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Oil drilling site, with pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX  Photo by Al Braden

Oil drilling site, w/ pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX
Photo by Al Braden

The Eagle Ford Shale play in south Texas is the 400-mile-long area that has become home to one of the country’s biggest energy booms in the past six years. The thousands of oil and gas wells producing in the region have brought dangerous air pollution to residents.

The Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel released a new exposé titled, “Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie,” last week. Their eight month investigation reveals the dangers that come with fracking in the form of toxic chemicals released into the air as a result of the complicit culture of the government of Texas. In case you just want to read the highlights of the report, the team was nice enough to summarize their major findings:

  • Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
  • Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX. Photo by Al Braden

    Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX.
    Photo by Al Braden

    Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”

  • Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
  • The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
  • The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
  • Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.

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Updating the the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2020 to become the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2024 probably doesn’t sound super exciting, but there’s almost certainly some aspect of the choices that will soon be made on your behalf that you care about.

IMG_48691. Climate Change: I’m not going to try to convince anyone reading this that our planet’s climate is changing and that humans are largely responsible for that change.  Nor am I going to try to convince you that those changes are going to be largely detrimental to human prosperity.  But if you already recognize those two basic truths, then you will definitely want to listen up.  Austin Energy is proposing to not only run Austin’s portion of the Fayette coal plant until 2025, but also to dramatically increase its use of natural gas by adding a new 800 megawatt gas plant to its energy portfolio.  That’s bigger than Austin’s portion of Fayette.  And although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy production than burning coal, once the substantial impact of the roughly 3% of gas that leaks into the atmosphere during extraction, processing and transportation is accounted for, natural gas is almost as harmful to the climate as coal.  That’s because the primary component of natural gas, methane, is 87 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years.  Although many people focus on the 100 year time frame when talking about climate change, we can’t afford to ignore our more immediate future.  Central Texas has already experienced its share of climate impacts over the past few years in the form of drought, wildfires and floods.  We must stop those impacts from worsening at a greater rate than they already will be.  Natural gas isn’t going to save us.  Even without the massive problem of leaking methane, burning gas instead of coal only decreases our climate impact by about half, so it’s not a long term solution anyway – the best it could have been was a stopgap.  Instead of investing in infrastructure that won’t get us where we need to be, we can make better decisions now.

Attend one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings this week and ask the staff to consider the full climate impacts of energy sources.

2. Jobs: Developing renewable energy sources creates 3 times as many jobs as developing fossil fuel energy sources per dollar invested.  Whereas a large chunk of the cost connected to a coal plan or a gas plant is for the coal and gas, the wind and sun are free.  So, instead of paying for the privilege of burning a limited resource, we can pay people to harness the energy from free and unlimited resources.

Across the U.S., solar energy jobs grew 20% from 2012 to 2013, compared to average job growth across all industries of 1.9%.  A large percentage of that growth was in Texas, but Texas still ranks 44th in solar jobs per capita.  Increasing Austin Energy’s solar goal will bring more jobs to Texas, but it’s increasing the local solar goal that will have the most impact on local job creation.  The Austin Local Solar Advisory Commission unanimously recommended that Austin Energy’s solar goal for 2020 be increased from 200 megawatts (MW) to 400 MW.  It also recommended that at least half of that solar development be local and at least half of that local solar be customer controlled (that’s what you see on residential and business rooftops and yards).  According to the LSAC’s calculations done using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model, the $60 million it would take to develop that amount of local solar would bring the Austin area a net of $300 million in local economic benefits – wages, taxes, etc.  If Austin Energy adopts policies to give preference to local companies who hire local workers, our community can benefit even more.  On the other hand, we are currently sending $80 million to Montana each year for the coal we burn in the Fayette coal plant.

Tell Austin Energy that you support growing local jobs by increasing our solar goals, including the local and customer owned solar goals.

3. Water: If you live in central Texas, I don’t need to tell you that water is a huge issue – in fact it’s just a big issue for Texas that the Legislature, with voter approval appropriated $2 billion dollars to fund water projects, with 20% of those funds to be used on water conservation efforts.  We can’t make it rain more, so we are going to have to make some choices about what we want to use water for.  The Fayette coal plant, which Austin Energy owns one third of, needs about 5 billion gallons of water per year to operate.  And lest you start thinking natural gas plants are the answer, know that over 39 billion gallons of water was used in fracking jobs in Texas between January 2011 and May 2013.  Producers in the Eagle Ford Shale play are especially wasteful, using an average of 4.4 million gallons of water per well.  That’s water that can’t be used for domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or ecosystem uses.

Tell Austin Energy to focus investment on drought proof energy sources like wind and solar.

4. Health: Air pollution from burning coal and extracting natural gas are taking a real toll on human health in Texas.  The Fayette coal plant is responsible for over $55.5 million in health impacts from air pollution.  Those impacts include asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and the associated hospital visits and deaths.  Even so, Austin Energy has proposed running its portion of Fayette until 2025.

Lack of regulation over the natural gas industry, which has operations strewn across vast areas has resulted in a tragic disregard for human well being.  If you haven’t already, read this excellent piece of investigative journalism about how your fellow Texans are being assaulted with toxic chemicals in the Eagle Ford Shale area.  Instead of building a large new gas plant to drive up demand for dangerous fracking, Austin Energy should focus on growing its renewable energy portofolio with more wind and solar and perhaps some geothermal energy.

Air pollution is much more than an environmental issue – it’s a public health issue.  That’s why you find medical professionals and health advocates supporting a transition to clean energy.

Sign up for one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings and ask them to give up their plans for a giant new gas plant and to examine more options for retiring the Fayette coal plant in an affordable way.

5. Affordable Energy: Wind and solar energy are competitive with coal and natural gas already.  Meanwhile, electricity from coal plants is going to get more expensive because of various regulations to limit pollution.  Natural gas prices are low now, but have fluctuated greatly over time, making a big bet on natural gas risky.  When natural gas prices go up, Austin Energy raises our fuel charge to recover those costs.  Since affordable wind and solar are available now and can assure us a predictable price for 10-20 years, why would we not make those energy sources our priority?  Austin Energy has done a great job getting good wind contracts to keep customer rates low and is set to achieve its 35% renewable energy goal 4 years early in 2016.

Tell Austin Energy to keep up its momentum by expanding the renewable energy goal to 50% for 2020 and 60% by 2024.

Take Action:

Austin Energy is holding 3 stakeholder meetings to gather public input on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan update to 2024.

  • Tuesday, February 25: 10 am – 12 pm (noon)
  • Tuesday, February 25: 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Thursday, February 27: 1 pm – 3 pm

This is your chance to help determine how the money you pay for your electric bills is invested by our publicly owned utility.

Please sign up to attend one of the meetings.

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While we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing the words “natural”, “healthy” and “environmentally-friendly” thrown around in advertisements for a variety of consumer goods, it’s important to remember that household items are not the only things capable of being greenwashed – case in point, natural gas.

The word “natural” has been used to connote things such as ‘green’, ‘healthy’, ‘non-toxic’. Many people’s cursory understanding of natural gas is that if it’s “natural”, it must be good, right? Unfortunately the truth about natural gas is more complicated. While it is true that natural gas emits far less CO2 than coal upon combustion, there are a host of other ‘fine-print’ problems that come along with the switch, most notably, fugitive emissions.

Leaky pipes and valves allow methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to escape into the atmosphere.  Photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, escapes from wells and leaky pipes and valves into the atmosphere.
Photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT.

Fugitive emissions are the emissions not intended to take place and that usually result from pressurized equipment leaks. While these leaks are relatively tiny, when expanded to a large enough scale the amount of methane being leaked into the atmosphere can have a large impact on climate. While the EPA originally reported that average leakage rate in natural gas production was somewhere around 1.5%, a collaborative study by scientist from several universities and government agencies released this past October revealed that the figure should be much closer to 3%. Even worse, there have been reports of methane leakage upwards of 12% at some production sites.

Many climate change mitigation plans focus on reducing CO2 emissions, but methane and its effects should not be overlooked. The IPCC has reported that over a 100-year period, methane is 35 times more potent of a heat-trapping gas than CO2. When looking at the effects of methane over 20 years, this figure jumps to 87. Suddenly, that comparatively small amount of methane being leaked out of wells, pipes and valves is incredibly important. In other words, 1 ton of methane being released into the atmosphere has the same heat-trapping effect over a 20 year period as releasing 87 tons of CO2.

20 Year Climate Impact of Natural Gas vs CoalWhile the CO2 emissions from burning natural gas are about half what is produced by burning coal plant to produce the same amount of power, after accounting for fugitive emissions and converting leaked methane into CO2 equivalent (using the IPCC 87x factor referenced earlier), natural gas climate change impact is almost as bad as coal.

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Enbridge storage tank - photo from Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

Enbridge storage tank – photo by Dan Riedlhuber, Reuters

A second Canadian pipeline company has its permit tied up in the State Department’s approval process. Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, is trying to expand its Alberta Clipper line, but is now facing delays.

Enbridge started up its first phase of the line, which has a capacity of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd), in 2009, after obtaining a U.S. federal permit from the State Department. Enbridge is now looking to expand its capacity, but the State Department says it needs to do further environmental analysis before granting Enbridge the go ahead to expand its Alberta to Wisconsin pipeline.

Enbridge is not looking to build another pipeline; rather, they are trying to increase capacity by 120,000 bpd for a total of 570,000 bpd. Beyond that, they would like to expand from 570,000 bpd to 800,000 bpd in the near future, which is almost as much tar sands oil as the proposed Keystone XL would carry.

“Obviously, things take longer in this environment that we’re in. I don’t think we want to draw any conclusions about the political environment. It’s not something that we can control. What we control is the fullness of our application,” CEO Al Monaco told reporters and analysts on a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter results, which included a net loss. “In this case, this is a fairly routine matter. The pipeline’s already in the ground, so we’re hoping that we move this along as quickly as possible.”

Another Canadian pipeline company, TransCanada, has been seeking U.S. approval of their Keystone XL pipeline since 2008. The Keystone XL would cut across the heartland of America bring up to 830,000 bpd of Canadian tar sands into the U.S. The Keystone XL has become highly politicized with many environmental groups lobbying and taking direct action against the pipeline.

Although Enbridge has managed to escape the same level of scrutiny as their competitor TransCanada, they have still faced opposition from activists in Canada and Michigan.

Enbridge is also the company behind the largest on-shore oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge spilled more than one million gallons of diluted bitumen (dilbit, or tar sands oil) into Talmadge Creek in Marshall, MI, which then flowed 30 miles downstream into the Kalamazoo River in the late summer of 2010. Enbridge has spent nearly a billion dollars trying to clean up the spill over the last three years, but latest reports confirm that there is still oil in the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge also owns several other tar sands pipelines aroung the country, including the Seaway pipeline system in Texas. Enbridge is currently expanding the Seaway pipeline system by the process of twinning. The new twin Seaway line will be a 30-inch diameter pipeline, and havea capacity of 450,000 bpd. Company officials are expecting a service date in 2014.

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KXL Climate ChangeWith the release of the State Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there has been a lot of buzz about the project. The report concluded that Keystone XL could create carbon pollution equivalent to nearly six million cars, or eight coal-fired power plants. Last Week the State Department began accepting comments from the public, and with only a few weeks (until Mar 07, 2014 11:59 PM ET) left the need for citizens to weigh in has never been more urgent. Now is the time to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that this dirty pipeline is not in our national interest.

This is our final opportunity to officially weigh in on the decision. Submit a comment right now to tell the Obama Administration that the “game over for the climate” Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in our national interest.

Here are some facts to consider including in your comment to Secretary Kerry and the State Department:

  • The evidence is clear that Keystone XL could increase production levels of tar sands oil in Alberta, and therefore significantly add to carbon emissions. The massive investment would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades, exacerbating carbon pollution just when we need to go in the other direction.
  • Beyond the effects on our climate, this dangerous pipeline would also put the water supply of millions of Americans at risk, including the precious Ogallala Aquifer, Platte and Niobrara rivers, and hundreds of individual families’ wells. After a year in which many communities were harmed by spills from existing pipelines, we cannot allow any more of the dirtiest, most toxic oil on earth to spill into our lands and waterways.
  • The jobs numbers touted by industry are exaggerated. Oil industry lobbyist and pro-pipeline politicians claim that the Keystone XL would create 20,000 to half a million jobs, but these jobs numbers are grossly exaggerated. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will only create about 3,900 jobs over a two year period, and after that the project would only provide jobs for 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.
  • The Keystone XL is an export pipeline. According to presentations to investors, Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks. Therefore, not reducing gas prices for Americans.

This is our last chance to voice concerns to the State Department before the public comment period ends on March 7. We need to get our message across to Secretary Kerry, because what he says could be one of the biggest determining factors in President Obama’s decision.

Submit your comment: Keystone XL is NOT in our national interest.

In addition to submitting your comment electronically, comments may also be mailed directly to:

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

#NoKXL

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After years in the making, this past Tuesday the Senate voted 68-32 in favor of the new Farm Bill, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama in the next few days. While the nearly trillion dollar bill has received a lot of media attention on its relation to its cut of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which composes 80% of the bill’s budget, it’s crucial to look at the other 20% of the bill and its environmental implications.

Senate Votes On 2014 Farm Bill

Senate votes on 2014 Farm Bill
Photo by Alex Wong, Getty Images

The bill, for the most part, has drawn a lot of praise in regards to its environmental provisions . So-called ‘highlights’ of the bill include :

• Provisions for farmers to meet certain standards of environmental protection if they wish to be eligible to receive federal crop insurance
• Funding for farmers to create wildlife habitats on their land
• Funding for on-farm renewable energy
• Removal of so-called ‘anti-environmental’ riders

However, it is possible that one of the non-environmental provisions of the bill will have an unintended consequence – stripping soils of their nutrients and increasing runoff . Perhaps the most popular provision of the bill is the fact that it cuts ‘direct payments’ to farmers, or what many people have called “welfare for farmers” . These payments are subsidies for farmers based on how many acres of land they have, regardless of whether or not that land is farmed.

To cease what many see as handouts, the government as slashed this program and expanded its crop insurance program, one where the government pays the difference to farmers when slips in revenue and/or crop yield occur. While this is particularly useful in ensuring that there is ‘stable’ agricultural production, it also continues to incentivize producers (including many mega ‘agribusiness’ conglomerates) to produce as much as possible. Such large scale agricultural production can and has led to increased fertilizer runoff (causing aquatic ‘dead zones’ and contaminated drinking water ), nutrient-depleted soil and increased greenhouse gas emissions , due to insufficient environmental protection requirements.

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Duke Energy said on Monday afternoon that between 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash and up to 27 million gallons of water were released from a pond at its retired coal fired power plant in Eden, NC, and spilled into the Dan River.

2014-02-04 Re-enforcing and patching the berm to the ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.Joseph Rodriquez - News & Record

Re-enforcing and patching the berm to the ash basin at the Duke Energy Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C.
Photo by Joseph Rodriquez, News & Record

Duke said a 48-inch stormwater pipe beneath the unlined 27-acre ash pond broke Sunday afternoon, and tens of thousands of tons of coal ash and water drained into the pipe before spilling into the Dan River. Duke Energy says that the dam along the river remains secure and has not been affected.

Duke did not issue a press release to inform the public until Monday afternoon, more than 24 hours after the spill occurred.  Duke said it notified local emergency managers and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Sunday afternoon. Duke says the leak has been temporarily stopped and they are working on a permanent solution. Duke has 14 coal fired power plants in the state, seven of which have been retired.

The closest community downstream from the spill is Danville, VA, which takes its water from the Dan River only six miles from the pond. Officials are saying that water samples confirm that the water leaving the city’s treatment facility meets public health standards.

“All water leaving our treatment facility has met public health standards,” said Barry Dunkley, division director of water and wastewater treatment for Danville Utilities. “We do not anticipate any problems going forward in treating the water we draw from the Dan River.”

Coal ash, the toxic waste material left after coal is burned, contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and more than a dozen other heavy metals. Studies from the EPA have found that people living within one mile of unlined coal ash ponds can have a 1 in 50 risk of cancer.

This coal ash spill is the third-largest in U.S. history. In 2008, more than a billion gallons of coal ash slurry spilled at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston coal plant in Tennessee.

The Dan River coal ash spill is the latest in a string of industrial accidents that have jeopardized the environment and health of citizens downstream.

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Stop Keystone XL ObamaNow is the time to stand up and tell President Obama that the Keystone XL pipeline fails his climate test and he must reject it. People from across the country have mobilized to plan more than 230 vigils in 47 states to protest Keystone XL.  Join us tonight, Feb. 3rd, in Austin.

With the release of the State Department’s final environmental impact statement last Friday, this is a vital moment to speak out against the Keystone XL pipeline. A 30-day public comment period begins on February 5, 2014 and will close on March 7, 2014. Let’s do all we can to make our voices heard.

What: Tell President Obama to reject Keystone XL
Where: Pickle Federal Building, 300 East 8th Street, Austin, TX (click here for MAP)
When: Tonight – Monday, February 3rd, 6 PM
RSVP

If we do not stop it, Keystone XL pipeline will cut through the breadbasket of America and transport 830,000 barrels of tar sands diluted bitumen (tar sands) everyday for 50 years or more. In addition to the climate impact it will have, the pipeline will ruin some of the last habitat for endangered species like the whooping crane and swift fox. It will cross the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water to farms in eight states, accounting for a quarter of the nation’s cropland, as well as drinking water for millions of people. For the people living along the route of the pipeline it is all risk and no reward.

This is our moment to say “No Keystone XL.” Please join us tonight. Be sure to bring candles, signs and noise-makers.

The No KXL protest vigils are organized by CREDO, Rainforest Action Network, and the Sierra Club, and supported by 350.org, The Other 98%, Center for Biological Diversity, Oil Change International, Bold Nebraska, Energy Action Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Hip Hop Caucus, Overpass Light Brigade, Environmental Action, League of Conservation Voters, Waterkeeper Alliance, Friends of the Earth, Forest Ethics, Forecast the Facts, Public Citizen, Environmental Texas and others.

#NoKXL

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Most of us, when watching “the big game” do not really stop to think about the enormous amount of energy it takes to power such an event. This year, the Super Bowl, as well as the parties and events surrounding it, are going to use about 18 megawatts of energy, enough to power about 12,000 homes, according to the San Francisco Gate.

That article also points to efforts that the National Football League has been making efforts over the years to “green” the big game. The league has even gone as far as to hire an environmental communications firm to oversee the process of reducing the footprint of the game. This year they will be using several different innovative solutions to reduce the footprint of the game. A couple of the big efforts are biodiesel and composting. The biodiesel will be used to power the events around the game, and the composting will be for the food waste in the stadium.

Solar Panels on an NFL stadium (http://m.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2012/03/02/Facilities/Eagles.aspx)

Solar panels on an NFL stadium
(Sports Business Daily)

This is not the only step the NFL has taken towards becoming greener. There are at least five NFL stadiums that use solar power in some capacity. The San Francisco 49er’s new stadium will be the first net-zero professional sports arena in the United States. Net zero means that its power generation will offset its consumption over a year.

So, while watching the big game this year, keep in mind the efforts the NFL and its teams are making to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce waste.

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During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to have it both ways on climate change and energy – taking action on climate change while touting an “all of the above” energy strategy.

Obama SOTU - credit Larry Downing,AP

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014.
Larry Downing/AP

On the one hand, President Obama renewed his commitment to reducing carbon emissions and battling climate change. But on the other hand, he pushed for the expansion of domestic fossil fuel extraction and pledged his support for natural gas as part of his “all of the above” energy plan. He said, “The ‘all the above’ energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.”

The president threw his weight behind natural gas, saying, “If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” He promised to “cut red tape” to spur the construction of natural gas fired factories and fueling stations for cars and trucks.

Even though natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal when combusted, the primary component, methane, is also released into the atmosphere during production. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and traps significantly more heat in the short term than carbon dioxide. New reports are concluding that fugitive methane emissions from extraction, processing and transportation could be much worse than previously thought. An article from OilPrice.com says, “If the latest figures are accurate, it could mean that the greenhouse gas advantage that natural gas has over coal could be a mirage.”

The president also gave a shout-out to solar energy, saying, “It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too.” “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way,” said Obama. “But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

Although the president has made tremendous strides to address climate change, his administration is still encouraging the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas from our public lands and water. (Click here to see a report from the EIA: Sales of fossil fuels from Federal and Indian Lands) Fossil fuel industries are also looking to expand coal and liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminals. All of this on top of recent proposals to end a 40 year ban on crude exports extracted in America.

Sometime this year the proposed Keystone XL pipeline will come across the president’s desk. If approved, the Keystone XL pipeline will provide tar sands producers in Canada a supply line to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast and an export strategy. Although the president made no mention of the pipeline in his speech, he will have to make a decision on the project later this year. He has said his decision will be based on whether or not the Keystone XL pipeline “significantly exacerbates” carbon pollution and is in the national interest. On Friday, the State Department released its environmental assessment that says the Keystone XL pipeline would cause minimal climate impact because the tar sands would get to market some other way without the Keystone XL pipeline – a strikingly fatalist position.

Both sides of the president showed up on Tuesday to address the nation. His “all of the above” energy side showed up to cheerlead the fossil fuel industry, while at the same time tossing a bone to environmentalists, pulling from his Georgetown Speech he made last summer. President Obama’s climate legacy still has yet to be shaped, and if wants be viewed by future generations as the president that made a firm commitment to fighting climate change, then he needs to quit talking out of both sides of his mouth.
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TX Keystone Tar Sands - Carbon BombKeystone XL’s southern half is scheduled to start operating for commercial purposes tomorrow, Wednesday, January 22nd. As much as 700,000 barrels per day of bitumen extracted from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, could be pumped through Oklahoma and Texas, igniting the fuse to the greatest carbon bomb on the planet.

The southern leg, rebranded the “Gulf Coast Project” by TransCanada, stretches 485 miles from Cushing, Okla., to Texas Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur and Houston. Last month, on Saturday December 7, 2013, TransCanada began injecting crude oil into the Gulf Coast Project. Spokesman Shawn Howard said they planned to “inject about 3 million barrels of oil into the system” in the weeks leading up to the start of commercial operation. In an interview with Reuters, TransCanada’s CEO Russ Girling said that they are now connected from Canada to Texas through the existing Keystone pipeline.

“We are now actually connected all the way to the Gulf Coast,” Girling said. “So we actually have …a contiguous system that has the ability, once Gulf Coast is up and running, to deliver 600,000 barrels per day to the coast.”

TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Project may very well be up and running by tomorrow, but questions about the safety of the pipeline remain, as do concerns for those living along the path of the pipeline and in refining communities.

Full of Flaws

Since Public Citizen came out with its report last November (TransCanada’s Keystone XL Southern Segment: Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline), PMHSA, the federal agency that oversees pipelines, has not re-inspected Keystone XL South. Public Citizen’s report details hundreds of anomalies at over 125 sites along the Texas route, which includes: dents, sags, faulty welds, coating damage, insufficient support of pipe in trench and improperly handled soil. (See also CBS report)
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As promised, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published its proposed standards to limit toxic carbon pollution from new power plants in the Federal Register.  Today, January 8, 2013, starts the 60-day period for public comment period.  Click here to read the proposed standards.

Power plants are responsible for much of our country’s air pollution. In fact, coal- and gas-fired plants emit more than 2.3 billion metric tons of carbon emissions, approximately 40 percent of U.S. energy-related carbon pollution. These dangerous emissions make their way into our air, food, and bodies, threatening the health of our children and communities. As if that weren’t bad enough, carbon pollution is also the main contributor to climate disruption.

Strong carbon pollution protections, will help us clean up and modernize the way we power our country — a move that will make for healthier kids, families, and workers, while creating badly needed jobs, fighting climate disruption, and keeping America competitive in the global economy. Several states and foreign countries already have limits on carbon pollution from new power plants, including Oregon, Washington, California, Montana, Illinois, Maine, Australia, and the European Union. It’s time for the first-ever national standards for coal-fired plants to be set in place.

The proposed carbon pollution standards will be a powerful tool to keep our air clean, but they could be even better. Now it’s your turn to take action. The fossil fuel industry and its political allies are doing everything they can to block the EPA’s efforts, but you can push back and make your opinion count.

The official public comment period starts today and won’t last long. Make your voice heard by submitting a comment here to the EPA in support of strong standards for reducing dangerous carbon pollution. Your voice matters!

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Christmas party-invite1Join us at the Sixth Annual Austin Community “Green” Holiday Party

Thursday, December 19th, 2013  6pm-10pm
Hosted by Barr Mansion
10463 Sprinkle Rd., Austin, TX 78754 (www.barrmansion.com)

“Celebrating the Bounty of Winter” Menu with music by Cienfuegos
Co-Hosted by:  
Texas Green NetworkAustin Eco NetworkPublic CitizenDesign Build LiveUSGBC-Central Texas ChapterAustin Zero Waste AllianceAustin Clean Energy Incubator and CleanTX

$25 Advance Tickets — Register HERE
(Tickets include live music, all food and beverages)

Join us at the beautiful Barr Mansion, the nation’s first organic certified events facility, for an evening of music, food, drink and mingling with some of Austin’s finest environmental thought leaders.  For six years running, Austin environmentalists have come together for holiday cheer at our Austin Green Holiday Party, a great chance for “cross-pollination” among local environmental orgs.

Music by Cienfuegos.  Cienfuegos (http://www.musicacienfuegos.com) performs a diverse array of Latin genres with a focus on traditional Cuban styles such as Son, Bolero, Guajira, and Cha-Cha.  Their sets will include original compositions and traditional Latin standards.

Hosted and Sponsored by Barr Mansion , w/dinner featuring a variety of Barr Mansion organic delights.  Other food sponsors include Live Oak Brewing Company, Maine Root Sodas and Theo Chocolate

The Dinner Menu “Celebrating the Bounty of Texas Winter Produce”

  • Barr Mansion & Artisan Ballroom Showcases the Extravagance of Organic Produce from Johnson’s Backyard Garden and Barr Mansion’s Gardens:
  • Brick Oven Artisan Sour Dough Bread with Texas Hill Country Olive Oil
  • Arugula, Lettuce, Beet, and Radish Salad with a Creamy Sorrel Dressing
  • Broccoli Rabe, Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Chard, Carrots and Peas with a Warm Roasted Fennel Vinaigrette
  • Brick Oven Roasted Veggies – Turnips, Cabbage, Winter Squash and Cauliflower
  • Chimichurri Roasted Potatoes and Rutabaga
  • House Made Sausages:
  • Chicken and Spinach
  • Asian Pork and Kohlrabi
  • Texas Pecan Pie

We look forward to seeing you for another great evening of dancing, food, drink and socializing to kick off our 2014 efforts. (more…)

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A new report by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has Texas ranked 33nd in the nation for programs to promote energy efficiency. This unimpressive ranking shows Texas has a wasteful reliance on fossil fuels which contribute to air pollution and global warming and cost Texas families and businesses more and more each year.

While Texas was an early leader in energy efficiency investments, other states have dramatically increased their energy savings programs, leading to Texas’ decline in the overall state rankings. In a December 2008 report, the PUC found vast potential for energy efficiency in the state which, if tapped, could save Texans as much $11.9 billion on their electric bills. As the PUC considers restructuring the electric market, we would urged the commission to develop a plan that incentivizes greater use of energy efficiency and demand response and avoids subsidizing some of the state’s dirtiest power plants.

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This summer, President Obama committed the U.S. to be a global leader on curbing climate disruption and proposed that we start by limiting carbon pollution from power plants. Currently, there are no limits on the amount of carbon pollution spewed into the air by power plants. It’s time to change that.

As they prepare to set carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, the EPA is holding a listening session on November 7 in Dallas for community members and stakeholders. This is your opportunity to let your voice be heard and to tell the EPA that our planet and our futures depend on strong, just action to address climate disruption.

RSVP today for the Dallas listening session to take action for climate protection!

Event details:

WHO: You, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and climate activists
WHAT: EPA listening session on carbon limits
WHEN: November 7 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
WHERE: 1st Floor Auditorium, J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, 1515 Young Street, Dallas, TX (map)
RSVP: Click here to RSVP

Questions: Contact Kaiba White at [email protected] or 512-637-9462.

We’ve known for decades that carbon wrecks our health and our climate, and power plants are the nation’s top source. Their pollution fuels climate disruption — it makes wildfires burn hotter and droughts last longer. Warm summer weekends become scorching heatwaves and floods become disasters. Unlimited carbon pollution means more smog, more asthma attacks, and more climate disruption.
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