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Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

What does it mean to make a climate action plan “Paris compliant”?  You may have heard this phrase, but do you really know what it means?  “Paris” refers to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, which every nation in the world except the United States is committed to. “Compliant” refers to the goals set in the agreement to keep global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and attempt to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial temperatures.  So, what does that mean for a city wanting to do its fair share to avert climate crisis?

1.5 vs. 2 Degrees Celsius

The Paris Climate Agreement names two goals, but which one should we focus on – limiting warming to 1.5 or to 2 degrees Celsius?  Half of a degree might not sound like much, but, as NASA puts it, it’s a “big deal.”  That’s because the temperature increase won’t be spread out evenly over the area of the Earth or evenly throughout the year or time of day.  Some places and times will see much greater increases, resulting in more extreme weather. Heat-waves would be longer, rainstorms more intense, sea levels would rise further, tropical coral reefs would be totally destroyed, and agriculture would be hit harder.

There’s also a strong equity argument to be made for the 1.5 degree Celsius goal.  The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) advocated for this more protective goal during the Paris Climate Agreement negotiations because their very existence is threatened by climate change.  Rising sea levels are already making some low-lying coastal areas uninhabitable, and a 2 degree increase would completely inundate many of the 44 low-lying AOSIS member countries.

Beyond the clear and present threat to low-lying nations, warming has been and will continue to be most pronounced in the tropics, which includes many poorer nations.  And poor people around the world will be most negatively impacted by climate change because the poor often live in more marginal areas – in flood plains or in drought-prone regions – and because the poor lack the resources to cope with extreme weather.

Global temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree Celsius and climate change is causing health problems.  As this trend continues, those without access to medical care or living in flood plains will struggle to cope.

Global Carbon Budget

Understanding the concept of the global carbon budget (which is really a greenhouse gas budget) is important.  Fundamentally, limiting warming requires limiting the total quantity of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, with emissions accumulating in the atmosphere year after year.

Determining an exact number is challenging and various climate models yield different results.  Some models indicate that the carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius has already been exceeded.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recognizes the need for additional analysis of the carbon budget to meet the 1.5 degree goal and is working on a report focused on this topic.

In the meantime, the carbon budget values provided in the IPCC 2013 AR5 Synthesis Report are the most comprehensive source of guidance because they include all GHGs from all sources, identify pathways to likely (defined as a two-in-three chance) meet the 1.5 and 2 degree Celsius goals, and are based on modeling out to 2100.  Using the IPCC budget for the 1.5 degree goal, and accounting for emissions since that report was released, the remaining carbon budget at the start of 2017 was 162.02 gigatonnes.  Limiting emissions to this amount would give us a 66% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

A 66% chance of success also translates to a 34% chance of failure.  Failure to preserve a livable climate.  Ideally, we would aim to keep cumulative GHG emissions well below this budget to increase our chances of keeping to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.

Negative Emissions

Past inaction to reduce GHG emissions now makes negative emissions, or carbon sequestration, necessary to meet the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and likely even to meet the 2 degree goal, but the assumed scale of such efforts can easily be overestimated.  The vast majority of the climate models relied on by the IPCC – and therefore, the underlying Paris Climate Agreement – assume massive negative emissions.  While there are existing technologies and techniques for achieving negative emissions, all face significant challenges, including cost, other impacts on the environment, and use of land needed to feed the growing world population.  Recent research suggests that negative emissions technologies are more limited than climate scientists have assumed in their modeling.

GHG Emissions Reductions Goals for U.S.  Cities

The realities of the carbon budget and limits of negative emissions technologies makes a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to avert climate crisis.  While meeting the goals set in the Paris Climate Agreement is still possible, there is no time to waste on inactionNet zero global GHG emissions must be reached by around 2050, and substantial near-term emissions reductions are critical.

C40 has developed a roadmap, called Deadline 2020, for how cities can translate these global goals and carbon budgets to local goals and actions.  The emissions reduction curve for a given city depends on how much greenhouse gases the city emits and how much wealth the city has.  Compared to the global average, U.S. cities are high emitters and have high wealth (defined as greater than $15,000 per capita gross regional product per year).  The Deadline 2020 roadmap calls for such cities to get on a “steep decline” GHG emissions trajectory, with emissions reaching zero before 2050.  The roadmap makes it clear that wealthy, high emitting cities, such as those in the U.S. must take significant action prior to 2020 to make it possible to achieve the 1.5 degree goal.

The good news is that more and more cities are engaging in climate planning.  In Texas, that includes Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and hopefully soon Dallas.  While each city has its own challenges and opportunities, the C40 Deadline 2020 roadmap can and should be used to set fair, science-based goals.

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As global temperatures continue to rise along with CO2 emissions, leaders in need of solutions should be cautious when considering the potential of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).  While the wholesale success of these technologies was assumed in many of the climate models used in developing the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.

In the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the world agreed on implementing greenhouse gas mitigation plans which focus on producing negative carbon dioxide emissions to help curb climate change.

Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Project. Capture CO2 from ADM’s Decatur corn processing facility and store it underground.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) facilities generate electricity by burning trees and crops that have taken CO2 from the atmosphere throughout their lifetime. When the biomass is burned, BECCS facilities capture the CO2 emissions and store them or, more often, use CO2 in order to enhance oil recovery (EOR). BECCS is one of the technologies the potential to achieve negative emissions if easy-to-grow feedstocks, such as switchgrass, are grown with sustainable practices and the captured CO2 is sequestered. However, these conditions don’t currently exist at commercial facilities.

BECCS Case Study: Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Project

In April 2017, the U.S Department of Energy (DOE) announced that the Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage (ICCS) project at Archer Daniels Midland Company’s (ADM) Decatur corn ethanol facility had begun operations by injecting carbon dioxide into a large saline reservoir. The ICCS project stores more than 1 million tons of CO2 a year. The project captures CO2 from ADM’s Decatur corn processing facility, and stores it almost a mile and a half underground. The total project cost is $207.9 million and it has received a cost-share agreement of $141 million investment from the Department Of Energy. The project team members include ADM, Schlumberger Carbon Services, Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), University of Illinois, and Richland Community College (RCC). The technology demonstrated for this project aimed to help the development of the regional CCS industry (i.e., enhanced oil recovery in the depleted oilfields in the Illinois Basin).

Although the main purpose of BECCS technology is to reduce greenhouse gases and help combat with climate change, practically, CO2 has been captured in order to enhance oil recovery, which will result in more CO2 in the atmosphere. As the world’s focus is on keeping global temperature below 2 degree Celsius, using carbon capture storage (CCS) and BECCS in this way will perpetuate the use of fossil fuels. Also, emissions from the transportation of feedstock and the use of nitrogen fertilizer for growing crops could be a big challenge and accelerate the trend of global warming especially associated with ozone destruction.

The Illinois Basin Decatur facility and the EBCCS plant as a whole emit more CO2 than the BECCS plant has been designed to capture. The graphics info provided by Carbon Brief shows that the total CO2 emissions have been emitted by Decatur facility over 2.5 years of the operation was 12,693,283 tons of CO2. However, the EBCCS plant only absorbed 2,095,400 tons of CO2 which means that Decatur facility as a whole has emitted 10,597,883 tons of CO2 even with BECCS capacity. Thus, this project failed to fulfill the purpose of reducing carbon and curbing climate change.

The Illinois Basin Decatur Project. By Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.

Caption: The Illinois Basin Decatur Project.  By Rosamund Pearce for Carbon Brief.

Challenges and Concerns of BECCS Projects:

  • High Cost of Capturing and Storing Carbon: It costs $100 to capture a ton of CO2 for a biomass plant. Whereas, fossil fuel plants are capturing carbon for about $60 a ton. This difference is based on varying bioenergy feedstock prices; energy production process; and capture technology. Also, transporting large amounts of biomass long distances to the storage site would significantly add to the cost of BECCS, since biomass tends to have a lot of weight relative to its energy.
  • Transporting CO2 to the reservoirs via pipelines or trucks: The transportation networks are costly and also turn more CO2 back into the atmosphere. More infrastructure – such as pipelines – would need to be built, which increases the cost of BECCS and indirectly results in more emissions through the construction process. Also, CO2 leakage from pipelines or storage sites could endanger people, harm marine ecosystems, and threaten freshwater ecosystem. Navigating the property rights of local communities can also be a challenge.
  • Effects of increased fertilizer use, such as nitrogen: Nitrogen fertilizers can be leached into the groundwater and washed into waterways, resulting in serious health, environmental, and economic damage. Nitrogen fertilizers applied in agriculture can add more nitrous oxide to the atmosphere than any other human activity. Nitrous oxide also moves into the stratosphere and destroys ozone which could result in increasing global heat. Nitrogen pollution is identified as a cause of decline in native species and is a threat to biodiversity for vertebrate, invertebrate and plant species. A study found 78 federally listed species identified as affected by nitrogen pollution. Use of fertilizer nitrogen for crop production also influences soil health, by reducing organic matter content and microbial life, and increasing acidity of the soil.
  • Water concerns: Agriculture and power generation are highly water intensive. In order to produce 1 ton of ethanol, 3.5 t of CO2 and 5 t of H2O is needed, which means that more than 21,000 t of CO2 and 300,000 t of water vapor are consumed each year. However, more than 3 billion people are already affected by water scarcity so it is a critical challenge in utilizing BECCS technology.
  • Food Scarcity: food prices would increase as a result of changes in land use. Also, since climate change has already threatened the crop yields harvest, sudden changes in the weather could result in food shortage or even famine in some regions. Altering lands to a specific crop yield would affect the land quality and may result in regional resource shortages.
  • Geological storage sites for CO2: In the fertile Midwest of the U.S., croplands are too far from geologic storage to be a viable location for BECCS in the near-term. There are relatively few pipelines in place for transporting CO2 and the long-distance transportation of large volumes of captured CO2 is expensive, particularly if many small pipelines have to be built. Biomass could be transported to sites where CO2 storage is available, but that would significantly add to the cost of a BECCS project.
  • Land Use challenges: Could displace or expose small farmers to the volatility of world markets. Also, as a result of changing land applications, soil erosion, and degradation could happen and soil would lose its fertility. Poor management of bioenergy crop production can result in soil carbon loss from direct and indirect land use changes and significantly affect the net amount of CO2 removed by BECCS. In addition, land rights of farmers & ranchers should be considered as important challenges as well.
  • Cost of Ethanol Production: Depending on a cost of a barrel of oil and production cost of gasoline refining, ethanol can either increase or slightly decrease the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Overall, even though the U.S has a large potential for geological storage sites, there is still a need for transportation systems for either biomass or CO2 for the large-scale deployment of BECCS. Also, concerns associated with the land, water, and fertilizer use that would be required at the large-scale deployment of BECCS make the long-term economic viability of this technology uncertain. Tax incentives such as 45Q might cover some parts of the related costs, however, the health, environmental, and economic impacts of this project on the society is still unclear as well.

Overly optimistic assumptions about quickly achieving negative emissions on a large scale are dangerous. The world carbon budget is running out for 2 degree Celsius and we have already used the 1.5 degree’s carbon budget. While investments in BECCS are needed, these technologies do not give us a license to postpone eliminating emissions from other sources. And BECCS is only a solution if sustainable agriculture practices are employed, CO2 emissions are permanently sequestered and not used for oil recovery, and project sites are carefully selected to reduce emissions from transportation.
(more…)

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Earlier this month, I visited Exploration Green, a former golf course that local residents have helped to transform into a storm water detention basin and green space.

Located in Clear Lake, TX, Exploration Green finished its first phase in March 2018, and has 3 more phases to go. Yet even before Phase 1 was completed, Exploration Green is already paying off for residents of Clear Lake.

Hurricane Harvey

Rains from Hurricane Harvey hit the Clear Lake area strongly, and the detention basin, then under construction, held 100 million gallons of rainwater and prevented about 150 homes from being flooded. Exploration Green serves as a model for what Houston and other flood-prone areas can do to manage storm water.

Wetland Restoration

Profound development in the greater Houston area led to the loss of 20% of Harris County’s freshwater wetlands between 1990 and 2010, a loss of 15,855 acres. And as Harris and surrounding counties continue to be developed, more and more freshwater wetlands will be lost.

Wetlands serve an important function. They clean polluted runoff that enters Galveston Bay, and without them, the health of Galveston Bay will suffer.

Exploration Green has been working with Texas A&M’s Texas Coastal Watershed Program to design and build storm water wetlands that can enhance the environment and provide habitat for the many creatures that call the Clear Lake area home.

Putting It All Together

A recent report in the journal PLOS ONE states that the cost of flooding along the Gulf Coast will range from $134 and $176 billion by 2030, and the annual risk of flooding in the region is expected to more than double by 2050. This is due to climate change, land subsidence, and the concentration of assets in the coastal zone.

Nature-based solutions like the storm water detention basins and wetlands at Exploration Green are a cost-effective way to help mitigate flooding in communities in Houston. Communities can and should used them alongside policy measures and other infrastructure improvements to enhance our resilience to floods.

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Carbon Engineering’s direct air capture facility sucks CO2 directly from the atmospheric air. – Carbon Engineering

To maintain climate, we need to cut greenhouse gas – especially carbon – emissions down to zero. The more greenhouse gases that are released, the hotter our planet will be. If we are seeking to keep the global temperature below 1.5-2 degree Celsius, we need to find a way to reduce CO2 emissions. Direct Air Capture (DAC) is a technology which sucks CO2 out of the atmosphere by using large fans that move air through a filter to generate a pure CO2 stream. Depending on the application of the captured CO2, DAC can be either a “carbon recycling” or “carbon removal” technology. Carbon recycling refers to the process of using CO2 produced by DAC as fuel, or in other ways which will release CO2 back into the atmosphere, such as to carbonated beverages. Carbon removal requires CO2 to be stored underground or used in materials that do not allow CO2 to be released into the atmosphere, such as in cement or plastics.

DAC Carbon Recycling Case Study: Carbon Engineering

Recently, “Carbon Engineering,” a Canadian-based company leading the commercialization of direct air capture technology, have been working on Air to Fuels project, which uses renewable electricity to generate hydrogen from water, and then combines it with CO₂ captured from the atmosphere to use it as an input to produce synthetic fuels that can substitute for diesel, gasoline, or jet fuel. DAC’s cost at a commercial scale is not exactly determined yet. However, the latest estimate cost announced by Carbon Engineering is a range cost from $94 to $232 per ton for capturing CO2 and they hope to produce fuels from the Air2fuel project for less than $1.00 per litter, once it scaled up.

DAC Carbon Removal Case Study: Climeworks

Direct air capture unit along with the cooling towers of the geothermal power plant in Hellisheidi, Iceland. (Climeworks/Zev Starr-Tambor)

Swiss firm Climeworks recently launched the world’s first “commercial” direct CO2 capture plant at Hinwil, Zurich. Climeworks has been working on CO2 for carbonated drinks and renewable fuels project through the partnership with CarbFix which working on the project of dissolving CO2 into drinking water. Also, the Gebrüder Maier fruit and vegetable company uses the captured CO2 to boost the growth of cucumbers, tomatoes, and aubergines in its large greenhouses. However, the most interesting project which is designed to be a carbon removal project is happening right now! Climeworks recently launched a pilot project in Iceland which is a geothermal power plant with direct air capture technology. The facility is capturing 50 metric tons CO2 from the air each year, which is equivalent to a single U.S household or 10 Indian households. The CO2 captured in order to convert the emissions into stone. Thus, they’re making sure that CO2 doesn’t escape back into the atmosphere for the next millions of years.

Climeworks / Julia Dunlop Carbon capture from ambient air goes commercial

Pros of DAC:

  • Full-scale operations are able to absorb significant amounts of carbon, is equivalent to the annual emissions of 250,000 average cars
  • DAC system can be sited anywhere which reduce the cost of transporting CO2 to the sequestration sites
  • DAC can be scaled easily and has a relatively small land footprint in comparison to other carbon removal technologies such as Bioenergy Carbon Capture Storage (BECCS)
  • DAC system produces fuels with 100x less land use footprint and less water use than biofuels.

Cons of DAC:

  • Energy Intensive: Direct air capture is a fairly energy intensive process because the concentration of CO2 in ambient air is relatively low. Separating CO2 from the air is challenging since it takes a significant amount of energy and air to separate and concentrate CO2 in the atmosphere. Thus, large volumes of air must be processed in order to collect meaningful amounts of CO2
  • Very Expensive: Currently, it is not a financially viable option because it is very expensive. The cost of CO2 captured from the atmosphere ranges between $94 and $232 per ton according to Carbon Engineering estimate
  • Water consumption concern: One study estimates for removing 3.3 gigatons of carbon per year, DAC could expect to use around 7.925e+13 gallons of water per year (assuming current amine technology, which is what Climeworks uses). This is equivalent to 4% of the water used for crop cultivation each year. Carbon Engineering using sodium hydroxide that would use far less, but this, in turn, is a highly caustic and dangerous substance
  • Revenue Opportunities: Revenue opportunities for DAC carbon removal systems depend on carbon markets and regulations. Without high enough carbon prices, DAC systems are likely to find the largest revenue opportunities by providing CO2 for manufacturing fuels, enhanced oil recovery, greenhouses and carbonated beverages, as DAC systems can be sited anywhere.

Climeworks direct air capture plant founders Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher onsite. Climeworks / Julia Dunlop

Policy Approach:

There have been some policies that provided a shift toward greater development and deployment of carbon dioxide removal and recycling. In February 2018, the U.S budget bill passed by Congress which extends and reforms the federal Section 45Q tax credit. 45Q provides credits for businesses that use CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and for CO2 injection into underground geologic formations. Mostly, the 45Q tax credits benefits fossil fuels industry. Based on the bill, any new fossil-fuel power plant or carbon-dioxide producing industry that commences construction before 2024 is eligible for tax credits for up to 12 years. The tax credits offered up to $35 per metric ton of carbon dioxide captured if the CO2 is put to use (pushing out oil from depleting fields is the most popular use) or up to $50 if it is simply buried in underground storage. Hence, the bill benefits fossil fuels companies at a lower cost of carbon capture and help fossil fuels companies expand oil production, and continue to build coal plants. Thus, the carbon removal companies are not willing to sequestrate carbon when there is a market for selling it. The only way to make money off sequestration is if the government is directly subsidizing it or if there is an extremely high carbon price. Currently, there is no carbon price anywhere in the world great enough to make sequestration profitable. At present, carbon is trading at a low price in the global market compared to the cost of storing it underground.

However, tax credits could make negative emission projects more financially attractive and more economically viable. Based on the incentives provided by 45Q bill, direct air capture could be a critical tool for CO2 removal since it has a countless potential for removing carbon and reuse it. Since the high cost of the technology in pilot projects has been an obstacle to a large-scale implementation, hopefully, new regulations and tax credits such as 45Q bill ease the process and lower the costs. Although the tax credit will not cover the full cost of these technologies, it will make a noticeable reduction in the operating cost.

Tax credits and regulations mean greater opportunities for developers and suggest positive movement in wider efforts to stem climate change, as carbon capture and storage is widely considered to be a significant element of addressing climate change. Recently, several private investors and fossil fuels companies have started investments in DAC technology. Especially, the oil and coal industry since the captured CO2 can be used for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). However, utilizing DAC technology to develop EOR would neutralize any efforts regarding climate mitigation actions.

Direct air capture could hold the promise of capturing CO2 from the atmosphere. However, since there is an economic benefit of using CO2 to make fuels or for enhanced oil recovery, fossil fuels industry are making money off the technology. In a time that there is relatively little carbon budget left to keep the world temperature below 1.5C or 2C, nations need to focus on cutting CO2 emissions rapidly by shifting their reliance away from fossil fuels to the renewable energy, in particular. (more…)

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Taking a Stand

On Friday, June 2, 2017, Mayor Mike Rawlings released a statement in response to the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement regarding reducing global warming emissions. Under the title of “Dallas will continue to be a leader on climate action,” the Dallas Mayor noted:

“Climate change should not be a partisan issue.  I disagree with any decision that undermines our nation’s leadership role in the fight to mitigate the effects of climate change.  Dallas is a leader in emissions reduction efforts, and we have had significant success in reducing our carbon footprint. I am asking our staff to continue to develop and maintain programs that improve regional air quality, reduce carbon emissions and otherwise address climate change.  This is a common-sense approach that is good for our citizens, our businesses and our planet.”

The Dallas Mayor’s statement came on the heels of 406 Mayors, representing 70 million Americans across the country, as they committed to adopt, honor and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement goals.  These Mayors all made a commitment to intensify efforts to push for new action to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) reduction target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.

Other Texas Mayors that signed onto the 2017 Climate Mayors agreement included Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio, Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, Mayor John Thormaides of San Marcos, and Mayor Scott Saunders of Smithville.

 

Texas Cities at Work

Today, San Antonio is in the midst of working on their first climate plan.   Austin was ahead of the curve, having started working on a climate plan in 2014, long before the Paris Agreement, setting a goal of achieving net-zero community wide emissions by 2050.

 

Dallas Needs to Develop a Stand Alone Climate Plan with a Net Zero Goal

Dallas is in the midst of finishing its third global warming emissions inventory.  The first inventory the city conducted was an assessment for the years 1990 through 2005.  Dallas’ second inventory, which was taken from 2006 to 2010, illustrated a 7% reduction in community-wide greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, meeting the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement signed in 2006.

When Dallas completes its latest and third inventory, it will determine if the city met its goal of a 39% reduction by 2017.   From there a new “stand alone climate plan” with a “net zero” goal should be adopted by the Mayor and City Council; and Dallas should take the necessary steps to meet that goal.

 

Dallas Can Take Credit for Recent Initiatives in a Climate Plan

Dallas can take credit for its latest inventory along with projects recently put forward such as its Resiliency plan, its adoption of new building codes, green procurement and energy efficient programs and its commitment to purchase electric vehicles when the City decides to take on designing its “stand alone climate plan.”  Dallas has also purchased 100% renewable energy credits, but purchasing actual renewable energy would be even better.

Now is the time, as the City finishes its most recent emissions inventory, to put these recent measures and others into a plan that will help Dallas achieve net zero emissions by 2050 or some other date certain.

 

Advancing Dallas As a Leader – Leaving a Legacy for the Future

Without a stated net zero goal set with a projected date for achieving that goal and supported with a detailed action plan, Dallas cannot be certain it is doing all it can to achieve to combat climate change.  

Mayor Rawlings did the right thing by signing onto the Mayors Climate agreement. As he enters his last year in office, we have the opportunity to make his goal to advance Dallas as a leader in mitigating the effects of climate change a reality and an important part of his legacy.  Now is the time for Dallas to take the next step with a “net zero” plan to show it is doing all it can to secure a cleaner, brighter future for its citizens and generations to come.

 

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Reimagining the Lawn

June 26, 2018
By Briauna Barrera

 

Imagine: You’re walking through your neighborhood one warm summer evening. The sun is sinking into the horizon, and the cicadas are starting their nightly chorus. Bats are swooping in the sky. The scent of a nearby grill lingers in the air. Automated sprinklers and homeowners alike water vibrant green lawns, excess water swirling lazily onto sidewalks and down sewer drains. This is familiar, this is home.

Lawns appeared in England and France in the 1800s as a showcase wealth and nobility. The idea reached the United States through literature and art from England in the late 18th century and was similarly used by landowners to convey their status. In the 1830s and 1840s, as cities in the US become more congested and polluted due to the Industrial Revolution, wealthy families began to move outside the city in order to escape the issues of urbanization. In these new suburban landscapes, the upper class adopted the stylings of the elite in England and France. Then at the beginning of the 20th century, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Golf Association, and Garden Club Of America encouraged the proliferation of lawns due to its potential as a profitable industry. During this same time, the United States shifted from a producer society to consumer society and much of the individually owned land, especially in cities and suburbs, was no longer needed to produce food for domestic animals or vegetables for the family. Advertising encouraged people to have lawns and buy lawn-care products and by the 1930s, lawns were viewed as a normal and expected feature of middle-class suburban landscapes.

Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, Humphry Repton, 1795

With the economic boom following World War II and the passage of the GI Bill, which allowed returning soldiers to afford college educations and ownership of detached single-family homes, there was a dramatic increase in suburban development. Automobile-centric policy and corporate practices, in large part through lobbying from car manufacturers, also supported the rapid increase in suburban development, as the increase in mass production of cars made them more affordable for private ownership and the drastic expansion of the U.S. highways systems under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, gave residents an avenue out of deteriorating urban areas into the surrounding suburbs. While white residents fled in droves from cities, known as White Flight, people of color were often prohibited from moving into the suburbs through racists practices such as red-lining. Thus, the sharp rise of suburbia resulted in an increasingly stark urban landscape defined by race and allowed white families to join the middle class and start building generational wealth that that was harder for families of color to obtain. The American lawn became a staple for the well-to-do middle class and continued its legacy of showcasing wealth, status, and consumption.

The Green Revolution, a period of rapid technological advances in agricultural technology and federally-supported agriculture research increased people’s ability to maintain grass lawns in any climate. Now that grass lawns were within reach for families across the nation, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the National Gardening Association (NGA) sought to expand their power and influence through the new patch of empty land surrounding each middle class American home. The NGA did so by hosting garden workshops that educated people on the proper way to grow and maintain lawns, hosting gardening contests, and volunteering within local communities. While gardening groups and clubs shifted their focus to growing ‘victory gardens’ consisting of vegetables to support the wartime effort during World War I, after the war, focus shifted back to growing flowers instead of vegetables and beautification efforts rather than using gardens, lawns, and community spaces for practical measures. Advertisements also ramped up, with ads and articles about gardens starting to appear in magazines like Better Homes and Gardens. Beautification gardening and golf, leisurely and status-laden activities, became available to the middle class who were increasing in numbers in the suburbs and creating a lifestyle in which grass became paramount.


Wizard Power Mower & Lawn Conditioner advertisement, 1953

The commitment of American consumption and advertising resulted in the creation of a financial and laborious expenditure for home-owning Americans who were expected to spend vast amounts of time and money in the upkeep of something that produced nothing. Currently, the average homeowner spends about 70 hours a year maintaining their lawn and Americans households spent around $29.5 billion on lawn care and gardening services in 2015. However, people are not instinctively compelled to care for lawns, at least not when lawns were first introduced, but many people learned “to keep their front yards in presentable condition as dictated by community cleanup campaigns and school programs, as well by advertising. Advertising, as a result of a country driven more and more by consumption and production, manufactured a false need for lawns that came at the consumer’s and the environment’s expense.

Lawns have a distinct impact on the appearance of the American landscape through the introduction of non-native and invasive plants across the United States. Many of the common grasses used for lawns, such as Kentucky bluegrass or Bermuda grass, are not native to the North American continent and were brought over to familiarize the landscapes for colonists, to graze animals that were accustomed to European flora, and by accident, as when grass seeds were present in the hay of livestock on ships. Eventually these non-native grasses became the grasses people used for their lawns. As lawns spread across the United States, so too did invasive and non-native grass species spread. These grass species drove out other, native species of grass, decreasing biodiversity and disrupting the local food webs as a result.

Lawns are an intensive use of resources, especially water. According to the EPA, nationwide use of landscape irrigation makes up approximately one-third of all residential water use, totaling more than seven billion gallons per day, and up to 50 percent of water used for irrigation is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or runoff caused by overwatering. Lawns not only waste resources, but they are also an inefficient use of land. As lawns became more commonplace, it became increasingly taboo for lawns to serve a purpose other than aesthetics. When lawns were first introduced, they served various functions, such as grazing for livestock, but by the 20th century, functionalist lawn us had all but died out. However, lawns take up an estimated 40 million acres of land in the continental United States or almost two percent of surface in the contiguous U.S. If grass were counted as a crop, it would take up three times as much space as irrigated corn.

Lawns maintenance uses an inordinate amount of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. Lawns use about 30,000 tons of pesticides yearly in the United States. However, the effects of  these toxic chemicals do not stop at the land; excess phosphorus and nitrogen runoff from lawn fertilizer enters waterways, and the increased amounts of dissolved nutrients cause algae blooms that siphon oxygen out the affected waterways, asphyxiating fish and causing the larger ecological systems to fail and ultimately eutrophying these waterways. Not only does this destroy the habitat for flora and fauna, disrupt the ecosystems, and lower biodiversity, it also causes “dead-zones” that prevent fishing from taking place and negatively affects water quality, which in turn causes human health issues.

Furthermore the toxicity of these fertilizers can affect other animals indirectly, for example, birds that eat fish or insects that have come into contact with fertilizers are at the risk of contracting pesticide poisoning and dying as a result. Additionally, studies have shown a link between the use of pesticides and colony collapse disorder (CCD), a phenomenon in which bee colonies are abandoned for seemingly no reason. This is problematic because one-third of the food we eat depends on insect pollination, mostly by honeybees at that, and over the last six years, American beekeepers, on average, have lost 30 percent of their hives each winter. With the spread of lawns and the use of pesticides, the health of ecosystems, animals, and humans are all at risk.


A suburb in Bay City, Texas. 

By enforcing a particular landscape aesthetic, it becomes evident that the American lawn forced a cultural homogeneity across different climate zones and different demographics. This particular home landscape aesthetic enforces a hegemonic idea of what American homes can and should look like by catering to the Northeast ideal and climate of landscaping, all the while pushing people who cannot afford  that ideal or do not wish to conform to it to the periphery. This becomes yet another barrier to becoming homeowners, an integral feature to accruing generational wealth.

As the commonality of lawns increased and more and more homes in the suburbs were bought, an increase in private property occurred as undeveloped land was acquired, bought, divided, and sold to families and individuals. Thus, the propagation of lawns also contributed to an increase of privatization. This increase of privatization is problematic because privatization sterilizes culture by taking public space, whether it be physical commons like public parks or digital commons such as TV and radio, and sells them to the highest bidder. As privatization increases, through processes like the acquisition of undeveloped (and unowned) land or of public land and the subsequent development of that land for private purposes, such as creating suburban developments, culture loses to commercial values. The institution of the grassy lawn, driven by those same commercial values, forced out cultural and geographically-specific landscaping methods because it suited the land developers who had vested interest in the lawn maintenance industry.

Lawns are ecologically unsustainable and contribute to the pervasive isolation of people who live in an economic system based on consumption and individualism. Lawns may cause many problems and issues, but they are not the root cause of them. They are microcosms of systematic problems. We need to rethink the way we construct and live in cities, including housing, transportation, and density.

Imagine: You’re walking through your neighborhood one warm summer evening. Native trees cast shade over the wide sidewalks with ample bus-stops on one side and protected bike lanes on the other. You pass one of the many neighborhood parks and see children playing, couples walking hand-in-hand, and families enjoying dinner together. Where lawns were once sprawled out, now stands additional multi-family housing, along with more shade trees, fruit trees, and landscaping full of native plants and flowers. Gardens built with permaculture methods bloom everywhere, full of vegetables and herbs. Butterflies, bees, birds, and bats provide a peaceful, steady hum of life. You pluck a ripe plum, it tastes sweet. This is familiar, this is home.

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Petra Nova, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture project, has been in commercial operation at the W. A. Parish Plant in Thompsons, Texas, southwest of Houston, since January 2017. The project offers no hope for combating climate change.

Petra Nova Facility

The Parish station has 10 generating units, but only unit 8 has been upgraded with carbon capture technology, and thus, the other 9 units are still emitting CO2. The project was supposed to divert 40% unit’s exhaust into a post-combustion capture (PCC) system, which designed to capture 90% of the CO2 in that stream. However, once the emissions from the gas-fired turbine that powers the carbon capture system and the emissions from the additional petroleum products resulting from enhanced oil recovery are taken into consideration, the total impact of the carbon capture system is actually an estimated 2% increase in CO2 emissions.

The Petra Nova has retrofit cost $1 billion and benefitted from a $190 million Clean Coal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. This huge amount of money has been invested to build a new coal power plant and enhance oil recovery by injecting 5,200 tons of carbon dioxide per day at West Ranch. However, NRG’s CEO has claimed that the Petra Nova CCS project “made both strategic and economic sense at $75 to $100 a barrel” and that “obviously [with West Texas Crude selling for less than US$50 a barrel], it does not currently make economic sense.”

Fossil fuel industries have promoted the use of CCS technology as a solution to enable the continued burning of fossil fuels for electricity generation. The coal industry has been seeking to increase its profit by lobbying Congress to get subsidies even though they are aware of the negative impacts of burning fossil fuels on the human health and climate change. Moreover, fossil fuel industries have influenced the EPA to reduce penalties and long-term liability to increase the profitability of CCS projects at the expense of public health and the environment.

Petra Nova Carbon Capture

Health and Environmental Impacts of CCS Technologies Include:

  • Power plants that are capable of capturing carbon require 15-25% more energy than conventional plants in order to capture and store CO2. The mining, transportation, and burning of the additional fuel (usually coal) needed for CCS produces more CO2 emissions.
  • Particulate matter and Nitrogen Oxide are both expected to increase as a result of the additional fuel consumption in order to capture carbon dioxide. Particulate matter is identified by the World Health Organization to be the deadliest form of air pollution as its ability to enter the respiratory system
  • Due to the degradation of the solvents in the process of capturing carbon, Ammonia is expected to increase, which can lead to form particular matter in the atmosphere
  • Possible damages or any leakage in the pipeline or storage reservoir would result in serious environmental impacts
  • Gradual leakage in the storage site can damage fresh groundwater resources if the incorrect storage site is selected or the site is not prepared correctly
  • Injecting CO2 into aquifers can cause acidification of the water and increase its ability to break down the surrounding rocks, aggregate the potential for leakage into the soils or water table, which could worsen the impact of climate change in ocean sinks as a major reservoir of carbon dioxide.

Since burning fossil fuels is the main reason for global warming, do we really need another coal power plant with CCS capability? Isn’t better to allocate federal tax credits and incentives for building energy storage or solar/ wind farms to generate electricity?

Recently, the average cost of solar energy has decreased by $2.71 to $3.57 per watt and the wind energy cost has dropped to around $30/MWh to $60/MWh in 2017. Solar battery energy storage technologies have also advanced and costs have declined by $400 dollars per kilowatt hour (kWh) to $750/kWh. Therefore, it is more viable and profitable to invest in the clean renewable energy to cut CO2 emissions instead of building new coal power plants with CCS capability.

As a result of a growth in the world population and energy demand, greenhouse gas emissions are increasing and have accelerated climate change. In order to combat climate change, nations must shift their reliance away from fossil fuels to renewable energy instead of applying new technologies to produce “clean coal.” Relying on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies to rescue the world from climate change instead of focusing action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a dangerous gamble.

(more…)

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CPS Energy’s Flexible Path plans to use fossil fuels until 2040 and beyond. The Wednesday, June 13th Public Hearing Session allows us an opportunity to speak up against fossil fuels and speak up for the well-being of our families, our communities, and our environment.

Common wisdom says that if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But in regards to the CPS coal-fired Spruce units, there is a broken and outdated system in dire need of fixing.  There are a variety of reasons to switch to renewable energy; positive environmental, public health and economic outcomes chief among them. All of these are reasons to retire CPS Energy’s Spruce power plant.

Confronted with the changing tide of technology and the public’s favorable view of renewable energy, Synapse Energy Economics conducted an analysis comparing the costs of installing selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology in the coal-fired Spruce 1 power plant. SCR technology reduces nitrogen oxide (NOx), a toxic gas compound that can be found in smog, cigarette smoke, and vehicle exhaust. But adding SCR to a coal plant is less effective than switching to clean energy technology (see Figure 11).

Rather than ridding Bexar County of coal plants and the costs they impose upon the environment and public health or investing in renewable energy and in our community, CPS plans to continue using an energy source known to increase rates of cardiovascular diseases such as asthma and heart disease, impair brain development in fetuses and lower life expectancy. Developed internally, without community input, the plan is called the Flexible Path.

The Climate Action SA coalition spoke out against this plan and called on CPS Energy leadership to involve the public in this important decision. A public hearing has now been scheduled for Wednesday evening:

WHAT: CPS Energy Public Hearing

WHEN: Wednesday, June 13th from 5:00 – 8:30 PM

WHERE: Villita Assembly Building (401 Villita St)

RSVP: http://bit.ly/CPSPublicHearingRSVP

The CPS Energy Board of Trustee meetings don’t normally include citizens to be heard. This makes the upcoming public input session all the more important to attend and speak at. CPS could benefit from another bit of common wisdom: an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

In addition to being a major source of pollution, the Spruce power plant isn’t economically viable. Last August, Synapse Energy Economics released a report evaluating the economics of the J.K. Spruce power plant and found it would economically benefit CPS – and by extension the taxpayer – to switch over to renewable energy.

They found that Spruce 1 lost more than $20 million during 2015 and 2016 and Spruce 2 lost more than $80 million in the past two years. Part of this loss in profits comes from the decrease in natural gas prices, but even if natural gas prices were to increase again and thus increase the economic viability of the Spruce units, it is likely Spruce 1 would never recover the costs of the SCR installation. The future for the Spruce units is likely one of ongoing economic costs, and those costs will be paid by San Antonio taxpayers.

Currently, almost 20 percent of our energy use comes from coal (see following table). In 2040, that percentage is estimated to drop by more than half, but the important thing to note is that in 22 years there is still estimates for coal energy use. CPS also plants to keep burning natural gas, another major contributor to climate change. And “flexible generation” is undefined, so that could also be fossil fuel-based.

flexiblepath chart idea
Source:
CPS Energy

Just being better than a theoretical “Traditional Path” isn’t good enough. By CPS projections, we will still use coal and other fossil fuels in 2040. We don’t have time to use coal for two more decades. Presently, there is a global increase in the occurrence and intensity of flooding, wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, droughts and other extreme weather events. San Antonio, already one of the most flash-flood prone areas in the country, will experience more extreme droughts, heat waves, and flooding. Our city is becoming hotter and hotter, and as global temperatures rise and the heat island effect worsens, San Antonio will continue to become a sweltering desert of cement and asphalt.

We have the power to mitigate these consequences and contribute to the global effort of reducing and reversing the acceleration of climate change. We have the power to decide for ourselves to be the change we need to see. We have the power to demand more of CPS and of our local government. We have the power to become a 100 percent renewable energy city and challenge other cities to do the same.

We join our Climate Action SA partners in calling for the retirement of the Spruce coal plant by 2025 and a transition to 100% fossil fuel-free energy by 2030.

Renewable energy is increasingly favored by the public; wind and solar are now the cheapest energy sources in Texas; and renewable energy is unequivocally better for the wellbeing of people and the environment than coal and other fossil fuel sources.

It’s time we speak louder and we have a chance to do so this Wednesday, June 13th at the public hearing.

Come out. Speak up. Demand better. Our well-being, our communities, and our future depend on it.

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As renewable energy is expanding throughout the world in response to declining, insecure and climate changing fuel sources, the issue of intermittency has prompted the development and deployment of energy storage.  Below are just a few examples:

Australia

Less than a month after Tesla Inc. unveiled a new backup power system in South Australia, the world’s largest lithium-ion battery has already been put to the test.

Reports today say that it appears to be far exceeding expectations. In the first three weeks alone, the Hornsdale Power Reserve smoothed out at least two major energy outages, responding even more quickly than the coal-fired backups that were in place to provide emergency power.

The area where the battery has been deployed in South Australia is in the grips of an energy crisis. In 2016, an outage left 1.7 million residents in the dark and storms and heat waves have caused additional outages.  With the price of electricity soaring in Australia, this test of an industrial battery backup is being closely watched.

In March, Elon Musk vowed on Twitter to deliver a battery system for South Australia’s struggling grid. By early July, the state had signed a deal with California-based Tesla and the French-based energy company Neoen to produce the battery, and by Dec. 1, South Australia announced it had switched on the Hornsdale battery.

Fed by wind turbines at the nearby Hornsdale wind farm, the battery stores excess energy that is produced when the demand for electricity isn’t peaking. It can power up to 30,000 homes, though only for short periods — meaning that the battery must still be supported by traditional power plants in the event of a long outage.

Nonetheless, the Hornsdale reserve has already shown that it can provide what’s known as a “contingency or ancillary” service — keeping the grid stable in a crisis and easing what otherwise would be a significant power failure.

And, more important, the project is the biggest proof of concept yet that batteries such as Tesla’s can help mitigate one of renewable energy’s most persistent problems: how to use it when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

 

United Kingdom/Europe

In the UK, Pivot Power is not far behind, as they’ve just unveiled plans for an ambitious network of grid-connected energy storage and electric vehicle charging which could simultaneously balance supply and demand on the grid, and also provide electric vehicle rapid charging to hundreds of vehicles at once—without causing the kinds of surges in demand that naysayers were once so worried about.

Specifically, once built, the proposed battery network would be the world’s largest of its kind—consisting of 45 sites (already identified) with 50MW of stationary battery storage at each location. Each spot would be co-located with electricity sub-stations in order to maximize grid-stabilization services, but also happen to be near major towns, cities or roads—potentially supporting up to 100 rapid 150KW chargers, and even 350KW chargers once cars are around that can charge that fast.

Pivot Power is pretty explicit about their intention—and that’s to “accelerate the decline of petrol and diesel”.

If nothing else, it’s refreshing to hear clean technology advocates talking in such ambitious, absolute terms. Because there’s no doubt that this is what needs to happen in order to achieve a low carbon transition.

And for those folks who fear a shift from petrol/diesel car dependency to electric car dependency, it’s an encouraging sign that the Pivot Power network isn’t just focused on private car ownership. Alongside public charging, the network is also looking at providing services for “electric bus depots and bases for large transport fleets.”

 

The Middle East

There is increasing high-level interest in the potential for energy storage in the Middle East, with grid-connected systems forecast to reach 1.8GW in the region by 2025.

The region is at present a small market as far as energy storage and especially utility-scale advance battery energy storage is concerned. In fact, the majority of the Middle East’s installed base comes from just one project, a 108MW sodium-sulfur battery energy storage project for Abu Dhabi Electricity and Water Authority supplied by Japanese company NGK. While energy storage is in its infancy in the region, it is unlikely to remain so long term.

The UAE, Saud Arabia and Qatar are among the region’s countries that have enjoyed progress in solar PV in very recent times, with all of them adding significant utility-scale projects. Meanwhile Jordan, another of those countries to see large-scale PV rollout underway, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a 20MW battery-based energy storage system with AES Corporation in 2015.

 

Latin America

According to the World Economic Forum, energy storage in the form of large arrays of batteries is still in the early stages of deployment in Latin America. However, the role of electricity storage promises to become much more significant as the region diversifies its sources of power generation, and looks to batteries to help smooth out intermittent energy generation and mitigate the costs of peak demand.

Some policymakers and private companies in the region are already preparing for the rise of battery storage with test projects and new policies. In Mexico, General Electric has announced plans to develop five energy storage projects that will help integrate solar and wind projects into the grid. And in the Dominican Republic, two 10MW arrays of batteries, installed by AES Dominicana in August 2017, were credited with helping that country’s grid remain operational when Hurricane Irma struck a few weeks later.

Energy storage will affect the entire electricity value chain across Latin America as it replaces peaking plans, alters future transmission and distribution (T&D) investments, reduces intermittency of renewables, restructures power markets and helps to digitize the electricity ecosystem.

 

Africa: A great opportunity for a continent of developing countries

Namibia, a nation that’s considerably bigger than Texas but with only around 2.5 million people, installed almost 55 megawatts of generation from renewables and has projects under construction for another 121 megawatts, according to NamPower, the state-owned utility.  However, the total installed capacity combined with committed renewable generation is reaching a threshold, at least until their grid can catch up.

This illustrates how intermittent power generation penetration hits limits in these nations before bigger investments are required in the power distribution network.

Technically, Nambia can handle about 275 megawatts of renewables, which is about half of the midday load according to a 2017 study. The country relies on imports for about 60 percent of its electricity, mainly from South Africa’s state-owned Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., and even the import of baseload power does not guarantee grid reliability as some areas have daily power outages as a norm.

Africa presents huge opportunities for developers of renewable-energy plants, since wind and solar are quicker and sometimes cheaper to build than coal and natural gas plants. While renewable sources such as wind and solar can leapfrog traditional generation, they do not provide consistent 24-hour baseload electricity.

Namibia’s biggest domestic source of power is the Ruacana hydropower plant near the border with Angola. However, it has its own intermittency limit as it depends on the seasonal run of the Kunene River.

Reaching a bottleneck hasn’t deterred Namibia from adopting more renewables in the future as it aims to reduce power imports. The National Integrated Resource Plan includes an allocation for biomass power plants with capacity of as much as 200 megawatts.

Concentrated solar power is also called for in the plan. That technology concentrates the sun’s energy on heating a liquid that drives power turbines. Because the liquid can retain heat for a time after the sun goes down, those systems also can be used to store energy and deliver power to the grid at predictable times.

If African nations begin to adopt storage into their power distribution network, it could go a long way to stabilizing their grids and potentially their countries.

 

The USA

Stories like these are happening all over the globe.  Right here at home, the Department of Energy recently awarded $20 million in funding for nine projects to advance early-stage solar power electronics technologies. The projects chosen were deemed critical to addressing solar photovoltaic reliability challenges, lowering the cost of installing and maintaining a photovoltaic solar energy system and achieving the DOE’s goal of cutting in half the cost of electricity for a solar system by 2030.

Three million was awarded to engineering researchers at The University of Texas at Austin to overcome the same dilemma of overcoming the issues of intermittency with renewables.

Experts from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering have developed a way to integrate solar power generation and storage into one single system, effectively reducing the cost by 50 percent. The UT project will develop the next generation of utility-scale photovoltaic inverters, also referred to as modular, multifunction, multiport and medium-voltage utility-scale silicon carbide solar inverters.

Big Batteries Raise Texas-Sized Policy Questions at PUC

Utility-scale energy storage holds great promise both for energy conservation and grid reliability. But the quickly advancing technology also raises tough regulatory challenges, especially for complex power markets like that existing in Texas.

Look for a future guest blog post from Public Citizen’s retired director, Tom “Smitty” Smith on the history of deregulation in Texas and what the impacts of that policy change are having on this new technology.

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SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Yesterday, a few days after the one-year anniversary of President Trump announcing US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Climate Action SA coalition called on the City of San Antonio to establish significant goals to help San Antonio fight climate change.

Climate Action SA proposed the following goals for CPS Energy, our city-owned public utility: CPS Energy electric generation Coal-Free by 2025 and Carbon-Free (no fossil fuels) by 2030. Significant reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels can be achieved with aggressive investment in energy efficiency, demand response, renewable energy and energy storage.

These goals for CPS Energy put the city on a path to achieve of a goal proposed by Climate Action SA for city-wide greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to net-negative by 2050 or sooner, following a path that prioritizes near-term reductions. Net-negative means that community activities would pull more greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere than they emit into it. This is assumed by almost all of the climate models used in the development of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union - photo by Angel Amaya

Diana Lopez, Southwest Workers Union – photo by Angel Amaya

“The climate community in San Antonio is taking the right step towards including the neighborhoods most affected and creating solutions that are just, resilient, and keep the ecosystem of neighborhoods strong,” says Diana Lopez of Southwest Workers Union. “We are taking this beyond the Paris Climate Agreement and localizing action in San Antonio.”

The public health benefits of phasing out fossil fuels are well known. In addition to releasing carbon pollution which leads to climate change, coal and fracked gas produce pollution that creates ozone (smog) and particulate matter (fine soot), impacting vulnerable populations here at home the hardest.

“San Antonio is now failing federal air quality standards for ozone,” points out Peter Bella of imagineSanAntonio. “We insist on reductions in both carbon- and ozone-causing pollution, and SA Climate Ready provides the path.”

San Antonio can be a leader, but we don’t have to do it alone. Cities around the world are taking action to address climate change. The goals supported by the Climate Action SA coalition are necessary to avoid the worst of climate change and reflect the commitments in the resolution passed last June by Mayor Nirenberg and the San Antonio City Council to support the Paris Climate Agreement.

Keeping global temperature rise to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius requires massive greenhouse gas reductions in the coming decade. The good news is that this transformation not only reduces local air pollution – it will also create new jobs and tax revenues.

Briauna Barrera, Public Citizen - photo by Angel Amaya

Briauna Barrera, Public Citizen – photo by Angel Amaya

“Climate change is an existential threat and what we do in the next couple of decades will determine the fate of billions of people and future generations,” says Briauna Barrera of Public Citizen. “We need to ground ourselves in urgency. We need to be compelled into rapid, collective action to preserve a livable planet.”

Although ending our reliance on fossil fuels for power generation is key to solving the climate crisis, we must also be moving aggressively in other areas like transportation and solid waste. The coalition also plans to make recommendations on these topics soon.

The Climate Action SA coalition consists of 35 nonprofit organizations working together to support the creation and implementation of a robust climate action and adaptation plan for San Antonio, developed and implemented with strong community engagement. The coalition has a strong focus on protecting San Antonio’s most vulnerable communities from extreme weather and pollution, and ensuring that all members of the community can benefit from climate solutions.

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https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/

U.S. Chemical Safety Board: Arkema Inc. Chemical Plant Final Investigation Report

Arkema Inc. knew about the risk of flooding at its Crosby facility.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), which comes nearly a year after a fire and explosion at the facility injured twelve first responders.

Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding at Arkema Crosby, leading to the failure of backup generators and an explosion of organic peroxides on the premises.

The CSB report details the investigation and outlines best practices for future events. While the rainfall that occurred during Harvey was extraordinary, the report notes the rise in extreme weather events and Arkema’s location in the 100-year floodplain.

The report also finds that Arkema cannot claim ignorance of its precarious situation. A year before Harvey, Arkema’s insurer Factory Mutual Insurance Company (FM Global) notified the company of its flooding risk.

The CSB recommends more robust guidance to allow industry to better evaluate flood risks. The report also recommends that the EPA take more steps to limit risk from reactive hazards.

Chemical safety reform is needed to protect communities like Crosby. We shouldn’t be in harm’s way.

 

View the final investigation report at https://www.csb.gov/arkema-inc-chemical-plant-fire-/. 

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Six years ago, Public Citizen and our partners founded the Healthy Port Communities Coalition (HPCC), which advocates for the health and well-being of residents of communities on the Houston Ship Channel. The coalition also includes Air Alliance Houston, the Coalition of Community Organizations, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services.

Recently, we had an opportunity to convene the HPCC in Houston to discuss our work. One purpose for the trip was to introduce our new Press Office, Angel Amaya, to Port Houston. Port Houston is the largest exporting port in the nation and the center of Houston’s petrochemical industry.

We started at Morgan’s Point Cemetery, the oldest continually operated cemetery in Harris County. It is the small green square in the middle of the photo above. Surrounding the cemetery is the Barbours Cut terminal and turning basin. This is one of two container terminals at Port Houston. Goods from all over the world come into Barbours Cut on very large vessels packed with shipping containers. One ship can carry as many as 4,500 containers. (There are even larger ships, the so-called “Post-Panamax” ships, that can carry as many as 9,000 containers, but they are too large to enter Barbours Cut.) The containers are offloaded by cranes (top of photo) and moved on to trucks and trains to be shipped around the country. Many of the engines that operate at a terminal like Barbours Cut–including marine vessels, cranes, short-haul equipment, drayage trucks, and locomotives–use polluting fossil fuels such as diesel. The Healthy Port Communities coalition advocates for replacement of these polluting vehicles with newer, clean technologies. Many funding opportunities are available for these replacements, including the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.

A container terminal like Barbours Cut is probably what most people think of when they think of what goes on at a port. There is plenty of container traffic at Port Houston, but in fact this represents only about 15% of the total traffic.

The rest of the traffic consists of bulk products, most of them petrochemical. We visited many of the industrial facilities that produce these petrochemical products. One of the most infamous petrochemical facilities on the Houston Ship Channel is the Pasadena Refinery, owned by the Brazilian national oil company Petrobras.

Pasadena Refinery is notoriously troubled. In recent years, its woes have included explosions with injury, protests by environmental groups and concerned neighbors, lawsuits by environmental groups, and international bribery scandals. It was recently announced that Petrobras is trying to sell the refinery, although it is unclear who would want to buy such a dangerous liability.

We also visited Hartman Park in the community of Manchester, sometimes referred to as “Houston’s most polluted neighborhood.” Our friends at t.e.j.a.s. have advocated for years for the people of Manchester. When our new Press Officer Angel visited Hartman Park, she was struck by this mural:

Created by children living in Manchester, the mural perhaps unintentionally shows how intrusive polluting facilities are in the lives of people living on the Houston Ship Channel. An idyllic scene of children playing in a park is flanked by industrial stacks spewing pollution into the air. The mural is a stark reminder of what life is like for some of our most vulnerable neighbors in certain parts of Texas.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is advocating on the behalf of those neighbors who live in Houston. We finished our trip to Houston with a meeting of HPCC member groups. One topic of discussion was the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC). The CCAC was created after the Port of Houston Authority Sunset Review in 2013. Public health advocates had asked for representation on the Port Commission itself, with the addition of a new seat representing community interests. That recommendation was rejected by the state legislature, although certain other reforms were implemented. After the sunset review was complete, some advocates continued to call for more representation of community interests at the port. Longtime port community advocate Sen. John Whitmire joined this call, asking the new Port of Houston Authority Chairman Janice Longoria to act. Chairman Longoria responded by creating the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council.

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition has had members and allies on the CCAC since it was created. Although we appreciated the move, in the years following we have not seen the CCAC be an effective body advocating for public health protections. This is in part due to the manner in which it was created and operates. In order to improve the CCAC, we have compiled a list of recommendations:

 

  1. The existence of the Chairman’s Citizens Advisory Council (CCAC) should be codified in statute, regulation, or by memorandum.
  2. The chairs on the CCAC should be designated for particular constituencies or neighborhoods, including the chair already designated for the Healthy Port Communities Coalition.
  3. The representative for each chair should be selected by each corresponding constituency, via a process of their choosing.
  4. The CCAC should have the authority to set agenda items for CCAC meetings.
  5. CCAC members should be given time to make presentations at CCAC meetings. Port Houston should be required to formally respond to any presentations and answer any questions posed.
  6. The CCAC should have the authority to make information requests and pose questions to Port Houston. The Port Commission should be required to respond.
  7. The CCAC should be given monthly opportunities to report on its work to the Port Commission.
  8. The CCAC should be able to recommend studies to be conducted by Port Houston. If Port Houston declines to undertake a recommended study, it should clearly state its rationale for doing so.

To her credit, Chairman Longoria did implement #7 above at the request of one of the CCAC members (a t.e.j.a.s. employee). But for the most part, the CCAC still functions as an isolated body whose members serve at the pleasure of the chairman. We believe that the above reforms would make the body a more effective advocate for portside community residents. This would lead to a port that took better care of its neighbors and served as a better steward of public health and the environment.

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

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

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

There are several steps to this process:

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

 

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

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Look for this tear pad display at the register when you check out at any Texas HEB store.  Take this opportunity to make donations when you check out with your groceries.  Donations go to Earthshare, which supports Public Citizen.

Making a donation at the register when you check out with your groceries at any HEB store in Texas funds environmental organizations in the state.  This funds Public Citizen’s Texas office as well as several of our partner organizations, such as EDF, Texas Campaign for the Environment, Air Alliance Houston, and Sierra Club (among many).  If you want to help us and the many other organizations that are working to keep the Texas environment clean and healthy for all Texans, make a donation before Tuesday, May 1st.

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Live from EarthX in Dallas! Our very own David Arkush, managing director of Public Citizen’s climate program discussing the role of the mainstream media in covering the climate crisis. 12 PM CT

The live feed is completed for the day.  Check back in a couple of days if you missed it to watch the whole panel session.

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