Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

Excerpted from Ecowatch.

In the late 1600s, France took over the western part of the island of Hispaniola from Spain, dividing the island into what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic (DR). Like a science experiment gone wrong, the border now demarks not only linguistic differences, but also an entirely different quality of life. In 1960, both countries experienced essentially the same rainfall patterns and enjoyed the same geography, availability of natural resources and land productivity. The countries had nearly the same per capita real GDP.

However, by 2005, the DR’s per capita real GDP had increased threefold, while Haiti’s had plummeted. Now, the average person in the DR can expect to live a full 10 years longer than their neighbor in Haiti. The percentage of the population below the minimum level of dietary energy consumption is 44.5 percent in Haiti, compared to 15.4 percent in the DR. The probability of dying under the age of 5 per 1,000 births in Haiti is 76, while in DR, the number is less than half of that. The DR has become a magnet for tourism, while Haiti has become a social, political and economic tragedy. What happened?

In 1950, forest clearing for plantations and wood exports in Haiti had largely ended, but wood harvesting for charcoal continued. A mere 30 years later, forest cover had diminished from 25 percent of the total land area to a meager 10 percent. It decreased again to 4 percent of the land by 1994.

Across the border, the DR initially suffered from deforestation as well. Tree cover plummeted from 75 percent of the land in 1922 to 12 percent by the 1980s. However, massive reforestation programs and a conscious shift to alternative energy sources (besides charcoal) allowed the trees to rebound. The nation established 13 national parks and restricted access to important forest reserves. Today, forest covers 28 percent of the country.

Forests prevent soil erosion. Sturdy trunks slow winds. Roots hold the soil in place and improve soil permeability. They allow water to percolate into underground aquifers, decreasing surface water runoff. Leaves lessen the impact of heavy rains and reduce flooding. Dead trees, leaves and bark add organic matter to the topsoil, completing nutrient cycles and replenishing the land. Forests act as natural buffers as well, slowing floodwaters and shielding the coast from hurricane surges. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne killed more than 3,000 people in Haiti, while the DR lost 19. While other factors undoubtedly contributed to these numbers, the ability of forested coasts and watershed areas to mitigate hurricane damage is undeniable.  

The United Nations estimates that “50% of the (Haitian) topsoil has been washed away into the ocean” and that damaged lands have become “irreclaimable for farming purposes.” Although nearly 60 percent of the Haitian people work in the agricultural sector, the country still must import nearly half of its food.

While Haiti has also suffered from serious political strife since 1960, environmental degradation remains one of its greatest challenges. We cannot continue to view environmental policies as counter to economic growth and human happiness, but as necessary to achieve them. Climate change and an ever-increasing population mean that decisions have to be made now.

The time to think sustainably has come and that applies to Texas too.  The misguided bills that have been proposed during the current Texas Special session (HB 70 by Workman and SB 14 by West – Relating to a property owner’s right to remove a tree or vegetation.) are an example of policies that can negatively impact our state.

In central Texas the number of days above 100 has increased 37.7 days since 1970.  If this trend continues, the drought of 2011 could become the norm for the state.  Trees are one of the ways we mitigate some of the impacts of climate change.  This is especially true in urban areas where large expanses of hardscape (roads, parking lots and buildings) contribute to heat island effects.  These are the areas where local tree ordinances make a big difference.  So contact your Texas Senator and Representative and ask them to vote against HB 70 and SB 14. If you don’t know who represents you click here.  

Read Full Post »

Today, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts rejected a plea to stay or enjoin further operation of the Mercury and Air Toxics rule.  This is a big victory for the Obama administration, the EPA and environmentalists.

Roberts’s order came despite his court’s 5-4 decision last year ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, is illegal, and he acted swiftly, waiting less than a day after the EPA’s response brief to side with the Obama administration. Furthermore, Roberts acted unilaterally, electing to reject the request himself rather than take it to the full court, which may have led to a 4-4 split following Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

The mercury pollution standards, made final in 2012, are a separate regulation from the more controversial and costly carbon dioxide limits for power plants that are also being litigated in court.

The Supreme Court put an unprecedented halt to the carbon rule, known as the Clean Power Plan, last month by a 5-4 vote, when Roberts chose to let the full court vote on the matter. Thursday’s action by Roberts is completely separate from that case and the EPA says it plans to finalize a fix to the rule to retroactively apply its cost-benefit analysis in the way the Supreme Court said was necessary by next month which should move the rule forward toward protecting public health.

Read Full Post »

If you felt like 2015 was exceptionally warmer than usual, you weren’t alone. Last month, scientists declared 2015 the hottest year on record. Some of this heat can be attributed to the El Niño weather pattern releasing heat from the Pacific Ocean into the atmosphere, but most of the record-breaking heat is from climate changes caused by human-related greenhouse gas emissions.

NASA, the National Aeronautics Space Administration, and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, both collected data that showed that 2015 was between 0.23-0.29 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than 2014. This number may seem small and insignificant, but in terms of global temperature, it’s a big deal.  Thomas Karl, director of NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information emphasized that point:

This record, we literally smashed. It was over a quarter of a degree Fahrenheit, and that’s a lot for the global temperature.

In comparison to average temperatures in the 20th century, and not just 2014, 2015 was 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit higher.

2015 Hottest Year

Heat StrokeThe severe heat last year was felt around the world. There were record-high temperatures in the triple digits across Europe in June and July in Spain, Portugal, France, the U.K., Germany, and Poland. In May, India experienced 120 degree days that melted the asphalt, killing 2,500 people. In June, 1,200 people died in Pakistan after temperatures reached 113 degrees. When the atmosphere is warmer, it can hold more water vapor, which can cause an increase in heavy rains. The recent catastrophic floods in the eastern U.S. are evidence of this. El Niño is also disturbing atmosphere circulation which is causing some worldwide weather extremes like the drought in southern Africa.

So how will Texas be affected by this global climate change? With its location and vast size, Texas has a wide range of vulnerabilities to the effects of climate change. A study done by the Risky Business Project found that Texas will be one of the states that is most negatively affected by climate change.

Texas by 2050:

  • Decrease in worker productivity and crop yields.
  • Sea level rise of 2 feet in Galveston.
  • The number of extremely hot days per year (temperatures exceeding 95 degrees) will more than double from 43 to 106 days per year.
  • About 4,500 additional heat-related deaths per year.
  • A $650 million per year increase in storm-related losses along the coast, bringing the state’s annual damages to more than $3.9 billion.

Texas Climate

The Risky Business Project’s mission is to convince business leaders in Texas that climate change is a true risk. This will not be easy since Texas lawmakers routinely dismiss climate change. Regarding the news that 2015 was the hottest year, NASA head Charles Bolden said, “This announcement is a key data point that should make policymakers stand up and take notice – now is the time to act.” That it is, Bolden.

Read Full Post »

From Gasland: The Movie - http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking/faq/methane-levels

From Gasland: The Movie – http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking/faq/methane-levels

On Monday, February 1, 2016 from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm EST, EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB)’s Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel will hold a public teleconference to review and discuss the Panel’s first draft of the peer review report regarding SAB’s review of EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Assessment.

EPA will use the comments from the SAB, along with the comments from members of the public, to evaluate how to augment and revise the draft assessment. The final assessment will also reflect relevant literature published since the release of the draft assessment.

To participate in the meeting and view meeting materials, visit SAB’s website.

 

Read Full Post »

As hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has become commonplace in many states across the country, the problems it creates have become apparent. There’s the noise, inconvenience, traffic (and accompanying accidents, injuries and fatalities), road damage, wildlife disruption, artificial earthquakes, and air pollution that accompany fracking. Worst of all though, is the impact on water – both the large quantities that are used and water contamination.

From Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress - Water Demand by the Numbers

From Ceres “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress – Water Demand by the Numbers”

According to a Ceres’ report: “97 billion gallons of water were used, nearly half of it in Texas … [by] 39,294 oil and shale gas wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 through May 2013”. Texas is more vulnerable than any other state to water depletion from fracking because Texas has the most wells and because much of the state is subject to water shortages.Eagle Ford data summary from Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress - Water Demand by the Numbers

From Ceres “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress – Water Demand by the Numbers”

From Ceres:

Nearly half of the wells hydraulically fractured since 2011 were in regions with high or extremely high water stress, and over 55 percent were in areas experiencing drought.” Across Texas, multiple shale plays (Barnett, Eagle Ford, Permian, and more) are draining the already diminishing reservoirs. Explicitly for Texas, Ceres states, “Total water use for hydraulic fracturing in 2012 was an estimated 25 billion gallons… expected to reach approximately 40 billion gallons by the 2020s.

WASTE

Where does it all go? That filthy, chemical solution once called water has to go somewhere. Possible contamination is always an imminent danger.

From Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources

From the EPA’s “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”

Most fracking water does not reenter the water cycle, taking billions of gallons out of the water supply annually. Sometimes wastewater from fracking is sent to central waste treatment facilities, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that most of these facilities cannot significantly reduce TDS (totally dissolved solids) or other contaminants. It’s up to well operators to decide whether to reuse the water if it cannot be released into water supplies. Because Pennsylvania limits disposal wells, about 70-90% of Marcellus Shale wastewater is reused. In Texas, only 5% of wastewater is reused, while the other 95% is disposed of in underground injection control (UIC) disposal wells.

An injection well, as defined by the EPA, “is a device that places fluid deep underground into porous rock formations…These fluids may be water, wastewater, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals.” So rather than reusing or recycling toxic water, it is shot deep underground into porous rock that could be near any number of water formations. An Environment America report stated that 2010 testing of these wells “revealed that 2,300 failed to meet mechanical integrity requirements established by the EPA”. Beyond that, injection well pressure “may cause underground rock layers to crack, accelerating the migration of wastewater into drinking water”.

CONTAMINATION

Fracking is growing a network of toxic waste that is bleeding into our drinking water.

Two scientific papers offer impartial evidence of this toxicity. While neither can say with certainty that oil and gas activities are responsible for this contamination (because proving the source of water contamination is very difficult), both rule it as a prominent possibility that requires more monitoring and research for that certainty.

The first paper, published by UT Arlington researchers in 2013, provides data from 100 private wells. The authors analyzed the links between contamination, distance, depth, and time in relation to a well. The data showed that concentrations of arsenic, strontium, and selenium (all toxic) were significantly higher in samples from active extraction areas compared to historical data. Concentrations of Arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium were highest in areas near to natural gas wells. Arsenic, strontium, and barium contamination was highest near to the surface, indicating that this could be due to contact with surface sources, including fracking wells.

Another paper by UT Arlington researchers in 2015, examined 550 groundwater samples were taken within the Barnett Shale region. Arsenic, strontium, and beryllium contamination appeared in 10, 9, and 75 samples, respectively. All of these metals present a range of serious health issues.

Thirteen of the thirty-nine dangerous, volatile (can easily change between gas and liquid phase, which means they can cause water and air pollution) organic compounds analyzed were found in the region at least once.

Certain contaminants were detected more frequently in the counties that have the most oil and gas activity within the Barnett Shale region – Montague, Parker, Tarrant, Wise, and Johnson. Methanol and toluene (both toxic) data showed increasing concentration closer to the surface, meaning the source is more likely surface-based (perhaps from fracking well pads or waste ponds). Dichloromethane is a common and abundant chemical at well pads, and it was detected in 122 samples, 121 of which above the EPA federal limit, and 93% found within the active Barnett Shale region. The same contamination has been discovered in the Permian Basin, and “has also been implicated in air quality contamination events associated with unconventional drilling in Colorado”.

Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) are four volatile, organic compounds that also commonly exist in fossil fuels retrieved by fracking. Their composition and volatility make them a major health hazard: benzene is a known carcinogen, and all four have kidney, liver, and blood effects with prolonged exposure (like drinking contaminated water daily). At least one of these compounds was detected in 69% of collected samples, and 10 wells had detectable amounts of all four BTEX compounds.

83% of samples within Montague County (55 of 66) contained a BTEX compound. This area houses underground injection wells for drilling waste disposal across north-central Texas and Oklahoma… Furthermore, this area is also vulnerable to contamination because it occupies the unconfined outcrop zone of the Trinity aquifer.

Oil and gas has long been a staple of the Texas economy, but that does not excuse the industry’s reckless depletion of natural resources and contamination of our state. Unacceptable waste and contamination of our water supplies is happening all across the nation – the same water that supports our entire country; the same water used for drinking; the same water that farmers use to feed the country. Once the water is all gone or tainted, the infrastructure of our society will collapse.

When an industry is draining the life blood of our land, people, and civilization, it is time for change.

Read Full Post »

The Good the Bad and the UglyThe 84th Texas legislative session was a challenging one for progressives.  We had to fight hard just to try to maintain the status quo.

Local control – long a hallmark of Texas politics – became a bad word and state legislators attacked cities’ and counties’ rights to enact local regulations.  Despite widespread outcry, house bill 40, which eliminates almost all meaningful local regulation of oil and gas operations, passed with bipartisan support.  Other anti-local control bills were stopped. House bill 2595 would have essentially banned citizen referendums, but it was left in committee after passing the House.

The state’s few pro-renewable energy policies came under attack, even as wind and solar industries are creating thousands of jobs in Texas.  Thankfully our efforts and those of our supporters and allies paid off and we were able to stop those bad bills, including senate bill 931, from becoming law.

We did make a few small steps forward on renewable energy policy.  Senate bill 1626 will make it illegal for developers in Texas to ban people in developments with 51 or more homes from installing solar, even while the build out is ongoing.  Read my previous blog for more on SB 1626House bill 706 made it so that homeowner only need to apply for the on-site renewable energy property tax exemption once, instead of yearly.  Senate bill 933 improves the reliability of the Texas electric grid and may allow wind and solar energy producers to sell their electricity to other states by improving the connection between the Texas grid and the rest of the country.

Senate bill 19, the main ethics bill, didn’t pass primarily because the Senate wouldn’t agree to disclosure of dark money (contributions to political non-profits).  The bill also would have reduced conflicts of interests.  Instead, house bill 1690 passed and will limit the authority of Public Integrity Unit and gives elected officials who commit certain illegal ethics violations the special legal privilege of being prosecuted in their home counties instead of where they committed the crime.  Apparently Governor Abbott’s designation of ethics reform as an emergency issue wasn’t that serious.  At least we and our allies were able to stop house bill 3396, which would have allowed political contributions up to $1,000 to be anonymous.

And of course there were some bills that were open attempts to protect polluters.  A couple of them passed.  Senate bill 709 limits citizens’ rights to challenge pollution permits.  This includes permits for air pollution, waste disposal, and wastewater disposal.  House bill 1794 places an arbitrary cap on civil penalties for polluters, regardless of the magnitude of the pollution caused, the harm done, or how difficult it will be to restore the area.  Bills like this make it clear who the majority of Texas legislatures are representing – industry, not the people of Texas.

Some progress was made on water issues. House bill 1232 passed, providing for a study by the Texas Water Development Board to map and analyze the quality and quantity of water in aquifers around the state. Senate bill 1356 established a statewide tax free holiday for water-efficient products. House bill 1902 requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to adopt rules and standards for the expanded use of household greywater such as from air conditioning condensate, washing machines, rainwater, and swimming pool backwash for residential outdoor and limited indoor reuse. Senate bill 551 created a state Water Conservation Advisory Council which will submit a report regarding progress on statewide water conservation efforts and recommendations to advance water conservation to the Governor and state officials every 2 years.

The worst water bill, house bill 3298, didn’t pass. It would have directed the Texas Water Development Board to conduct a study on establishing a massive systems of reservoirs, pipelines, canals, and other infrastructure to move water around the state. If ever implemented this would have meant heavy financial, environmental, and social costs to rural areas, state finances, and fish and wildlife habitat.

Texas State Parks did get a boost from house bill 158. The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department will now receive 100% of the taxes collected from the sale, storage, or use of sporting goods revenue. Take advantage of the nice weather and go visit a state park to celebrate this bit of good news.

There were also a lot of the good bills we worked on, but that didn’t pass.  House bill 14 would have expanded the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan.  House bill 3810 would have created an alert system for notifying neighborhoods about toxic releases or explosions.  House bill 3760 would have regulated air pollution from scrap metal recyclers.  Senate bill 1786 would have regulated toxic dust from giant piles of petroleum coke, a coal-like substance, which is the byproduct of oil refining.  House bill 2769 would have extended the LoanSTAR Revolving Loan Program for energy efficiency and renewable energy installations on public buildings.  Instead, this program will end this year.  House bill 2254 would have banned minimum usage fees in the deregulated electrical market.  Minimum usage fees drive up consumer costs and discourage energy conservation.  House bill 2392 would have established a loan program for energy efficiency upgrades to existing residential buildings.

It wasn’t all bad, but enough of this 84th Texas legislative session was terrible enough that Texans should be taking a close look at how their state senators and representatives voted on some of the worst bills.  Let you elected officials know if you aren’t pleased with their votes and be sure to vote yourself when the time comes.  Only accountability from the public will provide for a better outcome next time.

Read Full Post »

Hays County, Texas in War over Water

The state of Texas reserves the right to govern how much water can be pumped in order to protect its aquifers.

That is, in some parts of Texas.

Western Hays County residents protest Electro Purification water grab near Hays City Store. Photo by Bill Johnson.

Western Hays County residents protest Electro Purification water grab near Hays City Store. Photo by Bill Johnson.

When Houston based company Electro Purification received the rights for 1,3000 acres of land just outside the central Texas town of Wimberley, they planned to build seven test wells. Because the land that these wells are on isn’t part of any groundwater conservation district, they are outside of the state’s jurisdiction, so whoever owns the land can lease the water rights. In the long run, Electro Purification plans to pump more than 5 million gallons of water per day from aquifers to supply nearby growing suburbs.

Those that live around the area wells face not only a deterioration of the area’s financial capability, but also the corrosion of Hays County wells, streams, and springs. Dan Pickens, a local who can just walk one mile away from his house to find a test well, says

“When you can’t flush your toilet, do your laundry, cook, get a drink of water, life comes to a standstill. People’s life savings are tied up into their homes, and what’s a home worth without water?”

Electro Purification insists that the situation in Hays County is not a “water grab” and is perfectly legal. Furthermore, Electro Purification Ed McCarthy says that the water is used for “beneficial purposes”.

For those on the receiving end, like the city of Buda, it truly is beneficial. Just half an hour outside of the Capitol, Buda has been struggling for water resources for six years. Under their agreement with Electro Purification, Buda will receive 1 million gallons of water every day through one of the pipelines.

Hays County residents are enraged because Hays County has struggled for water resources for even longer. Locals have started boycotting businesses in Buda. Other local groups, like Citizens Alliance for Responsible Development, have started a petition in hopes of urging the state Legislature to take action to stop the water grab. One of the members, Jim McMeans, says,

A company has a moral obligation to use water and develop water at a sustainable rate.

There has been speculation that the loophole that Electro Purification found proves that there is no moral obligation. Meanwhile, locals are holding meetings, hosting take action websites, and starting a “Save Our Wells” campaign.

Read Full Post »

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]

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

2014-09-29 Austin Mayoral Candiate Forum on AE Issues - YouTubeOn Monday, we concluded our series of Austin City Council and mayoral candidate forums.  Over the course of two and a half weeks, we heard a variety of views on Austin Energy issues from an astounding 54 candidates.  On top of that, 49 candidates submitted responses to our questionnaire on Austin Energy issues.

Many of our Austin supporters joined us in person for the forums, but for those of you who weren’t able to make it out to your district forum or the mayoral forum, we have posted all of the videos on a special Austin Elections page of our blog. Or you can view them directly on the Public Citizen’s Texas Office YouTube channel.

If you care about climate change, shutting down polluting power plants, expanding the use of solar energy, energy efficiency, preserving our water, or keeping electric bills affordable for low-income customers, you’ll want to check out the Austin Council candidate forum videos for your district and the mayoral race.  Get the information you need to make an educated vote on November 4.

Public Citizen didn’t host these forums on our own.  We were joined in this effort by the SEED Coalition (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development), Sierra Club, Solar Austin, Texas ROSE (Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy), Clean Water Action, Austin Climate Action Network, Texas Drought Project, First Unitarian Universalist Green Sanctuary Ministry, and the Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church.  Many thanks to everyone who helped with the forums, especially former Austin Mayor Will Wynn for moderating the mayoral forum, Progress Texas deputy director Phillip Martin for moderating the districts 6 and 10 forum, and Treehouse for donating their space for the districts 5 & 8 forum.

Read Full Post »

river water75% of Texas streams could remain vulnerable to pollution due to House Bill 5078 passed by the House of Representatives on September 9th. HB 5078 would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from applying the protections of the Clean Water Act to more than half the nation’s rivers and streams. This includes 143,000 miles of Texan streams that flow into vital waterways such as the Edwards Aquifer, the Trinity River, Caddo Lake, Galveston Bay, and the Rio Grande.

Texas waters are already considered the 2nd most polluted in the nation, according to a report by the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center. Data from 2012 showed the Lower Brazos River watershed as ranking first for the highest amount of toxicity released with 33,475,464 toxicity-weighted pounds. Over 80,000 pounds of carcinogenic chemicals were discharged into Texan waterways. These chemicals persist in the environment and have the potential to cause birth defects, infertility, cancers, and developmental problems in children.

“Texas’ waterways should be clean – for swimming, drinking, and supporting wildlife,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.  “But too often, our waters have become a dumping ground for polluters.  The first step to curb this tide of toxic pollution is to restore Clean Water Act protections to all our waterways.”

Read Full Post »

Renewable RoundupThe Renewable Energy Roundup & Sustainable Living Expo is a full 3 day event on September 26th, 27th, & 28th at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, TX.

Booths will feature products and information on:
• Renewable energy resources; solar, wind, biomass and other resources and services – The Public Citizen booth will offer information on solar energy.
• Smart Grid solutions available to homeowners now
• Green Building and remodeling
• Sustainable transportation solutions
• Tips for improving health and well-being
• Insights on organic gardening and cooking, tree care and soil care
• Climate Change innovation
• Texas water conservation and drought solutions
(more…)

Read Full Post »

City sets ambitious solar goal, path to zero carbon pollution from Austin Energy by 2030

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution.  Photo by Al Braden.

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution. Photo by Al Braden.

A diverse coalition of groups representing workers, people of faith, low-income residents, clean energy supporters and environmental advocates united in their of goal of expanding affordable clean energy and protections to public health cheered the Austin City Council for adopting the Affordable Energy Resolution late Thursday evening.

The resolution comes after years of community-led work to study Austin Energy’s portfolio and generation plan, identify opportunities to strengthen the municipal utility’s clean energy and climate commitments while meeting the needs of low-income communities and after community members demonstrated strong demand for more affordable clean energy and less pollution on a reasonable but aggressive timeline.

The Affordable Energy Plan calls for Austin Energy to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and eliminate carbon pollution from its generator fleet by 2030. It directs the utility phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant by investing in 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

“Solar is now cheaper than building a new natural gas plant. Our analysis shows that 600 megawatts of solar will save Austin Energy between $12 and $33 million per year,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group. “We’re grateful for the strong leadership shown by Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.”

The landmark resolution also takes significant steps to expand local solar power.  It doubles Austin’s local solar goal to 200 megawatts, with half of that goal reserved for distributed residential and commercial solar projects. And the resolution expands access to rooftop solar projects by including solar leasing as an option for residents and businesses and by refining Austin Energy’s innovative value of solar tariff.

“Local solar creates local jobs.  The Austin solar industry already employs more than 800 people and many of those jobs are in solar installation and can’t be outsourced,” said Kaiba White of Solar Austin.  “Money spent on local solar goes back into our local economy.  Allowing people from all walks of life to benefit from solar is a win-win for Austin.”

A separate resolution was also passed to establish a task force to make recommendations on expanding the utility’s energy savings goal and ensuring that energy efficiency services are provided to people of all income levels. Energy efficiency is the most easily deployed, lowest-cost option for meeting energy needs and will be a critical component of meeting climate goals for the utility.

The City of Austin has long been a leader in Texas and nationally. The City announced its plans to power all city buildings and operations with Texas wind power in 2012, and earlier in 2014 Austin Energy announced a new solar power project at the lowest cost in U.S. history. In June 2014, the Austin City Council became first elected body in the nation to endorse the goals of the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed plan to curb carbon pollution that drives climate disruption.

“The impacts of a rapidly changing climate are clear in Central Texas and as a progressive community we have a moral obligation to lead in reducing our carbon footprint while providing clean, affordable electricity to our people, businesses and churches,” said Reverend John Elford with the University United Methodist Church of Austin. “This resolution sets us on a path to meet both those needs.”

The Decker natural gas-fired power plant is a major contributor to smog pollution in Travis County. Replacing the plant with clean solar power will cut smog and improve air quality for the more than one million residents in the county, protecting children, seniors and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“In its opposition to this resolution, Austin Energy continued the tradition of marginalizing the communities near Decker by citing money as a primary concern at the expense public health. By passing this resolution, City Council members have finally recognized that every Austinite should have the right to clean air. That this is an issue of justice and that it is an issue of equality,” said Mayte Salazar-Ordonez, a volunteer leader with Austin Beyond Coal.

As Austin Energy develops its plan to meet the goals of the Affordable Energy Resolution, building new gas- or coal-fired power plants will not be an option, representing an opportunity to move beyond traditional power plants and further tap Texas’s renewable energy potential.

The coalition will now look to secure timely retirement of the Fayette coal-fired power plant to meet the city’s carbon pollution elimination goal as well as to cut the soot, smog and mercury pollution coming from the plant that impacts local communities, farms and waterways. Nationwide, 178 coal-fired power plants have been announced for retirement as clean energy solutions like wind, solar and energy efficiency have cut air pollution, lowered costs for consumers and created jobs.

Read Full Post »

photo by Brian Skerry

photo by Brian Skerry

Bigger, healthier fish, free of hormones, colorants, pesticides and prophylactic antibiotics free fish live in gigantic round or diamond shaped holding tanks off coasts. This is the next generation of fish harvesting called Open Ocean Fish Farming, which strives to be a sustainable and healthier source of fish for the rapidly growing human population.

There is a growing global fish crisis as the world population rises and consumes more fish in its wake. According to World Watch Institute, as of 2009 wild fish stocks around the world are 57% fully exploited, 30% overexploited and just 13% underexploited which is causing destructive effects on marine life. Every year there is about 7.3 million tons of bycatch, unintended marine life caught in fishing net, which is thrown back into the ocean either dead or severely injured such as dolphins, sharks, turtles, whales and many other species. These problems are associated with open water fishing, but there are also hoards of problems that come with fish farm plants where fish live in an unnatural environment that requires antibiotics, antifungal and antiparasitical agents to keep them alive. Conditions such as these are not only bad for the fish, but also transfer to the humans who eat them.

photo courtesy of NatGeo

photo courtesy of NatGeo

The difference between open ocean and conventional fish farms is basically the difference between free range grass-fed animals and animals raised in feedlots. In open ocean farms:

  • The fish are in pods located off shore where their waste is taken with the ocean, allowing a constant flow of new water.
  • Their diet is all-natural and does not include hormones, colorants, pesticides, or prophylactic antibiotics
  • The fish are able to swim more freely and actively
  • Coastal shores are not polluted by concentrated fish waste
  • The fish grow more rapidly – at a pace that can reach 10lb per year compared to 1lb per year
photo by Bryce Groark

photo by Bryce Groark

This new technology of fish farming could bring sustainability to a market that is currently destroying the earth’s aquatic environment. Through a man named Brian O’Hanlon, the start of open ocean fish farming has begun with the birth of Open Blue, a small business founded in 2007 that is currently producing 20-25 tons of Cobia in 1 harvest and is working with new innovative technologies to improve the way we harvest fish. With the earth’s human population expected to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050, according to the UN, there is a huge change that needs to be made in the way we harvest marine life.

Read Full Post »

Big Brown coal plant in Texas

Big Brown coal plant in Texas is one of the largest CO2 emitters

Yesterday, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy announced stage two of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the Clean Power Plan, which is designed to reduce power plant greenhouse gas pollution and increase energy efficiency. The plan is to create a flexible environment for each state by allowing cooperation between multiple states along with individual state plans to comply with the Clean Power Plan guidelines. The proposal aims to encourage states, companies and private individuals to get involved in the reduction of greenhouse gasses that come from domestic power plants that burn fossil fuels, especially coal. Its flexibility and benefits are what’s going to drive this environmental plan to its final goal.

The plan requires that states have their proposals submitted by June of 2016 and started by 2020, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. In addition to reducing our impact on climate change, the plan is projected have many other benefits as well.  It is projected to cut electric bills by 8%, cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25%, and have tremendous health benefits. This regulation has the potential to prevent 6,600 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks in children who are all exposed to the toxins coal plants emit into the environment. According to the EPA, a projected increase of 104,000 jobs will be created in power production, fuel extraction and the demand side energy sector, and up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits could be made by making the changes this plan guides us to do.

Texas is home to 18 coal plants

Texas is home to 18 coal plants

Coal plants alone count for one third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the US, with Texas being the largest producer from its 18 coal fired power plants located mostly in east Texas. Currently, there is no restriction on carbon pollution from existing power plants and a steady increase of carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration has gone from 387 parts per million in 2009, to a record 401 parts per million as of April 2014 which, according to ice core records, hasn’t been reached in over 800,000 years. With over 40% of US power generated from coal plants, adjustment of environmental regulations has been needed for a long while.

The goals of the Clean Power Plan are outlined with specific requirements of greenhouse gas emissions that will serve as another step forward towards low-carbon technologies and a cleaner planet. The Clean Power Plan will require a change in each state for the better of the environment, fueling new technologies and businesses that support low carbon economy. By requiring action from the states, the plan will hopefully encourage action from the citizens as well.

In addition to making changes here in the United States, the plan is also hoped to spur greater international action to address climate change. The announcement that the worlds largest carbon emitter, China, will place a cap on carbon emissions in 2016, seems to indicate that the strategy might already be working.

This announcement isn’t the end of the process.  EPA is now collecting feedback from the public on this proposal.  You can help ensure that this proposed regulation to address the urgent problem of climate change is adopted and put into action as quickly as possible by letting EPA know that you support limited carbon pollution from power plants.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »