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Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

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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Texas cities are stepping up to take on the climate change crisis.  Austin was an early leader, but now San Antonio, Dallas and Houston are in the game too.  Instead of waiting for leadership at the federal or state level, these cities are taking action.

Taking action at the city level makes a lot of sense.  Cities are responsible for over 70% of global carbon dioxide emissions.  When cities choose to act, they are often able to reduce emissions quicker than federal or state governments.  Cities can tailor solutions to address specific local challenges, while also stepping up to support broader changes that are needed.

So how do cities take action?  Any policy or program that reduces emissions is helpful, but the most effective way for cities to reduce emissions as much as possible is to develop a community-wide climate action plan.

There are several steps to this process:

  • GHG Inventory: Conduct a greenhouse gas inventory, following the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This is an accounting of all emissions that the community is responsible for.  At least scope 1 and 2 emissions should be included, and ideally scope 3 emissions as well.
  • GHG Reduction Goal: Establish a goal for reducing greenhouse gases. Establishing interim goals is helpful.
  • Stakeholder Process: Establish a community stakeholder process to develop recommendations. This should include outreach to the community at large.
  • Identify Actions: Identify actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout the community to meet the goal. Estimate expected emissions reductions, cost and time needed to implement for each action item.  Identify co-benefits.  Prioritize the list based on these factors.
  • Schedule Reports & Updates: Establish a schedule for progress reports and updating the climate action plan.
  • Release Draft Plan: Release the draft climate action plan for public comment.
  • Adopt Plan: Adopt the climate action plan.
  • Implement: Begin implementation of the plan, starting with priority items.
  • Report & Update: Report on progress made, as well as challenges at least as frequently as scheduled. Update the plan as scheduled, or more frequently, if needed.

 

Let’s take a look at where each of these Texas cities are in this process: (more…)

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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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We will be at EarthX in Dallas this weekend giving a talk on the role of the mainstream media in covering the climate crisis.

Not going to EarthX? No worries – we are live streaming the presentation on our facebook page here on Saturday at 12 pm CT.

@publiccitizentx

 

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April 20-22, 2018 – Fair Park in Dallas, Texas!

 

Join a panel of local DFW citizens as they talk about their experience in getting letters to the editor of the Dallas Morning News printed and DMN’s response to Climate Change on Sunday, April 22nd from 2 to 3 pm on the Discovery Stage in the Automobile Building in Fair Park.  Public Citizen’s Rita Beving will be moderating this discussion.

And stop by and visit our booth.  We will be in the Centennial building in spaces 5317-5319.
If you are planning to attend, you can make navigating the multiple events and exhibits easier with the EarthX 2018 official mobile application which you can get on google play or apple itunes.  We look forward to seeing you at Fair Park for Earthday!

If you are at the Expo on Saturday, be sure to include on your event list one of the speaker series on Saturday, April 21st from 12 noon to 1:00 pm on the Centennial Discovery Stage.  This will feature David Arkush – Managing Director, Public Citizen’s Climate Program – as he participates on a panel moderated by Betsy Rosenberg, an environmental talk show host and producer of The Green Front on Progressive Radio Network.

Wake Up and Smell the Carbon!
The Role of Mainstream News Media in Covering Climate and Environmental News.
Saturday, April 21st from 12 noon to 1:00 pm on the Centennial Discovery Stage

This and much, much more is happening at EarthX.  Check out the Expo Guide here to make the most of your visit to this year’s EarthX event.

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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:

(more…)

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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.

(more…)

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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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Join Us for the Latest Info on Climate Change 

Come Join Public Citizen and Other Sponsoring Groups in an Evening to Discuss Climate Change

Wednesday, November 8 in Dallas
Brookhaven College, Bldg. H, Spindletop Room
(same room where Sierra Club meets)
at 6:30 pm

Thursday, November 9 in Ft. Worth
Ft. Worth Botanical Gardens
at 6:30 pm

Public Citizen is hosting a statewide tour of twenty cities regarding this important topic.

Hear about the latest data on climate change and how it is affecting Texas.

Was Hurricane Harvey, our horrific flooding and wildfires spurred by changing global temperatures?

What efforts are underway to combat climate change?

Join Us and Our Sponsors for this Event

Feel Free to Forward.

 

 

 

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Last week, people gathered at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio to learn about the science of climate change and local climate action planning.  The event was attended by students and other community members who are eager for climate action.

Climate change is happening – now, and Texas is already experiencing more climate disasters than any other state – from historic drought and raging wildfires to historic inland flooding and the devastating wind and rain from Hurricane Harvey. These events are costing us in lost lives, destroyed homes, increased pollution, business and infrastructure and lost economic opportunity.  Climate scientist and UT Austin Jackson School of Geosciences professor Kerry Cook presented research that shows that the earth is warming, that it’s warming because of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (primarily carbon dioxide, but also methane and other gases), and how this warming is causing the disasters being felt in Texas.  There’s no question about the science.

We need action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare our communities to be more resilient to the changes that are already happening and will continue to worse.  The Trump administration is busy dismantling policies – including the Clean Power Plan and fuel efficiency standards for vehicles – that would help protect the climate, and deleting scientific information about climate change from government websites.  And the Texas state government is beholden to the fossil fuel industries that are causing climate change.  So it’s left to our local governments to take action.  Which they are doing all around the country.

San Antonio is stepping up to take on the challenge.  CPS Energy – which is owned by the city – has donated $500,000 to the University of Texas at San Antonio to develop a community climate action and adaptation plan.  The university has assembled a team – lead by Associate Professor Hazem Rashed-Ali – that will create an updated greenhouse gas inventory (an accounting of where emissions are coming from) for the San Antonio area, and evaluate and recommend actions that will reduce emissions and make the community more resilient to climate change.  The plan will include actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from every part of the community, from sources that include energy production, solid waste, transportation and industry.

Mr. Rashed-Ali explained how public participation will be incorporated into this process at every step.  A steering committee and technical advisory committees of community members will be integral to the process, as will community events and other opportunities for the public to share ideas and give feedback.  The process is expected to take 18 months and will result in a plan that will be presented to the city council for approval.

Thankfully, the people of San Antonio have elected a pragmatic city council that recognizes the threat that climate changes poses to the community and the opportunity to benefit from embracing solutions.  Actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will improve local air quality, create jobs, expand transportation options, and improve quality of life.  The budget that City Council recently adopted for fiscal year 2018 included funding for a new climate liaison for the Office of Sustainability.  This person (once hired) will work with Doug Melnick, San Antonio’s Chief Sustainability Officer, to keep information flowing between the planning process at UTSA and the city.

San Antonio District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, who has a background in climate and air quality science, made it clear that the city can and will take action.  Mayor Nirenberg appointed her as the chair of the Community Health and Equity Committee, making her the City Council lead on the climate action and adaptation plan.  But she doesn’t plan to sit and wait for the plan to be completed before taking action to benefit the community.  She knows there is no time to waste and encouraged the public to continue reaching out the Council about taking action.  This is the kind of open and engaged government that can really get things done.

With our communities under assault from the effects of climate change, it can be easy to get discouraged or even depressed, but Sister Martha Ann Kirk, who is a professor at the University of the Incarnate Word made sure to infuse hope into the conversation.  She rightfully recognizes the incredible human resources that the San Antonio community has and encouraged everyone to embrace the healing power of natural places.  The University of the Incarnate Word is home to just such a place – the Blue Hole.  This connection to nature transcends religious beliefs.  We would all do well to head Sister Kirk’s advice and step out of our busy lives when we feel overwhelmed and reconnect with the Earth we are trying to protect.

The Climate Action SA coalition – of which Public Citizen is a member – has been working for the past year to garner public support for developing a climate action plan.  We’re all pleased that City Council, CPS Energy and UTSA have heard our calls and are taking action.  This is just the start though – the real work lies ahead.  This is a massive undertaking and we need more volunteers.  Maybe you’d like to serve on one of the steering or technical advisory committees, or maybe you want to help with outreach to different parts of the San Antonio community, or maybe you want to research solutions to be considered for the plan.  Whatever your skills are, we’d love to welcome you to participate in this work.

Sign up to get involved.


Video of the event is on the Facebook event page.

Presentations:
by Professor Kerry Cook
by Associate Professor Hazem Rashed-Ali
by Sister Martha Ann Kirk

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Sept. 4, 2017 – floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey near the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip

Texas should require climate polluters to pay their fair share of the Hurricane Harvey recovery effort, and Public Citizen will tell Texas lawmakers this on Wednesday.

Adrian Shelley testifying in front of House Natural Resources Committee in Houston on paying for infrastructure post Harvey flooding. Click here to watch, see written transcript of his remarks below.

Responding to an interim charge from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, the House Natural Resources Committee is hold a hearing at 10 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. The hearing will take public testimony on issues related to Hurricane Harvey and flooding in general.

The hearing comes amid a disagreement between Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner about how to fund the Harvey recovery effort. After Turner proposed an unpopular temporary increase in property taxes, the governor allocated $50 million from the state’s disaster relief fund – representing half of the total for the biennium – for Harvey recovery. The governor has not foreclosed the possibility of allocating Rainy Day funds as well, though he has stated that would not happen before the 2019 legislative session.

For Wednesday’s hearing, the committee has asked for strategies to fund efforts to mitigate future flood events.

“Fossil fuel companies have shirked their responsibility for climate change for too long, with some aware for at least 40 years of the role their industry has played,” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, who is testifying on Wednesday. “Houstonians have paid the cost of the carbon pollution industry’s neglect. It’s time climate polluters pay their fair share.”

The contribution to climate change by carbon polluters, including the fossil fuel industry, worsened Harvey’s impact on Texas. Ninety companies from around the world, mostly from the fossil fuel industry, contributed 57 percent of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and approximately 42 to 50 percent of the rise in global mean surface temperature between 1880 and 2010 globally, according to a recent report in the journal Climate Change. Many of those companies have offices in Houston.

According to Dr. Kevin Trenberth with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, “The human contribution can be up to 30 percent or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm. It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway – but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.”

If you are in the Houston area, and wish to testify in front of this committee come to the George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida De Las Americas, Houston, TX 77010 (Room 371) by 10 am.  Witnesses can sign up to testify at that time.  If you do not have time to wait to testify, you can provide 16 copies of written testimony to the clerk when you sign up.

Below is testimony presented to the House Natural Resource Committee by Adrian Shelley, Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen on Wednesday,  October 4, 2017

It’s been more than a month since Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Coast, and we are still tallying the damage. We don’t know how many homes were flooded, how many cars were destroyed, or how many billions the recovery will cost. We do know that the recovery needs will exceed our government resources. Even with contributions at every level of government, we will not have enough to fund the recovery effort. Many—perhaps most—Houstonians have already borne some of the costs of Harvey in lost property and lost wages. Many more will find that insurance and government relief will not be enough to cover their losses.

There is another source of funding for Harvey recovery: the carbon pollution industry. If you don’t like hearing the words “climate change,” then substitute the words “extreme weather” in the rest of my remarks. We know that extreme weather made Harvey worse. Dr. Kevin Trenberth with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that 30% of the impact of Harvey was attributable to climate change—sorry, extreme weather. We know that some of the biggest climate polluters in the fossil fuel industry have known about extreme weather for at least 40 years. And we know that they have failed to act, going so far as to obscure evidence of their role in extreme weather.

Ninety companies from around the world, mostly from the fossil fuel industry, contributed 57 percent of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and approximately 42 to 50 percent of the rise in global mean surface temperature between 1880 and 2010 globally, according to a recent report in the journal Climate Change. Many of those companies have offices in Houston.

I know that these companies have paid their fair share of campaign contributions, so what I am about to say might not be popular with you. But make no mistake: carbon polluters bear responsibility for Hurricane Harvey. They are culpable, and their role can be quantified. It is time for members of those industries to act like the leaders they pretend to be. They should pay their fair share of the recovery effort, and they should fund what must happen next: the effort to prepare Houston for the next big storm.

Because whether we believe in it or not, extreme weather is here to stay.

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The Energy and Policy Institute just released a new report that traces the electric utility industry’s early knowledge of the climate change risks of burning fossil fuels as far back as the 1960s:

http://www.energyandpolicy.org/utilities-knew-about-climate-change/

The report also shows how despite this early knowledge, some electric utility interests chose to engage in ongoing efforts to sow doubt about climate science and block legal limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

This trend is especially disturbing in light of the fact that the recently published list of potential names for the Science Advisory Board and the EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee includes many industry representatives and consultants. The panels are typically composed primarily of independent academics and researchers charged with reviewing agency science and advising the Environmental Protection Agency on major policy decisions.

While industry has always had a voice on those panels, comments from the Trump administration and the potential new appointees suggest the balance may soon change in favor of greater power for regulated companies, particularly the oil and gas industries.

The list of potential new advisory board members includes officials from Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66, Alcoa, Noble Energy, Total, and the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the chemical industry.

Here are a few of the key findings from the Energy and Policy Institute’s report:

  • Scientists had begun to warn the electric utility industry about climate change as early as 1968
  • Electric utilities knew enough about climate change by 1971 to include research into the “effects of CO2” in the industry’s long-term research and development goals for through the year 2000
  • Utilities, through the largely customer funded Edison Electric Institute and Electric Power Research Institute, sponsored some cutting edge climate research during the 1970s and 1980s
  • EPRI – the electric utility industry’s official R&D organization – acknowledged a “growing consensus” on climate change among scientists in 1988
  • Just one year later, in 1989, efforts by some electric utility interests to sow doubt about climate science began with the formation of the Global Climate Coalition
  • In 2017, some electric utilities continue to back special interest groups – including the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Legislative Exchange Council, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Utility Air Regulatory Group – that attack climate science and/or oppose legal limits on CO2 emissions from power plants
  • Thomas Fanning, the CEO of Southern Company, still denied that CO2 emissions are a primary contributor to climate change during a 2017 interview with CNBC. At the time, Fanning was also the chairman of the Edison Electric Institute

Read this report and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag: #UtilitiesKnew

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NOTE: Please stay safe and take precautions to protect yourself and your family from Hurricane Harvey. Resources are available at https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-harvey.

Harvey is the first hurricane since Ike in 2008 to threaten the Texas Gulf Coast. Warnings have been issued from “Brownsville to Beaumont” and Governor Gregg Abbott has issued a preemptive disaster declaration for 30 Texas counties. As Texas braces for the storm, Harvey is a stark reminder that the Gulf Coast is vulnerable to severe storms and the impacts of climate change.

The specter of climate change looms over any severe storm forecast today. We can’t ascribe a particular storm to the effects of global climate change, but we do know that climate change may be responsible for an increase in Hurricanes in the Atlantic. Harvey is a reminder that the Texas Gulf Coast,  must prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Some of the doubt about the real risks of global climate change has been sown by leaders of industry. The accusation that “Exxon knew” about climate change decades before it admitted the risk to the public was recently bolstered by research published in Environmental Research Letters. The research supports the conclusion that ExxonMobil willfully hid research conclusions about climate change from the public for many decades.

Whether or not ExxonMobil publicly admits the risk of climate change, the company would do well to prepare for its effects. ExxonMobil operates the second largest oil refinery in the nation, the Baytown Refinery and Complex, with a daily capacity of 560,500 barrels.

Harris County places portions of the ExxonMobil Baytown complex within the 100-year floodplain, shown below in light blue:

Comparing this map to the Google Earth map of the region, you can see a tank farm within the 100-year floodplain:

Zooming in on the outlined area above, we see perhaps three dozen tanks and two petcoke storage pits in the threatened area:

Research organizations in Houston have been modeling the potential impacts of severe storms on the Houston Ship Channel. At Rice University, the center for Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters has a model of the potential impacts of Tropical storm Harvey. The SSPEED Center predicts sea level rise of several feet in places (for now, no storm surge is predicted in Houston):

We don’t know if this storm, or the next one, will finally tests Houston’s resiliency. What we do know is that our nation’s largest petrochemical complex is vulnerable to severe storms. We also know that climate change will make these storms more frequent, and more dangerous. If we do not prepare ourselves for their impact, we can only hope to recover from their consequences.

Again, please take all necessary steps to protect yourself and your family. Stay safe and visit https://www.fema.gov/hurricane-harvey.

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Excerpted from Ecowatch.

In the late 1600s, France took over the western part of the island of Hispaniola from Spain, dividing the island into what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR). Like a science experiment gone wrong, the border now demarks not only linguistic differences, but also an entirely different quality of life. In 1960, both countries experienced essentially the same rainfall patterns and enjoyed the same geography, availability of natural resources and land productivity. The countries had nearly the same per capita real GDP.

However, by 2005, the DR’s per capita real GDP had increased threefold, while Haiti’s had plummeted. Now, the average person in the DR can expect to live a full 10 years longer than their neighbor in Haiti. The percentage of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption is 44.5 percent in Haiti, compared to 15.4 percent in the DR. The probability of dying under the age of 5 per 1,000 births in Haiti is 76, while in DR, the number is less than half of that. The DR has become a magnet for tourism, while Haiti has become a social, political and economic tragedy. What happened?

In 1950, forest clearing for plantations and wood exports in Haiti had largely ended, but wood harvesting for charcoal continued. A mere 30 years later, forest cover had diminished from 25 percent of the total land area to a meager 10 percent. It decreased again to 4 percent of the land by 1994.

Across the border, the DR initially suffered from deforestation as well. Tree cover plummeted from 75 percent of the land in 1922 to 12 percent by the 1980s. However, massive reforestation programs and a conscious shift to alternative energy sources (besides charcoal) allowed the trees to rebound. The nation established 13 national parks and restricted access to important forest reserves. Today, forest covers 28 percent of the country.

Forests prevent soil erosion. Sturdy trunks slow winds. Roots hold the soil in place and improve soil permeability. They allow water to percolate into underground aquifers, decreasing surface water runoff. Leaves lessen the impact of heavy rains and reduce flooding. Dead trees, leaves and bark add organic matter to the topsoil, completing nutrient cycles and replenishing the land. Forests act as natural buffers as well, slowing floodwaters and shielding the coast from hurricane surges. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne killed more than 3,000 people in Haiti, while the DR lost 19. While other factors undoubtedly contributed to these numbers, the ability of forested coasts and watershed areas to mitigate hurricane damage is undeniable.  

The United Nations estimates that “50% of the (Haitian) topsoil has been washed away into the ocean” and that damaged lands have become “irreclaimable for farming purposes.” Although nearly 60 percent of the Haitian people work in the agricultural sector, the country still must import nearly half of its food.

While Haiti has also suffered from serious political strife since 1960, environmental degradation remains one of its greatest challenges. We cannot continue to view environmental policies as counter to economic growth and human happiness, but as necessary to achieve them. Climate change and an ever-increasing population mean that decisions have to be made now.

The time to think sustainably has come and that applies to Texas too.  The misguided bills that have been proposed during the current Texas Special session (HB 70 by Workman and SB 14 by West – Relating to a property owner’s right to remove a tree or vegetation.) are an example of policies that can negatively impact our state.

In central Texas the number of days above 100 has increased 37.7 days since 1970.  If this trend continues, the drought of 2011 could become the norm for the state.  Trees are one of the ways we mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.  This is especially true in urban areas where large expanses of hardscape (roads, parking lots and buildings) contribute to heat island effects.  These are the areas where local tree ordinances make a big difference.  So contact your Texas Senator and Representative and ask them to vote against HB 70 and SB 14. If you don’t know who represents you click here.  

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San Antonio rally to support signing on to the Climate Mayor’s pledge. Photo by Brendan Gibbons /San Antonio Express-News

With the recent election of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and six new council members, San Antonio is much better positioned now than it was a few months ago to take a leadership role in combating climate change.

At its first meeting, the newly sworn in council adopted a resolution committing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting the goals the U.S. set in the Paris Climate Accord under President Obama. As a result, Mayor Nirenberg added his name to a pledge from over 350 U.S. mayors in the Climate Mayors association, stating their commitment to climate action, even though President Trump has committed to remove the U.S. from the agreement.

Local action to reduce greenhouse gas emission is more important than ever, both to compensate for the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and because the climate crisis is becoming more and more urgent all the time. A majority of Americans live in cities, and cities – especially large cities like San Antonio – have the ability to directly control or influence systems that are responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions. Cities have control over energy codes for buildings, local transportation planning, land use plans, and waste collection. And some cities – including San Antonio – have the added benefit of owning their own municipal electric utilities.

San Antonio has taken the first step of publicly committing to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the U.S. meet the commitment it made to the rest of the world. The next step is to set specific goals for greenhouse gas reductions and develop a plan to make that possible. Because there is a lot of infrastructure that isn’t controlled by cities that will continue driving up greenhouse gas emissions under Trump’s industry-friendly policies, cities are going to have to be very aggressive to keep the U.S. as a whole on track to meet its Paris goals. Even before Trumps election, cities have been adopting aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goals and plans to meet those goals. In 2014, the Austin City Council adopted a goal for the entire Austin community to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, if possible.

Now is the time for the San Antonio City Council to keep up the momentum by adopting an aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goal for the community and starting the process of developing a climate action plan to achieve the adopted goal. Given that San Antonio controls the electric utility that serves the city, a net zero greenhouse gas goal should be given strong consideration. Both adequate funding and a framework that will allow broad and meaningful community participation in development of the plan will be important.

Public Citizen is part of a coalition working to promote adoption of a San Antonio climate action plan. If you live in San Antonio and want to get involved in this work, email me at [email protected]

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