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Archive for December, 2017

Houston Mayor Turner, City Council Members, and community members displaced by Harvey speaking at a City of Houston press conference.

Months after Hurricane Harvey, Houstonians are still suffering. Over 5,000 people are not in their homes, some housed in hotels, others hopping between family or friends to ensure a roof over their heads. City of Houston urgently requests funding from the federal government to help the most vulnerable rebuild as well as to mitigate future flooding disasters.

As the U.S. House approved $81 billion for hurricane relief today, Texans await for the U.S. Senate to follow in their footsteps to help support hurricane-ravaged Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Yet this, according to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, is not enough. He called the reluctance to fully fund the $61 billion aid request from Texas a “formula for failure,” stating that the current proposal will not do enough to help those most vulnerable. In order for Houston to become a stronger and more resilient city, it needs strong support from the state and federal governments.

Gov. Abbott’s request for $61 billion, which the House did not fully fund in their package, includes $12 billion for what’s known as the “Ike Dike.” The Ike Dike is a proposed barrier that would be constructed in order to reduce the impact of storm surge on the petrochemical plants and refineries that line Galveston Bay and the Houston Ship Channel. It would also include $466 million for the Port of Houston to “create resiliency” and harden the Houston Ship Channel.

Who Pays for Harvey?

While a 20 foot storm surge would no doubt create untold ecological, environmental, and health crises, the real impetus behind the Ike Dike is to protect the assets of the petrochemical industry, and this is $12+ billion  taxpayer-funded bailout. Public Citizen joins Center for Climate Integrity as part of a campaign called Who Pays for Harvey. Scientists have demonstrated that the rainfall and flooding from Harvey was made worse due to climate change-related effects. Furthermore, many of the major petrochemical companies that line the Houston Ship Channel have been aware of the impacts of climate change for decades, yet have actively funded denial campaigns to mislead the American public. Rather than another corporate bailout, government should hold corporations accountable for their role in climate change. Corporations should at the very least foot the bill for the infrastructure projects that serve to protect their assets, while leaving federal dollars to help the most vulnerable rebuild and put their lives back together.

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Public Citizen will be closed for the holidays on Monday, December 25, 2017; Monday, January 1, 2018; and Tuesday, January 2, 2018.  We wish all of you a safe and happy holiday season and look forward to the new year.

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By Lowell Ungar,  American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Senior Policy Advisor

Although the tax bill passed by Congress today will bring the largest changes to taxes (and government revenue) seen in decades, we don’t expect the bill to have such a dramatic impact on energy efficiency.

The greatest impacts, both positive and negative, will likely come from the broad changes to tax and revenue. Some companies and families will have more money to spend on efficiency improvements (or on energy-using activities) as a result of the tax cuts; others will have less. The deduction for state and local taxes will be capped, which could make it more difficult for state and local governments to invest taxpayer dollars in efficiency upgrades and programs. Federal deficits will go up, which could increase pressures to cut agency spending, including on efficiency programs.

In addition, two specific provisions will have a relatively direct impact on energy efficiency investments, also both good and bad…

To continue reading ACEEE’s blog post about their take on the tax bill’s impacts on energy efficiency, visit: http://aceee.org/blog/2017/12/what-tax-bill-may-mean-energy

About ACEEE: The acts as a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors. For information about ACEEE and its programs, publications, and conferences, visit aceee.org

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The population in Texas is expected to nearly double by 2070, and the state is also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  Because of this confluence of  threats (dense population and inherent exposure to a number of types of natural disasters that include, but are not limited to drought, flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires), we are looking at a not so excellent future for a state with already strained resources.  It is important that the state look at mitigating the negative effects of population growth and climate change.

On November 29th, academicians, urban planning and environment experts discussed the future of Texas through the research initiative Planet Texas 2050  as part of the Environmental Science Institute’s 110th Hot Science Cool Talks. Panelists included UT mechanical engineering professor Michael Webber, urban revitalization strategist Majora Carter and leading climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech.

Planet Texas 2050 researchers are tasked with planning for the sustainability of Texas and include faculty and staff researchers from UT’s Jackson School of Geosciences, Environmental Science Institute, College of Liberal Arts and more.

According to the Environmental Science Institute director Jay Banner, global warming is creating more frequent and intense natural disasters such as droughts and hurricanes. Coupled with a quickly rising population, the impacts could affect many aspects of Texan life including health, the economy and even our supply of barbecue.

Webber said he believes we can view natural disasters and a rising population as an opportunity to not only become more sustainable, but also to get rich doing it through properly managing and profiting off of Texas’ large supply of renewable energy resources.

Webber added that while Texas needs to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, which worsen the effects of climate change, people can utilize wind energy and experiment with more sustainable technologies. He said moving away from using automobiles, which are a large contributor of greenhouse gases, is a great step to take.

Looking at the destructive nature of Hurricane Harvey, he went on to suggest a silver lining.  “Let’s not replace all 500,000 cars that were wiped out by Hurricane Harvey,” Webber said. “Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past but use these challenges to get better.”

Hayhoe also said moving away from our old ways is important in preparing for the future.

“The future is different, so trying to invest in coal today is like trying to invest in a horse buggy,” Hayhoe said.

Hayhoe pointed out that Texas pays the most out of all U.S. states on events like hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and many other natural threats.

The panelists were overall optimistic for the future of Texas while still emphasizing the intensity of the challenges ahead.  Public support for the findings of these experts will go a long way to ensuring our elected officials take note and lead us into a more sustainable future.

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An intrepid group from Environment Texas, joined by staff of the Texas office of Public Citizen, staged a protest in front of the federal building in Austin, Texas protesting provisions in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act – H.R.1 (115th Congress for 2017-2018), which the Senate passed early Saturday morning, that would change federal law on a matter that has little to do with the tax code. The bill authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR on Alaska’s North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. The Senate bill will now be reconciled with the House version in conference so there is still an opportunity for you to let your Congresspersons and Senators know that you oppose this measure.

This morning is as close to artic weather as we get in Central Texas these days (43  ̊F, windy and raining) and that’s me across the street taking this picture

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Note: Today Governor Greg Abbott designated the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as the lead agency to administer $209 million of funding from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement. The money is intended to remedy harm caused by illegal emissions from VWs by reducing air pollution through purchase of clean vehicles. The Healthy Port Communities Coalition and its members are asking for that money to be spent on electric vehicles and infrastructure.
TCEQ’s press release: https://www.tceq.texas.gov/news/releases/gov-abbott-selects-tceq-to-distribute-209-million

Statement of Adrian Shelley, Director, Public Citizen’s Texas Office

Governor Greg Abbott has a chance for a trifecta here: create jobs, reduce pollution, and lower operating costs for local governments. The Volkswagen settlement can make this possible. Because Volkswagen polluted Texas with illegal emissions from diesel vehicles, the top priority for using settlement funds is to remove old, dirty diesel vehicles from the road. These vehicles should be replaced with all-electric vehicles (EVs) in order to save lives and help Texas meet federal air pollution standards.

The Volkswagen settlement funds also provide an economic opportunity for Texas. Texans build trucks, heavy duty equipment, and batteries. Texans have the technical know-how to build electric vehicle infrastructure. Electric vehicles built and sold in Texas will consume energy produced in Texas. Furthermore, these vehicles will get cleaner as electricity production in Texas gets greener. Compressed natural gas vehicles aren’t going to get any cleaner over time—they will still continue to produce the carbon dioxide and methane emissions responsible for climate change. EVs also save money over the life of the vehicles because their fuel and maintenance costs are much lower. There is no comparison: Electric Vehicles are the best option for Texas.

Investing in electric vehicles and infrastructure now will reduce costs in the long term. Government fleets will pay less for fuel. EVs can be charged with clean, renewable energy produced right here in Texas. This is the future, and Governor Abbott has an opportunity to seize it now.

Statement of Rev. James Caldwell, founder and executive director of Coalition of Community Organizations:

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition implores the Governor and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to leverage funds from the Volkswagen penalties to purchase electric vehicles, which are the cleanest vehicles available today, to reduce emissions and to help provide relief to communities breathing in toxic air every day.


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

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition advocates for the health and welfare of Houston Ship Channel communities, and includes Air Alliance Houston, the Coalition of Community Organizations, Public Citizen, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

 

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