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Archive for October, 2018

A recent report by the University of Houston details how the fourth largest city in the nation can reduce air pollution by replacing old, polluting vehicles. (Full disclosure: the report was funded in part by Public Citizen and the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.) By 2040, the eight-county Houston region will have 30-50% more cars on the road and 40-80% more trucks. A business-as-usual scenario for those vehicles would lead to 122 additional deaths in Houston. In contrast, replacing pollution intensive vehicles with electric and clean tech vehicles could save 246 lives.

Houston has battled air pollution—particularly ozone—for decades. Air quality is complex in Houston, with pollution contributions from cars and trucks, energy generation, and one of the largest concentrations of petrochemical manufacturing facilities found anywhere in the world.

Scientists are increasingly appreciating the role that transportation plays in air pollution. Diesel trucks are some of the worst offenders, and the best thing Houston can do to fight pollution from the transportation sector is to replace our oldest and dirtiest trucks.

This turns out to be true whether those trucks are replaced with electric vehicles or so-called “emissions controlled” vehicles. Newer diesel engines can be up to 90% cleaner than their older cousins. This fact, combined with the low-cost and familiarity of diesel engines, means that regulators looking for cheap and easy solutions to clean the air often turn to diesel vehicles first.

But there are a number of reasons why electric vehicles (EVs) are a better alternative to “clean combustion” vehicles. Let’s look at a few of them now.

Electric vehicles save money. If you purchase an electric car or truck today, you will spend more than if you purchased an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. But that doesn’t mean EVs cost more. In fact, over the lifetime of ownership of a vehicle, you will save money if you purchase an EV. The first saving comes in fuel costs—it’s more expensive to fill a gas tank than to plug in your car at home or at work. The next savings is in maintenance cost. EVs have fewer moving parts, so the long-term maintenance cost of an electric vehicle is significantly less than an ICE vehicle. And with EV prices declining rapidly, even the initial cost will be less than that of an ICE vehicle within about seven years. Sometime between now and then, we are likely to see a tipping point, as vehicle purchasers begin to appreciate how they can save money with EVs.

Electric vehicles are inherently cleaner. EVs never have tailpipe emissions—they are truly zero emissions. They do pull energy from the electricity grid, and most of the energy on the grid comes from fossil fuel sources today. But Texas’ grid is getting cleaner by the year. Which means that the air pollution EVs are indirectly responsible for will continue to decrease.

Clean tech does not always work. “Clean diesel” vehicles, unlike EVs, still emit pollution. And the amount of pollution they emit is highly dependent on how they are used and how frequently they are serviced. Diesel trucks rely on something called a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to reduce air pollution. But DPFs only work at certain operating temperatures. Vehicles that idle for long periods of time, such as drayage trucks operating at the Port of Houston, often fall outside of those temperatures, rendering the DPF ineffective. Vehicle emissions controls also only work if vehicles are continuously maintained (this is why you have to get an emissions test on your car every year). As “clean diesel” trucks age, they stop being so clean.

These are a few of the reasons why we advocate for replacing today’s transportation fleet with electric vehicles—the fleets of the future. Texas has $209 million dollars in Volkswagen mitigation funds to spend on clean transportation in the coming years. Cheap, “clean” diesels may seem like a bargain, but they are not. As we propel Texas and Houston toward a cleaner future, we should embrace the best technologies available. Our lives depend on it.

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Last week was difficult. The IPCC report – Global Warming of 1.5 °C – was released on Monday, October 8 and the news articles that ensued after its release were torrential and more often than not, dire. I read one after the another like my life depended on it, inundating myself with predictions of doom, whispers of hope, and passionate calls to action.

By the end of the week, my nervous system was fried. My ecoanxiety was worse than ever.

I work as a climate justice organizer based in San Antonio, Texas with Public Citizen. People often ask me what my job means. In short, organizing is “a practice aimed at helping people create the social movements and political organizations necessary to wage campaigns and win power”. When centered around climate justice, it means that I work towards building power to address climate change and support climate solutions. I spend my days doing research, reading policy and news, hosting meetings, attending meetings, planning events, petitioning, canvassing, sending emails, conversing with all kinds of people, writing, educating, speaking, presenting, and a whole host of other things.

This work is extremely meaningful to me and I can’t see myself doing anything else at this point in my life. I’m immensely grateful that I’m able to make organizing my profession. However, you don’t have to be a professional organizer to organize. Some of the best organizers I know have day jobs. They organize because they are angry at the vast injustices that exist and are passionate about building a better world for everyone. The realization that the injustices of the world are created by unjust systems and structures and understanding that those systems and structures can be dismantled, transformed, and built anew is the root of organizing. Our economic, social, and governing structures were created by people and therefore can be changed by people.

We have the ability to affect change. But we can only affect change collectively.

 

 

Organizing is not something that happens – or at the very least succeeds – as an individual effort. At the heart of organizing is community building. However, our society is built around isolation and alienation. This is the great challenge and strength behind organizing: bringing people together, creating meaningful relationships, and engaging in important and significant work.  

The IPCC report states that the next decade is the definitive decade for whether or not we stay within 1.5C of warming for the Earth. More than 1.5C of warming means that every coastal city in the world floods, every island nation disappears under rising sea levels, hundreds of millions of people become climate refugees, drought, food scarcity, and vector-borne diseases would all become increasingly persistent and severe problems, and we’d run the risk of feedback loops leading us into even more warming and even more climate catastrophe. Simply put, the more the planet heats up, the more uninhabitable it becomes for life, including humans.  

I hear people express concern and worry over unaffordable housing and gentrification, food deserts, increasingly severe flooding and weather events, lack of public transit, poor air quality, police and ICE brutality and discrimination, the lack of safe pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure, meaningless jobs that don’t pay a livable wage, a broken healthcare system, longer heatwaves, mental health concerns, barriers to political engagement, and many other issues. Climate justice has a stake in all of these issues and all of these an issues can be (and more likely than not are) organized around. Organizing isn’t easy by any means, but it offers us the tools to make our lives better and in the case of climate change, it means fighting for life as we know it.

Many battles have been won from organizing such as 8-hour workdays to free breakfast in schools to desegregation to women having the right to vote and countless more. The rights that we enjoy today are the results of coordinated efforts by people, not the goodwill of those with power.  

Now is the time for all hands on deck. We are at such a critical and uncertain moment in humanity’s history, we must act. Anyone can become an organizer and everyone who can should. We must organize and win collective power in order to prevent climate catastrophe.

When people ask me what it means to be an organizer, I tell that it means being defiant. It means refusing to settle for the status quo under an unjust and cruel system. It means speaking louder when I am told to be silent.

Organizing means knowing a better world is possible and fighting alongside others to make it a reality. 

 

If you are interested in organizing opportunities in San Antonio, you can contact Briauna at [email protected].

 

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Ever wonder who makes rules for how an attorney interacts with you as a client?  That would be the Texas State Bar, and as of 2011, non-attorneys can submit comments on the proposed rule changes.  Now is your chance.
The Committee on Disciplinary Rules and Referenda (CDRR) has published proposed rules changes regarding attorney – client confidentiality/ethics advice and diminished capacity.  You can see the proposed rule change by clicking on Publication 18-3 and 18-4- final_v5-4
 
A public hearing on the proposed rules was held on October 10, 2018.
 
The committee is accepting comments concerning the proposed rules through November 1, 2018.  Comments can be submitted at texasbar.com/CDRR .
 
The committee was created by Government Code section 81.0872 and is responsible for overseeing the initial process for proposing a disciplinary rule. For more information, go to texasbar.com/CDRR .
Feel free to share this post with anyone you know who might want to weigh in on these rules.

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On Monday, October 8, 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report, that holding average global warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (°C) – the stronger of the two goals set in the Paris Agreement Climate Agreement – is still possible, but only with urgent action.

The report was requested by members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Member countries recognized that the emissions reductions commitments made by participant countries weren’t sufficient to meet the temperature goals in the Agreement, so they asked the IPCC to provide additional technical information that could inform future updates. The report will serve as key input for the next U.N. climate change conference in Poland in December.

CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS: 1.5°C vs. 2°C

Current international commitments would result in global warming that is closer to 3°C — far above the 1.5°C and 2°C (2.7 – 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) targets of the Paris agreement. Any temperature rise more than 1.5°C would bring cataclysmic changes in the global environment, including the death of life-sustaining ecosystems, the complete melting of the ice caps, and the rendering of enormous amounts of land both unfarmable and unlivable. Additionally, according to the report “limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared with 2°C, could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million”.

IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C, Summary for Policymakers, pg 13

Earth’s sea level has already risen by about seven or eight inches since 1900. The new report shows that in a 2°C world, sea level rise is projected to be about four inches higher than it would be in a 1.5°C world. That’s enough to expose an additional 10 million people around the world to risks from sea level rise (31-69 million people in 1.5°C scenario, compared to 32-79 million people in the 2°C scenario).

The report shows that in mid-latitude countries, like the United States, our hottest days are expected to be significantly higher and more numerous in a 2°C world than in a 1.5°C world. The U.S is also likely to experience other serious impacts, including more intense and frequent extreme weather events, more severe droughts and heatwaves, and an increase in hospitalization and fatalities from these impacts, all of which we have seen in the past decade.

Even today, extreme weather events have had serious consequences for the health and safety of people in the U.S. and around the world. We only need to look to this year to see how extreme heat waves helped create the conditions for large wildfires in the West, which led to the loss of life and homes. Hurricane Florence led to numerous deaths and damaged infrastructure. And we will be hearing about the impacts of Hurricane Michael in the coming days and weeks. The 2017’s wildfire season and hurricanes tell a similar story. More global warming means more of these kinds of events.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

The report outlines the several possible emissions pathways and associated actions necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2°C. Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions need to peak by 2020, and must reach net-zero by between 2014 and 2055. The probability of keeping warming to 1.5 °C is significantly higher if net zero global CO2 emissions is reached in 2040, as opposed to 2055. Reduction of other global warming gases, including methane, needs to start by 2030.

IPCC Global Warming of 1.5C, Summary for Policymakers, pg 6

Limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C is physically and technically possible, but will require system change on an unprecedented level. The composition of our energy sources, our means of transportation, the way we grow food, the types of foods we consume, the products we use and industrial processes (such as cement production) all have to change.

Removing CO2 from the air and sequestering it – using methods such as reforestation, land restoration, and technologies to capture CO2 – will be necessary, even with the emissions reductions described.

As one of the biggest emitters of global warming emissions, the U.S. has a big role to play in limiting warming to 1.5°C. The Trump administration’s plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, as well as its moves to roll back other key domestic policies that would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, leaves the burden for taking action on states and local governments.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

While we can make changes as individuals, the political will of communities and countries are needed to make the level of changes that are necessary. Supporting policy and system changes is the most important thing you can do. We must demand that our elected officials enact rapid and divisive climate policies that decarbonize the economy on the federal level, such as with a Green New Deal.

To reduce emissions in our daily life, we can reduce our home energy consumption, opt for public and human-powered transportation when possible, stop consuming meat, buy less and reuse more, and have fewer children. However, it’s important to remember that individual actions are not enough to address climate change. Collective action is necessary and vital if we are to limit planetary warming to 1.5°C and preserve a livable planet.

We’ve known about the risks associated with global warming for years now and the report shows limiting global warming to 1.5°C will certainly not be easy. It will require major societal transformations. But it is possible and a better, healthier, more equitable world will be the result of all our efforts, if we act now.

Check out our upcoming Facebook video discussion with Public Citizen’s San Antonio Climate Justice organizer, Briauna Barrera and Energy Policy and Outreach Specialist, Kaiba White.

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Nuclear waste may soon be coming through your city. But you can speak out and say, “No!”

The public has until October 19th to speak out against a plan to dump dangerous radioactive waste in Texas from nuclear reactors around the country.

A High Level Radioactive Waste Dump?

A high-risk, high-level radioactive waste dump has been proposed in West Texas, and people across the state are speaking out against it. And they are not only speaking out against the dump. They are also speaking out against the transportation of high level radioactive waste across the state. Transporting this waste could put people’s lives at risk to leaks, accidents, and other threats.

In Houston, Public Citizen has worked with Coalition of Community Organizations, Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) to bring awareness to the issue of high-level nuclear waste transport in Texas. Together, these organizations kicked off the “Protect Texas from Radioactive Waste” Tour in Houston in late September.

At a community meeting in Fifth Ward on Sept. 24th and a press conference near downtown on Sept. 25th, Karen Hadden shared details on the proposal and its potential impact on communities around the state.

The Plan

What’s the plan? Some 40,000 tons of irradiated fuel rods from nuclear reactors around the country would be brought to Texas and stored at an existing low-level radioactive waste site for 40 years or longer.

What’s at risk? By creating a consolidated interim storage facility, a permanent disposal facility may never be created. Deadly nuclear waste must be isolated from people and the environment for a million years. Exposure to radiation can cause cancer, genetic damage and birth defects, and being close to unshielded waste is lethal.

Diane D’Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director with Nuclear Information Resource Service, discussed how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) held only one meeting in all of Texas on the original application, over a year ago in West Texas. By contrast, the NRC hosted five meetings this year in New Mexico for a similar high-level radioactive waste proposal by Holtec for a site near Carlsbad and two dozen for a proposed Nevada dump. Texan voices are being left out of the process. The NRC needs to let the voices of Texans be heard by holding public meetings across the state: in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, El Paso and Midland, where people would be at risk from potential radioactive waste transport accidents.

Kerstin Rudek, from Gorleben Germany, spoke about the high-level radioactive waste storage experiences of her community and warned people to fight.Waste Control Specialists’ re-started license application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has created a brief time for public input. The group shared that public opposition has stopped the siting of radioactive waste dumps in the past, and it can be done here.

A single train car could carry as much plutonium as was dropped on Nagasaki. While not in bomb grade form, radioactive waste could leak and cause catastrophe for communities living its wake. There is no need for deadly waste to come through Houston or any other community in Texas.

Public health and safety, including protection of the millions of people here in Houston, should take precedence over the potential profits of a company that wants to bring deadly nuclear reactor waste to Texas

Rail lines run close to many homes, schools and businesses and insurance policies generally don’t cover radiological impacts. An accident with a radiation leak could cause disaster, impacting our health and costing billions of dollars to remediate. The NRC should protect Texans’ health and safety and deny the license application.

Traveling from Gorlaben, Germany, Kerstin Rudek shared her story:

“Our rural farming community was targeted to take high-level radioactive waste in Gorleben, Germany, and in 2011, we stopped the the nuclear industry from bringing transports to our area with protests on the streets and on the railroads with 50,000 people,” said Kerstin Rudek. “We have serious concerns about risks to our health, our water, and our food. There’s been massive opposition, even from conservative people who never took action before. We don’t want the dangerous waste that is being dumped on us. I am here to share our successes and hope that Texans can prevent being dumped on!”

Texans Have Options

What could we do instead? The least risky approach to dealing with high-level radioactive waste would be to keep it at reactor sites, or nearby, for now and use more robust canisters and casks. There’s no need to move the waste anywhere and no need to centralize the waste, since a permanent repository is not available. Spent nuclear fuel can be kept onsite in dry storage for 60 years after reactors cease operating.

To learn more, go to www.NoNuclearWaste.org.

The public can comment on the license application until Oct. 19th. Comments on WCS/ ISP’s Consolidated Interim Storage Facility should include Docket ID NRC-2016-0231, and be emailed to [email protected]. Comment letters can also be sent from www.NoNuclearWaste.org.

The public can also submit requests for a hearing and petition to intervene in the licensing proceedings until October 29th. Information is available on the August 29, 2018 Federal Register

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/08/29/2018-18758/interim-storage-partners-waste-control-specialists-consolidated-interim-storage-facility

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