Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

I wrote recently about the difficulty of “blaming” any particular storm on global climate change. I pointed out there that scientists don’t usually reach conclusions in the form of: “X definitely caused Y.” Particularly when complex global systems are involved.

That remains true, but research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences makes a pretty strong claim about the link. Researchers assert that climate change made a storm such as Harvey six times more likely. That’s a startling figure.

We are also gaining insight about the causes of climate change–more specifically, about who caused climate change. A recent report by researchers at the Climate Accountability Institute asserts that just 90 companies are responsible for two-thirds of all man made carbon dioxide and methane emissions since 1854. The report found that Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP were each individually responsible for 2 to 3 percent of all carbon emissions for the period 1880-2010. Only the country of Saudi Arabia had a larger contribution, with more than 3 percent.

These recent findings lead us to one conclusion: if we know climate change is causing major storms, and we know which companies are responsible for climate change, shouldn’t we start holding them accountable?

Harvey will cost taxpayers in excess of $100 billion. The City of Houston, the state of Texas, and the federal government have all committed millions to the cleanup effort. But it won’t be enough. Houstonians are already paying for Harvey. When will climate polluters pay their fare share?

We launched WhoPaysForHarvey.com with our colleagues at the Center for Climate Integrity to ask that question? Together we’ve started a pledge that we’re asking you to sign? Do you believe its fair for the entities that caused climate change to pay for its effects? Do you think fossil fuel companies have gotten off the hook, despite knowing for decades (#ExxonKnew) about the harm they were causing?

If you agree with us, please sign our pledge. This won’t be the last severe storm Texas endures. It’s time we started planning for the future, instead of rebuilding the mistakes of the past.

Who Pays for Harvey?

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Barr Mansion & The Shades of Green Radio Show Present
The 10th Annual Austin Green Holiday Party

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017 from 6-10pm
Hosted and Sponsored by Barr Mansion
10463 Sprinkle Rd., Austin, TX 78754 (www.barrmansion.com)

Advance Tickets $25.00, ($30.00 at door)
(Tickets include snacks, dinner, all drinks and live music)

Co-Hosted by:

Join us for the Austin green mixer of the year, our 10th, can you believe it?  Hosted this year by 18 great organizations (including Public Citizen), this event is a fun place for area environmentalists to come together, celebrate, scheme and prepare for the new year.

Magical music by Seu Jacinto, a group introducing and developing traditional Northeastern Brazilian culture to Central Texas. Seu Jacinto pays homage to the masters of the Brazilian folk musical traditions of forró, coco, cavalo marinho, and many other Northeast Brazilian rhythms.

Experience how our hosts and sponsors Barr Mansion are at the nexus of a merging of the environmental and food movements while enjoying a buffet featuring a variety of their seasonal, all-organic favorites.

It’s been a crazy year so let’s “regroup”, have some fun and get ourselves ready for  2018. We look forward to seeing you there!

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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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In which we read from the dictionary, and a Senator throws snowballs.

Image: Eric Berger for Ars Technica.

Texas is experiencing a cold snap. It’s a welcome relief for most of us after 8 months of summer. But after the heat finally retreats, there’s something else we are left to deal with: climate skepticism.

When I was an air quality advocate in Houston, I came to expect an inquiry from a certain AM radio station each year around this time. Each winter it was the same thing: If ‘global warming’ is real, then why is it so cold?

This position was perhaps best embodied in the person of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who famously threw a snowball on the Senate floor in order to make…some sort of point…about climate change?

Putting aside the rhetorical strength of a grown man throwing a snowball, what is behind this ‘argument’ against climate change?

As with many arguments that are free of facts, this one is easily dispatched, in this case with a dictionary. So let’s get to it with some definitions:

weather – the state of the atmosphere with respect to heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storm, clearness or cloudiness.

climate – the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation.

The difference is easy enough to see if you’re not dodging snowballs. Weather is the state of things at a given time; climate is the trend over many decades.

With that simple understanding, it’s easy to see that a few days of weather can’t lead to any conclusions about climate. The trend in climate, over the last decades and since the industrial revolution, has been one of warming temperatures, increasing droughts, and more severe storms (this is why we favor the term ‘climate change’ over the less accurate ‘global warming’). A few days of weather of any given kind can’t change that climate trend.

“But wait!” you say, “Doesn’t that mean that we can’t blame Hurricane Harvey on climate change?”

Well, no, we can’t. And this is reflected in meteorologists’ careful statements about Harvey and its link to climate change. We may get some headlines that say that “It’s a Fact” that climate change made Harvey worse. But those are headlines, written by editors. The truth is far more nuanced, with scientists willing to express only “medium confidence” in a link between recent hurricanes and climate change.

So we can say that Harvey—a historically intense storm—is consistent with what we know about the relationship between storms and climate change. But we can’t say that climate change “caused” Hurricane Harvey.

Similarly, we can’t blame an especially hot day on climate change, just like we can’t point to a cold day as evidence that climate change isn’t real. That’s just not how climate works.

So enjoy the cold weather, but appreciate that we will have fewer cold days in the long term if we don’t reverse the effects of climate change now.

And watch out for snowballs.

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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.

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:


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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Texas State employees have the option to give to charities of their choice through a workplace giving campaign and September is the start of their campaign season.  We want to remind you that throughout the coming year, many communities will be recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Harvey and if you have a workplace giving campaign, you can help charitable organizations throughout the year by having your contributions withheld each pay period.

EarthShare of Texas vets conservation and environmental organizations for hundreds of workplace giving campaigns throughout Texas, of which Public Citizen is one.

Flooding in Bay City, TX post Hurricane Harvey landfall.

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Texas Climate Tour: Remarks by Adrian

UT Professor Kerry Cook, Jim Marston (EDF), Reggie James (Sierra Club), Luis Castilla (Public Citizen) and Adrian Shelley (Public Citizen)

This speech was delivered by our Texas Office director Adrian Shelley at the kickoff event for our Texas Climate Tour.

Dear Friends and Allies,

Thank you for coming today. I would especially like to thank Mayor Steve Adler and the City of Austin for hosting us this morning. I would also like to thank our speakers, including Mayor Adler, Jim Marston with the Environmental Defense Fund, Reggie James with the Sierra Club, Professor Kerry Cook with the University of Texas, and of course, our press officer Luis Castilla.

Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time. How we act now to prevent the worst impacts of climate change will define us for generations to come. Our leaders in Washington D.C., and even here in Austin, are not willing to face the threat of climate change. This means that we must act now to do everything that we can.

Luis began planning this trip well before any of us knew what was in store for Texas. Now Hurricane Harvey has ravaged our coast, claimed dozens of lives, and displaced tens of thousands of people. My hometown of Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey, and though the recovery effort will last many years and cost many hundreds of billions of dollars, the city will never fully recover. Harvey has left a deep scar on the Gulf Coast that will not soon heal. Our leaders in Texas have said the cost of reducing CO2 is too great, but now we see that the cost of inaction is far greater.

The tragedy of Hurricane Harvey unfolded over several days in full view of the entire nation. But there is another tragedy occurring on the Texas Gulf Coast. Every day lives are shortened by the impact of the fossil fuel industry. Each day in Houston, in Corpus Christi, in Port Arthur, and in other towns along the coast we see the impacts of this tragedy. Asthma attacks, cancer, and shortened lives are the daily result of a nationwide disaster caused by our reliance on fossil fuels. Climate change is only the biggest of these impacts, but we must be mindful of their daily cost on our most vulnerable brothers and sisters across the state.

Houstonians will recover from the unprecedented disaster that was Hurricane Harvey. They have done so before. But what will happen after the memory of this storm fades? Will we prepare for the next one?

As a nation, we need to rise to this challenge. If our lawmakers in Washington D.C. won’t act, then we need to act for them. As Luis travels across Texas, he will spread the message about what is possible today. Cities occupy only two percent of the world’s landmass, but they consume 2/3 of the world’s energy and account for more than 70% of global carbon emissions. And with 90 percent of the world’s urban areas situated on coastlines, cities are vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels and powerful coastal storms.

So what can cities do? They can start by counting their carbon pollution emissions. Then they can set targets for reducing those emissions. And they can make actionable policy decisions, such as purchasing renewable energy, amending building codes to promote energy efficiency, and electrifying transportation.

We are part of a movement happening in cities across America. Some of our targets are huge, including the biggest and dirtiest coal plants in the nation. We are looking to do nothing less than transform energy generation and transportation in the United States. With such ambitious goals, taking personal actions isn’t enough—you must also lend your voice to the chorus calling for large-scale action on climate change.

Right now, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the chorus is loud. Everyone wants to see something happen. We want to feel like the situation is under control. But we can’t risk losing the energy that has come out of this tragedy. Like we did after Ike, after Katrina, and after Allison. Let’s not find ourselves in this same situation when the next tragedy occurs.

As Luis travels across Texas, meeting Texans where they are, he has an important message for everyone: climate change is a local issue. Its impacts are local. It affects our friends, our families, and ourselves. And its solutions are local. They begin with us, right now.

So even as we begin to put the lessons of Hurricane Harvey behind us, we must ask ourselves: what can I do? What can I do today, to prepare for tomorrow?

As individuals, there are things we can do: You can start today, by recycling, replacing old lightbulbs with LEDs, and turning down your air conditioning. You can schedule an energy audit of your house, which will help you to reduce the energy you use and save you money. You can plan to purchase solar panels for your roof, or buy a more efficient vehicle—even an all-electric one. Most of these solutions will save you money over time.

You’ll find something that you can do. It might feel small today, but it will be a little bit bigger tomorrow. And bigger still the day after. And when you add your voice to the chorus demanding action on climate change, you will become part of something even bigger. You will see how local actions can have a global impact.

Together we can and we must make this transition. Our lives and the lives of our children depend on us taking action – now.

Thank you.

Luis beginning his Texas Climate Tour in a Tesla Model S on loan from Trammell S. Crow.


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South Texas plant over looking Matagorda Bay

Guest Post submitted by Karen Hadden, Executive Director, Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition; Susan Dancer, President, South Texas Association for Responsible Energy; and Paul Gunter, Beyond Nuclear, Director, Reactor Oversight Project  

Two nuclear reactors at the South Texas Project (STP) near Bay City, Texas should be shut down immediately in order to protect public safety in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, warned three watchdog groups today. With additional rainfall and increased flooding risks anticipated, the groups are calling on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Governor of Texas, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) – the Texas Grid Operator – and utility owners of the nuclear reactors to take action immediately.

“A county-wide emergency evacuation notice was issued last week for all residents to be out ahead of Harvey’s landfall,” said Susan Dancer, President of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “In an even more aggressive move Sunday night, the Bay City Mayor and Matagorda County Judge issued mandatory evacuation orders effective immediately as Bay City is expected to be ten feet under water in a flood of a scale we’d never even imagined, much less experienced. I loaded up my animals and fled my Bay City home, not even taking time to take any possessions with me.  As we tried to flee, water was already flowing across many roads.  Our 911 system is down, as are our police and fire department’s phone and dispatch systems. No emergency services are available. All businesses are shuttered and most are taking on water. Refineries have shut down.

“It’s an outrageous and reckless decision that the nuclear reactors are still running. Why aren’t they in cold shutdown with only a skeleton crew? Where is the concern for employees and their families? Why is corporate profit being prioritized over caution and good judgment?” asked Dancer.

“Sometimes the unimaginable really happens, as we learned from the disaster in Japan. This storm and flood is absolutely without precedent even before adding the possibility of a nuclear accident that could further imperil millions of people who are already battling for their lives,” added Dancer.

“The Colorado River is cresting extremely high and flowing at 70 times the normal rate. It’s expected to approach flood stage (44 feet) near Bay City today, and exceed flood stage on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.” said Karen Hadden, Director of SEED Coalition, “Flood waters reaching the nuclear reactors could make operation increasingly dangerous and the rains are expected to continue. There is plenty of reserve capacity on our electric grid, so we don’t have to run the reactors in order to keep the lights on. With anticipated flooding of the Colorado River, the nuclear reactors should be shut down now to ensure safety.”

“Both the NRC and the operator have previously recognized a credible threat of a severe accident initiated by a breach of the embankment wall that surrounds the 7,000-acre reactor cooling water reservoir,” said Paul Gunter, Director of the Reactor Oversight Project with Beyond Nuclear in Takoma Park, MD, referencing a 12-mile long earth and cement dike that surrounds South Texas Project’s Main Cooling Reservoir. The top of the cooling reservoir wall is at 67-feet above mean sea level with the reactor site situated below at 29-feet above mean sea level. The NRC is not providing a status report on the water level in the reservoir where the normal maximum operating level is 49-feet above mean sea level.

“However remote, it’s simply prudent that the operator put this reactor into its safest condition, cold shutdown,” Gunter concluded.

Utilities in Houston, San Antonio and Austin own the nuclear reactor and operate it as South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC). South Texas Project is seeking to get re-licenced for 20 more years. “Are these nuclear reactors being run at increasing risk just to prove to the public that it can stay open?” asked Karen Hadden.

The watchdog groups pointed out that the Fukushima disaster showed the world that an energy asset can turn into a multi-billion dollar liability overnight. “We should do all we can to prevent such a mistake. Governor Abbott, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and STPNOC should take action now to ensure that the reactors shut down now, before the deluge of hurricane floodwaters hits, risking an emergency situation,” concluded Hadden.

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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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UPDATE – The Senate Business & Commerce Committee will meet at 9:00 AM, Saturday, July 22, 2017 in the Texas capitol hearing room E1.016 to hear testimony on SB 14 by Hall – relating to a property owner’s right to remove a tree or vegetation.  If you are in Austin  this weekend, considering stopping by the capitol and testifying or even just registering your position against this bill at one of the House registration kiosks in the capitol extension.  (do this before the hearing starts at 9:00 AM to make sure your position is documented.

Contributed by Citizen Rita

Recently in Dallas, two developers made the mistake of butchering trees on two different sites causing an uproar in both North (pictured) and South Dallas. This action currently violates Dallas’ tree ordinance which could be put in jeopardy if Governor Abbott gets his way. Photo by Rita Beving

This week marks the start of the Special Session at the Texas Legislature.  Governor Abbott has put forward a wish list of twenty agenda items including a bill that would prevent cities from regulating what property owners can do with trees on private land.

Already during the 85th legislative session, bills attempted to take an axe to local control and city tree ordinances including one by Representative Workman (HB 1572) who devised a bill to allow trees to be cut down if the owner felt a tree(s) posed a “fire risk.”  Other bills such as one by Senator Kolkhorst (SB 744), would have given developers more latitude in a city that imposes a tree mitigation fee by allowing developers to apply for a credit if they plant trees elsewhere, instead of paying the mitigation fee.  Both bills failed to become law, though Kolkhorst’s bill made it all the way to the finish line, only to be vetoed in the end by Governor Abbott.

Perhaps the Governor’s veto pen was triggered with an aspiration to deal trees a more fatal blow with a sweeping bill in the Special Session to take total local control away on all city tree ordinances across the state.  Abbott has tapped Senator Bob Hall of Rockwall, who unsuccessfully tried to take away cities ability to have bag bans, as his champion to carry the tree ordinance ban in the Senate (SB 14).  In the House, Abbott recruited  Representative Workman, the author of the failed tree fire risk bill, and whose roots (pardon the pun) are in the construction business, to head up the efforts (HB 70).

There are more than 50 cities in Texas with ordinances that protect trees on private property that would be affected if this proposed legislation passed.

Thwarting the preservation of mature trees is not only short-sighted but also short changes the value of a property.  Numerous national surveys including one by the University of Washington show that towering trees increase the value of a property by 7 to 19 percent.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one healthy tree next to one’s home can provide the cooling effect of ten air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.  According to the USDA Forest Service, trees properly placed around a building can reduce air conditioning costs by as much as 30% and can save between 20 to 50% of the energy used in heating.

Trees help our urban climate in many ways.  They keep cities cooler and reduce air pollution, as less fossil fuel is needed to generate electricity to air condition buildings. Trees also help clean the air by taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.  Additionally, trees contribute to improving the health of our local communities by collecting and hold dust pollution.

Management Information Services has estimated that the average value of the 60 million plus street trees in this country have an average value of $525.00 per tree.

So what’s not to like about trees, especially beautiful mature ones?

Well, critics speculate that Governor Abbott wants this bill partially out a personal vendetta against the City of Austin which told him that he couldn’t chop down a pecan tree in his backyard without replacing it or paying into the reforestation fund.  It’s also been said that the Governor thinks protecting trees is a “socialist” view and that it “violates private property rights.”

Tell Governor Abbott he needs to see the forest through the trees and realize the “green” in “green.” Abbott shouldn’t use a personal incident to destroy the value that the rest of us see and realize on our properties by taking away the power of local municipalities to pass and execute their tree ordinances.

Urge your Texas Legislator to block any attempts during the special session to eliminate cities’ abilities to protect old growth trees to cool our homes and in turn, our cities.

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Last week, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), succeeded in rushing his Yucca Mountain high-level radioactive waste dump legislation past the Environment and the Economy Subcommittee he chairs.

Now the bill (HR 3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendment Acts of 2017) moves on to the full U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee.  Full committee mark up is currently expected to take place next Wednesday, June 28th.

If passed there, it would then move on to the full House floor for consideration. If ultimately passed into law, H.R.3053, the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2017, would launch unprecedented thousands of truck, train, and/or barge shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel, through 45 states, bound for Nevada. These shipments would pass through the heart of many major cities. They would also pass through 370 of the 435 congressional districts across the U.S.!  But before that, it would expedite the opening of centralized interim storage sites for radioactive waste in Texas and/or New Mexico, multiplying the risks.  WCS has applied for a site in Andrews County Texas and the Eddy Lea Energy Alliance, working with Holtec, has applied for a site near Hobbs and Carlsbad, NM.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry just dropped a bombshell proposal this week, at a U.S. House hearing, to also do interim storage at the Nevada Nuclear Weapons Test Site, before ultimately burying the wastes at Yucca, all against the state’s will, without its consent.

Each shipment, whether to a permanent storage site or one of the proposed “interim” storage sites, represents a potential Dirty Bomb on Wheels risk, whether due to severe accident or intentional attack. The hazardous gamma radiation that could be emitted would expose persons who are too close (e.g. living along the shipping route, getting stuck next to a shipment in traffic, etc.) to a myriad of health impacts.  Transportation routes to either the proposed west Texas or New Mexico interim storage sites would likely have nuclear waste traveling through the DFW metroplex area, Houston and San Antonio, depending upon where the waste originated.  This is an issue that Texans should weigh in on.  Dallas, Midland, San Antonio and Andrews County have already passed resolutions asking that radioactive waste not be transported through  their communities.  What can you do?

Urge your U.S. Representative to block this dangerous legislation, by voting against HR 3053 and urging their U.S. House colleagues to do the same.

The bill itself: http://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF00/20170628/106210/BILLS-1153053ih.pdf



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