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Boom surrounds the Exxon Valdez at its new temporary home just off Naked Island April 7, 1989. The ship is undergoing preliminary repairs there. Photo by Erik Hill, Anchorage Daily News

Boom surrounded the Exxon Valdez as underwent preliminary repairs at its temporary home just off Naked Island, April 7, 1989.
Photo by Erik Hill, Anchorage Daily News

Twenty-five years ago today the Exxon-Valdez oil tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, causing the worst oil spill in the United States at the time. The 987-foot tanker spilled an estimated 11 million gallons, or more, of toxic crude oil into the water, which ultimately smeared over 1,300 miles of shoreline. Today, oil can still be found on the rocky beaches and some wildlife populations have not fully recovered.

Exxon Valdez oil spill workers use pressure washers to wash oil from the beach on Smith Island, Prince William Sound. The oil was impounded in the water off of the beach and skimmed from the water. Photo by Bob Hallinen, Anchorage Daily News

Exxon Valdez oil spill workers used pressure washers to wash oil from the beach on Smith Island, Prince William Sound. The oil was impounded in the water off of the beach and skimmed from the water.
Photo by Bob Hallinen, Anchorage Daily News

Oil Persists
If you were to go to the beaches on Prince William Sound today, you could still find patches of oil underneath rocks and in the sand. The reason that oil continues to persist in the area is because Prince William Sound is what ecologists refer to as a closed ecological system, meaning that there is not much of a tide change and big, crashing waves do not break up the oil. Scientists that have examined this oil have been surprised to find that it has “most of the same chemical compounds as oil sampled 11 days after the initial spill.” Marine ecologist Gail Irvine says that when the oil spilled from the tanker, it mixed with seawater and formed into a goopy compound.

“When oil forms into the foam, the outside is weathering, but the inside isn’t,” Irvine explains. “It’s like mayonnaise left out on the counter. The surface will crust over, but the inside of the clump still looks like mayonnaise.”

As late as 2009 there were still more than 21,000 gallons of oil remaining from the Exxon-Valdez spill, some of which has been detected as far as 450 miles from the site of the spill. Although cleanup efforts came to a halt in 1994, oil from the Exxon-Valdez spill will remain in the environment for decades to come.

Wildlife Impacted
During the first year of the oil spill, The World Wildlife Fund estimated that 250,000 seabirds, 4,000 sea otters, 250 bald eagles and more than 20 orca whales died, making the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill one of the most ecologically destructive spills. While most of the animal populations have bounced back in the two-and-a-half decades since the spill, some wildlife populations have not recovered.

The Pacific herring population crashed after the spill, and is now listed as “not recovering.”  The silvery fish is a staple food for species such as salmon, seabirds, sea otters and whales.

Other species that have struggled to bounce back to pre-oil spill levels include sea otters, pigeon guillemots, killer whales and orca whales.

A Reminder in Texas
Just two days before the 25th Anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, “an extremely serious spill” occurred in Galveston Bay. As much as 168,000 gallons of heavy oil spilled when a barge and a ship collided near the Texas City dike on Saturday afternoon. Crews have been frantically working to clean up the spill in order to minimize lasting impacts on Galveston Bay, which is an ecologically sensitive area. Migratory birds are expected to be flying through the bay over the next month, which puts them and scores of other species at grave risk.

The type of fuel that spilled into Galveston Bay is a marine fuel oil known as RMG 380, which is sticky, black and heavy. This means that unlike gasoline, which evaporates from the surface of the water, much of this oil will sink and mix into the sediment, resulting in subsurface tarballs or tarmats which may persist in the environment for months or years to come.

These tragedies highlight the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels. The negative impacts will be with us long after the benefits have been left behind.

These tragedy highlights the importance of ending our dependence on fossil fuels. The negative impacts will be with us long after the benefits have been left behind.

2014-03-19 More and more water bottle companies are voluntarily removing BPA, but not other chemicals like BPS - treehugger.comBisphenol A. In an age of ever-growing consumer awareness and savy, many of us are familiar with this chemical, better known as BPA. We look for the phrase “BPA Free” on our water bottles, Tupperware containers and children’s sippy cups in the hopes we’re protected from negative health effects. Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that this is not the case.

Despite the fact that Bisphenol A has been around for over a hundred years, it was only a few years ago in the late ‘00s that much of the danger around the endocrine-disrupting chemical came to light, ultimately leading to the FDA banning its use in baby bottles in July 2012. Despite this ban, which many would see as a confession of the chemical’s danger, the FDA maintains that BPA is still safe in small doses – it’s in everything from canned food to thermal receipt paper.

For those not as familiar, BPA is recognized as an endocrine-disrupting chemical – while in the human body it mimics estrogen. Although estrogen is produced naturally in both men and women, ingesting synthetic hormones can have drastic effects on the human body. BPA has been linked to a host of diseases and ailments, particularly breast cancer and hyperactivity. This is especially notable since recent estimates say that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime and 1 in 5 high school-age boys in the US will receive an ADHD diagnosis.

While independent studies have found BPA to be highly dangerous in lower doses with “More than 95 percent of people in developed countries… exposed to levels of BPA that are “within the range” associated with health problems in animals, from cancer and insulin-resistant diabetes to early puberty”, the government is arguing that the chemical is still safe to use in small amounts. There are, however groups saying that the government study is flawed, mostly due to the fact that the control group in the study ended up being compromised.

Even if you limit your plastic use to only BPA-Free plastics, studies suggest you might not be as safe as you may think. A report published by Environmental Health Perspectives authored by a professor at University of Texas at Austin notes that “almost all” commercially available plastics tested contained “estrogenic activity” – the thing about BPA that makes it so dangerous. In the wake of all the attention around BPA, lots of tests have been done to test the potential health implications of other types of widely accepted plastics. A field guide to help decipher these plastics and the estrogenic activity of the chemicals in them can be found here.

One of the most concerning things about this plastics debate is the degree to which the chemical and plastic companies are subverting and ‘spinning’ information in an attempt to avoid regulation. As Public Citizen continues to push people before profits, it’s still important to try and do research on items you bring into your home whenever you can. When in doubt, avoid plastic if you can and opt for glass or metal containers or bottles.

By Vanessa Ramos and Max Anderson

2014-03-16 Eagle Ford Shale - Fracking RigEnvironment Texas, a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy group, hosted a fracking action camp Sunday, March 16th,through Monday, March 17th.
Sunday attendees traveled south through Gonzales, Nordheim and Cuero, Texas, to visit the Eagle Ford Shale, one of the largest shale plays in the United States.

The landscape is dotted with well pads, drilling rigs, cranes, flares, storage tanks, waste pits, pipelines, pipeline pumping stations, 18-wheelers, mobiles offices, fences, surveillance cameras, and RV man camps. While some residents have made millions off of royalties from oil and gas leases, others are seeing their property value, health, and the integrity of their land decline.

Halfway between Yorktown and Nordheim, attendees met up with resident Lynn Janssen and were able to ask her questions.

Janssen’s land has been in her family since her grandfather bought it in 1897.  Mrs. Janssen and her neighbors are organizing to stop two large disposal pits from being put next to their property. Their growing concern is about the health consequences of living near a disposal pit for an extended period of time, due to air pollution and water runoff.

2014-03-16 Eagle Ford Shale - Fracking EquipmentSome of these health consequences concerning citizens of Nordheim are air pollution from chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOC) like benzene, toluene, and xylene. VOS’s are known to cause cancer, and many times are emitted into the air by the practice of flaring. There is also concern with the toxic chemicals found in fracking fluid.  However, an even bigger concern is hydrogen sulfide gas, which is deadly in high doses and abundant in the Eagle Ford Shale.

Attendees looked at foam boards filled with maps and disposal well locations in Janssen’s garage. Mrs. Janssen explained some of the pictures on the boards were from 1.1-inch of rain that, in an hour’s time, had streamed from the property designated for a disposal pit site onto her property.

One map that has citizens and Mayor Kathy Payne’s attention is the waste pit sand disposal well that has already been permitted and is under construction, which sits 150 feet from the city limits sign and the high school in this small town.  The mayor is continuing to fight for the air and water for this small community, but it’s an uphill battle.

On Monday, March 17th, attendees met up with Irma Gutierrez, the Director of Outreach for Congressman Pete Gallego, at the Congressman’s office in San Antonio, TX. This gave attendees an opportunity to speak about the issues associated with fracking and what they witnessed the day before in the Eagle Ford Shale region. It also gave an opportunity to lobby an elected official and understand the importance of lobbying.

Attendees spoke about the billions of gallons of fresh water being used in Texas fracking, at a time of drought. The toxic wastewater, which is laced with cancer-causing chemicals is a concern in fracking communities.  The CLEANER Act (HR 2825), a bill by Representative Cartwright (PA), would close the loophole that exempts fracking from the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and protect communities from toxic fracking waste by regulating it as hazardous.

As reported by The Weather Channel, InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, air quality is another major concern in the Eagle Ford region.  Toxic air emissions from fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale have doubled since 2009, and air pollution from fracking threatens to push San Antonio out of attainment with the Clean Air Act for the first time in history.

Its no wonder that communities are feeling the negative health and environmental impacts of fracking, given how many exemptions the industry enjoys from our environmental and public health laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and our nation’s hazardous waste law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale has changed communities and altered landscapes. Production in the Eagle Ford Shale had already reached over 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in August 2013, and it is expected to continue expanding as more wells are drilled. Many residents are concerned about the long-term impacts to their health, water, and communities, after the fracking boom goes bust. The fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale could be a disaster in the making.

2014-03-17 EUC and RMC Hearing on Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection PlanAustin Energy customers turned out in force to support renewable energy last night.  Over 100 people packed the Shudde Fath Conference room at Austin Energy headquarters for a joint hearing in front of the Electric Utility and Resource Management commissions.  Not prepared for the enthusiastic turnout, Austin Energy staff provided additional chairs, but many attendees were left with standing room only.

Over 50 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which extended well past the scheduled ending time of 8:00 pm to about 9:30 pm, forcing some to leave before they had a chance to voice their concerns.

Citizens expressed passionate concern about climate change, water availability, water contamination, air quality, health, job creation and equity.  The common theme was overwhelming support for a rapid transition away from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy resources, including wind, solar, energy efficiency and energy storage.

Climate change was brought front and center as an issue that cannot be ignored and which demands immediate action.  The commissions heard from numerous citizens that Austin will be judged by future generations based on what we do to mitigate our impact on the climate.

One point of contention between Austin Energy and advocates has been whether or not goals, including the carbon reduction and renewable energy goals, will be expanded as part of this update of the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan.  Austin Energy’s current goals were set as a starting point, but they aren’t nearly strong enough to protect our climate.  Last night, with climate change already impacting our communities, Austin Energy ratepayers spoke clearly in favor of substantially expanding those goals.

With the ongoing drought still weighing on many minds, the connection between water and energy was repeatedly brought up throughout the evening.  Citizens talked about water used in generating electricity at the Fayette coal plan and the billions of gallons used in Texas fracking jobs each year.

Austin Energy’s recent announcement of the 100-150 megawatt solar deal up for City Council approval this week added to the enthusiasm about renewable energy.  That project will provide Austin Energy with energy at around 5 cents per kilowatt-hour and is projected to slightly reduce customer bills.  Many ratepayers made the point that since wind and solar are already affordable, Austin Energy should support calls for increasing its renewable energy goals and should continue purchasing more wind and solar.

Click here if you want to watch the archived video recording of the meeting.

Environmental advocacy group members of the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition (CGCC) filed suit against the United Bulk coal export terminal in Davant for violating the federal Clean Water Act.

Coal Export Terminal Pollution on the MississippiThe terminal, owned by United Bulk Terminals Davant LLC, has operated for more than four decades, shipping millions of tons of coal and petcoke – an oil-refining byproduct with high levels of arsenic, mercury and other toxins hazardous to human health and aquatic life – every year to overseas markets.  But before they are shipped, that coal and petcoke sits in huge, open piles along the river, and blows right into the river and the wetlands when there is rain or wind.

Officially, the Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) and Sierra Club are the parties that filed the suit in New Orleans’ U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The groups, represented by Tulane University’s Environmental Law Clinic, are members of the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition (CGCC), which is working to clean-up existing coal terminals in the Gulf Coast region, stop any new coal export terminals, and promote cleaner, safer industries and jobs.

The suit contends that United Bulk has illegally discharged coal and petcoke into the river every day that it has operated for at least five years. It points out that coal and petcoke have been discharged into the river in enough quantities to produce visible spills on a regular basis. The suit also cites the EPA’s determination that storm water runoff from coal piles “can flush heavy metals from the coal, such as arsenic and lead, into nearby bodies of water.”

The international market for U.S. coal has also grown increasingly volatile. Port authorities on the West Coast and in Corpus Christi, Texas have concluded that the coal export market is simply too risky to invest significant sums in new or expanded shipping facilities.

For more information, check out The Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition’s website.

 

In February 2013, 40 intrepid Texans from from all over the state, (Corpus Christi, Houston, Dallas, East Texas, and Austin), boarded a bus and traveled 34 straight hours to join folks in an inspiring event where Bill McKibben of 350, Michael Brune of Sierra Club, other speakers from prominent eco groups and celebrities in the largest rally ever held in history in Washington, DC.  In the freezing February weather, between 40,000 to 50,000 people from around the country came together and said NO to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Among the Texans on the long bus trip were three filmmakers from Dallas.  Sponsored by DOLPHIN BLUE, they documented the trip and interviewed the young people who were joining this fight.  There is also a portion of the movie which shows exclusive footage and interviews with first responders and residents affected by the devastating tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arksansas due to Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline rupture with interviews and footage of the neighborhood.

That movie, Cry Heard ‘Round the World, premiers with a free screening on Thursday, March 20th in Dallas and if you are in the area we hope you consider seeing this new film.

Check out the  trailer and reserve your seat below.

Click here to reserve your seat at this FREE movie

Cry Heard ‘Round the World
Angelika Film Center
5321 E Mockingbird Ln
Dallas, TX 75206
THURSDAY, MARCH 20 at 8 pm

Seats are filling up quickly, and reservations are on a first come, first serve basis.  

 

After the film, there will be a panel
with landowner Julia Trigg Crawford, who STILL has her fight at the Texas Supreme Court against KXL,
Rita Beving of Public Citizen and David Griggs of Sierra Club
to talk about the rally and tar sands
Others who were at the rally may join the discussion.

 

 

2014-03-10 Climate change means less guacamole - WikimediaWhen we think of the effects of climate change, we typically think of rising sea level, heat waves, drought and volatile weather. What we don’t often think about is guacamole. Or to be more specific, foods that are in danger because of climate change.

In its 2014 annual report, the popular Mexican food chain Chipotle warned investors that, “Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients”. The report went on to add “in the event of cost increases with respect to one or more of our raw ingredients, we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas, rather than paying the increased cost for the ingredients”.

While Chipotle would be largely affected by a drop in avocado production, which is expected to drop by 40% over the next three decades, other crops are in danger too, such as almonds, walnuts, oranges and grapes. A common thread between all of these crops is that they are grown in California, which has been through a particularly brutal drought this year. While California has always been susceptible to droughts, climate change is making them worse and more frequent and can be expected to do so to an even greater extent in the future.

In November of this past year, news outlets reported on a leaked draft of a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The report noted that food production could drop as much as 2% per decade in the coming century compared to production estimates before climate change. All the while, the population on the planet is expected to reach between 8 and 11 billion people by 2100.

The bottom line is that climate change has effects beyond the most salient weather changes – climate change can negatively affect our ability to produce food. This is particularly dangerous as the diets of the world’s citizens become more similar – scientists note that this makes our food supply even more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  A decreased ability to produce food can cause increased food prices, limited access to fresh food, global food shortages, and in turn, political turmoil.

Can we really afford to not address climate change?

solar panelsLate last week, Austin Energy announced that it will bring contracts for two large new solar projects to City Council for approval at the March 20th meeting.  The contracts that Austin Energy is poised to sign, after Council approval, are for 150 megawatts of solar power from SunEdison and the price agreed to is nothing short of phenomenal.  At less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, Austin will have solar energy for the same price as electricity from natural gas generators.

Austin Energy predicts that this solar project will actually LOWER RATES slightly.  That’s right folks – we’re getting clean renewable energy AND lower bills.

These new solar facilities will be completed by 2016, and will provide Austin Energy with power for 25 years.  That’s 25 years of electricity at a fixed cost, something that simply can’t be obtained from a gas or coal plant.  When natural gas prices go up, so does that “Power Supply Adjustment Fee” on bills.  The beauty of wind and solar projects as that there are no fuel costs, so consumers are protected from unexpected price hikes.

Austin Energy should be commended for it’s excellent work in seeking competitive bids for this project and for capitalizing on an opportunity to contract for more than the 25 to 50 megawatts it initially planned for when it became clear that prices were lower than expected.  This significant Austin Energy solar expansion is big news, not just for the utility and the city, but for the state of Texas.

Show your utility some love on Facebook and Twitter (@austinenergy) for a job well done.  Use the hashtag #solarsaves.

Photo by Max Anderson

Photo by Max Anderson

Above All Else had their world premiere to a full audience at South by Southwest in Austin on Monday, March 10, 2014. The film takes an intimate look at a group of landowners and activists in East Texas who tried to stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which carries tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

The film focuses on David Daniel, a former circus performer who settled down with his family in the woods of East Texas. David and his family wanted to settle down for a quiet life in the country when something unexpected happens: TransCanada tells him they want to put a pipeline through his property. David begins to build a tree-sit on his property with the help of organizers from the Tar Sands Blockade. The film takes a personal look at how David begins to rally his neighbors and allies to try and stop the Keystone XL pipeline.

Photo by Vanessa Ramos

Photo by Vanessa Ramos

After the film John Fiege, director, his crew and several people featured in the film answered questions about the film from a lively audience.  Julia Trigg Crawford, one of the landowners featured in the film, said, “It is an unbelievable travesty what happened with David. They’ve taken away his First Amendment right.”

John Fiege and his crew made an excellent film that tells the personal stories of individuals who risked financial ruin, their personal safety, and the security of their families. Above All Else will give anyone interested in the Keystone XL and tar sands issue a different perspective of the fight on the ground.

Above All Else will have two more showings at SXSW this week. The next showing is today, March 11, at SXSatellite: Alamo Village from 4:30 PM to 6:04 PM. The final showing will be Saturday, March 15, at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH from 2:00 PM to 3:34 PM. Check out the Above All Else website and the film’s SXSW page.

Senator Brian Schatz will lead the Talkathon  Photo by Audrey McAvoy, AP

Senator Brian Schatz (D – Hawaii) will lead the Talkathon
Photo by Audrey McAvoy, AP

Tonight, 28 US Senators will stay up discussing climate change all night to get Congress to ‘wake up’ to the realities of the issue.

The so-called talkathon is scheduled to begin after Senate’s last votes today and continue until 9 AM tomorrow morning. During the night the Senators, comprised of 26 Democrats and 2 Independents, will be tweeting from the talkathon using the hashtag #Up4Climate, hoping to get the attention of Congress and the American people.

The talkathon is organized by the Climate Action Task Force, a group launched in January whose goal is to take an aggressive stance on climate in Congress, and led by Brian Schatz (D – Hawaii).

You can follow the Senate’s Climate Change Talkathon on Twitter with the hashtag #Up4Climate and sign the Climate Action Task Force’s petition here.

Blog post by Vanessa Ramos and Max Anderson

2014-03-07 No KXL Austin March

KXL protesters march to the Austin Club
Photo by Kaiba White

The heat has been turning up on the State Department and President Obama this past week from KXL Dissent. Nearly 400 youth were arrested while protesting against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in front of the White House this past weekend, which was the largest youth act of non-violent civil disobedience at the White House in more than a generation. On Monday, nine people were arrested at the State Department building in San Francisco during a youth led protest of the Keystone XL pipeline. The momentum to stop this climate-killing pipeline has been building all across the country, and yesterday people in Austin made their stand against toxic tar sands.

People gathered at the south gates of the Texas Capitol and marched to Austin Club to have a welcoming demonstration for Canadian Ambassador Gary Doer, who was in town to give a speech promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, among other things.  Public Citizen, Sierra Club, Austin Climate Action Network, and Environment Texas organized the event, but opposition to the pipeline extends well beyond environmental groups and includes many conservative landowners.

Banner pointing to the Austin Club Photo by Kaiba White

Banner pointing to the Austin Club
Photo by Kaiba White

Banners hung from the parking garage next door to the Austin Club greeted the protesters.  People carried signs and marched to the sounds of djembe, pots and pans, cornet and chanting.

Attendees for Ambassador Doer’s luncheon had to walk through the crowd of about 30 chanting protesters who formed a picket line in front of the entrance.

2014-03-07 No KXL Austin ProtestYesterday marked the end of the public comment period with the State Department for the Keystone XL pipeline. This was the last chance for citizens to officially weigh in on the issue. President Obama still has 60 more days to hear from the different government departments as to whether they think the pipeline will be in our national interest. President Obama is expected to make a final decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline by the middle of summer.

hands raisedGood governance advocates got a win at City Hall today when the Austin City Council approved a resolution to create the Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force.  The task force will examine energy options and make recommendations regarding the 2014 update to the Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, which will be approved by City Council later this year.

A similar task force was instrumental in developing the original Austin Energy Resource, Generation, and Climate Protection Plan, which was approved in 2010 and advocates representing a variety of interests where dismayed to discover that a task force wasn’t part of the panned process this time around.  Luckily though, City Council saw the need for greater public involvement and worked quickly to approve a task force.  The resolution was sponsored by Council Members Tovo, Spelman and Morrison and passed on a 6 to 0 vote (Mayor Leffingwell was absent).

In addition to providing greater transparency and public involvement in the update process, the task force will afford an opportunity to more thoroughly analyze the the energy options available. The full costs and benefits of Austin’s energy choices, including climate change, air quality, water use, water contamination, health impacts, local economic development, and short and long term impact on rates need to be considered.

The task force will also provide a value able opportunity to examine what goals are being set and what programs are being implemented in other cities and states that could be favorably applied to Austin Energy. Carbon reduction and renewable energy goals and community solar and energy efficiency and renewable energy programs for low income customers deserve a closer look. Likewise, the task force will be able to gather more information on energy sources that are viable in Texas, but have been underutilized, such as concentrating solar power (CSP), thermal energy storage, compressed air energy storage, and geothermal energy.

The task force will be appointed by the end of March and will have three months to complete its work.  It’s meetings will be open to the public, so all will be welcome to attend.

KXL Climate ChangeThe deadline is fast approaching for the public’s last chance to register an official comment against the Keystone XL pipeline. The State Department’s public comment period will end on Friday, March 7th. Right now is your last chance to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in our national interest. Secretary Kerry’s opinion will weigh heavily in President Obama’s decision.

This is our final opportunity to officially weigh in on the decision. Submit a comment right now to tell the Obama Administration that the “game over for the climate” Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in our national interest.

Now President Obama must choose whether he wants to take us down the road of expanding the use of dirty fossil fuels, like tar sands, or fight for a sustainable future. The Keystone XL is central to increasing production of the Alberta tar sands, which will significantly add to carbon emissions. The massive infrastructure would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades to come. Last June, standing in the sweltering heat before an outdoor audience at Georgetown University, President Obama pledged that he would not approve the pipeline if it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Now, he should reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Keystone XL Youth Protest in Washington D.C. Photo credit: Nicholas Kammafp, Getty Images

March 2nd Keystone XL Youth Protest in Washington D.C
Photo credit: Nicholas Kammafp, Getty Images

From Coast-to-Coast People Are Standing Up Against Tar Sands 

  • Last Sunday, more than 1,200 youths from across the country marched from Georgetown University to the White House to protest the Keystone XL. Nearly 400 youths were arrested for zip-tying themselves to the White House fence and staging a mock oil spill. This protest is the largest youth act of non-violent civil disobedience in front of the White House in more than a generation.
  • On Monday, nine people were arrested at the State Department building in San Francisco during a youth led protest of the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Last month, thousands of people got together and held more than 280 vigils in 49 states across the country to say NO to Keystone XL.

Crash the Keystone XL Party: No KXL in ATX

The momentum to stop this pipeline is building all across the country. On Friday, March 7th, Austin will join Washington D.C. and San Francisco in telling President Obama that we do not want the Keystone XL. Join us at 10:30 a.m. at the South Gates of the Texas Capitol (11th and Congress). Be sure to bring your signs, pots-n-pans, walking shoes and conviction to stop this climate killing pipeline.

This is our last chance to voice concerns to the State Department before the public comment period ends on March 7th. We need to get our message across to Secretary Kerry, because what he says could be one of the biggest determining factors in President Obama’s decision.

Submit your comment: Keystone XL is NOT in our national interest.

ERCOT asks folks to set their thermostats no higher than 68 degrees

On March 2nd, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the Texas electric grid operator, issued a watch due to the strong arctic front that made its way into Texas and through the ERCOT system.  ERCOT is experiencing resource and transmission issues and is appealing to Texas customers to continue limiting their electric use as much as possible through 9 a.m. Tuesday, March 4, as these late winter weather conditions continue.

Power demand at ERCOT exceeded the previous March record of 43,033 MW every hour since 5 p.m. Sunday, March 2.  ERCOT’s Report on the Capacity, Demand, and Reserves for 2013 shows a projected firm load forecast for winter 2014 of 53,742 MW, with operational generation of 72,476 (assuming there is not a sudden loss of generation during a winter event) with potential resources of 80,164.  Of course, some units are down for scheduled maintenance so the potential resources and operational generation can be significantly lower at any given time and if there is sudden loss of generation as the state experienced in early February 2011, the state could experience rolling blackouts.

On February 2nd in 2011, ERCOT declared an energy emergency after unusually frigid weather unexpectantly shut down numerous power generators that produced 7,000 megawatts, about 8 percent of the installed capacity.  That day, Texas imposed statewide rolling blackouts for only the second time in over two decades. Texans across the state were frustrated and cold, many initially blaming wind energy for the loss of power, but in fact, wind was performing as expected.  It was coal and gas plants that destabilized the grid that day, but because ERCOT does not release information for 30 days after an outage about who is to blame, renewables were the scapegoat.  So if we go into rolling blackouts, wait for thirty days before you start blaming one power source over others.

Concerned About Rolling Blackouts? There’s an app for that!

Because of the 2011 heat wave and drought, ERCOT introduced an app for smartphones intended to alert Texas users about emergencies to the electric grid that could trigger rolling blackouts.  This alert system would urge consumers to conserve energy during those times.

In the midst of the record breaking heat in the summer of 2011, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas called on Texans to conserve when power generators weren’t able to keep up with extreme demand on several days. That conservation helped ERCOT avoid rolling outages. The new app will notify users of Apple and Android devices when the grid operator needs people to cut back usage to avoid blackouts.

iPhone, iPad and Android users can find the free ERCOT Energy Saver app by searching for ERCOT in the Apple and Google app stores, or you can link to the app below.

ERCOT will also use traditional methods of alerting the public about grid emergencies, but for the tech obsessed – this is an option.  As for me, armed with my smart thermostat, its smartphone app and the ERCOT app, I stand ready to do my part this winter.

 

In a recent blog post, I reported on the completion of a large amount of CREZ transmission lines – infrastructure that incentivizes the production of wind energy – here in Texas. While the discussion around wind energy is usually around environmental responsibility, it is important not to overlook some of the more salient effects of wind energy – namely, consumer savings.

Photo from Renewable Energy Magazine

Photo from Renewable Energy Magazine

A recent report by the American Wind Energy Association notes that states that get more than 7% of their energy from wind have seen electric rates go down by .37% over the last five years, whereas all other states have seen a 7.79% increase in electric rates. Luckily, Texas is one of these 11 states that get more than 7% of its energy from wind, along with Wyoming, Oregon, Oklahoma, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.

There’s still more good news to come – as more wind develops in Texas, your electric bill could be lowered even more. Some reports show that when wind provides 14% of electricity, prices drop 10%, and when it reaches 24%, prices decline 15% .

Wind’s not just good for the environment, it’s good for your wallet, too.