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Archive for the ‘Sunset’ Category

Statewide organizations support youth as they appeal TCEQ decision
denying petition to reduce carbon emissions and prevent climate catastrophe

Three Texas youth and one young adult filed for judicial review today of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) denial of their petition to force action on climate change. Specifically, the rulemaking petition requests TCEQ to require reductions in statewide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels consistent with what current scientific analysis deems necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“TCEQ and the Texas government have failed to live up to their responsibility to protect my future and take the urgent action needed to halt climate change,” said 15 year-old plaintiff, Eamon Umphress. “My generation will be hurt the most by climate change, but instead of taking action, Texas is putting short-term profits for corporations above a livable planet for me and future generations.”

As part of the iMatter Campaign, a petition was filed on May 5th in conjunction with legal actions in 47 other states, the District of Columbia, and against the federal government on behalf of youth to compel reductions of CO2 emissions in an effort to counter the negative impacts of climate change that these youth expect to manifest in their lifetime.

The petition relies upon the long established legal principle of the Public Trust Doctrine that requires all branches of the government to protect and maintain certain shared resources fundamental for human health and survival. Science, not politics, defines the fiduciary obligation that the government, as the trustee, must fulfill on behalf of the beneficiary—the public.

“Dr. James Hansen, a prominent and widely respected climate scientist, has warned that our window of opportunity is quickly closing to take serious action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “Since 1991, TCEQ has had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases but has lacked the political and moral will to do so. The moral failure of the leadership of Texas, particularly Governor Perry and TCEQ Commissioner Shaw, is shameful and betrays future generations. We urge the courts and TCEQ to follow the science and take action to protect the climate and future generations by reducing CO2 emissions now.”

“The Public Trust Doctrine requires TCEQ, as a trustee, to protect and preserve vital natural resources, including the atmosphere, for both present and future generations of Texans,” said Adam Abrams, an attorney with the Texas Environmental Law Center. “TCEQ’s fiduciary duties as trustee of the public trust cannot be disclaimed.”

TCEQ’s decision states that any reduction in CO2 emissions will not impact the global distribution of these gases in the atmosphere. “But as the largest emitter in the United States, reductions in Texas can make a difference in overall reductions,” said Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Every ton of carbon contributes to global warming, and fewer emissions means less heating in the pipeline and a better chance of reversing Earth’s current energy imbalance.”

“Texas is not only the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the U.S., the state is also reeling from severe impacts of climate change right now—namely heat waves, droughts, and wildfires,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “The U.S. Global Change Research Program states in its 2009 report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, that with rising high temperatures, droughts and heat waves will become more frequent and severe, and water supplies are projected to become increasingly scarce. Just last month, the federal Department of Agriculture declared 213 counties in Texas disaster areas, due to ‘one of the worst droughts in more than a century.’” Texas has “sustained excessive heat, high winds and wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres,” and many farmers and ranchers “have lost their crops due to the devastation caused by the drought and wildfires,” USDA stated in its press release. “We call on Texas government officials to take these impacts seriously and act now to reduce CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels,” stated Metzger.

To protect Earth’s natural systems, the best available science shows that average global surface heating must not exceed 1° C and concentrations of atmospheric CO2 must decline to less than 350 ppm this century. We are currently at around 390 ppm. To accomplish this reduction, Dr. Hansen and other renowned scientists conclude that global CO2 emissions need to peak in 2012 and decline by 6% per year starting in 2013. The rulemaking petition seeks a rule that would require a reduction of statewide CO2 emissions at these levels. Click here to read Dr. Hansen’s recent paper.

“The Texas government continually claims that any kind of regulation on CO2 is a regulation that would hurt business and the economy. This does not have to be the case,” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “The shift to an economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels is not only technically but economically feasible, and with the right policies in place, our economy could flourish in new green jobs from this shift. Wind energy is comparable in price to coal and the cost of solar is falling, as San Antonio’s recent investment in a 400-megawatt solar project demonstrates. While touting the possible negative impacts on the economy that reductions in CO2 emissions could have, Texas consistently fails to consider the negative economic impacts of climate change—such as the increased weather extremes of heat waves, drought, and hurricanes—already felt by many Texans.”

“We have a moral duty to provide our children and our children’s children with a livable planet,” said Brigid Shea, mother of 15 year-old plaintiff, Eamon Umphress, and former Austin City Council member. “The Texas government must live up to its responsibility to protect and preserve our planet and our atmosphere. We need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and live as if our children’s future matters.”

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

Our Children’s Trust is a nonprofit focused on protecting earth’s natural systems for current and future generations. We are here to empower and support youth as they stand up for their lawful inheritance: a healthy planet. We are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers. We are adults, part of the ruling generation, and we care about the future of our childrenand their children’s children. www.ourchildrenstrust.org/

iMatter is a youth-led campaign of the nonprofit group, Kids vs Global Warming, that is focused on mobilizing and empowering youth to lead the way to a sustainable and just world. We are teens and moms and young activists committed to raising the voices of the youngest generation to issue a wake-up call to live, lead and govern as if our future matters. www.imattermarch.org/

 

 

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Yesterday, the Senate named its conference committee members (conferees) for the important TCEQ Sunset Bill (HB 2694).

The Senate version of the bill that the conference committee is considering was significantly better than the bill that came out of the House.  Please call the senate conferees this week and tell them you want them to pass out the Senate version of the bill as it is, without any of the House amendments If you have not already done so, also call the house conferees and if you live in the district of any of the House conferees, do let them know that you are a constituent when you call.

The Senate conferees named were:

  • Joan Huffman (Chair) of Southside Place (District 17) – 512-463-0117
  • Troy Fraser of Horseshoe Bay (Distict 24) – 512-463-0124
  • Glenn Hegar of Katy (District 18) – 512-463-0118
  • Juan Hinojosa of McAllen (District 20) – 512-463-0120
  • Robert Nichols of Jacksonville (District 3) – 512-463-0103

The House conferees named were:

  • Wayne Smith (Chair) of Baytown (District 128) – 512-473-0733
  • Dennis Bonnen of Angleton (District 25) – 512-463-0564
  • Lon Burnam of Fort Worth (District 90) – 512-463-0740
  • Warren Chisum of Pampa (District 88) – 512-463-0556
  • Charlie Geren of Fort Worth (District 99) – 512-463-0610

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Yesterday, the Texas House refused to concur in the Senate amendments to HB 2694 – the TCEQ sunset bill.  The bill has been sent to Conference Committee and the House has named its conference committee members (conferees).  Importantly, no instructions were made to the conferees by the House (in other words no motion was made to make sure that the House conferees support any particular provisions that were in the House-passed version of the bill – many of which were bad for the environment and for the rights of Texas citizens).

The Senate version was significantly better than the bill that came out of the House.  Please call the house conferees this week and tell them you want them to pass out the Senate version of the bill as it is, without any of the House amendments If you live in the district of any of the House conferees, do let them know that you are a constituent when you call.

The House conferees named were:

  • Wayne Smith (Chair) of Baytown (District 128) – 512-473-0733
  • Dennis Bonnen of Angleton (District 25) – 512-463-0564
  • Lon Burnam of Fort Worth (District 90) – 512-463-0740
  • Warren Chisum of Pampa (District 88) – 512-463-0556
  • Charlie Geren of Fort Worth (District 99) – 512-463-0610

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says if an amendment to HB 2694 remains on the TCEQ Sunset bill, undermining federal regulations at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, TCEQ could risk losing its permitting authority and EPA might have to intervene directly in Texas permitting cases.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place), whose sunset legislation for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality won unanimous Senate approval Thursday, said she stripped out all House amendments, including one that prompted a letter from the EPA.

The most controversial House amendment, added by Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa), would shift the burden of proof in a contested case from the company applying for a permit to a citizen challenging the permit.

In an April 29 letter from EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Lawrence E. Starfield to the Sunset Advisory Committee Chairman Sen. Glenn Hegar,  the EPA said House changes could affect how federal requirements apply to federal permits issued by TCEQ and that “jeopardizes EPA’s approval and/or authorization” for Texas permitting programs.  The letter also specifically addressed the shifting of burdens to a person contesting a permit, saying that affects “Texas’ public participation process.”

While contested case hearings are not required by federal law, Chisum’s change would warrant federal review to make sure the legislation doesn’t conflict with federal law.

The EPA letter to Senator Glenn Hegar can be found here.

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The Texas Senate just unanimously approved House Bill 2694, the sunset bill for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Senate sponsors Huffman and Hegar fought to pass a clean TCEQ sunset bill and Senators Watson and Huffman clarified the intent of Senators to keep this bill clean in an anticipated House-Senate conference committee.

In the months leading up to the 82nd Texas legislative session, Public Citizen and numerous other organizations who are members of a coalition, the Alliance for Clean Texas (ACT) worked to alert the public to their opportunity to participate in the Texas Sunset process, turning out thousands of Texans at local town hall meetings to ask the Sunset Commission to make the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality do its job better — to more strongly protect our environment and communities from pollution.

The Sunset Commission heard the public and recommended that TCEQ be continued and that its powers to enforce pollution control laws be strengthened.   House Bill 2694 as introduced in this session reflected those sunset recommendations.   Although the bill was not perfect, it was a decent bill that would further environmental protection.  The partner groups in the Alliance for a Clean Texas have supported it on that basis.

Unfortunately, the bill was hijacked on in the House floor by pro-polluter interests and amended to limit the rights of Texans to challenge permits to polluters for air emissions, wastewater discharges, hazardous waste disposal, and other pollution and to weaken the enforcement improvements in the original bill. 

Fortunately the Texas Senate came to the rescue and jettisoned those pro-polluter amendments before passing the bill on the Senate floor today. Texans should express their thanks to the Senators and support the position of the Senate in conference committee.

 We will update this blog with the names of the conference committee members as soon as they are named and encourage all who are concerned to call the conference committee members and ask them to pass out the senate version of the bill.

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Public Citizen was lucky enough to have been invited to the release of the new study Flowback: How Natural Gas Drilling in Texas Threatens Public Health and Safety.  We had to split the press conference into three different pieces to get them uploaded, but here we get started with Sharon Wilson and State Rep. Lon Burnam of Ft Worth.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5byZatNW85o]

After that, several other folks dealing with the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing stepped up to the mic: Calvin Tillman, the Mayor of Dish, TX, a city at the heart of the frack debate, Tammi Vajda a resident of Flower Mound and Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger who lives on the Eagle Ford Shale, who absolutely brought the house down.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcnFpnARVV4]

The final clip features my remarks, which you can mostly fast forward through to get to  Alyssa Burgin of the Texas Drought Project.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dziPeOX36xE]

We heartily recommend you read the report and call your legislators about the problems Texas faces with fracking. And special thanks to Donna Hoffman at the Sierra Club who took this video.  You can check out their blog at texasgreenreport.wordpress.com

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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SB 655 by Hegar, or the Texas Railroad Commission Sunset Bill, suffered a setback in the Senate today. (more…)

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The Public Utility Commission (PUC) sunset bill (H.B. 2134) would give the PUC the authority to approve or change the annual budget of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT),  stipulates that no member of the PUC could work for ERCOT for at least two years after he or she had stepped down, and fines would quadruple (from a maximum of $25,000 per day to $100,000 per day) for any company found to have manipulated the electric market for its own gain under the Sunset bill that will be heard in House State Affairs Committee on Monday, March 14th.

Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton)

State Rep. Burt SolomonsHouse Bill 2134 largely tracks the recommendations approved in January by the Sunset Advisory Commission and includes language that the Carrollton Republican has been advocating for at least two years to cut the number of ERCOT board members who have ties the electric industry.

State Affairs is scheduled to take up the Sunset bill during its hearing that convenes 30 minutes after the House adjourns Monday. The meeting will be held in Room 140 of the Reagan Building northwest of the Capitol.

To see the full text of H.B. 2134, click here.

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The long-awaited Sunset Bill of the Railroad Commission was released late yesterday, and it’s mostly what we’d expected, but not everything we’d hoped for.

Highlights:

  • The Railroad Commission will be renamed the Texas Oil and Gas Commission
  • It will be headed by one commissioner  (down from 3) who will be elected every four years on the same cycle as Governor, Comptrollerm, Ag Commissioner, etc.
  • Campaign finance reform: Commissioners and candidates for the commission can only raise money one year before an election and 30 days after.
  • Moving contested hearings to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH).

These are needed reforms and the problems they attempt to correct are huge. For instance, the large influence campaign money has in the election of the Railroad Commission historically, as detailed in our report Drilling for Dollars. Among our findings was that nearly half of all campaign donations were being solicited and received in non-election years. Creating this fund-raising window will help keep at least the appearance of impropriety away from the new Oil and Gas Commissioner for at least 3 out of every 4 years, though we’re fairly certain the money will gush in all the same. This is why we proposed public financing for this important new office, but barring that, at least better disclosure of who is giving the money (specifically the occupation and employer of donors) and putting a cap on how much someone can give.

Unfortunately, this bill also does not offer any new guidance on regulation of fracking and natural gas drilling. Currently fracking regulation is in somewhat of a no man’s land, as Railroad Commission says they do not enforce our environmental laws, but TCEQ says they don’t regulate the operations of drillers. While it’s possible some of these reforms will come from the TCEQ sunset or from separate legislation, the bottom line is that we cannot allow our agencies to play hot potato with this issue.

So, what does this mean that we would get one new oil and gas commissioner from three current railroad commissioners? If passed in its current form, the railroad commission would be abolished- the railroad commissioners would be out of a job. Not a big deal for those like Michael Williams, who has said he will resign next month in order to pursue a run for Senate. Elizabeth Ames Jones has hinted she would do the same.  Upon creation of the new Oil and Gas Commission, the first commissioner would be appointed by Governor Perry, but s/he would only serve until 2012, when the first Oil and Gas Commissioner race in the history of Texas would take place. Whoever wins that race would serve for only two years, then be up for re-election in 2014, and then elections would take place every four years after that.

This is many steps forward from where we began, and we’re grateful that both the Sunset Commission staff and Committee members listened to our (the environmental and good government community’s) thoughtful proposals and adopted some of them into this reform package. It’s a testament to the power of people showing up and making their voices heard. But this is the beginning, not the end. So in the spirit of making our voices heard, please remember to join us Tuesday for ACT Lobby Day. This will be an opportunity for you and us to ask for even more needed reforms both at RRC and TCEQ.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

 

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Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy)

Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy) filed a bill (SB 655) to abolish the Texas Railroad Commission and eliminate the three statewide elected positions that govern it and rename the agency the Texas Oil and Gas Commission to be run by a single elected officer who would serve a four-year term.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Government Organization Committee.

The Railroad Commission, a 121-year-old agency whose mission has changed dramatically over its lifespan, and which many have said has grown unwieldly and ineffective, has three elected commissioners who, with their separate staffs, often stumble over one another.  Still, whether a single commissioner would be preferable to three is likely to be the most contentious piece of energy-related Sunset legislation that lawmakers take up this session and even the three sitting commissioners are split on how the agency should be structured.

Hegar’s bill also contains language that would have the newly restructured agency adopt the model of the State Office of Hearing Examiners (SOAH) on rulemaking dispute-resolution matters. It also calls for establishing a $20 million oilfield cleanup fund to be financed by fees from various industry activities.

To see the Railroad Commission Sunset bill, click here.

Senator Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place)

Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown)

Meanwhile, Senator Joan Huffman (R-Southside Place/Houston) co-filed the Sunset bill (SB 657) to reauthorize the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with Senator Glenn Hegar (R-Katy).  A companion bill was filed in the house (HB 2694) by Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown).

All of these legislators are from areas of Texas whose air quality is highly impacted by the decisions of the TCEQ and dominated by the oil and gas industry. 

To see the TCEQ bill SB 657, click here.  If you also want to follow the House companion bill HB 2694, click here.

Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) said he plans to introduce the legislation affecting the Public Utility Commission and related agencies before the bill-filing deadline.

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State Rep. Warren Chisum, a Republican from Pampa, Texas plans to seek a place on the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), either by gubernatorial appointment once Michael Williams resigns in April or by running for the seat expected to be vacated next year when Elizabeth Ames Jones declines to seek re-election because of her aspirations to the U.S. Senate.

The 72-year-old lawmaker has served in the House since 1989 and is an oil and natural gas producer and rancher who began his career on oil drilling rigs and in truck yards.  A key lieutenant of former Speaker Thomas Russell “Tom” Craddick, Sr., and an active candidate in the ill-fated attempt to unseat Speaker Joe Straus at the beginning of the current session, Chisum has not had a committee chairmanship since Tom Craddick was toppled in 2009.

Recent recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission call for changing the name of the agency to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission and restructuring it to be governed by a single statewide elected official who would serve a four-year term concurrent with the governor and the other major statewides.  Chisum disagrees with the move to change the RRC from a three member elected commission to a single elected commissioner.

If he does enter next year’s Railroad Commission primary, Chisum starts with a heavy “war chest.”   His current report on file with the Texas Ethics Commission shows him with more than $632,000 cash on hand.

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Senate Intergovernmental Relations will meet at 9:30 AM, Wednesday, February 09, 2011 in E1.028 (Hearing Room) to hear invited testimony from representatives from the representatives from Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  Click here to watch the hearing online tomorrow morning.
 

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The Sunset Advisory Commission is putting the wheels in motion to overhaul the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC).  And, the chairman of the Sunset Commission is telling two of RRC commissioners that their agency “badly broken.” 

Commissioner Michael Williams, the longest-serving member of the trio, has endorsed the overhaul.

The Sunset Commission has recommended the Railroad Commission be renamed the Texas Oil and Gas Commission and that the three-commissioner structure be replaced with a single commissioner who would be elected to a four-year term that would coincide with the terms of most other statewide elected officials.

Late last year, during the public hearing, several Sunset members expressed concern that railroad commissioners are too chummy with the industry they regulate and that the three-commissioner make-up means that at least one commissioner is campaigning while making decisions affecting the industry that constitutes their largest campaign contribution pool.

Two of the three sitting Texas Railroad commissioners have appealed to the legislative leadership not to push through a restructuring that would likely eliminate both of their jobs.  But Senator Glenn Hegar, chairman, and State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, vice chairman of Sunset, pushed back, telling the Railroad Commissioners that “maintaining the status quo” was never considered by Sunset.

The Sunset recommendations for the state agencies that were up for review during the interim must be incorporated into legislation and taken up this session for the agencies to continue their existence.  The Legislature has the opportunity to make meaningful reforms to the Railroad Commission, however members from either house can modify the recommendations, meaning that the proposed overhaul is not a done deal.  

So if you want to see reforms to the Railroad Commission this session, make a call.  Don’t know who represents you at the Texas legislature, click here.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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“Gasland,” the documentary film by Josh Fox, that examines whether hydraulic fracturing of shale formations threatens water supplies and poses other environmental hazards, was nominated today for an Academy Award.GasLand

The movie is a cross-country tour that included visits to people who live near several drilling sites, including North Texas’ Barnett Shale.

If you want to see this documentary before the Oscars it is probably not going to be shown in a theater near you anytime soon, but it is available on Amazon or through the movie’s website, or you can even rent it through netflix.

Of course, the gas industry is getting verklempt!  They would prefer you talk amongst yourselves about any other movie, and they’ll gladly give you a topic . . . The Prince of Tides was about neither a prince nor tides. Go!  

However, if you still want to talk or watch something about fracking check out some of our earlier posts that talk about the fracking issue being addressed in the popular medium of TV in both a 60 Minutes segment and an episode of CSI.

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On Wednesday, January 26th, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will consider the air quality permit application for the Las Brisas Energy Center, a planned petroleum coke-fired power plant that just last month, two administrative law judges said does not meet emission standards.

Public Citizen, the SEED Coalition and Sierra Club have all argued that the 1,200-megawatt petroleum coke plant proposed near Corpus Christi should be held to the same air-quality standards as traditional coal plants.  The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) administrative law judges must have agreed, twice recommending denial of this permit because of major flaws in the permit application.

The three-member TCEQ commission will be on thin legal ice if it approves the application tomorrow considering the ALS’s actions to date.  Not to mention that the Texas agency seems to be locked in a death match with the EPA over the regulation of greenhouse gasses.  Nevertheless, were I a betting woman, I wouldn’t bet on them denying the permit.  What do you think?

[polldaddy poll=4444923]

The TCEQ meeting begins 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the agency’s headquarters near Interstate 35 and Parmer Lane. Click here for the agenda.

UPDATE:

We have learned that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has urged the TCEQ  to deny the air quality permit to Las Brisas Energy Center petroleum coke-fired power plant in Corpus Christi on grounds that the project has not demonstrated it can comply fully with the Clean Air Act.

EPA Deputy Regional Administrator Lawrence Starfield  sent a letter yesterday stating, “We continue to have strong concerns about the public health and environmental impacts of this project based on our review . . .  Neither EPA nor the public have had the opportunity to exercise their rights under the (Clean Air Act) to review the (Las Brisas’) demonstrations of compliance.”

Wonder if that changes the odds?

Yet another UPDATE!

Well, if that had been a real bet instead of just a poll then everyone who participated right up to the unbelievable decision would have won.  Of course, the odds that the Commission would have denied the permit were astronomical number : 1

So the TCEQ approved the Las Brisas Energy Center’s air permit, their lawyer said he was dismayed that anyone would say anything bad about TCEQ doing their job.  Go figure.  That makes 3,032 for industry, 0 for the citizens of Texas.

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