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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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Our climate is changing and action is desperately needed, but that message is not getting through to to many of our leaders. Climate-Com will explore how the media can better present current climate science so that the public and our leaders will be convinced to act.

Lake Buchanan
What: A panel discussion on how we can change the way we communicate climate science and facts to the public through the media, particularly broadcast meteorologists. Featuring Jim Spencer of KXAN-TV and Kris Wilson, PhD of UT School of Journalism.

When: Sunday, October 6, 2013 from 3:30pm to 7:00pm

Where: Scholz Garten, 1607 San Jacinto Blvd., North meeting room

Who: Climate Change Now Initiative, Public Citizen’s Texas Office, KXAN-TV, UT School of Journalism, Forecast the Facts, Texas Drought Project, Austin Citizen Climate Lobby

Cost (suggested donation): $10.00 – Adults, $5.00 for students, 16 and under free **Also, free if you calculate your personal carbon footprint using an online carbon calculator and send the tons of carbon per year with your name to [email protected]**
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The public will soon get a chance to present ideas and feedback to EPA officials on the agency’s plan to require existing power plants to cut their carbon emissions.

The agency will hold a series of 11 public events around the country over the next two months, the agency announced today.

The EPA plans to set guidelines that will allow states to design programs to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, which account for a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, the agency said in a statement. Those proposals are scheduled to be released in June 2014.

“Before proposing guidelines, EPA must consider how power plants with a variety of different configurations would be able to reduce carbon pollution in a cost-effective way,” the agency said.

The public hearings will be:
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When:   October 4, 2013
Where:  LBJ School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin

Central Texas Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategies: A Capital Area Symposium. This one-day conference will bring Capital Area stakeholders together to identify and assess the shared challenges we face given the specific impacts of climate change in our region. The symposium provides a forum for learning about climate vulnerability in the region and sharing best practices in the area of resilience planning  here in Texas and throughout the U.S. Most importantly, it provides a space for identifying collaborative solutions for making the Capital Area more resilient. For conference agenda details, see Schedule. To register click here.  ($40 regular, $10 students) we encourage you to attend.

The symposium is pleased to bring to Austin some of the brightest minds working in climate change research and adaptation planning today, including keynote speakers Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, and Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center in Washington, DC.

We also encourage you to come to a special evening forum following the symposium. Hosted by The Texas Observer, this free forum will provide a recap of the symposium and facilitate a much-needed public dialogue about climate change resilience in Central Texas. For more on the forum, stay tuned.

The ‘Capital Area’: The symposium defines the “Capital Area” as the 10-county region adopted by the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG): Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis, and Williamson.

Not only do these Central Texas counties share in common similar projections for heat, drought, and other climate change impacts, but they have an established history of collaboration across member governments, agencies, school districts, and other regional organizations due to 43 years of coordinated efforts under the auspices of CAPCOG.
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Community and environmental organizations lodged a formal protest against the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’s recent permit for a coal export terminal in the already polluted Plaquemines Parish corridor.

In a letter sent to LDNR Secretary Stephen Chustz, the organizations called for reconsideration of the coastal use permit granted this month, charging that the RAM coal  terminal would violate laws created to ensure that the state’s plan for coastal restoration plan is carried out.

The letter charged that “because LDNR did not adequately analyze alternative sites, LDNR cannot assess whether there are feasible and praticable alternative locations, methods and practices for use that are in compliance with the modified standard under the Coastal Use Permit regulations.”

The letter also argued that the RAM terminal conflicts with Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for coastal restoration. The terminal “will  severely impact wetlands and the $300 million Myrtle Grove with Dedicated Dredging Ecosystem Restoration Project…,” the letter said. (more…)

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Climate change will dramatically alter wildfire patterns in the western United States before the century ends, studies show.

According to a new study of future wildfire activity and smoke pollution “Ensemble projections of wildfire activity and carbonaceous aerosol concentrations over the western United States in the mid-21st century” published by Harvard University, researchers are predicting more smoke pollution — even in communities far from the forest’s edge — as more fires burn because of rising temperatures. Yosemite National Park’s Rim over the Labor Day weekend where iconic views disappeared behind a sudden influx of thick smoke the night of Aug. 30, causing the air quality to be deemed to be unhealthy for outdoor activities, is an omen for the West.

The area burned by wildfires is expected to double in some parts of the West by 2050 and the study found temperature was the primary driver for future wildfires, at least in the West’s near future.  Behind the new forest fire patterns is climate change. Higher average temperatures will result in more wildfires by 2050, especially in August, they found.

Overall, the typical four-month fire season will gain three weeks by 2050, the researchers report. And the probability of large fires could double or even triple. The findings were published in the October issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment.

While wildfires in Texas were not a part of this study, the state has already seen indications of both the devastation, the increased number and intensity of these types of fires.

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Armstrong Energy is facing challenges from the market that may threaten the viability and profitability of its proposed coal export terminal in Louisiana, a new Public Citizen report (Armstrong Coal final report) finds. A failed company and abandoned export terminal would create significant costs for Plaquemines Parish.

In the report, “RAMming It Down Our Throats: Armstrong Energy Could Leave Louisiana Taxpayers Holding the Bag on Its Proposed RAM Terminal,” Public Citizen looked at Armstrong Energy’s financial condition and the effect of market conditions on the coal export company.

“Armstrong Energy is in hot water,” said Hillary Corgey, researcher for Public Citizen and the report’s author. “Between rising debt, market conditions unfavorable to coal, and climate change, the RAM Terminal may have a good chance of sinking, both in terms of its hurricane-prone location and the viability of the company.”

The RAM Terminal is to be built near the 150-year old community of Ironton in Plaquemines Parish, La., 30 miles south of New Orleans. The terminal is to be fully operational within two years of construction and ship 10 million tons of coal. Two hearings on August 14 and 15 attracted more than 100 residents who oppose the terminal’s latest push for permits.
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