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Posts Tagged ‘Air Quality’

Map of air monitoring sites in Austin. Light blue sites monitor for ozone.

On June 12, Governor Greg Abbott signed a $217 billion budget for Texas into law. Abbott also exercised line-item vetoes to eliminate $120 million from the budget. Among those cuts were $87 million for the Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, a voluntary program that helps low-income Texans replace their old, polluting vehicles with newer ones.

Continuing the assault on clean air, Abbott also cut $6 million for air quality planning in certain areas of the state (see pdf p. 5). The governor’s comment on this funding cut is worth quoting in full, beginning with the item vetoed and then the comment in italics:

  1. Air Quality Planning. Amounts appropriated above include $6,000,500 for the biennium out of the Clean Air Account No. 151 in Strategy A.1.1, Air Quality Assessment and Planning, for air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas during the 2016 17 biennium and as approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These areas may include Waco, El Paso, Beaumont, Austin, Corpus Christi, Granbury, Killeen Temple, Longview Tyler Marshall, San Antonio, and Victoria. These activities may be carried out through interlocal agreements and may include: identifying, inventorying, and monitoring of pollution levels; modeling pollution levels; and the identification, quantification, implementation of appropriate locally enforceable pollution reduction controls; and the submission of work plans to be submitted to the TCEQ. The TCEQ shall allocate $350,000 to each area and the remaining funds to each area based on population in excess of 350,000. The grant recipients shall channel the funds to those projects most useful for the State Implementation Plan (SIP).

This program funds, among other items, bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs in near non-attainment areas, which can be funded at the local government level. Resources in the Clean Air Account should be prioritized to directly address problems in our non-attainment areas of the state so that we are better positioned to combat the business-stifling regulations imposed on these areas by the Environmental Protection Agency. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.

This is an unfortunate description of air quality planning activities and of the purpose of the Clean Air Account itself. So what are “air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas”?

Ozone is a harmful pollutant that is linked to everything from asthma attacks and difficulty breathing to heart attacks, stroke, and premature death. Ozone is formed in the atmosphere through the mixing of other pollutants that are emitted by vehicles and industrial sources such as refineries. There are two areas of the state—Houston, and Dallas—that do not meet the federal air pollution standards for ozone. These are our “nonattainment” areas. There are many other areas in the state—including San Antonio and Austin—that do meet the federal ozone standard but still have numerous bad ozone days throughout the year. These areas, especially San Antonio, risk worsening air quality and an eventual “nonattainment designation” by the Environmental Protection Agency. Such a designation would subject the area to decades of regulation and costs that could reach the billions.

All of us have seen the ozone action day announcements.  Those alert at-risk citizens (like children, the elderly and those who have certain health risks) to curtail their outside exposure to mitigate the negative health impacts.  Local air quality monitors are what alert us to those dangers.

In order to keep the “near-nonattainment” areas clean and healthy (and to avoid the federal designation), Texas appropriates several million dollars for air quality planning activities. This money enables these areas to participate in programs like the ozone Early Action Compact. So far, these programs have been successful, though San Antonio may inevitably face a nonattainment designation as it grows.

Surely Governor Abbott understands the importance and success of these air quality planning activities. Describing the program as consisting of “bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs” is an obvious straw man. Bicycle and carpooling programs—while important in their own right—are not all that goes into air quality planning.

Air quality planners in Houston demonstrate how that city’s air monitors operate.

In Austin, for example, the city maintains eight ozone monitors in addition to the two maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These additional monitors help with air quality forecasting. They also help us to better understand large-scale impacts on air quality to our region by sources such as the Fayette power plant to the southeast, or Dallas to the north.

San Antonio just announced that it will shut down six ozone air monitors and lay off four staff members in response to the governor’s cuts. This is truly unfortunate for the people affected and for air quality monitoring and pollution prevention. If data is never collected, the ability to paint long-term pictures and identify trends in air pollution is lost for that time period. San Antonio may one day refund its program, but its former employees will have moved on, and the data will have been lost forever.

On the same day, San Antonio made this announcement, the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition in Austin held an emergency meeting to discuss how it would respond to the proposed funding cuts. The Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) has asked its member counties and cities to consider an additional financial contribution to support ongoing air quality planning activities in Austin. CAPCOG proposed tiered levels of funding that would alternatively fund more or less the region’s activities.

At the meeting, CAPCOG members seemed to understand the importance of a funding level that would keep all staff in place and all air monitors active. Cuts will definitely have to be made (to, for example, the regular maintenance schedule for those monitors) but if CAPCOG’s members do approve the appropriate tier of funding, then air quality planning programs in Austin will remain largely intact.

We hope that Austin is able to continue its important work by keeping Austinites safe from dangerous ozone pollution. Governor Greg Abbott may not recognize the importance of this work right now, but we hope that he does some day and that these shortsighted cuts do not continue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us in telling EPA:

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

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

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

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

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

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Freight ShuttleOn September 9th, Adrian Shelley and I went to Bryan, Texas, to watch the unveiling of the Freight Shuttle System (FSS), a technology  currently being built and tested by Freight Shuttle International. Dr. Stephen Roop, chief scientist at Freight Shuttle International and and professor at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, opened the unveiling with a press briefing sharing his vision. The FSS is an electric, autonomous shuttle powered by a linear induction motor, providing low friction to the steel wheels running on steel lines, similar to train tracks. The FSS combines elements of truck and train transport – single shuttles run on a track similar to a train track, and according to Dr. Roop’s vision, those tracks would be elevated from other modes of transportation to reduce congestion, provide a strong level of predictability and non-stop service, and reduce infrastructure damage often associated with truck transportation. 

Dr. Roop noted the emissions of the FSS are tied to the source of power. What that means is that the FSS itself would generate no point-of-source pollution like the cancer-causing pollution created by diesel engines currently on the road. Furthermore, because the FSS would operate under DC voltage, it could be tied easily to renewable energy. In that way, the FSS could take advantage of the increasing access to renewable energy in Texas and potentially be net zero in terms of carbon pollution.

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

Adrian and Stephanie with Freight Shuttle

The FSS is not designed to transport hazardous or toxic materials, and although it could possibly be used to transport people, it is intended now to be separate from people – that is to be contained within a separate line so that the roads and highways can be used for people, not cargo.

The Port of Houston Authority signed a memorandum of understanding with Freight Shuttle International and is planning to use the FSS to transport cargo between its container terminals, Bayport and Barbour’s Cut. Freight Shuttle International stated that the FSS line could be operational within 3 years.

 

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Oil drilling site, with pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX  Photo by Al Braden

Oil drilling site, w/ pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX
Photo by Al Braden

The Eagle Ford Shale play in south Texas is the 400-mile-long area that has become home to one of the country’s biggest energy booms in the past six years. The thousands of oil and gas wells producing in the region have brought dangerous air pollution to residents.

The Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel released a new exposé titled, “Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie,” last week. Their eight month investigation reveals the dangers that come with fracking in the form of toxic chemicals released into the air as a result of the complicit culture of the government of Texas. In case you just want to read the highlights of the report, the team was nice enough to summarize their major findings:

  • Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
  • Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX. Photo by Al Braden

    Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX.
    Photo by Al Braden

    Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”

  • Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
  • The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
  • The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
  • Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.

(more…)

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at kwhite@citizen.org.  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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You may have never heard of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE), but it has the potential to make a huge difference in adoption of distributed renewable energy systems, such as rooftop solar installations. PACE allows businesses to borrow money from local governments to work on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects in the buildings they occupy.

Since PACE is funding is loans, there is no real expense to the taxpayer.  On the other side of the coin, it allows businesses to spread out the costs of becoming more environmentally friendly over time, all while lowering their monthly utility costs.  This strategy is a win-win-win for Texans.  Business save money, the environment benefits, and it cost Texans nothing.

The Texas Legislature is currently considering legislation that would move PACE forward for our state.  Senate bill 385 has already cleared the hurdle of the Texas Senate, and now is pending in our House of Representatives. House bill 1094 is still waiting be voted out of the House Committee on Energy Resources.  The House should move forward to adopt this common sense measure.

As of 2013, 27 states and the District of Columbia have PACE legislation on the books to help combat harmful emissions from electric generation.  States from California to Wyoming have enacted PACE programs.  Generally, in these states, the financing terms are 15-20 years.  It works very much like taking out a home loan, or perhaps a better example would be a home improvement loan, but for commercial properties. Disbursing the payments over a longer period of time makes these efficiency upgrades affordable for a wider variety of business.  It also makes upgrades attainable for smaller businesses.

I urge fellow Texans to get in touch with their State Representative and tell him or her to support the PACE bills (HB 1094 and SB 385).  This is common sense legislation that benefits everyone.

Click here to find out who represents you. 

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In the 2011 ozone season, North Texas pushed ahead of Houston in the battle for the worst air quality in the state. Both metro areas have significant pollution problems, and both continue to exceed federal ozone limits.

Dallas-Fort Worth now has the distinction of beating the Bayou City as the former longtime state champ, and one that has been contending for years for the worst smog problem in the country.

The release of the 2011 ozone season stats has been met with little concern by those in positions of power.

The Texas leadership keeps telling Texans that the feds are out to get us with their onerous and unnecessary environmental rules and regulations. But as the ozone readings reveal, the state isn’t troubling itself with meeting even basic standards.

North Texas and Houston are still exceeding the now-outdated ozone limit of 85 parts per billion and are nowhere near complying with the new standard of 75 ppb.  We all pay for failing to meet this bar with public health consequences — more respiratory illnesses, hospital visits, lost work days and premature deaths.

Texas is under federal mandate to reduce ozone levels. The state is required to submit and to abide by plans to improve air quality — but too many deadlines have been missed, and too many plans have been little more than Band-Aids.

The story the numbers tell is, not enough has been done to bring North Texas into compliance. The metropolitan area needs a more aggressive clean-air plan, but it also needs state environmental officials to lead the way to reduce pollution from sources outside the cities’ purview – like coal-fired power plants – that blow into these urban areas making it even more difficult to meet air quality standards.

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There are two main causes of air pollution—diesel engines and coal-fired power plants—both of which are prevalent in Texas.  And these neighborhood contaminants are having grave consequences, particularly on Hispanics in Texas and the rest of the country. 

Because of work or housing availability, Hispanics across the country tend to live near some of the most polluted areas of the country.  In both urban neighborhoods and rural areas, 65 percent of Hispanics live in areas where the air fails to meet federal standards.   According to the Clean Air Task Force, Hispanics take in approximately one-and-one-half times the levels diesel exhaust of the average American, resulting in anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 premature deaths in the Hispanic community annually. Additionally, Hispanics are 3 times as likely as whites to die from asthma.

Coal-fired power plants are among the biggest polluters in the country and 15 percent of Hispanics live within 10 miles of one.  But it is not only poor air quality that threatens Hispanic neighborhoods.  A recent report released by the Sierra Club indicated that mercury—emitted from coal-fired power plants—is present in high levels in rivers and streams that Hispanics fish. Pregnant women are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of eating contaminated fish because mercury poisoning contributes to babies being born with learning disabilities, developmental delays and cerebral palsy.

A 2007 University of Texas study revealed that children who lived within a 2 mile radius of the Ship Channel in Houston had a 56 percent higher chance of having leukemia than those living elsewhere, and this area of Houston has a large Hispanic population.

The impact on health translates into increased pressure on families juggling caring for a sick family member and their jobs, increased costs to the family from emergency room visits and medication for chronic conditions, all these things are a tremendous burden on families and workers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets air quality standards by setting maximum levels of common air pollutants, which include ozone, particles, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and lead, which can be present in the air over a set period of time. They also measure for other contaminants that the EPA calls toxic, such as mercury.  States then enforce these standards by issuing permits and

Currently in Texas, when a polluter applies for an air quality permit, the state environmental agency (the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality – TCEQ) looks only at projected air emission levels from that specific plant.  There is no requirement that they look at the cumulative impacts on air quality and efforts to address cumulative impacts failed to pass in the Texas legislature this past session.  This leaves communities dealing with the cumulative impacts of air pollution from several different sources with little recourse, because without one specific polluter, individual families can’t take legal action against companies.

From coast to coast, Hispanics are banding together in a growing environmental justice movement insisting that not only should the earth be protected but also people should be treated equally around environmental issues.  Industry threatens that increasing regulation to protect citizens will cost jobs, but jobs are a poor exchange for the loss of a loved one.  One way to address the current inequities is to VOTE YOUR INTERESTS.  Keeping local, state or federal candidates’ stances on environmental issues in mind when election time rolls around can impact air pollution in your community.

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Over the past couple of years, there has been a heated debate involving the potential EPA implementation of allowing a greater percentage of ethanol in gasoline.  The current volume percentage of ethanol allowed is 10% for vehicles made between the years 2001 and 2006. Recently, the EPA has been discussing the approval of what is known as E15 (15 volume percent ethanol blended with gasoline), and in October of 2010, the request was waived for the implementation of E15 to be allowed in vehicles made in 2007 and later.  Taking these two decisions into consideration, this now allows for E15 use in vehicle makes 2001 and newer, lighter-make vehicles into the commerce division.  Studies have shown that E15 is likely to result in somewhat lower evaporative emissions compared to fuel currently sold in much of the country (E10) as a result of the lower volatility of E15 under the partial waiver conditions. There are currently two conditions that must be met.  These conditions take into consideration the concerns of the community.  One condition of the waiver involves the mitigation of the possibility of citizens misfueling E15 in the wrong vehicles.  The other condition addresses the fuel and quality of the ethanol.

Sign indicating ethanol at gas station

On January 21, 2011, the EPA did in fact grant a partial waiver for E15 for use in MY2001-2006 light-duty motor vehicles. These decisions were based on test results provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and other information regarding the potential effect of E15 on vehicle emissions. Taken together, the two actions allow, but do not require, E15 to be introduced into commerce for use in MY2001 and newer light-duty motor vehicles if conditions for mitigating misfueling and ensuring fuel quality are met. The EPA is still in the process of completing work on regulations that would provide a more practical means of meeting the conditions.

These new waivers implemented earlier this year by the EPA have cattle ranchers in an uproar as well.  But what could the Texas livestock industry possibly have to do with the newest ethanol implementations? According to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), the new 50% increase in ethanol-gasoline allowance, is detrimental to the costs of their livestock production.  The TSCRA claim that such a dramatic increase in ethanol permittance will have serious negative repercussions for their cattle ranches.  A statement made by TSCRA president and fellow rancher, Dave Scott, indicated that these high levels of corn based ethanol are one of the most influential factors in driving price increases in corn products, including the feed for cattle.  This is a clear indication of the dangers we create once we begin to place our food and fuel in competition against one another.  In 2008, according to the US Department of Agriculture, feed for livestock reached its record high at $45.2 billion.  This was an increase of more than $7 billion from 2007.  With the cost of feed for livestock and newer, higher levels of ethanol being so intertwined with each other, we will only be seeing an even more dramatic rise in the cost of feed for cattle production…and more unhappy ranchers.

Our nation’s food supply and methods of transportation must find a way to compromise and divert their routes of competition elsewhere because both are at serious risk in the future.

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Air pollution

Image via Wikipedia

In the face of the changes in the political dynamic in Washington, the Obama administration is retreating on long-delayed environmental regulations.  The new rules were set to take effect over the next several weeks, but this move will leave in place policies set by President George W. Bush while it pushes back deadlines to  July 2011 to further analyze scientific and health studies of the smog rules and until April 2012 on the boiler regulation.
Environmental advocates fear a similar delay on the approaching start of one of the most far-reaching regulatory programs in American environmental history, the effort to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The delayed smog rule would lower the allowable concentration of airborne ozone to 60 to 70 parts per billion from the current level of 75 parts per billion, putting several hundred cities in violation of air pollution standards. The agency says that the new rule would save thousands of lives per year, but saving lives now seems to have taken a back seat to saving the costs to businesses and municipalities of having to meet those standards.

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The Energy Resources Committee of the Texas House of Representatives will meet to hear both invited and public testimony in the Fort Worth, Texas City Hall  located at 1000 Throckmorton St. at 9:00 AM on Thursday, November 18, 2010 to discuss interim charge #1. 

The 81st legislature charged the committee with surveying current local ordinances governing surface use of property in oil and gas development and recommending changes to the 82nd legislature, if any, to the authority of the Railroad Commission to regulate the operation of oil and gas industries in urban areas of the state, particularly the Barnett Shale.

If you have questions regarding the hearing, please contact the committee office and speak to Bernice Espinosa-Torres or Ky Ash at (512)463-0656.

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TCEQ is broken. It’s not working in the public’s interest, and there are direct costs that all of us in the state of Texas are paying as a result.  But there is an opportunity for us to fix some of the problems with this broken state agency by participating in the Texas Sunset process.

The Alliance for a Clean Texas kicked off a series of town hall meetings across the state on the sunset review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on September 15 th.  Last night in Corpus Christi, residents criticized the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, saying it holds too much power and ignores public concerns in the interest of business. (more…)

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Meet Audrey and Jim Thornton, two of the landowners who have the threat of a Canadian tarsands pipeline proposed to run through their land. Tarsands crude is many times more concentrated with toxins and carcinogens than typical, Texas, crude oil. Like just about every other land-owner along the pipeline route, the Thorntons have been threatened with eminent domain if they do not sign a deal with TransCanada – the company building the pipeline.

Interview with the Thorntons:

Vimeo

[vimeo 15598888]

YouTube

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7_zU0Q6RCM]

Like most people, the Thorntons don’t think it is right that a foreign company can come into the United States (and Texas) and use the threat of eminent domain to force landowners into a contract. And, like many others, the Thorntons have quickly learned the vast extent of the negative impacts such a pipeline would have not only on folks like them, but the world in general.

Check out our previous posts on the Canadian Tar Sands Pipeline including this one.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, 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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The new Nissan LEAF, or (Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family car), will be availible in the U.S. in 2011.

In the coming weeks you might notice a sleek, new Nissan LEAF or Chevy Volt cruising past you on the road. Many of the major car companies are introducing electric, plug-in vehicles (EVs) designed for the American family market. They range in cost from about $20,000-$45,000 and are small and practical. Not all EVs run completely from electricity, some are hybrids with electric-assisted engines, like a Toyota Prius. Others, like the Volt, are propelled exclusively by electricity, but include batteries and generators. These differences affect the amount of carbon emissions your car produces. All-electric vehicles, like the LEAF, have the potential to emit no carbon at all, from their own engines, or at the power plant where your electricity is generated. As Austinites, we can choose the green energy option from Austin Energy, in which 100% of the electricity we buy is generated from renewables.

Gas may still be necessary to run your EV, depending how it’s engine uses electricity, but the new EVs are becoming quite efficient at using minimal fuel. It’s important to consider that the majority of Austin’s air pollution comes from vehicles. Purchasing any EV is a step you can take to make a positive impact on our environment.

EVs can also make a positive impact on your wallet. An EV averages 100 miles per charge cycle in the city. Comparatively, this costs about $1 or less/gallon in terms of the gas you would have used in a conventional vehicle. As efficiency improves, these costs will also fall, while gas prices are always volatile. If you’re interested, please contact your dealership about buying an EV; they will be fully available in 2011.

What else do you need to know after purchasing an EV? Concerned consumers have contacted the Public Citizen office worried about potentially expensive charging stations. An EV powers up at a charging station that’s a higher voltage than your normal wall plug. It looks something like the plug for an electric washer/dryer. This unexpected expense can naturally cause worries right after purchasing a new car, but Austin Energy has a program to encourage consumers to buy EVs.

All you need to do is contact Austin Energy and let them know you’ve ordered an EV. They will come and provide assistance and incentives to install a charging station in your house. For more information about Austin’s Energy’s charging station incentive program please contact Larry Alford at larry.alford@austinenergy.com.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, cleaner cars, 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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It has been about half a year since the battles started between the EPA and TCEQ over the Texas’s flexible air-permitting program. Unfortunately, the Governor has taken advantage of this issue to use to attack the Federal Government in his bid for the Governor post. Many have us have forgotten that the EPA started questioning the state’s permitting program during the Bush administration, long before Obama took office, but since this is an election year, Perry will do anything within his reach to cling on that chair.

The EPA finds the 16 year permitting program incompliant with the Clean Air Act. The program makes it difficult to monitor the pollution and reduce emission from Texas facilities because, rather than having to disclose pollution for each individual smokestack at a facility, they aggregate them all together. The Governor and the Attorney general have already sued the EPA protesting the latter’s “overstepping its authority.”  The TCEQ says the program is just fine and gives permits to Texas at a cheaper cost.

But we and most other environmental groups, find flex permits severely lacking.  All we (and the feds) are asking for is some basic transparency.  If flex permits do work, simply tell us what your emissions are, and let’s have a debate about the efficacy of the program.  Buit we can’t do that while industry and TCEQ hide the data from the public.

After the many twists and turns this battle has taken, the EPA has set in place a new rule to start a voluntary Audit Program under which refineries and other facilities in Texas can hire a third party auditor. If businesses fail to meet the standards after being audited, the EPA promises not to penalize them but to work with them to acquire a federal air permit.

TX facilities should find this program reasonable.  According to the EPA’s website, “The Audit Program is available for 90 days after publication in the Federal Register. Participants who sign up in the first 45 days can take advantage of a reduced penalty incentive for potential violations.”

The TCEQ has protested the new rule, “he state of Texas vigorously defends its flexible permits program and expects to prevail in court. Flexible permits are legal and effective,” said  Terry Clawson, the Spokesman for the TCEQ.

Well, if that’s so– show us the data. They won’t, because they know that it won’t stand up to scrutiny.

Finally, Texas facilities will follow the Clean Air Act, just like facilities in every other state.

Meanwhile, tax dollars Texans pay are being wasted on a state agency that refuses to do its job of protecting the state’s environment, and are being wasted by our governor and attorney general on meaningless lawsuits.  The EPA is not out to get Texas and just like Al Armedariz said, “Our objective is to get good permits.”

That’s our goal, too. TCEQ is undergoing Sunset Review by the Texas Legislature. Let’s hope we get an agency that follows the law.

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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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