that extremes caused by climate change could eventually grow so severe that some areas will become “increasingly marginal asplaces to live.”

The final version of the report will be issued in a few weeks. The draft says there is at least a 2-in-3 probability that climate extremes have already worsened because of human-made greenhouse gases.

By the end of the century, the intense, single-day rainstorms that typically happen once every 20 years will probably happen about twice a decade, the report said.

The opposite type of disaster – a drought such as the stubbornly long dry spell gripping Texas and parts of the Southwest – could also happen more often as the world  warms.

The Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, taking a cue from the state leadership is not is not committing to how much the current drought, Texas’ worst single-year  one on record, is connected to climate change.  But he does acknowledge that the drought is caused by a lack of rainfall and record heat; and at least part of the heat is due to global warming.

In the future, climate change will make droughts even more severe, with higher temperatures causing more evaporation and thus putting a greater strain on water resources.

The report does say scientists are “virtually certain” – 99 percent – that the world will have more extreme spells of heat and fewer of cold. Heat waves could peak as much as 5 degrees higher by midcentury and even 9 degrees by the end of the century.

In the United States this year, we set 2,703 daily high temperature records, compared with only 300 cold records during that period, making it the hottest summer in the U.S. since the Dust Bowl of 1936, according to Weather Underground.

The report’s summary chapter didn’t detail which regions might suffer extremes so severe that they become only marginally habitable, but we may learn more once the report is released.

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Four environmental groups are preparing a lawsuit that alleges the Obama administration has not adequately studied how the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline would affect several endangered species.

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and Nebraska Wildlife Federation sent a formal notice of intent to sue Thursday to the State Department – which is heading the federal review of the project – and several other agencies stating, “State and [the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] have failed to conduct formal consultation to consider the effects of the Keystone XL Pipeline project (Project) to the Whooping Crane, Interior Least Tern, Piping Plover, Western Prairie Fringed Orchid, Pallid Sturgeon, and Arkansas River Shiner.”

The State Department picked a company called Cardno Entrix to help carry out the environmental impact statement on the Keystone pipeline.  Cardno Entrix listed among its chief clients …TransCanada.  And this apparent conflict puts in question the final report that came out in late August, stating the pipeline would have “no significant impact” on the nearby land and water resources.  The State Department hopes to make a final decision by the end of the year and the letter of notice of intent to sue is designed to ensure the option to litigate if the permit is issued.

The groups, in the letter, allege the “biological assessment” prepared alongside the EIS and a subsequent “biological opinion” prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were shoddy in their analysis of the pipeline’s effect on the species and that the unduly narrow analysis omits impacts such as the effects of habitat fragmentation from the Pipeline’s pump sites, construction camps, and power lines.”

The planned lawsuit comes in addition to separate, ongoing litigation by three other groups: the Center for Biological Diversity, the Western Nebraska Resources Council and Friends of the Earth.

That litigation, filed in a Nebraska federal court, was expanded through an amended complaint this week that alleges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “unreasonably and unlawfully concurred that the Pipeline is ‘not likely to adversely affect’ endangered and threatened species.”

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