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Texas Director Adrian Shelley speaking at a VW Settlement community engagement meeting in Fort Worth.

Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal led to a $14.7 billion dollar settlement. Basically, what Volkswagen did was install what are called “defeat devices” which were programmed to run differently during emissions tests so that they appeared to be much less polluting than they actually are. In some cases, NOx (nitrogen oxides), which is not only harmful but is also a precursor to ground-level ozone, was up to 40 times higher than what the cheating emissions tests revealed!

By cheating on emissions tests, Volkswagen harmed public health, causing at least 59 premature deaths and over $450 million in health and social costs (Barrett, 2015). The settlement provides Volkswagen with a chance to compensate owners of vehicles impacted by the defeat devices, mitigate some of the harm done, and reduce future harm using zero emissions technology.

Details of the Settlement

The Volkswagen Settlement is essentially divided into three parts: a personal vehicle buyback program, an environmental mitigation program to reduce the harm done, and a zero emissions vehicle investment commitment to prevent more harm and promote zero emissions technology.

More information on the personal vehicle buyback program can be found at VW’s settlement website http://www.VWCourtSettlement.com. If you have an eligible vehicle, you may also be eligible for additional funds through the Bosch VW Settlement (https://www.boschvwsettlement.com/en/Home/FAQ).

The Environmental Mitigation Trust will be administered at the state level and will fund projects to upgrade and replace dirty diesel engines. Texas will receive $209 million dollars. Once a beneficiary is designated, projects will be determined. We are collecting feedback on these projects, discussed below.

The third fund is the Zero Emissions Vehicle Investment Commitment, also known as Electrify America. VW will be allocating $2 billion dollars toward zero emissions infrastructure and educational campaigns to promote their use. The City of Houston is among the first round of cities to be supported by this fund.

Community Engagement

Public Citizen, alongside Houston coalition partners Coalition of Community Organizations, t.e.j.a.s., and Air Alliance Houston hosted informational meetings regarding the Volkswagen Settlement at Austin High School in Houston and at the Houston Area Research Center in the Woodlands in May and June. Given that both the Houston area and the Dallas-Fort Worth area are in non-attainment for ozone and that this settlement could help improve air quality in both regions, we hosted additional informational meetings last week in Dallas and Fort Worth with our co-sponsors Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness Group, Liveable Arlington, and Arlington Conservation Council, Fort Worth Sierra Club Group and the Dallas Sierra Club Group.

While some other states have had a formal community engagement process, an agency of the State of Texas has yet to hold public meetings regarding the settlement. That’s where Public Citizen and other organizations have stepped in to gather important feedback from community members in regards to what sorts of projects hold the most interest. These projects are limited to those that reduce NOx emissions through engine upgrades or replacements, such as replacing old freight trucks, school buses, dump trucks, etc. A portion of the funds will be available for electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

If your group, city, or region is interested in learning more about the Volkswagen Settlement, please contact Stephanie Thomas at [email protected] to learn about upcoming community meetings.

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UPDATE: Happening now in Houston, until 8pm CT.  Go on Facebook to TEJAS’s page to watch.

https://www.facebook.com/TejasBarrios/videos/

Date:           Thursday, 11/17/2016
Location:  Hartman Community Center, 9311 East Ave. P. Houston, TX 77012
Time:          2:00 pm – 8:00 pm.

Join HPCC public health advocates at an EPA hearing about toxic air pollution from petroleum refineries!

(En español, mira aquí: http://airalliancehouston.org/wp-content/uploads/Spanish-EPA-Hearing-Flier.pdf)

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing on the reconsideration of the Refinery Sector Rule for which EPA did not provide adequate opportunity for notice and comment. This rulemaking is the result of a lawsuit filed by Air Alliance Houston, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Community In-Power and Development Association, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who are collectively represented by Earthjustice.

This is is our only chance to tell EPA we are concerned about pollution from oil refineries and its impact on our health. This is the only public hearing EPA will hold anywhere in the country, and public comment will be taken for six hours, from 2-8 pm. We’d like EPA to hear from us and our allies in refinery communities throughout the entire hearing, so please sign up to speak today.

Join us in telling EPA:

  • Our health suffers from pollution from oil refineries.
  • Our children are particularly at risk from the health effects of air pollution.
  • Air pollution affects our lives where we live, work, and play.

Together we can demand a stronger rule to protect communities from air pollution. The refining industry must cut pollution by:

  • Reducing emissions from flares and pressure relief devices.
  • Eliminate pollution exemptions for malfunction and force majeure events.
  • Require fenceline monitoring at all times.

Air Alliance Houston will have fact sheets and talking points available at the hearing.
If you would like to present oral testimony at the hearing, please complete this form or notify Ms. Virginia Hunt no later than November 15, 2016, by email: [email protected] (preferred); or by telephone: (919) 541-0832.
Space will also be available that day if time slots are not all filled, on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Basic background on key issues from EPA:
https://www.epa.gov/stationary-sources-air-pollution/petroleum-refinery-sector-reconsideration-october-2016
Sign the Earthjustice petition: http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2016/community-and-environmental-groups-sue-the-epa-and-call-on-the-agency-to-remove-free-pass-to-pollute-from

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Monsanto has a bad track record when it comes to the safety of its products. From saccharin, to Agent Orange, to DDT, Monsanto has a history of producing and distributing chemicals that have serious health consequences. Most recently, the company has come under pressure for its herbicide, Roundup. After years of consumer concern, world-leading scientists at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a study in March 2015, stating they believed glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, is “probably carcinogenic”. These findings have been echoed by the World Health Organization.

Chafer Sentry Herbicide Application

Chafer Sentry Herbicide Application

This news should bring shockwaves in regulatory policy, as glyphosate is by far the most used herbicide in the world. The use of this carcinogenic herbicide has become essential for thousands of farmers who are under contract with Monsanto to use Roundup Ready genetically modified (GM) seeds. Roundup Ready crops are most heavily applied with glyphosate and these include soy, corn, canola, alfalfa, cotton, sorghum, and wheat.

Countries such as Sri Lanka, and Bermuda have banned the use and importation of glyphosate, while Germany’s health ministers are spearheading a campaign to have the herbicide banned all across the European Union. For the US, the first instance of this can be seen in the California Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to begin labeling Roundup and other products containing the chemical as carcinogenic. Dr. Nathan Donley, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, stated,

“As far as I’m aware, this is the first regulatory agency in the U.S. to determine that glyphosate is a carcinogen. So this is a very big deal.”

Glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential has been known to Monsanto and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from long term animal experiments since the early 1980s, but the company has repeatedly dismissed such claims and refused to disclose the studies, buy claiming they contain “trade secrets”. After petitioning the EPA, Dr. Anthony Samsel, a research expert who has worked for the EPA, and as a hazardous materials expert, the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the United States Coast Guard (USCG), received the lab documents.

One study shows how mice exposed to glyphosate produced renal tubular adenomas, which are tumors in kidney cancer, along with developing hepatocyte hypertrophy, which is a sign of liver cancer. In addition, lab findings show how glyphosate glyphosate stops the body from absorbing selenium, which leads to thyroid cancer growth. As a result, the EPA labeled glyphosate a Class C carcinogen in a March 4, 1985 EPA review. The Class C carcinogen label means there is suggestive evidence of carcinogenic potential. This classification was changed by the EPA just six years later to a Class E category which suggests “evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans”. Is it a coincidence that this change in glyphosate’s classification transpired during the same period that Monsanto was producing its first Roundup-Ready GM Crops?

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Porter Ranch - photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

Porter Ranch – photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

The massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, CA, just outside of Los Angeles, has been temporarily capped. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the leak isn’t yet permanently stopped and that it has already done incredible damage over the 111 days it spewed methane and toxic chemicals into the air.

The state of emergency called by Governor Jerry Brown is still in effect for what is being named the largest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill. Over 94,700 metric tons of methane has escaped since October 23, which is one of the largest leaks ever recorded. This incident has taken California two steps back in its progress towards greenhouse gas emissions reductions especially since methane is 87 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For perspective, the amount of methane released so far from the natural gas leak will have the same impact on climate over the next twenty years as emissions from seven coal power plants. Despite these environmental crimes, not one person has been arrested, although this past week, the citizens of Los Angeles County have begun taking legal action.

Southern California Gas Co (SoCal Gas), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, is the responsible company for the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak, and is finally facing charges for this disaster. District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the criminal charges filed against SoCal Gas for failing to immediately report the gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility to the proper state authorities. The site leaked for three days before SoCal Gas officials contacted the city’s fire department.

Major public health concerns are also leading to lawsuits. Residents across the county are reporting health issues such as nose bleeds, female health problems (excessive bleeding), rashes, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness, and have packed town hall meetings voicing their concerns. One Porter Rach resident, Christine Katz, stated, “Even though you can’t see the gas, it’s there. And that’s the saddest part — people don’t understand it. Because it’s not a mudslide, it’s not an earthquake. You just don’t see the devastation, but it’s there.”

SoCal Gas has yet to release a full listing of the chemicals being emitted from the leak, furthering distrust and anxiety from the community. Local law firms have organized a website (www.porterranchlawsuit.com) for citizens to reach out if they have been impacted. More than 25 lawsuits have been filed pursuing damages from the SoCal Gas and Sempra Energy. For example, a family of an elderly woman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the gas company, claiming that the leaking chemicals led to the worsening of her health and untimely death this past January.

Legal actions will certainly hurt these gas companies financially, but is this an effective way of enforcing the law? History says no. Time and time again, environmental crimes are punished with fines, and these disasters continue to happen putting the public at risk. New regulations, transparency, and stricter criminal enforcement on the individuals responsible very well could bring justice in these incidents.

Crimes committed under a corporate veil are still crimes and should be treated as such. No amount of money will ever reverse the harsh health and environmental effects the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak is having on the region. But we can put into place policies that make corporations take the environmental risks of their operations much more seriously. A proactive justice process would be exponentially more effective means of dealing with environmental crimes than merely reacting after the fact.

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In a new study released by George Thurston of New York University’s Langone Medical Center that surveyed more than 500,000 Americans, shows that as air pollution levels rise in the areas where they live, rates of death rise, specially deaths from heart disease.

Diesel Particle

An example of particulate matter is a diesel particle, which have carbon at their core with toxics and carcinogenic substances attached to their surfaces.

Even with new, stricter standards on emissions, their data adds to a growing body of evidence that particulate matter is really harmful to health, increasing overall mortality, mostly deaths from cardiovascular disease, as well as deaths from respiratory disease in nonsmokers.  Specifically the study looked at air pollutants called particulates, in this case tiny particles 2.5 micrometers or less (sometimes referred to as PM 2.5). These particles can settle into the lungs, pass from there into the blood stream, and are not coughed up. They also often contain dangerous heavy metals such as mercury or arsenic.

The team used a survey run by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, looking at more than 500,000 volunteers aged 50 to 71 in six states and two large cities, Atlanta and Detroit. They used Environmental Protection Agency data that breaks down exposure to air pollution by county or city.

Every extra 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air raised the risk of heart death between 2000 and 2009 by 10 percent, they report in the government journal Environmental Health Perspectives. And that increase in air pollution raised the overall risk of death over the decade by 3 percent.

People who are poorer and less educated often live in more polluted areas and also have higher death rates, so the researchers accounted for that, along with age, race, marital status, smoking, weight and alcohol use. The effects held even when those other factors were considered.

This study should be of particular interest to those living in areas that are in non or near non-attainment for Federal air quality standards.

While Houston is currently in attainment for PM 2.5 standards , this new study would indicate that that is no guarantee that Houston residents are not at risk for increased health impacts.

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Protecting our Workers from Climate Change by Christina Hausle

Protecting our Workers from Climate Change by Christina Hausle

The world is getting hotter. And for those who work outdoors, climate change could mean very dangerous working conditions. As the heat index increases, stricter regulations and safety practices need to be implemented to ensure the health of our workers. Not doing so could be the difference between life and death.

People working jobs that require time outside, especially those working strenuous jobs outside must protect themselves from heat illness. The body is vulnerable to heat illness when our natural cooling mechanisms are not enough, allowing out body temperatures to rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken such as drinking water and resting in shade or air condition. Heat illness can take many forms, such as heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke which requires immediate medical attention, and can result in death. Extreme heat increases the chances of deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease as the raised levels of ozone and other pollutants  in the air from climate change exacerbate these diseases along with increased pollen and other aeroallergen levels.

Most employers understand the risk of heat illness and prepare by establishing a heat illness prevention programs that provide workers with water, rest, shade and modified schedules for those who need to acclimatize to the hot conditions such as new workers or those who have not been working for a week or more. The danger increases when workers have to wear bulky protective clothing or take part in intensive work tasks; similarly, working in full sunlight can increase the heat index values by 10 degrees Celsius.

Though both employers and employees should understand these risks, there are still cases where heat illness caused death. Between 2008 and 2014, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) had 109 reports of workers’ deaths due to heat illness with 15 of those recorded in Texas. Though employers do not have to legally comply with the OSHA standards for heat illness prevention, they must have some version of such a program to protect their workers.

With recent increases in the global temperature due to climate change, conditions only become more and more dangerous for workers. In the last 100 years, the world has warmed by .75 degrees Celsius with the last 3 decades successively warmer since 1850. These increased temperatures are expected to cause about 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria and heat stress between 2030-2050. With increased average temperatures, more frequent and more intense heat waves are expected to occur. Throughout the U.S. the number of days with high temperatures above 90F is predicted to increase, especially in the Southeast and Southwest.

If the frequency of heat waves and extreme heat days follows this prediction, then all workers will be at risk for heat illness and even greater measures must be taken in order to protect their health. But more importantly, measures must be taken to prevent the increase of climate change in the first place—this problem that has the power to negatively affect every single aspect of our lives.

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Photo by Maciek Jasik

Photo by Maciek Jasik

The air we breathe is no longer safe. It is it filled with millions of tiny particles of toxic pollution about 36 times smaller than a grain of sand that may cause or accelerate degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Particle pollution’s role in lung disease is well known and backed by years of scientific research; but, recent research correlating pollution and brain trauma has resulted in compelling evidence of its negative role on the brain, despite the research being in its preliminary stages.

Particle pollution contains toxic combinations of sulfate, nitrate and ammonium ions, hydrocarbons and heavy metals – all that reek havoc on the brain’s immune system. But only the fine and ultra-fine particles can reach the brain as natural defenses of sneezing, coughing or running noses eject larger particles. The remaining particles can embed themselves in the lungs to foster infection and cancer or may infiltrate the bloodstream and create dangerous byproducts that can travel throughout the body.

The particles can take a more dangerous lesser know path: they can travel through the olfactory nerves directly to brain. Once there their toxic metals or compounds corrupt the microglia, which are the brain’s special immune cells. The particle pollution causes chronic inflammation which leaves microglia unable to remove waste from the brain or to overproduce chemicals meant to kill unwanted bacteria. Chronic inflammation puts the immune system on over-drive, which has harmful long-term effects and consistently is associated with neurological degeneration. Doctors even use early breakdowns in the olfactory system – through which all of these harmful processes occur – as an indicator of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, further reinforcing the correlation of pollution to degenerative brain diseases.

This information is unsettling as pollution levels rise every year. About 15% of Americans are exposed for extended periods of time to levels of particle pollution about the Environmental Protection Agency standards with another 14% exposed to similar levels on bad air days. This air pollution in the United States affects mostly those who live in undesirable areas such as next to high traffic roads and overcrowded urban areas which happens to be the poor, the elderly and people of color which means the people who can lease afford medical costs, breathe in the most unhealthy air.

Even worse, some cities in China and India face air pollution levels 3-6 times higher than World Health Organization standards. Research from the environmental journal Health and Technology estimates that cleaning up the world’s air could save about 2 million deaths globally. But so many people are already reaping the negative effects of pollution on our brains. 50 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s with 6 million of those in the United States. Right now the United States is about to experience the highest number of degenerative brain diseases as the Baby Boomers reach the age where these diseases emerge and since they were born before the Clean Air Act in 1970, their generation has been exposed to the most air pollution than any generation before or after them.

Research is still unclear on whether particle pollution sparks degenerative diseases or accelerates them; however, the research is clear that there is a relationship – one strong enough to be the most potential cause of brain disease.

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A study by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication on the public perceptions of climate change indicates that the majority of citizens grossly misunderstand the repercussions of climate change and its effects on health. The report shows analysis of results from a national survey conducted in October of 2014 and indicates that most US citizens have given little or no thought to the potential health effects of climate change.

Few Americans are aware of any current health consequences of global warming. When asked ‘In your view, what health problems related to global warming are Americans experiencing, if any?’ a majority either didn’t answer the question (43%) – which likely indicates they didn’t have an answer – or answered that they ‘don’t know’ (14%).  Only one in four (27%) named at least one health problem related to global warming, and 10% answered, incorrectly, that there are no health problems associated with global warming.

The health effects of climate change are very prevalent and encompass a wide range of issues. According to the World Health Organization climate change affects both social and environmental determinants of health, including clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. The WHO predicts that:

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also states that weather and climate change play a significant role in people’s health. Warmer temperatures lead to heat waves which lead to most heat-related deaths and play a part in spreading diseases and increasing water and air pollutants. Increased frequency in extreme weather poses immediate and severe threats to people in dangerous areas. The consequences can be life-changing and efforts towards solving the issue are dependent on various factors.

The impacts of climate change on health will depend on many factors. These factors include the effectiveness of a community’s public health and safety systems to address or prepare for the risk and the behavior, age, gender, and economic status of individuals affected. Impacts will likely vary by region, the sensitivity of populations, the extent and length of exposure to climate change impacts, and society’s ability to adapt to change.

A variety of factors can increase the vulnerability of a specific demographic group to health effects due to climate change. Graphic from from US National Climate Assessment

A variety of factors can increase the vulnerability of a specific demographic group to health effects due to climate change.
Graphic from from US National Climate Assessment

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Blog Post PicTwo non-profit and non-partisan investigative journalism organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, have concluded through their joint investigation that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission protect the oil and gas industry instead of the public whom they claim to serve.

Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek were two oil and gas regulators working for the Texas Railroad Commission who received praise from their supervisors, promotions, and merit raises throughout their careers. But they may have done their jobs too well. They were fired in 2013 for what they believe to be their insistence in making sure oil and gas operators followed the rules and regulations in place to protect the public and the environment.

Wright was responsible for determining whether oil and gas wells were up to code to prevent groundwater contamination. He was often encouraged or coerced by his superiors to bend the rules, to say that operators had met compliance standards when they had not. In 2013, his superiors told him that complaints had been filed against him by the operators claiming he was “unreasonable to work with” and “does not attempt to offer solutions to bring them in compliance with commission rules”, citing that Fred’s methods for compliance would be “costly”. Wright’s boss at the time, Charlie Teague, insisted that Write approve oil and gas wells despite the fact that they were in violation of statewide rules.

As the enforcer of proper toxic waste disposal in the oil and gas industry, Kocurek faced very similar problems. He said his bosses made it clear that he was supposed to go easy on the industry. The violation notices Kocurek filed were usually processed very slowly and follow-up inspections were assigned to the more lenient inspectors. Eventually, Kocurek realized the influence that the industry had on its supposed regulators and his reports were all ignored. Violations would disappear after the right phone calls were made.

Documents obtained from the Railroad Commission through the open-records corroborate the stories of Mr. Wright and Mr. Kocurek. Wright has filed a civil lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. He has also filed a federal whistleblower complaint. Kocurek, on the other hand, hasn’t taken any legal action and would rather forget the whole thing.

According to InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, the Railroad Commission is controlled by three elected commissioners who have accepted nearly $3 million combined in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In the case of the Railroad Commission and the TCEQ, money talks and it’s louder than the voice of Texas citizens.

Read their extensive report here: [http://books.insideclimatenews.org/fired]

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Denton’s fracking ban was approved by voters on November 4 and takes effect today on December 2. For many residents in the state of Texas, Denton’s recent ban on fracking is a watershed moment as Texas’ first ban against fracking within city limits. Denton’s city council promises to defend its ban despite opposition from the oil and gas industry as well as state officials who argue that this ban violates state law. This recent ban serves as a beacon of hope for Texas residents wanting to challenge the dominance of the oil and gas industry here in Texas.  We are seeing more Texas towns seek fracking bans.

Reno, Texas had its first earthquake last year, confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey, and then hundreds of earthquakes since which residents believe are due to fracking. On the outskirts of Reno lie disposable wells where millions of gallons of “water” are injected for hydraulic fracturing.

Barbara Brown, a resident of Reno, claims that sinkholes on her property and cracks on her front steps and above the door are because of fracking activity. She added, “They’re destroying our land, they’re ruining our health,” complaining of the noxious fumes produced by fracking. The town of Presidio, Texas is also trying to protect themselves against fracking. Their biggest concern is protecting their water source from fracking contamination.

Near fracking sites, the amount of toxic chemicals and carcinogens detected are tremendously high. These chemicals pose a significant public health risk according to Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-State University of New York. Researchers from the University of Washington and Yale University conducted a study that found that residents within 1 kilometer of a gas well had up to twice the rate of health problems per person compared to those who lived 2 kilometers away or further.

In October of this year, it was discovered that fracking sites injected about 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater into California’s drinking-water and farm-irrigation aquifers. The Central Valley Water Board reported high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates in the water supply [Arsenic is a carcinogen that weakens the immune system; thallium is used for rat poison]. Needless to say, this does not serve well for California as it continues to suffer an unprecedented drought.

Across the state, Texans are taking the example of Denton in using local democracy to counter the oil and gas industry which is destroying our environment and poisoning our water and the air we breathe.

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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released a report yesterday titled “ERCOT Analysis of the Impacts of the Clean Power Plan” regarding the costs, benefits, and concerns of Texas’ compliance with Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan, put forth by the EPA on June 2, 2014, would set new national carbon pollution standards, in an effort to combat the effects of climate change and air pollution. ERCOT, which operates the electric grid of Texas and manages the deregulated market for 75 percent of the state, concluded that there are reliability concerns and high costs associated with the changes necessary for the electric grid infrastructure and the shift to alternative low-carbon energy sources.

Environmental advocacy organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and Public Citizen have begun commenting on this report, which they claim overstates the costs of compliance while understating the benefits of solar and energy efficiency. Not only does ERCOT’s report fail to take into account the affordability of solar energy and energy efficiency, it also neglects the steps that electric utility companies have already taken towards clean energy. Various electric utilities in Texas have been retiring inefficient coal plants and gas units in favor of adopting solar and wind energy projects. ERCOT’s own monthly interconnection report shows that more than 30,000 MW of solar and wind projects are in development stages. Texas’ energy storage and demand response capacities are also missing in the report. These two resources provide real-time reactive power when there is turbulence in wind and solar inputs, which would maintain a reliable power grid as Texas transitions to renewable energies.

The Clean Power Plan is a crucial step in reducing climate pollution and our dependency on dirty coal and other fossil fuels. The benefits of clean and affordable energy in Texas cannot be overstated. ERCOT should take the time to reevaluate the role of renewable energies in Texas’ future.

Download our presentation on our view of the plan here update New ERCOT Cost Estimates 

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The chief toxicologist of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Michael Honeycutt, is leading the charge against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) expected future regulations on smog, also known as ozone. The EPA is expected to lower the acceptable ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 60 parts per billion by December 1st.

Parish Coal Plant - Photo credit - Nathan  Woodruff

Parish Coal Plant – Photo by Nathan Woodruff

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) Ozone Review Panel consisting of doctors and scientists has unanimously advised the EPA that ozone levels are too high and need to be lowered. Their research shows that ozone is responsible for a variety of health effects: “lung function decrements, pulmonary inflammation, respiratory symptoms, respiratory morbidity and respiratory mortality”.  According to the EPA, ozone concentrations aggravate diseases such as asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and heart disease; ozone is also associated with higher mortality rates, especially in older adults.  However, Republicans in Congress and Texas are acting to protect American jobs and job-creators against the EPA’s “agenda”.

Michael Honeycutt, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Chief Toxicologist

Michael Honeycutt, Chief Toxicologist at the TCEQ

In an article arguing against proposed new ozone standards David Honeycutt writes, “after an in-depth review of the EPA’s analysis, as well as a thorough study of the relevant scientific literature, the TCEQ has concluded that there will be little to no public health benefit from lowering the current standard”. Honeycutt explains that because ozone is an outdoor air pollutant and “since most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors”, then they are rarely exposed to significant levels of ozone. He claims that “Environmental regulations should be based on sound science. If they are not, then it opens the door for regulations that are based on politics”.

Major Texas cities such as Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, home to over four and a half million people combined, already have ozone levels above permitted levels. According to the American Lung Association, Houston is 7th in the country for highest ozone levels and Dallas ranks 8th. If the EPA lowers the acceptable ozone standard to 60 parts per billion as proposed, then the cities of Austin and El Paso, with a combined million and a half residents, will also fail to meet federal standards. But the debate concerns more than just federal regulations. Though many Texas cities fail to comply with the current ozone standard, most scientists still think it is too lenient and the public’s health remains at risk at these levels.

That is of course, with the exception of scientists like David Honeycutt of the TCEQ who argues that stricter ozone regulations will provide no substantial health benefits. As he explained, Texans needn’t worry about ozone if we just stay inside.

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China Heat Wave- US China Daily Australia experienced record-breaking temperatures and many other countries are experiencing uncharacteristically intense heat waves. Whether or not these events are related to climate change has been questioned in the past, but has recently come to light as something that is very probable.

Recently, researchers and scientists come up with the phrase “extreme event attribution” which acts as a unit of measure for the extent to which these weather events are human-caused. For instance, according to extreme event attribution, the heat wave in Korea was 10 times more likely due to human caused climate change. Scientists want extreme event attribution to be in real-time by the end of 2015.

The American Meteorological Society recently released a bulletin based off of 22 case studies. It concluded saying that high temperatures made heat waves more intense and more likely and that the emission of greenhouse gases is causing these extreme weather events. Recent heatwaves in Australia, Korea, Japan, China, and Western Europe are all judged to be due to climate change. The National Climate Assessment also made a connection between climate change and the drought in Australia.

The impact of climate change seems clear, with China experiencing its biggest heat wave in 140 years August of 2013, during which at least 40 people died. Health effects of heat waves range from heat strokes to aggravated chronic diseases. The heat also increases ground-level ozone levels, causing lung injury and increasing the severity of respiratory diseases.
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Wildlife Decline Graph - from The GuardianResearch published in a new report by the World Wildlife Foundation and the Zoological Society of London found that the population of wild animals on Earth is now half of what it was in 1970. Freshwater species have seen an even more dramatic decline of 75%.

The researchers concluded that the decline in wildlife populations is due to human activity: unsustainable hunting, pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change.

Though climate change in this report accounts for 7% of the loss of wildlife in the past 40 years, climate change’s impact on the Earth’s ecosystem is expected to dramatically increase.  Some experts estimate that a-fourth of the Earth’s species could be extinct by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.

Climate change will also have negative impacts on humans.  Global temperatures are projected to rise 4 degrees by 2100.  In the hotter months of the year we can expect exposure to temperatures above 38 degrees Celcius (100ºF) on a common basis, which can cause organ damage and death.  Crops and livestock will struggle with the rising temperatures and water shortages.  Humanity’s staple crops, corn, rice, wheat and soybeans have a temperature limit of 40 to 45 degrees Celcius (104ºF to 113ºF), “with temperature thresholds for key sowing stages near or below 35 ºC (95ºF).”

The current human consumption of natural resources is unsustainable.  Climate change exacerbated by human activities at this rate is detrimental to both wildlife and the human species.  At this rate, we can expect to see the collapse of ecosystems on which we depend for our survival.   The scientists behind these various reports hope that these statistics and projects will serve as a wake-up call to ramp up conservation efforts and mitigate the effects of climate change and our exploitation of the environment and its resources.

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toxic cleaning productsAlthough we buy cleaning products thinking they will protect us and kill all the nasty germs that lurk in our kitchen sinks and toilets, many of these home cleaning products are packing in a bigger punch that can have serious effects on our health and environment.

Take for example antibacterial hand soap that became so widespread after the H1N1 virus scare. Antibacterial hand soap was in every restaurant, school, and office space, ever since and became a normal commodity in American lives. Now the chemical found in antibacterial soaps called triclosan, has been banned in Minnesota for potentially promoting triclosan-adapted super bugs along with being no more effective, but more expensive than normal hand soap according to a study posted on the Oxford Journal.

Air fresheners use about 18.4 kWh of electricity and about half a gallon of oil every year while also containing higher levels of phthalates in some major air freshener brands that can cause birth defects. Many of these chemical ingredients are not listed on the label because they don’t have to be. Febreze alone has 87 chemicals, including BHT, which is a known neurotoxin, and acetaldehyde and propylene glycol, which are both carcinogens. Cleaning products aren’t required to include their ingredients on their label, which can be potentially dangerous when dealing with chemicals designed to kill bacteria, viruses and mold.

Bathroom and home cleaners are the worst as far as environmental and health risks. Brands as “family friendly” as Scrubbing Bubbles and Lysol have chemicals banned in the EU and statements on their label that say “harmful or fatal if swallowed” and can cause “irreversible damage to the eyes”. Environmental Working Group has a list of the top 10 worst bathroom and household cleaners to stay away from.

Having so many toxic cleaning products around the house is not worth it especially with animals or children exploring wherever they can fit their paws and fingers. There are alternative ways and products that can not only create a safer environment but also save you money like using the old fashioned white vinegar and water or various plants that have the power to remove 90% of chemicals in a room in under 24hrs. If you want something stronger there are plenty of organic, non-toxic cleaning chemicals that can make good replacements that can be found at ewg.org.

 

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