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Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

Reprinted from Appliance Standards Awareness Project

This week, the California Energy Commission (CEC) approved first-in-the-nation energy efficiency standards for computers and computer displays, or monitors (CEC factsheet). These new standards, which reflect several years of collaborative work by the computer industry, California investor-owned utilities, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Consumer Federation of America, other consumer organizations, and regional energy efficiency organizations should help save energy worth billions of dollars each year that would otherwise be wasted by the desktops, laptops and other computer equipment that consumers and businesses use every day.

California’s new computer standards are the latest in a long and very successful history of state level actions, dating back to the original refrigerator efficiency standards in the 1970s. California’s standards often become models for other states as well as the nation. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has begun a process of developing national computer efficiency standards, but has not yet published a proposal.

The computer industry has a good record of improving their products’ energy efficiency and participated constructively in the development of the new California standards. The standards will promote further innovation and the widespread adoption of existing energy-saving computer and monitor technologies. Manufacturers have expressed confidence that they will be able to achieve the new energy efficiency requirements, according to the New York Times.

Of course, computer manufacturers serve national and international markets. Rather than offer computers with different efficiency levels in California, manufacturers may upgrade national product lines to meet the California standards, especially if other states decide to follow suit. Based on the CEC’s estimates for California, we extrapolate that if manufacturers sold only compliant computers and monitors nationally, savings would reach up to 20,000 gigawatt hours of electricity annually by 2027, or enough to supply 1.6 million U.S. homes. NRDC further describes the standards and their benefits for California and the nation in their blog post.

The California computer and monitor standards do not cover tablets, game consoles, televisions, larger servers, or computers used to control industrial machines. Different energy efficiency requirements will come into effect for various product types from 2018 to 2021 with a first tier of energy efficiency requirements for the most common computers becoming effective on January 1, 2019. A second, stronger efficiency level for this equipment kicks in on July 1, 2021.

California’s new standards acknowledge the challenge of setting energy efficiency requirements for rapidly evolving technologies like computers and monitors. Since consumer preferences for additional features and computing power may change over time, the California computer standards are designed to be flexible with allowances and exemptions to support innovation. However, these allowances and exemptions could potentially reduce the expected energy savings under some scenarios. To address this possibility the CEC issued an adoption order directing Commission staff to conduct rigorous market monitoring of “specific features and types of computers and monitors” using the state’s appliance efficiency database system. If the market develops in ways that significantly reduce the expected energy savings, CEC can revise the standards in the future.

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You are invited to attend:

The Ninth Annual Austin Green Holiday Party

 austin-green-holiday-sponsors

The Ninth Annual Austin Green Holiday Party

Dinner, drinks, and dessert are included in ticket price. There will be 4 buffet stations and all 4 have vegetarian options. After dinner, you will be able to make s’mores while listening to live music and get your picture taken with friends at the holiday party photo station.

Thursday, December 8th, 2016 6-10pm
Hosted by Barr Mansion
10463 Sprinkle Rd., Austin, TX 78754 (www.barrmansion.com)

Live music by Seu Jacinto
Advance Tickets $25.00, ($30.00 at door)
Co-Hosted by:

Join us for the Austin green mixer of the year, hosted this year by 17 great organizations! For nine years running, area environmentalists have come together to celebrate, scheme and prepare for the new year.
Experience how our hosts 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. Check out Barr’s new “solar amphitheater”! We are also sponsored this year by Hops & Grain BrewingAustin East Ciders and Tito’s Handmade Vodka.

Live music by Seu Jacinto, an Austin-based group interested in introducing and developing traditional Northeastern Brazilian culture to Central Texas. The group pays homage to the masters of the Brazilian folk musical traditions of forró, coco, cavalo marinho, and many other Brazilian Northeast rhythms.

We look forward to coming together with everyone  and “regrouping” for the good fight in 2017!  Click here to buy tickets to this event.   Procedes benefit Austin Earthday.

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Waste Control Specialists – what now?

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) which has applied for a license to accept high-level radioactive waste at its Andrews County, Texas site currently has a license to accept low-level radioactive waste.  At the same time, have been negotiating a sale to EnergySolutions potentially initiating anti-trust intervention in the acquisition.

The Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit on Thursday, November 17, 2016, seeking to block EnergySolutions’ proposed $367 million acquisition of Waste Control Specialists – a transaction that would combine the two most significant competitors for the disposal of low level radioactive waste (LLRW) available to commercial customers in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

According to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, the transaction would deny commercial generators of LLRW – from universities and hospitals working on life-saving treatments to nuclear facilities producing 20 percent of the electricity in the United States – the benefits of vigorous competition that has led to significantly lower prices, better service and innovation in recent years.

“Since opening its LLRW disposal facility in 2012, Waste Control Specialists has provided EnergySolutions the only real competition it has ever faced,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Renata Hesse of the department’s Antitrust Division.  “This competition has allowed customers to extract better prices and to receive better and more innovative service in the LLRW disposal industry.  If consummated, EnergySolutions’ proposed acquisition of Waste Control Specialists would make EnergySolutions the only option for customers in nearly 40 states.  And this at a time when projects worth billions of dollars are set to be awarded in the coming years.”

LLRW is the radioactive byproduct of nuclear power generation, scientific research and certain medical treatments.  LLRW includes such items as personal protective clothing, tools, water purification filters and resins, hardware from nuclear power plants, and equipment from medical and research institutions.  LLRW may only be disposed of in a facility licensed by, or pursuant to an exemption provided by, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or a state acting under an agreement with the NRC.  LLRW disposal is an essential service for operating nuclear reactors, research laboratories and medical facilities.  Additionally, LLRW disposal is a requirement for the safe decommissioning of such facilities when they reach the end of their useful lives.

According to the department’s complaint, EnergySolutions and Waste Control Specialists are the only two significant competitors providing LLRW disposal services to commercial customers in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.  After nearly two decades of development, Waste Control Specialists became the only new licensed commercial LLRW disposal facility to open since EnergySolutions, and provided EnergySolutions’ only true competition.  That competition has led to increased innovation and lower prices for customers.  EnergySolutions’ acquisition of Waste Control Specialists would eliminate that competition, with no likelihood of new entry to fill the void.

EnergySolutions Inc. is a Delaware corporation headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Rockwell Holdco Inc., also a Delaware corporation.  EnergySolutions is the leading company providing a full range of services related to the disposal of LLRW and the decommissioning of nuclear reactors.  In 2015, EnergySolutions’ U.S. revenues from LLRW disposal were approximately $112 million.

Waste Control Specialists LLC is a Delaware limited liability company headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Andrews County Holdings Inc., a Delaware corporation.  It operates the only LLRW disposal facility that is licensed to accept all types of LLRW from 36 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.  In 2015, Waste Control Specialists’ revenues were approximately $45 million.

EnergySolutions Complaint

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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking comments from the public on the issues to be covered in the environmental review of an application from Waste Control Specialists to construct and operate a facility to store spent nuclear fuel in Andrews County, Texas. The NRC will prepare an environmental impact statement to document its evaluation of those impacts and is now taking public comments on the scope.

WCS filed its application in April seeking a 40-year license for a facility that would receive spent fuel from nuclear reactors for storage, pending final disposal. The NRC will be conducting two separate reviews – an environmental review to identify potential impacts, and a safety review to determine whether the WCS application meets the NRC’s regulatory requirements. The environmental review will fulfill the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirement to do an analysis of environmental impacts for major federal actions.

The agency has not yet accepted and docketed the WCS application. WCS has been providing supplemental information in phases in response to a June 22 NRC request. The NRC will evaluate the supplemental responses before deciding whether to docket the application and proceed with the safety review. If the NRC dockets the application, it will announce in the Federal Register an opportunity to ask for a public hearing and an end date for comments on the scope of the environmental review.

WCS had asked for the environmental review to begin as soon as possible. The NRC has agreed because doing so will allow the agency to engage interested members of the public early in the process. It will also provide additional time to consult with federal, tribal, state and local government agencies, facilitating compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.

“We cannot proceed with the technical safety review until WCS adequately addresses our request for supplemental information, but we do have the information we need to begin the environmental scoping process now,” said NRC’s Mark Lombard, director of the division of spent fuel management. “WCS will bear the cost of staff time devoted to the environmental review, even if we are unable to docket the application in its current form.”

We encourage you to read our earlier post and submit comments.  The comment period opened today (go to – https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=NRC_FRDOC_0001-6227 –  for more information) and, if the application is docketed, will end 45 days after publication of a notice of docketing the WCS application.

Written comments on the scope may be submitted over the federal government’s rulemaking website, www.regulations.gov, using Docket ID NRC-2016-0231; by email to [email protected]; or by mail to Cindy Bladey, Office of Administration, Mail Stop: OWFN- 12 H08, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001. More information can be found in today’s Federal Register notice.

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rrc-who-are-we

UPDATE: By 10 am this morning, the Sunset Commission had already voted on the recommendations they were going to adopt for the report to the legislature. 

All the STAFF good enforcement recommendations were adopted, and the recommendation (proposed by the Public Member on the Commisson, Allen West) on induced seismicity was adopted.

The name change recommendation was dropped as we heard it would be, as were the transfer of contested cases to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).  The new issue proposed by Rep. Raymond, calling for bonding for cleaning up abandoned wells at the last hearing fell by the wayside. Raymond did not even bring up his proposals.

The things we do support on enforcement will be in the bill when it’s introduced during the 85th Legislative session, but we expect that it may be a fight to keep them in.

Thursday, November 10th, the Texas Sunset Commission will meet to vote on recommendations to the 85th Legislature regarding the future of the Texas Railroad Commission.  Three times the Legislature has failed to pass a bill reauthorizing and making changes to this agency. 

We are asking that you contact the Sunset Commissioners and tell them to support staff recommendations plus Raymond and West’s new issues as outlined below.  For Sunset Commissioners’ contact information, click here. or contact your state rep and state senator to urge the Sunset Commission to support these recommendations. Find out who represents you here.

A coalition of environmental groups, including Public Citizen, have been following the Sunset review of the Railroad Commission and they are in agreement about supporting staff recommendations and new issues raised by Texas Sunset Commission Members – Representatives Dan Flynn,  Richard Peña Raymond, and public member LTC (Ret.) Allen B. West – to increase transparency, improve safeguards and protect the public.  It is time for more than a name change on failed agency! 

For a full version of the recommendations click here.

Issue 1 – Continue the Railroad Commission of Texas for 12 Years with a Name That Reflects the Agency’s Important Functions. (Page 11)

Change in Statute

Rec. 1.1 (Page 17) Change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the Texas Energy Resources Commission and continue the agency for 12 years.

We support this change. On the eve of another election where most voters had no idea what the Railroad Commission does, and where industry supplied some 70 percent of the funding to those running, changing the name is a needed first step. We also believe that the Commission should only be continued for 6 years.

Issue 2 – Contested Hearings and Gas Utility Oversight Are Not Core Commission Functions and Should Be Transferred to Other Agencies to Promote Efficiency, Effectiveness, Transparency, and Fairness. (Page 19)

Representative Raymond Proposed Modification

Under this modification to Recommendations 2.1, 2.2, and 2.3, the Commission would contract with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to conduct the Commission’s hearings for contested permit and enforcement cases and Gas Utility Oversight would be transferred to the Public Utility Commission (PUC), with potential to contest the rates at SOAH. In conducting hearings, the PUC and SOAH would consider the Commission’s applicable substantive rules and policies.

We are in full support of Issue 2 and the transfer of these functions from RRC to SOAH and PUC, but do agree that the applicable rules and policies related to these issues should be considered in that transfer, as recommended by Representative Raymond.

Issue 3 – Oil and Gas Monitoring and Enforcement Need Improvements to Effectively Ensure Public Safety and Environmental Protection.

Rep. Flynn Modification: Also direct the agency to provide oil and gas production information on its website in a format that is easier for royalty owners to use and understand.

We Support these Sunset Staff recommendations on Enforcement, as well as Rep. Flynn’s proposed modification.

Issue 4 – Insufficient and Inequitable Statutory Bonding Requirements Contribute to the Large Backlog of Abandoned Wells. (Page 43)

We support this change to assure that oil and gas wells pay their fair share in upfront bonding costs.

Issue 5 – Improved Oversight of Texas’ Pipeline Infrastructure Would Help Further Ensure Public Safety. (Page 51)

We support these proposed statutory and appropriations modifications.

Issue 6 – The Railroad Commission’s Contracting Procedures Are Improving, but Continued Attention Is Needed. (Page 55)

We support these proposed management actions.

Issue 7 – The Railroad Commission’s Statute Does Not Reflect Standard Elements of Sunset Reviews. (Page 59)

We support these proposed changes.

Proposed New Issues

Vice Chair Taylor Proposed New Issue 1

Direct the Railroad Commission to study, develop, and implement ways to clean up and revive old oil fields for secondary and tertiary recovery using either the unitization method or other legal means which the Commission may develop or recommend. As part of this recommendation, the Railroad Commission shall consult with the Bureau of Economic Geology. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We have not taken a position on this recommendation.

Colonel West Proposed New Issue 2

Direct the Railroad Commission to incorporate findings from the TexNet Seismic Monitoring Program at UT’s Bureau of Economic Geology as they become available into its oil and gas disposal well rules or guidance, as applicable. The rules should seek to prevent any induced seismicity caused by disposal wells. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in full support. Utilizing the information that is being collected to develop more protective rules and procedures makes sense.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 3

Amend RRC’s statute to require the agency to publish comprehensive oil and gas enforcement data (complaints, inspections, violations, enforcement actions taken, and penalties levied/collected) online, in a publicly accessible, searchable, trackable format. Make data available by operator and on a well-by-well basis and by bulk download.

We are in full support of this recommendation. We would note this could also be accomplished as a management action by direction of the Director to publish this information on-line.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 4

Management recommendation to direct RRC to: review all relevant rules on spill reporting and response, and make changes to increase environmental protection and cleanup during flooding, such as specifying time frames for responding to spills; clarify its rules, so that both oil and gas spills and other spills like brine, produced water, or fracking fluid are also reported, tracked, and cleaned up; and report these spills and the results of any cleanup effort in an accessible way, either directly on its website or by sharing the information with TCEQ as part of its joint work on spills. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in full support. This is considerable confusion about reporting and clean-up requirements, particularly in the event of floods.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 5

Amend Chapter 26 of the Texas Water Code to require operators that treat “domestic wastewater” or “mobile drinking water treatment system wastewater” at oil and gas well drill sites to obtain a permit from TCEQ instead of RRC.

We are in support. TCEQ is the appropriate agency to assure water is cleaned up to the appropriate level.

Representative Raymond Proposed New Issue 6

Improve inspection, regulation, and reporting of injection wells by: either removing the specific permit fee amount in Chapter 27, allowing the Commission to set a more reasonable amount, or raising it to $1,000 (Change in statute); requiring RRC to require monthly reporting of liquid injection in all disposal wells and make the information publicly accessible (Change in statute); and directing RRC to conduct a comprehensive review of its rules and programs regarding oil and gas disposal wells, and consider changes related to casing and cementing, aquifer exemptions, notice and public participation, seismic activity, and wastewater reporting and tracking. (Management action — nonstatutory)

We are in support of both the management and statutory changes. Permit fees for disposal wells are too low and the rules should be reexamined to assure proper notice, and proper safeguards.

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Public Citizen Texas and Common Ground for Texans  are hosting a Railroad Commission Candidate Forum.

Do you know what the Texas Railroad Commission regulates? (And no it is not railways as the name might imply) If not, you’ll have a perfect opportunity to learn about it, and three of the candidates running for Railroad Commissioner, next weekend at a candidate forum with:

  • Grady Yarbrough (Democratic Party)
  • Wayne Christian (Republican Party) – had originally accepted, but had to cancel due to family obligations
  • Mark Miller (Libertarian Party)
  • Martina Salinas (Green Party)

The Railroad Commission is the regulator of oil and gas in Texas which make it a very important office. This forum should be a great chance to get acquainted with these candidates!  This is your opportunity to become a well-informed voter and learn about:

  • the roles and responsibilities of the Railroad Commission and its commissioners.
  • the differences between the candidates running for this important position.

The forum is Saturday, Sept. 10 Hope you can make it!

What: Texas Railroad Commissioner candidate forum
When: Saturday, Sept. 10th from 2 to 4 pm
Where: Yarborough Library, 2200 Hancock Drive, Austin, TX 78756 (see map)

  • You can also join from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/520109357

  • Or you can dial in using your phone.

United States +1 (872) 240-3212

Access Code: 520-109-357

 

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I’m a Texas Voter! ID? No Problem!

Texas legislation and subsequent court rulings have made it difficult to know what you need to vote.  The League of Women Voters has put together this quick video and we have also included additional information about what you need and what constitutes voter harassment around the voter id issue.  So check out the post below and vote in local, state and federal elections.  It’s your right!

Great news for Texas Voters!

New Procedures for Voting in Person All citizens wishing to vote must still be on the official list of registered voters. For the November 8th election, the deadline to register is October 11th.

Voters may still use one of seven (7) forms of photo ID, listed below. IDs may be expired up to four years. (Previously IDs could be expired no more than 60 days.)

  • Driver license
  • Texas Election Identification Certificate (EIC)
  • Texas Personal Identification Card issued by DPS
  • Texas license to carry a handgun issued by DPS
  • US military identification card containing the person’s photograph
  • US citizenship certificate containing the person’s photograph
  • US passport

ADDITIONALLY, new procedures allow registered voters without photo ID to sign a simple form* and present one of the following documents to vote a regular ballot:

  • Valid voter registration certificate (card)
  • Certified birth certificate
  • Current utility bill
  • Bank statement
  • Government check
  • Paycheck
  • Any other government document with the individual’s name and address
  • *The one-page form is called the “Voter’s Declaration of Reasonable Impediment or Difficulty”

Prohibition of Voter Harassment

  • Election officials cannot question a voter about the use of an ID type
  • Poll watchers may never question a voter about Voter ID issues

  • It was also made clear that the ID address does not have to match the voter registration address.

No Provisional Ballots

Voters who present one of the alternate documents and sign the declaration form “shall be permitted to vote a regular ballot.”

Other Provisions

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Mayor Adler speaking about the Austin Energy rate case settlement on Aug 25, 2016. Council Members Casar and Pool also spoke at the press conference focused on environmental aspects of the rate case. Photo by Dave Cortez.

As of yesterday afternoon, Austin Energy’s rate case officially concluded with a unanimous vote of the City Council.  The result – lower bills for everyone and commitments to address two key environmental objectives.  The utility agreed to develop a financial, legal and technical plan that will allow its portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire at the end of 2022.  And the utility agreed to address the need for compensating commercial customers with solar installations for the energy they produce.  These commitments provide a path forward to transition away from burning coal and toward renewable energy.

The 2022 retirement date for Austin Energy’s portion of Fayette was established in the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2025, but a detailed implementation plan is still lacking.  The agreement that Public Citizen and Sierra Club struck with Austin Energy as part of the rate case gives the utility until June 2017 to present a plan to the City Council.  And in the meantime, $5 million will be earmarked in Austin Energy Contingency Reserve as part of the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget to be used for repaying debt associated with Fayette.  What to do about the debt is expected to be a significant focus of the research Austin Energy will conduct between now and next June.  Austin Energy’s portion of Fayette is responsible for about 25% of Austin’s community-wide greenhouse gas emissions and about 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions, making retiring the plant a top priority for meeting Austin’s climate goals.  Additionally, the economics of producing power from coal are looking worse all the time, so retiring the plant will ultimately benefit ratepayers, as well as the environment.

The exact details of how to compensate commercial customers with solar will also be decided in the coming months, but a commitment to address this current policy shortfall was part of the rate case agreement.  We will continue to advocate for expansion of the Value of Solar (VoS) tariff to commercial customers.  The VoS, which was pioneered by Austin Energy and first implemented in 2012, is used to calculate bill credits for residential customers with solar.  This formula-based method allows for a transparent examination of the benefits that local solar provides and is structured to be cost-neutral to the utility.  Currently, the VoS doesn’t apply to commercial customers, nor are most commercial customers eligible for net metering (a method of one for one crediting energy produced for energy used).  As incentives continue to be phased out, it becomes even more critical that Austin Energy have good long-term policies in place to fairly compensate customers.  The rate case agreement ensures that the issue of compensating commercial customers for energy produced will be addressed as part of the FY 2018 budget.

We are pleased that the Austin City Council also chose to make adjustments to the residential rates that weren’t detailed in the agreement between Austin Energy and the other parties in the rate case.  Austin Energy had proposed changes that would have raised rates for those who use the least electricity, while reducing them for those who use the most.  We advised the Council that such a change would be contrary to established goals for reducing energy use and would unfairly burden those who had invested in energy efficiency.  In the end, Council agreed and new rates were adopted that will result in reduced bills for all residential customers (rate reductions for commercial customers were already ensured).  The new rate go into effect at the start of January 2017.

Public Citizen’s Texas office worked in partnership with the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter for the past seven months to ensure that environmental priorities were reflected in Austin Energy’s rates and financial planning.  Thanks to the many Austinites, including city council members who supported our efforts.

 

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Been wondering what all those Bernie supporters are going to do now that their “candidate” is no longer running for President?  Well they have now  announced the creation of a new organization whose mission will be to carry forth the ‘political revolution’ through the general election and beyond. The Bernie Sanders “campaign” has issued a call to action for those inspired by the historic primary challenge and a message aimed at its detractors: We’re not done yet.  The new organization will be called ‘Our Revolution.

Sanders will begin activating his grassroots supporters for enacting a longer-term vision.  Around the country supporters of the new movement will host house parties on August 24th as a way to begin fueling Our Revolution. The kick-off evening, will include “a major live stream address where Bernie will talk about the specifics of what we can do going forward to fight for every single issue that drove his campaign.

If you want to find a house party in your area, go to the map and put in your zip code.

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Sunset Commission Logo

Monday, August 22, 2016
House Appropriations Committee Room
Room E1.030, Capitol Extension
1400 Congress Avenue
Starting at 9:00 a.m.

This is not the Railroad Commission’s first rodeo.  It was punted in the 2011, 2013 and 2015 legislative sessions with a temporary re-authorization because the legislature failed to agree and pass a bill that would reauthorize the agency for another 12 years.  So once again this dysfunctional agency is in front of the Sunset Commissioners who must make recommendations about how the RRC should continue (and in case you were wondering – NO – the Railroad Commission does not regulate railroads.  Pipelines, oil and gas wells, and mines are among the things it oversees/rubber stamps.  And it does have some enforcement duties that don’t amount to much  So this is an agency that could use some serious changes, but unless the Texas legislature via the Sunset Commissioners know that the public is paying attention to what they do, they could just re-authorize the RRC for another 12 years with no significant changes.  This is where you come in.  Below is a description of the Sunset Advisory Commission and their process.  You can see the agenda for the August 22nd hearing here.

If you plan to testify, you will need to fill out a witness card upon your arrival at the Capitol in Room E1.030. We will have our internal sessions and refreshments in reserved rooms at the Capitol.  Parking is available in the Capitol Visitors Garage accessible on 12th or 13th Streets between Trinity and San Jacinto on the east side of the Capitol., please fill in the sheet here, so we can plan to accommodate everyone and for you to get information about the rooms we have reserved.  If you cannot come in person, there are other options (see below)

The Sunset Advisory Commission is an agency of the Texas Legislature that makes recommendations to the Legislature on whether to continue various state agencies.

The Commission was created in 1977 under the auspices of the Texas Sunset Act (now codified as Chapter 325 of the Texas Government Code).

The Commission consists of twelve members, ten of whom are legislators and the remaining two are members of the general public (see the current Commissioners below). The leader of each chamber of the Legislature (the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, who presides over the Texas Senate) each appoint five legislators and one public member to serve on the Commission. The chair and vice-chair rotate annually between the two chambers. The Commission appoints a director, who hires staff to carry out agency duties.  (A list of the members is located at the bottom of this post)

Under the Act, every state agency (excluding universities, courts, and agencies mandated under the Texas Constitution) has a specific date on which it will automatically be abolished, unless the Legislature passes specific legislation continuing the agency’s existence. This issue came into play during the 2009 Legislative session, when the session adjourned without the Legislature providing for the continued existence of several agencies, thus requiring the Governor to call a special session.

Prior to the scheduled cessation date of an agency, the agency’s functions are scheduled for review by the Commission. Each agency provides to the Commission a Self-Evaluation Report; the Commission staff prepares its recommendations (coordinating with other state oversight agencies, such as the State Auditor’s Office and the Legislative Budget Board) and takes public comments. A final public hearing is held prior to the Commission making its final recommendations to the Legislature. The final recommendation can be any of the following:

  • Continue the agency as is
  • Continue the agency with modifications (including moving functions from the agency to other agencies, moving functions from other agencies into it, and most commonly, making improvements to the effectiveness and efficiency of an agency’s functions.)
  • Merge the agency with another agency
  • Disband the agency and either transfer its functions to other agencies, or abolish them altogether

If the Commission recommends continuation of the agency, it must provide draft legislation to continue the Agency and to make other recommendations. Generally, the legislation will allow the agency to continue for an additional 12 years (six biennial sessions), but may be shortened in order to equalize the number and size of agencies to be reviewed each biennium. Should an agency be abolished, the Act provides for a one-year wind-down period so the agency may conclude its operations. The Legislature must pass specific legislation to continue an agency’s existence and to define its roles and responsibilities, and has complete freedom to amend or reject the Commission’s recommendations (either to continue or abolish the agency).

The Sunset Process:

The Commission generally considers each agency under review during two public meetings.  About a month after release of a Sunset staff report, the Commission discusses the report’s recommendations and takes testimony from the public.   Any person is welcome to attend the public hearing and provide feedback on the staff recommendations or other issues relating to the agency.  For the Railroad Commission this hearing is August 22, 2016 at the capital.  Please note, however, testimony about individual cases or appeals is generally not allowed. The Sunset Commission cannot override an agency’s decisions.

At least a month after the public hearing, the Sunset Commission meets again to vote on its recommendations to the full Legislature about an agency. No additional public testimony is taken at this second meeting.  The Railroad Commission’s second meeting is scheduled for November 10th.  At this point the commissioners will issue their recommendations for any changes at the agency that will be considered in the reauthorizing legislation that needs to pass during the 85th legislative session, should the bill fail the agency is abolished but may continue business for up to one year.  Should no reauthorizing legislation pass, there is an omnibus bill that will allow an agency to undergo the sunset process during the next interim session, but the Railroad Commission’s reauthorizing process was already delayed last session.

Public participation is the cornerstone of the Sunset process.  It is how Sunset staff gains the broad perspective needed to conduct its review of state agencies and programs.  It is how the Sunset Commission receives feedback about the Sunset staff review and hears new ideas and issues beyond what staff has presented.  Ultimately, it is how the public itself can be assured of a say on fundamental matters affecting state agencies.

The public may participate in the Sunset process at this point by:

Giving feedback directly to the Sunset Commission.

After the Sunset staff report has been issued, the Sunset Commission conducts a public hearing to receive feedback on the staff’s work.  Interested persons may provide feedback in writing or by testifying at the hearing.  Because of the public nature of the proceeding, feedback received at this stage is public and will generally be placed on the Sunset Commission’s website for the public to see.  To be most effective, this feedback should be short and to the point and clearly indicate support, opposition, or changes to recommendations.  One may also present any new issues or solutions that were not raised in the Sunset staff report.  Sunset staff compiles this feedback to help the Sunset Commission make decisions about an agency.

If you cannot attend but want to submit written testimony, you can use the Public Input Form and watch a live stream of the hearing. or you can go to Public Citizen’s Action form with pre-written testimony.  Once you take action here  you will both automatically receive an email about the hearing and will be directed to the page to sign up to attend the hearing

If the reason you cannot attend is because they happened to schedule this hearing on the same day school starts in your area, be sure to mention this in your written testimony.

Sunset Commission Members

The Commission has five Senators, five Representatives, and two members of the public, appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.  The position of chair rotates between the House and the Senate every two years.

Senate Members House Members
Van Taylor
Vice Chair
2015 to 2019
Plano
Larry Gonzales
Chair
2013 to 2017
Round Rock
Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

2013 to 2017
McAllen

Cindy Burkett

2013 to 2017
Sunnyvale

Robert Nichols

2015 to 2017
Jacksonville

Dan Flynn

2015 to 2019
Van

Charles Schwertner

2013 to 2017
Georgetown

Richard Peña Raymond

2013 to 2017
Laredo

Kirk Watson

2015 to 2019
Austin

Senfronia Thompson

2015 to 2019
Houston

LTC (Ret.) Allen B. West
Public Member
2015 to 2017
William Meadows
Public Member
2015 to 2017

 

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RRC townhallTuesday, August 2 at 6:30 PM

Grapevine Convention Center

1209 S Main St, Grapevine, Texas 76051

The Texas Railroad Commission governs all oil and gas activities including the building of pipelines within the state. The RRC is up for Sunset Review this coming legislative session. Sunset works by setting a date on which an agency is abolished unless the Legislature passes a bill to continue it. Sunset staff evaluates the agency and issues recommendations for positive change. The Commission considers the recommendations, hears public testimony, and decides on a package of changes to bring to the full Legislature.

If you are concerned about the lack of enforcement and fines related oil and gas drilling, about deep injection and earthquakes and about Commissioners taking donations from companies with cases pending before the RRC, then come learn about the Sunset process, express your concerns and your questions about this agency, and how you want it reformed.

Also, public testimony in Austin is tentatively set for Monday, August 22.

For more info,
https://www.sunset.texas.gov/reviews-and-reports/agencies/railroad-commission-texas-rrc

https://www.sunset.texas.gov/meetings#meeting_1764

Sunset of an agency happens once a decade. Real reform for the RRC has been pushed aside in recent years for Legislative budget wrangling and other politics around the Capitol.

Numerous legislators have been invited to the event and we are awaiting confirmation. But this is your opportunity to come together with others where we can document your concerns and comments regarding this agency. This event is sponsored and being put on by Public Citizen, Sierra Club and Earthworks.

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A rate case is fundamentally about determining how much money an electric utility needs to collect from ratepayers to pay for expenses (and make some return on investment), how those expenses will be divided among the different customer classes (residential, commercial, industrial), and how customers in those different rate classes will be billed.  It’s probably obvious that these decisions can impact affordability and equity among customers.  Rate cases can also have significant environmental impacts though.

The Austin Energy rate case is an opportunity to make changes that can allow the utility to transition away from fossil fuels and towards greater reliance on clean energy solutions, including solar energy at homes and businesses, energy efficiency, energy storage and demand response (temporarily reducing usage when energy demand and prices spike).  What the utility spends money on, what programs are offered, and how rates are designed have profound impacts on climate change, air quality, water pollution, water use, land use – all of which impact society in a variety of ways, including public health and vulnerability to natural disasters.  So, it might sound boring at first, but if you care about the environment or social equity, you should care about how your electric utility is doing business.

What we’re advocating for:

  • 2009-08-21-fayette

    Fayette Power Project

    Budget to allow Austin Energy’s portion of the coal-fired Fayette Power Project to retire.  It is responsible for 80% of Austin Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions (and over 28% of Austin’s greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors).  It’s also a major source of other air pollution that causes and worsens respiratory diseases (sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides – which contributes to ground level ozone formation) and cause neurological disorders mercury.  And it requires over 5 billion gallons of water to operate.  The latest adopted plan for Austin Energy calls for the retirement of the utility’s portion of Fayette by 2023, and Austin Energy staff say its remaining debt associated with the plant must be paid off before it can be retired.  The plan calls for that money to be collected in a dedicated fund through annual budgeting, but that isn’t happening, putting the retirement plan at risk.  Please use our action page to email City Council about budgeting to retire Fayette.

  • Maintain residential rates that encourage energy conservation and allow thrifty customers to keep their bills low.  Austin Energy has proposed to increase electric rates for those who use the least energy and reduce them for those who use the most.  For those trying to reduce their electric usage for environmental reasons or because their household budgets are strained, Austin Energy’s proposal will increase bills.  Austin Energy’s proposal will also make it more difficult to project from year to year how higher much summer rates will be from winter rates.  Both of these changes would reduce the incentive to conserve energy and invest in energy efficiency upgrade.  And these changes were proposed despite a study that Austin Energy commissioned that said that the existing rate structure is succeeding in encouraging conservation.  These proposed changes to how residential customers are billed would be a step backwards.
  • LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation - Meridian Solar

    LegalZoom Austin Solar Installation – Meridian Solar

    Adopt a policy to fairly compensate businesses for energy they produce from solar energy systems.  The City Council has adopted goals solar energy on homes and businesses, but Austin Energy’s current policy doesn’t include any way for most commercial customers to receive compensation for the energy they provide to the utility.  Incentives have temporarily filled that gap, but they are coming to an end.  The value of solar (VoS) rate is used to provide bill credits to residential customers, based on the calculated value of local distributed solar energy.  The same method should be used to compensate commercial customers.  Making this policy change will help grow solar adoption, while shifting away from incentives.

  • Ensure that enough money is collected to fully fund energy efficiency, solar energy and demand response programs.  Helping customers reduce their electric bills by making energy efficiency improvement or install solar energy systems doesn’t just benefit those customers who participate in those programs, it benefits all customers by allowing the utility to avoid purchasing expensive power that would drive all of our bills up.  The Energy Efficiency Services fee is used to collect money for this purpose.  With more people moving to Austin all the time, Austin Energy needs to ensure that budgets are set to match the need for local energy improvements.

Public Citizen and Sierra Club jointly participated in the Austin Energy rate case over the past several months, in an effort to push the utility to make environmentally sound decisions about both spending and billing customers.  That was just a warm-up for the real decision-making process though.  Because Austin Energy is owned by the city of Austin, the Austin City Council will make the final decisions about the rate case.  That’s where you come in.  City Council members, including Mayor Adler, need to hear from Austin Energy customers.  There will be a public hearing on Thursday, August 25th at 4:00 p.m. at City Hall.  Meet at 3:00 p.m. for a rally to support fair rates that meet Austin’s environmental goals.

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2016 Gonna Be Too Hot To Handle

melting earthMany of us are asking, can it get any hotter?  The National Weather Service is issuing heat alerts for more than a dozen states from Minnesota to Louisiana this week.  In the meantime, NASA says 2016 is already on track to be the hottest year ever on record, with each of the first six months, from January to June, setting new temperature records.  Click here to read LiveScience’s report on what NASA is projecting.

 

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photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

photo by Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

During the last week of June, President Obama, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met for the North American Leaders Summit (known as the Three Amigos Summit) in Ottawa to focus primarily on climate-related issues. These climate accords are essential not only in combating climate change, but also in seeing how countries can forge multi-lateral partnerships in addressing environmental issues.

This summit was the first in two and a half years. The trilateral summit last year was postponed due to disputes over the Keystone oil pipeline between President Obama, who saw the pipeline as a threat to the environment, and Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was a strong advocate of it. Now, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party, and President Enrique Peña Nieto, a close ally of President Obama’s, US, Canada, and Mexico are unifying their energy policies more than ever.

The new agreement calls for 50 percent of North America’s electricity to come from clean power sources by 2025. According to the agreement, clean power sources include renewable energy, efficiency, nuclear power and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage technology. Currently, 37% of North America’s electricity is powered by non-carbon-emitting power plants, mostly nuclear and hydro. Among the three countries, Canada is leading in carbon-free energy with 81 percent (if nuclear energy is included), coming from clean energy sources. United States and Mexico lag behind. In Mexico, only 22 percent of its energy is carbon-free. The statistics for the United States are not much better given that only 33 percent of electric power (including 20 percent nuclear) comes from carbon-free energy sources. Another 33 percent of our electricity is fueled by coal which is primarily composed of carbon.

The trilateral agreement opens up new avenues for carbon-dependent states to replace their energy sources through the transmission of power from Canada’s electricity grid. Another way the countries are looking to decrease carbon emissions is by boosting deployment of clean vehicles in government fleets, as well as cutting emissions from the shipping and airline sectors.

The agreement’s main targets are methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), along with other greenhouse gas pollutants. Cutting down on methane emissions should be a priority for North America given that it produces 20% of the world’s methane emissions.  The pollutant traps 25 times more heat over a 100 year period and 87 times more over a 20 year period, compared to CO2. The pressure of being accountable to your neighbor will hopefully bring all three of the North American states to significantly reduce their methane emissions.

A part of the accord that U.S. and Canada had previously decided on before the summit, promises to reduce methane, black carbon, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used in refrigerators, by 40 to 45 percent. During the Three Amigos Summit, the Mexican President agreed to the terms as well.

Finally, the Three Amigos also agreed on protecting biodiversity, particularly preserving migratory birds and butterflies that fly every year between the three countries, but are losing their habitat due to environmental threats.

The climate change goals of the North America Leaders Summit are aligned with the Paris Agreements of 2015, in which U.S. committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025.
(more…)

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