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Archive for the ‘Air Quality’ Category

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Yesterday, a few days after the one-year anniversary of President Trump announcing US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Climate Action SA coalition called on the City of San Antonio to establish significant goals to help San Antonio fight climate change.

Climate Action SA proposed the following goals for CPS Energy, our city-owned public utility: CPS Energy electric generation Coal-Free by 2025 and Carbon-Free (no fossil fuels) by 2030. Significant reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels can be achieved with aggressive investment in energy efficiency, demand response, renewable energy and energy storage.

These goals for CPS Energy put the city on a path to achieve of a goal proposed by Climate Action SA for city-wide greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to net-negative by 2050 or sooner, following a path that prioritizes near-term reductions. Net-negative means that community activities would pull more greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere than they emit into it. This is assumed by almost all of the climate models used in the development of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union - photo by Angel Amaya

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union – photo by Angel Amaya

“The climate community in San Antonio is taking the right step towards including the neighborhoods most affected and creating solutions that are just, resilient, and keep the ecosystem of neighborhoods strong,” says Diana Lopez of Southwest Workers Union. “We are taking this beyond the Paris Climate Agreement and localizing action in San Antonio.”

The public health benefits of phasing out fossil fuels are well known. In addition to releasing carbon pollution which leads to climate change, coal and fracked gas produce pollution that creates ozone (smog) and particulate matter (fine soot), impacting vulnerable populations here at home the hardest.

“San Antonio is now failing federal air quality standards for ozone,” points out Peter Bella of imagineSanAntonio. “We insist on reductions in both carbon- and ozone-causing pollution, and SA Climate Ready provides the path.”

San Antonio can be a leader, but we don’t have to do it alone. Cities around the world are taking action to address climate change. The goals supported by the Climate Action SA coalition are necessary to avoid the worst of climate change and reflect the commitments in the resolution passed last June by Mayor Nirenberg and the San Antonio City Council to support the Paris Climate Agreement.

Keeping global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius requires massive greenhouse gas reductions in the coming decade. The good news is that this transformation not only reduces local air pollution – it will also create new jobs and tax revenues.

Briauna Barrera, Public Citizen - photo by Angel Amaya

Briauna Barrera, Public Citizen – photo by Angel Amaya

“Climate change is an existential threat and what we do in the next couple of decades will determine the fate of billions of people and future generations,” says Briauna Barrera of Public Citizen. “We need to ground ourselves in urgency. We need to be compelled into rapid, collective action to preserve a livable planet.”

Although ending our reliance on fossil fuels for power generation is key to solving the climate crisis, we must also be moving aggressively in other areas like transportation and solid waste. The coalition also plans to make recommendations on these topics soon.

The Climate Action SA coalition consists of 35 nonprofit organizations working together to support the creation and implementation of a robust climate action and adaptation plan for San Antonio, developed and implemented with strong community engagement. The coalition has a strong focus on protecting San Antonio’s most vulnerable communities from extreme weather and pollution, and ensuring that all members of the community can benefit from climate solutions.

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https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/

U.S. Chemical Safety Board: Arkema Inc. Chemical Plant Final Investigation Report

Arkema Inc. knew about the risk of flooding at its Crosby facility.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which comes nearly a year after a fire and explosion at the facility injured twelve first responders.

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding at Arkema Crosby, leading to the failure of backup generators and an explosion of organic peroxides on the premises.

The CSB report details the investigation and outlines best practices for future events. While the rainfall that occurred during Harvey was extraordinary, the report notes the rise in extreme weather events and Arkema’s location in the 100-year floodplain.

The report also finds that Arkema cannot claim ignorance of its precarious situation. A year before Harvey, Arkema’s insurer Factory Mutual Insurance Company (FM Global) notified the company of its flooding risk.

The CSB recommends more robust guidance to allow industry to better evaluate flood risks. The report also recommends that the EPA take more steps to limit risk from reactive hazards.

Chemical safety reform is needed to protect communities like Crosby. We shouldn’t be in harm’s way.

 

View the final investigation report at https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/. 

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In the greater Houston area, ozone season lasts from March to November. In 2018, we’ve already had 12 ozone action days. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, ozone action days are designated on warm, sunny days that are favorable to the formation of ozone, a compound that forms at near the ground in the atmosphere through complex reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. While a lot of people think bad air quality occurs only in areas near the industry along the Houston Ship Channel, on some days readings at the ozone monitor near the Woodlands can be higher than at monitors along the Ship Channel. Public Citizen, along with Corey Williams from Air Alliance Houston, and a small group of Woodlands residents sat down with UH Professor Jimmy Flynn to learn more.

The Jones State Forest Air Monitor

University of Houston operates the Jones State Forest Air Monitor. The monitor is not part of TCEQ’s network of regulatory air monitors. It collects data on ozone, carbon monoxide, and meteorology. The monitor is attached to a tower and collects readings above the tree tops to help ensure that it is measuring ambient air quality.

Stagnant Air = Bad Ozone

Ozone is a harmful byproduct of a reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). NOx and VOCs are emitted from transportation, industrial processes, and some natural processes. Ozone can cause serious problems especially for people who are already vulnerable, like children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions.

One of the biggest risk factors for ozone formation, according to Dr. Flynn, is stagnant air. Stagnant air occurs when an air mass remains over a region for an extended period of time. There are no heavy breezes or precipitation to clear pollutants out of the atmosphere. Dr. Flynn also mentioned that for ozone in particular, rainfall events will not do much to clear ozone out of the air due to its lack of solubility. Ozone needs air movement to clear it out.

Do you know what to do on an ozone action day?

Learn how to protect yourself and your family when ozone action days occur. You can sign up for alerts through the TCEQ here. Dr. Flynn told us that staying inside on high ozone days is a great way to protect your health because ozone concentrations tend to be much lower inside. Stay safe!

 

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If you live in certain cities in Texas, including Austin, Dallas, and Houston, you may see that Texas sometimes calls “Ozone Action Days.” Ozone Action Days are hot, dry, sunny days when ground-level ozone is forecast to reach levels of health concern. Ground-level ozone (as distinct from the “ozone layer” of our atmosphere that protects us from the harmful rays of the sun) is one of six pollutants that are regulated by the Clean Air Act. These six common air pollutants are: 

  1. Particle Pollution (particulate matter or PM)
  2. Ground-level ozone.
  3. Carbon monoxide.
  4. Sulfur oxides.
  5. Nitrogen oxides.
  6. Lead

The EPA uses the Air Quality Index (AQI) to notify the public about local air quality. Certain groups of people are especially vulnerable to air pollution including children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. When the AQI reaches levels of ozone pollution that are unhealthy for these sensitive groups, an “Ozone Action Day” is designated. This means that you should take steps to limit your exposure to air pollution and your contribution of pollutants.

The ozone forecast seasons are based on when each region is likely to experience elevated ozone concentrations. Some areas, like Austin, have an ozone season between March 1 to November 30th of each year. Other areas, like Houston, can have ozone days at any time throughout the year. Each forecast predicts whether ozone levels in the area are expected to reach or exceed the EPA’s AQI Level Orange (or a level that is “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups”).

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) forecasts ozone pollution each day during ozone season. TCEQ sends its forecasts to the National Weather Service, which broadcasts them across its “weather wire.” You can get email or text notifications of these forecasts from TCEQ or EPA. You may hear local news station announce that today or tomorrow will be an Ozone Action Day.

Above are nonattainment and near nonattainment areas (counties) in Texas. It was derived from TIGER data, and it precisely matches the Texas Outline, Texas Counties and the TCEQ Service Regions layers. Nonattainment is an area that has not achieved compliance with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). The ozone standard is currently set at 75 parts per billion (ppb). These nonattainment counties were designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They are designated based on their air quality monitoring data. Near nonattainment means an area is very close to falling into non compliance with the NAAQS. These counties have been designated by the TCEQ Office of Policy and Regulatory Development for planning reasons. These counties either have an ozone monitor or are part of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) that has an ozone monitor. It is very uncertain at this point which near nonattainment counties, if any, will ultimately be designated by the EPA as nonattainment. There are 16 ozone nonattainment areas in Texas: 8 counties in the Houston/ Galveston area (Montgomery, Liberty, Waller, Harris, Chambers, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston); 3 in the Beaumont/Port Arthur area(Hardin, Orange, Jefferson); 4 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Denton, Tarrant, Dallas, Collin); and 1 in El Paso (El Paso). There are 25 ozone near nonattainment counties: 1 in the Victoria area (Victoria); 2 in the Corpus Christi area (San Patricio, Nueces); 9 in the San Antonio/Austin area (Williamson, Travis, Bastrop, Hays, Caldwell, Comal, Bexar, Guadalupe, Wilson); and 5 in the Tyler/Longview area (Upshur, Harrison, Smith, Gregg, Rusk), and 8 in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (Johnson, Ellis, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, Hunt, Hood, Henderson).

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Six years ago, Public Citizen and our partners founded the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), which advocates for the health and well-being of residents of communities on the Houston Ship Channel. The coalition also includes Air Alliance Houston, the Coalition of Community Organizations, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

Recently, we had an opportunity to convene the HPCC in Houston to discuss our work. One purpose for the trip was to introduce our new Press Office, Angel Amaya, to Port Houston. Port Houston is the largest exporting port in the nation and the center of Houston’s petrochemical industry.

We started at Morgan’s Point Cemetery, the oldest continually operated cemetery in Harris County. It is the small green square in the middle of the photo above. Surrounding the cemetery is the Barbours Cut terminal and turning basin. This is one of two container terminals at Port Houston. Goods from all over the world come into Barbours Cut on very large vessels packed with shipping containers. One ship can carry as many as 4,500 containers. (There are even larger ships, the so-called “Post-Panamax” ships, that can carry as many as 9,000 containers, but they are too large to enter Barbours Cut.) The containers are offloaded by cranes (top of photo) and moved on to trucks and trains to be shipped around the country. Many of the engines that operate at a terminal like Barbours Cut–including marine vessels, cranes, short-haul equipment, drayage trucks, and locomotives–use polluting fossil fuels such as diesel. The Healthy Port Communities coalition advocates for replacement of these polluting vehicles with newer, clean technologies. Many funding opportunities are available for these replacements, including the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.

A container terminal like Barbours Cut is probably what most people think of when they think of what goes on at a port. There is plenty of container traffic at Port Houston, but in fact this represents only about 15% of the total traffic.

The rest of the traffic consists of bulk products, most of them petrochemical. We visited many of the industrial facilities that produce these petrochemical products. One of the most infamous petrochemical facilities on the Houston Ship Channel is the Pasadena Refinery, owned by the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras.

Pasadena Refinery is notoriously troubled. In recent years, its woes have included explosions with injury, protests by environmental groups and concerned neighbors, lawsuits by environmental groups, and international bribery scandals. It was recently announced that Petrobras is trying to sell the refinery, although it is unclear who would want to buy such a dangerous liability.

We also visited Hartman Park in the community of Manchester, sometimes referred to as “Houston’s most polluted neighborhood.” Our friends at t.e.j.a.s. have advocated for years for the people of Manchester. When our new Press Officer Angel visited Hartman Park, she was struck by this mural:

Created by children living in Manchester, the mural perhaps unintentionally shows how intrusive polluting facilities are in the lives of people living on the Houston Ship Channel. An idyllic scene of children playing in a park is flanked by industrial stacks spewing pollution into the air. The mural is a stark reminder of what life is like for some of our most vulnerable neighbors in certain parts of Texas.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is advocating on the behalf of those neighbors who live in Houston. We finished our trip to Houston with a meeting of HPCC member groups. One topic of discussion was the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC). The CCAC was created after the Port of Houston Authority Sunset Review in 2013. Public health advocates had asked for representation on the Port Commission itself, with the addition of a new seat representing community interests. That recommendation was rejected by the state legislature, although certain other reforms were implemented. After the sunset review was complete, some advocates continued to call for more representation of community interests at the port. Longtime port community advocate Sen. John Whitmire joined this call, asking the new Port of Houston Authority Chairman Janice Longoria to act. Chairman Longoria responded by creating the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition has had members and allies on the CCAC since it was created. Although we appreciated the move, in the years following we have not seen the CCAC be an effective body advocating for public health protections. This is in part due to the manner in which it was created and operates. In order to improve the CCAC, we have compiled a list of recommendations:

 

  1. The existence of the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC) should be codified in statute, regulation, or by memorandum.
  2. The chairs on the CCAC should be designated for particular constituencies or neighborhoods, including the chair already designated for the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.
  3. The representative for each chair should be selected by each corresponding constituency, via a process of their choosing.
  4. The CCAC should have the authority to set agenda items for CCAC meetings.
  5. CCAC members should be given time to make presentations at CCAC meetings. Port Houston should be required to formally respond to any presentations and answer any questions posed.
  6. The CCAC should have the authority to make information requests and pose questions to Port Houston. The Port Commission should be required to respond.
  7. The CCAC should be given monthly opportunities to report on its work to the Port Commission.
  8. The CCAC should be able to recommend studies to be conducted by Port Houston. If Port Houston declines to undertake a recommended study, it should clearly state its rationale for doing so.

To her credit, Chairman Longoria did implement #7 above at the request of one of the CCAC members (a t.e.j.a.s. employee). But for the most part, the CCAC still functions as an isolated body whose members serve at the pleasure of the chairman. We believe that the above reforms would make the body a more effective advocate for portside community residents. This would lead to a port that took better care of its neighbors and served as a better steward of public health and the environment.

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Look for this tear pad display at the register when you check out at any Texas HEB store.  Take this opportunity to make donations when you check out with your groceries.  Donations go to Earthshare, which supports Public Citizen.

Making a donation at the register when you check out with your groceries at any HEB store in Texas funds environmental organizations in the state.  This funds Public Citizen’s Texas office as well as several of our partner organizations, such as EDF, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club (among many).  If you want to help us and the many other organizations that are working to keep the Texas environment clean and healthy for all Texans, make a donation before Tuesday, May 1st.

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This story was reprinted from the Texas Energy Report, a subscriber-only news service going into their 10th year of service to Texas energy industries, consultants, legislators, lobbyists and law firms.

The New 500 Feet Rule? New Colorado Study Indicates Living Close To Oil and Gas Sites Can Be Dangerous

Fracking site near homes.

Risks of respiratory, hematological, neurological and developmental health problems increase considerably among those living within 500 feet or less of oil and gas sites.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus at Aurora, CO.

Researchers found that, over a lifetime, people who live 500 feet from an oil and gas site have a cancer risk eight times higher than the limit called “acceptable” by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The problems, those researchers said, are non-methane hydrocarbons such as benzene, which were found at concentrations much, much higher within 500 feet of wells than were found a mile from such sites.

Executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and EnvironmentDr. Larry Wolk said in a statement on Monday that the new study showed increase risk only at distances within 500 feet.

That conclusion confirms current Colorado regulations requiring homes and businesses to be more than 500 feet from petroleum-related sites; 1,000 feet from buildings such as schools and hospitals.

Another problem is the finding that benzene concentrations within 500 feet were higher at night than in the daytime, because benzene and other chemicals disperse at a much slower rate without sunshine.

The study primarily used air emissions found along Colorado’s Front Range.

Wolk said the study emphasizes the need for more comprehensive air quality studies and increased collection of data among those living close to petroleum-related sites so that firmer conclusions can be reached in the future about possible dangers of oil and gas production.

Also see the Austin American Statesman story that says in 116 Texas counties (or 45% of Texas counties), oil- and gas-related air pollutants surpass the EPA’s threshold for increased cancer risk. Those counties are home to 3 million people and make up half of the counties nationally identified as having an elevated cancer risk. Caldwell County is among the high-risk Texas counties.

In Texas, state law grandfathered old well sites, and primitive early permits allowed perpetual new drilling on existing sites as close as 200 feet from residences. 

In November 2014, after an expensive campaign, Denton became the first Texas city to explicitly ban fracking within the city limits, however the Denton victory was short-lived. The next day, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and Texas General Land Office separately sued the city.  But before these issues could be litigated, Texas legislators introduced bills to overturn the Denton fracking ban and prevent similar bans elsewhere. In March 2015, Rep. Drew Darby introduced House Bill 40, which easily passed both houses. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law on May 18.2015

  • HB 40 provides that oil and gas “operations” (which expressly include fracking) are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the state;  municipalities may not enact ordinances that ban, limit, or otherwise regulate them. Local regulation is expressly preempted except for measures satisfying a four-part test, which allows a regulation if it: (1) is “limited to above ground activity”; (2) is “commercially reasonable”; (3) does not “effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation conducted by a reasonably prudent operator”; and (4) is not other-wise preempted. The law’s safe harbor provision considers ordinances that have been in effect for at least five years and that have allowed operations to take place during that time to be prima facie commercially reasonable.
In 2016, a 47-page report, titled “Dangerous and Close,” was compiled by Environment Texas, the Frontier Group and the FracTracker Alliance. It examined the locations of 160,000 fracking wells drilled since 2005 in nine states, based on data provided by regulatory agencies and the oil and gas industry.  In Texas, the report found that nearly 437,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend one of 850 Texas schools that are within one mile of a fracking site. In addition, 1,240 daycare centers — or 9 percent of the total number — are within one mile of a fracking well.

There is no state-wide setback rule for oil and gas wells or pipelines in Texas.  The state agency charged with governing oil and gas production, the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), has passed no such state-wide regulation.  According to the Texas Railroad Commission website, “The Railroad Commission does not regulate how close a gas or oil well can be drilled to a residential property.”

Instead, the RRC has generally left this authority up to ordinances or zoning laws passed by individual municipalities (which was certainly curtailed by HB40 in 2016).  For example, the City of Ft. Worth passed an ordinance requiring 600 feet between an oil and gas well and a structure.  The City of Denton passed an ordinance requiring a 1,200 foot setback.

Additionally, there is a provision in the Texas Local Government Code Section 253.005 that provides “a well may not be drilled in the thickly settled part of the municipality or within 200 feet of a private residence.”  While the Railroad Commission seems to read this as applicable to any land leased within a municipality, the statutory provision specifically addresses leasing of minerals by a municipality and it could at least be argued this 200 foot requirement applies only to land leased by a municipality and not private landowners.

Also relevant, the International Fire Code requires that wells not be drilled within 100 foot of a structure or 75 feet of a roadway, providing very little protection for landowners and clearly intended to address the issue of flammability near a structure rather than long term exposure to toxic emissions by residents, workers in an office or children in a school.

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pollution
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Six months ago, when Hurricane Harvey struck Texas, industrial facilities in the state shut down, then reopened a few days later. In doing so, they produced nearly 2,000 tons of “excess emissions”—air pollutants in addition to what was allowed as part of their normal operation.

A study by Indiana University (IU) researchers shows that excess emissions—which occur with plant shut-downs, start-ups and malfunctions, and not just in connection with natural disasters—can make serious contributions to overall air pollution. Yet excess emissions have not received a lot of attention from researchers or regulators, the study’s authors noted. Only three states—Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma—systematically track and report excess emissions and make the data public.

“These emissions are significant,” said Nikolaos Zirogiannis, a scientist at the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and an author of the study. “They are a regular feature of the operation of industrial facilities, and a single event lasting from a few hours to a few days can produce a large quantity of emissions.”

They also can have a serious impact. The study includes an analysis that concludes excess emissions in Texas cause approximately $150 million a year in negative health consequences.  People living near these facilities are most at risk for short-term and long-term health impacts and frequently have the least resources to mitigate the impacts of these emissions.

The study, “Understanding Excess Emissions from Industrial Facilities: Evidence from Texas,” has been published online by the journal Environmental Science and Technology. Additional authors are SPEA assistant professor Alex Hollingsworth and associate professor David Konisky.

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This week marks the six month anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, a catastrophic storm that killed 88 people and caused about $125 billion in damages. Scientists have shown that Harvey’s strength was fueled in part by climate change.

Houston Mayor Turner has voiced concerns about climate change and pollution, recently through an op-ed published in the Huffington Post entitled “Cities Must Get Creative In The Fight Against Air Pollution.” In this piece, Turner says that cities must address the poor air quality that too often disproportionately impacts low-income communities. Specifically, he states that he will protest permits for new concrete batch plants. Turner also plans to address climate change through using renewable energy to power city operations and through electric vehicle adoption.

Yet, the city of Houston can do more. The Houston Climate Movement came together last year before Harvey because we know that Houston is at risk for the impacts of climate change. The Houston Climate Movement advocates for a community-wide climate action and adaptation plan.

In response to Turner’s op-ed, we penned this letter to him:

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The following is from a story at the Texas Emergy Report (www.texasenergyreport.com)  For all the energy news in Texas, consider subscribing.

Like the Sierra Club. Public Citizen is pleased about this announcement and has long advocated that these old highly polluting plants be retired completely.  See the story below.

Big Brown is shutting down.

The two-unit coal-fired electricity generation plant in Freestone County between Palestine and Corsicana began phasing out operations on Monday.

It’s the third of three Texas coal-power plants being shut down by Luminant, dropping more than 4,600 MW of power capacity in Texas, and the effects are being felt around the nation.

Because of related pollution, the Sierra Club estimates that the closing of Big Brown alone will save “an estimated 163 lives every year, prevent nearly 6,000 asthma attacks, prevent tens of thousands of lost work and school days, and save $1.6 billion in in annual public health costs, according to analysis conducted with EPA-approved air modeling.”

The other two plants, the Monticello about 130 miles east of Dallas and the Sandow Steam Electric Station in Milam County east of Round Rock, are already phasing out and ceased operations last month.

Coal-fired plants can no longer compete with cheap natural gas, and as Vistra Energy subsidiary Luminant put it when announcing the shutdowns, “sustained low wholesale power prices, an oversupplied renewable generation market” and other factors joined in making poor investments of the plants.

Mine operations are also affected.

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This year, Public Citizen was proud to be a sponsor of Air Alliance Houston’s State of the Air Gala.

A partner in Public Citizen’s Healthy Ports Community Coalition, Air Alliance Houston (AAH) focuses on creating a healthier Houston by preventing pollution before it happens. Right now, Houston currently has 24,000 lane-miles of roadways which carry more than 465 million tons of goods each year. With the expansion of the Panama Canal, freight traffic is expected to increase by 56% over the next 20 years. And if we don’t do anything about it now, pollution is going to get a whole lot worse. Despite improvements over the past few decades, Harris County still receives an “F”  from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution!  We thank all of you who joined us in celebrating the work of Air Alliance Houston at the State of the Air Gala.

Funds raised through this event will support AAH’s programs, allowing them to continue their research, education, and advocacy work to advance the public health of Houston area communities by improving air quality.

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The Texas Senate Committee on Natural Resources held its hearing at Houston’s City Hall.

The Texas Senate’s Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development held a hearing in Houston Thursday, February 1st on two interim charges, the first being on hotel occupancy taxes and the second on regulatory barriers.

The second interim charge reviewed at the hearing states: Identify options to maintain our state’s competitive advantage and make recommendations to remove or reduce administrative or regulatory barriers hindering economic growth, including permitting or registration requirements and fees.

Public Citizen’s Houston-based organizer, Stephanie Thomas, was one of six people to provide invited testimony. Others included representatives from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), the Texas Chemical Council, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the National Energy Association.

Our role at the hearing was to comment on specific aspects of regulation, including the issue of expedited permitting. Public Citizen recommended sufficient funding to the regulatory agencies like TCEQ to thoroughly and effectively review permits. Public Citizen also brought forth issues in reducing public participation that may come from the expedition of permits.

Public Citizen also provided comment on Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s use of exceptional events for determining National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) designation, i.e. whether a location is in attainment or nonattainment for levels criteria pollutants. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, exceptional events “are unusual or naturally occurring events that can affect air quality but are not reasonably controllable using techniques that tribal, state or local air agencies may implement in order to attain and maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. Exceptional events include wildfires, stratospheric ozone intrusions and volcanic and seismic activities.”

Public Citizen argued that the TCEQ should not use exceptional events to make it seem as though an area is in attainment of an air quality standard when it is not. This practice of using exceptional events to avoid nonattainment status is particularly dangerous because people still have to breath air pollution regardless of whether it comes from a refinery or it comes from agricultural fires in Mexico.

Many of what seems like regulations to industry are public safeguards, with tangible benefits to human health and quality of life.

To read Public Citizen’s written testimony, click here: Regulatory Barriers hearing comments – Public Citizen.docx.

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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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UPDATE:  Public Citizen’s legal team argued our case forcefully.  But it’s all up to the judge now, who could rule — either for or against us — any day.  Either way, there is likely to be an appeal and you can bet we will continue to need your support.

On August 10th, we appear before a judge to argue Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.

In the case, we’re challenging Trump’s deregulatory executive order.

The order aims to make it harder for the government to protect our air and water, guarantee the safety of our food, ensure our cars are safe, protect workers from on-duty hazards, address climate change and much more.

Before we argue the case before the judge, I wanted to take a moment to explain the stakes.

It’s not just what the deregulatory order would do on its own, as horrible as that is.

The order is the centerpiece of one of Trump’s overriding objectives:

Empower Big Business to pollute, cheat, rip off, endanger, discriminate and price gouge free from governmental restrictions.

Trump can’t stop talking about this.

On his fifth day in office, Trump told a gathering of CEOs that environmental protections are “out of control,” and promised to roll back regulations.

A week later, he met with Big Pharma CEOs. In place of his tough talk about medicine prices, he promised to eliminate 75 to 80 percent of FDA regulations — a far more extreme position even than Big Pharma’s.

He’s kept up the talk in his endless meetings with CEOs.

Unfortunately, it’s not just talk.

Trump and his cronies are doing real damage:

  • On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order freezing all pending regulations.That act alone delayed the start date on important public protections years in the making.
  • At the end of January, Trump signed the deregulatory order at issue in Public Citizen v. Donald J. Trump.The order prevents agencies from issuing new safety, health or other regulatory protections unless they eliminate two on the books. Without considering the benefits of the rules, the costs of the new rule must be fully offset by the costs of the eliminated rules.If that sounds crazy to you, that’s because it is.
  • In February, Trump signed an order directing agencies to review rules and make recommendations for cuts.The New York Times reports that these reviews are “being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.”
  • The administration worked with the Republican Congress to use an obscure procedure to repeal more than a dozen rules adopted at the end of the Obama administration.The first such measure was an anti-corruption rule.Also sacrificed were rules on internet privacy, toxic pollution of streams and workplace health and safety.
  • On a case-by-case basis, Trump has moved to repeal many of the Obama administration’s most important rules.These include protections against predatory for-profit colleges, a retirement advice rule that will save consumers $17 billion a year, Obama’s main climate change rule and much more.
  • Last month, the White House budget office reported that the Trump administration has withdrawn or suspended 860 pending rules.

This is all part of a grand design.

To let corporations do as they will.

Even if it means more dangerous cars. More bank rip-offs. Preventable injuries at work. Dirtier air and poisoned water. Contaminated food. Preventable, avoidable and unnecessary death, disease and suffering.

And the deregulatory executive order is at the heart of the scheme.

We are doing everything we can to block Trump’s project to permit corporations to pollute and plunder.

Please chip in today to help us fight Trump’s plan.

Donate now or even join our monthly giving program.

Thank you for anything you can contribute!

Robert Weissman, President
Public Citizen

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Texas Director Adrian Shelley speaking at a VW Settlement community engagement meeting in Fort Worth.

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal led to a $14.7 billion dollar settlement. Basically, what Volkswagen did was install what are called “defeat devices” which were programmed to run differently during emissions tests so that they appeared to be much less polluting than they actually are. In some cases, NOx (nitrogen oxides), which is not only harmful but is also a precursor to ground-level ozone, was up to 40 times higher than what the cheating emissions tests revealed!

By cheating on emissions tests, Volkswagen harmed public health, causing at least 59 premature deaths and over $450 million in health and social costs (Barrett, 2015). The settlement provides Volkswagen with a chance to compensate owners of vehicles impacted by the defeat devices, mitigate some of the harm done, and reduce future harm using zero emissions technology.

Details of the Settlement

The Volkswagen Settlement is essentially divided into three parts: a personal vehicle buyback program, an environmental mitigation program to reduce the harm done, and a zero emissions vehicle investment commitment to prevent more harm and promote zero emissions technology.

More information on the personal vehicle buyback program can be found at VW’s settlement website http://www.VWCourtSettlement.com. If you have an eligible vehicle, you may also be eligible for additional funds through the Bosch VW Settlement (https://www.boschvwsettlement.com/en/Home/FAQ).

The Environmental Mitigation Trust will be administered at the state level and will fund projects to upgrade and replace dirty diesel engines. Texas will receive $209 million dollars. Once a beneficiary is designated, projects will be determined. We are collecting feedback on these projects, discussed below.

The third fund is the Zero Emissions Vehicle Investment Commitment, also known as Electrify America. VW will be allocating $2 billion dollars toward zero emissions infrastructure and educational campaigns to promote their use. The City of Houston is among the first round of cities to be supported by this fund.

Community Engagement

Public Citizen, alongside Houston coalition partners Coalition of Community Organizations, t.e.j.a.s., and Air Alliance Houston hosted informational meetings regarding the Volkswagen Settlement at Austin High School in Houston and at the Houston Area Research Center in the Woodlands in May and June. Given that both the Houston area and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are in non-attainment for ozone and that this settlement could help improve air quality in both regions, we hosted additional informational meetings last week in Dallas and Fort Worth with our co-sponsors Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness Group, Liveable Arlington, and Arlington Conservation Council, Fort Worth Sierra Club Group and the Dallas Sierra Club Group.

While some other states have had a formal community engagement process, an agency of the State of Texas has yet to hold public meetings regarding the settlement. That’s where Public Citizen and other organizations have stepped in to gather important feedback from community members in regards to what sorts of projects hold the most interest. These projects are limited to those that reduce NOx emissions through engine upgrades or replacements, such as replacing old freight trucks, school buses, dump trucks, etc. A portion of the funds will be available for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

If your group, city, or region is interested in learning more about the Volkswagen Settlement, please contact Stephanie Thomas at [email protected] to learn about upcoming community meetings.

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