Posts Tagged ‘Oil sands’

Excerpted from Julia Trigg Crawford’s facebook page.

Julia on her ranch before Keystone starts work

Julia on her ranch before Keystone starts work

Crews from TransCanada/Michels/Universal Field Services and others I don’t recognize started arriving yesterday in preparation for the destruction on our place. Within hours of their arrival the pasture inside “their” fenced in area was shredded, road signs designating “work area” went up, hundred of timbers used to support heavy machinery were unloaded from 18 wheelers and stacked, and most gut wrenching was the “blading” of our land by a trackhoe in preparation for even more heavy equipment. I’ve attached a photo of my land a few months ago and what I witnessed yesterday. I intend to share as much of this process with you as I can.

But just as the workers were really getting going, yesterday afternoon a monstrous wind and thunderstorm blew in, forcing all the men off their equipment, scurrying for cover in their nearby pickups. A sign perhaps?

I was told our place is the final link, the last piece of property needed to complete TransCanada’s conveniently uncoupled and renamed Gulf Coast Segment of their Keystone Project. Furthermore, they will work 7 days a week if needed to overcome any delays, weather or otherwise. All eyes are on us folks, we really are The Last Stand.

Day one of Keystone's destruction of Julia Trigg Crawford's ranch

Day one of Keystone’s destruction of Julia Trigg Crawford’s ranch

All this while our appeal is freshly delivered and active at the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texarkana. Unbelievable. TransCanada’s decision to move forward and initiate construction during our legal case just strengthens my family’s resolve to continue fighting. We maintain, now more than ever, that they never had the right to take our land in the first place. Their claimed Common Carrier status? A rubber stamp handed out by the embattled Texas Railroad Commission. This pipeline? An interstate project, even the Railroad Commission says it is out of their jurisdiction. The product to be carried? Tarsands, a product mined in Canada, and one of the most toxic and destructive products borne by Mother Earth. Just ask the residents in Kalamazoo and Mayflower what it did to their communities and waterways when it could not be contained. And sadly ask the First Nations in Alberta how is is destroying their lands and lives.

I hear the beeping of heavy equipment being moved, I guess they’re back at it already today, so I’m headed out to watch and take more photos. If you thought I was a mad and motivated landowner before, well, you’re about to see me hit a new gear. Stay tuned.

We’ll keep you updated about her appeal and the work on her land.

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This is a guest submission by Riki Ott, PhD. Dr. Ott is a marine toxicologist, author, and former commercial fisher. She was one of the first people on the scene during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, when millions of gallons of crude oil were discharged into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. For 23 years, she has been the voice and face of efforts for justice.

She is the featured character in the award-winning film BLACK WAVE: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez, a documentary that tells the tale of the battle between commercial fishers against the largest corporation in the world, Exxon-Mobil.

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In oil disaster after oil disaster, industry has repeatedly hidden the truth from federal agencies and the public about spill volume and extent of damages, including wildlife kills, ecosystem harm, and harm to worker and public health. This underreporting is done to minimize the spiller’s liability – often billions of dollars are at stake. If the oil industry is not held accountable for these costs, the costs are externalized and borne by the environment, local economies and businesses that depend on a healthy environment, individuals and families who suffer health consequences, and U.S. taxpayers.

Riki Ott, PhD is asking the press to pose critical questions rather than regurgitate industry press releases. The public depends on the press in order to be well informed and make important decisions. It is essential for the media to search for deeper explanations and more accurate information during incidents that threaten human health, wildlife, and the environment––and future energy choices.

Dr. Ott is offering this guide, based on her on-the-ground first-hand experience with the nation’s largest oil tanker spill (Exxon Valdez, 1989), offshore oil rig disaster (BP Deepwater Horizon, 2010), and on-land pipeline tar sands spill (Enbridge, 2010).

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Exxon says the leak was discovered on Friday afternoon. What are residents saying? People living nearby should have known immediately from the fumes when the leak occurred or once it spilled above ground. In the case of the Enbridge tar sands oil spill in the Kalamazoo River (July 2010), residents reported smelling and seeing oil two days prior to the date Enbridge claimed the spill occurred.

Media is reporting a crude oil or sour crude spill. This oil is sour (containing high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide) but more importantly, it is heavy bitumen crude – tar sands oil (sour by nature) that has been diluted with lighter petroleum distillates and other very toxic chemicals.1 These chemicals are often labeled proprietary due to their toxic nature.

“Tar sands oil” is a political red flag, so the industry also calls it “nonconventional oil,” “heavy bitumen crude,” “dilbit” (diluted bitumen), and more recently, “sour oil,” and “sour crude”. Don’t fall for it. What spilled is the essentially the same stuff that Enbridge spilled in Michigan (July 2010) and that would be coming down the Keystone XL: tar sands oil (bitumen crude oil) with diluents, or dilbit.

Common symptoms of exposure to conventional crude oil spills are well known and established within the medical community and include respiratory problems, central nervous system dysfunction, blood disorders, and skin problems.2 Unfortunately, a body only has so many ways to say it’s ill and the symptoms for chemical illnesses mimic those for colds/flu, asthma, bronchitis, COPD, bad headaches, vertigo, dizziness, tingling feet and hands, fatigue, general malaise, immune suppression (sick all the time), bad looking skin rashes like MRSA, peeling palms and soles of feet (for people walking barefoot), ear and nose bleeds (gushers), bleeding hemorrhoids, and more.3

Tar sands oil is concentrated with heavy hydrocarbons, known as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) or more commonly as ultrafine particles. Exposure to PAHs can cause the health issues listed above (and also listed as compensable injury on BP medical benefits settlement4)––and similar injury in wildlife.5

The diluents are industrial solvents, containing petroleum distillates and other toxic chemicals that that target and harm the same organs of the body as PAHs/oil––the respiratory system, central nervous system, skin, and blood. This means the body takes a double hit of toxic chemicals. Diluents contain chemicals that are teratogens (disturb development of or kill babies in the womb), carcinogens, mutagens, systemic poisons, and cause hemolysis (rupture of blood cells). Some people are more vulnerable than others to dilbit, especially children6, pregnant women, elderly, African Americans, and those with pre-existing illnesses.7 Diluents are industrial solvents and degreasers, like dispersants, that act as an oil delivery mechanism, pulling oil into the body. The emerging science from the BP Gulf disaster is finding that chemically-dispersed oil is more toxic than oil alone to wildlife and humans.

Since tar sands oil is concentrated with PAHs and VOCs/diluents, dilbit is far more toxic to humans and animals (wild and domestic) than conventional oil. The oil industry (and government) are trying to downplay the human health risks of exposure to tar sands and/or dilbit because this is extremely politically inconvenient information. It nonetheless is extremely dangerous.

No. Residents and the city are being misinformed about health risks. A recent statement released by Exxon said, “The air quality does not likely present a human health risk, with the exception of the high pooling areas, where clean-up crews are working with safety equipment.”

This is simply not true. Oil and petroleum distillates (ingredient of both dispersants and diluents) wrecked havoc with wildlife and people in the aftermath of the BP disaster8 and the Exxon Valdez disaster.9 Similarly, tar sands oil and diluents made people sick in Michigan,10 where residents of one trailer court and neighborhood along the oiled riverbank blame exposure to tar sands oil and fumes for illness outbreaks including eighteen deaths––and counting.11 Oil and diluents can cause short- and long-term harm to health if people are not forewarned (educated about chemical illnesses, exposure, symptoms, and treatment) and given protection.

Dilbit has a mandatory 1,000-foot evacuation zone. Was it uniformly enforced? In Michigan, people in richer areas were evacuated while people in poorer areas were either not evacuated or were forced to relocate when the city condemned public housing units.12 Enbridge housed workers in some of the homes it purchased, raising health concerns. If the home wasn’t safe for the original occupants, why was it safe for the workers? Unprotected workers and the general public are at risk of exposure and chemical illness. Children, elderly, pregnant women, people with pre-existing illnesses, and African Americans, in particular, and domestic animals should have been evacuated immediately.

The local department of health should issue Public Health Advisories, warning residents of the signs and symptoms of exposure, such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, nose bleeds, and cold- and flu-like symptoms, among others. Occupational and environmental medicine (OEM) doctors should be on hand to diagnose and treat illnesses that family doctors are not trained to recognize. These specialty physicians should NOT be provided by the industry; the city should hire them and ask industry for reimbursement. People should be given baseline health exams before returning to homes they evacuated; their homes should be tested for air quality. Wood and fabric, for example, absorb oily fumes and will off-gas over time. The industry should pay if homes, furniture, clothes, carpet, toys, etc., need to be replaced.

Photos from KTHV in Little Rock, AR, show backhoe operators and others with absolutely no protective gear at all. Compare what the cleanup crews are wearing with what EPA and other federal responders were wearing, especially during the early response. During the Michigan response, EPA crews wore respirators and Hazmat gear. Hazmat crews with protective equipment and workers or the general public without similar protection in the same area is a sign of trouble for unprotected persons – and disingenuous PR statements. In Prince William Sound, Alaska, Alyeska’s SERVS workers are trained, provided with, and required to wear personal protective equipment, including respirators, during oil spill response.

Photos from KTHV in Little Rock, AR, show dilbut bubbling down into storm sewers. City wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to process and remove even small amounts of oil. Individuals are fined hefty amounts for releasing even a quart of oil into sewers. Tar sands oil is thick, sticky goo and the diluents are extremely toxic chemicals. ExxonMobil needs to detail how it plans to help municipalities clean out the sewers and the wastewater treatment system––without contaminating the city’s water supply. If it is too late to avoid contamination of the city’s water supply, how will industry provide safe water for city residents?

Yes. Period. No debate. Bitumen blends are more acidic, thick, and sulfuric than conventional crude oil. DilBit contains 15–20 times higher acid concentrations and 5–10 times as much sulfur as conventional crudes. The additional sulfur and high concentrations of chloride salts cause corrosion that weakens and ages pipelines, especially when dilbit is pumped under high temperature and pressure. Tar sands crude oil also contains high quantities of abrasive quartz sand particles, much more than used by liquid sandblasters. (Keystone XL pipeline maximum capacity would mean over 125 pounds of quartz sand and alumino-silicates per minute. Common sandblasters use between 1.5 and 47 pounds of sand per minute.) Conventional crude oil does not contain quartz sand particles. Dilbit is also up to 70 times more viscous than conventional crude.13

Not surprisingly, tar sands pipeline spills occur more frequently than spills from pipelines carrying conventional crude oil because of diluted bitumen’s toxic, corrosive, and heavy composition. Between 2007 and 2010, pipelines transporting diluted bitumen in the northern Midwest spilled three times more oil per mile than the national average for conventional crude oil. Between 2002 to 2010, internal corrosion caused over 16 times as many pipeline spills per 10,000 miles in Alberta, Canada, where pipelines transport mostly dilbit, than in the US, where pipelines transport mostly conventional crude oil. Finally, in its first year, the U.S. section of Keystone 1, carrying diluted tar sands oil, had a spill frequency 100 times greater than the TransCanada forecast. In June 2011, federal pipeline safety regulators determined Keystone 1 was a hazard to public safety and issued TransCanada a corrective action order.14

The oil industry is aware of the higher risk of spills from transporting dilbit and the higher cost of spill response, based on the Enbridge tar sands spill in Michigan. To minimize liability, industry lobbyists successfully argued that dilbit was not conventional oil and therefore exempt from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. Oil shippers pay into this fund, which is then used by the federal government for spill response. Now the shippers most likely to spill oil, those shipping diluted tar sands oil, do not pay into the fund. But the fund is still tapped for spill response. If the fund goes bankrupt, U.S. taxpayers would foot the bill––on top of the annual $375 million subsidy for saving the oil and gas industry from paying into the fund in the first place.15

The government and industry are pushing the press away from these scenes with claims of safety concerns. Really? Are the media crews different from the workers or residents? The media could obtain and wear the same safety gear worn by the federal responders, if this is truly government’s concern. The BP Gulf disaster set horrible precedent for media access16––and the media acquiesced instead of insisting upon, and fully exercising, their First Amendment rights. THE MEDIA IS NOT GETTING THE FULL STORY IF THEY ARE DENIED ACCESS TO THE SPILL SITE––and neither are the American people.

  • The ExxonMobil tar sands oil spill is very inconvenient for government, Congress, and industry. The U.S. State Department is taking public comment for the Keystone XL Pipeline until April 22. There will be a huge push by industry and the government to shut down the true risks and costs of transporting tar sands oil as inconvenient truths. It is the media’s job to accurately research and portray these risks to the public. In-depth research and reporting on the ExxonMobil tar sands spill in Arkansas would be a good start.

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1 Lisa Song, A Dilbit Primer: How It’s Different from Conventional Oil, June 26, 2012, http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20120626/dilbit-primer-diluted-bitumen-conventional-oil-tar-sands-Alberta-Kalamazoo-Keystone-XL-Enbridge

2 Barry Levy and William Nassetta, The Adverse Health Effects of Oil Spills, Intern. J. of Occupational Health and Environ. Medicine, 17(2):161– Apr/Jun, 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21618948

3 See: series of Huffington Post blogs documenting emerging public health epidemic of chemical illnesses across the oil-impacted Gulf Coast at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/; See also: on-line version of Sound Truth and Corporate Myths at: www.rikiott.com under reading for medical professionals.

4 BP-Plaintiffs Medical Benefits Class Action Settlement Agreement, Exhibit 8: Specified Physical Conditions Matrix, Table 1: Acute SPECIFIED PHYSICAL CONDITIONS, and Table 3: Chronic SPECIFIED PHYSICAL CONDITIONS. http://www.laed.uscourts.gov/OilSpill/4.pdf

5 Charles Peterson, Stanley Rice, Jeffrey Short, Daniel Esler, James Bodkin, Brenda Ballachey, and David Irons, “Long-term Ecosystem Responses to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill,” 2003; 302:2082–2086. See also Riki Ott, Sound Truth and Corporate Myths: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Dragonfly Sisters Press, Cordova, AK: 2004), available at: www.rikiott.com

6 http://globalaccessmedia.org/consequence-oil-part/

7 Sciencecorps, 2010, Gulf Oil Spill Health Hazards. http://www.sciencecorps.org/Gulf_Spill_Chemical_Hazards_Report.pdf

8 Dahr Jamail, “Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists,” Aljazeera English, April 20, 2012, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/04/201241682318260912.html; BP blamed for ongoing health problems,


9 Kim Murphy, LA Times, November 5, 2001. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EVOS/message/33

10 Martha Stanbury et al., Acute Health Effects of the Enbridge Oil Spill, Lansing, MI: Michigan Department of Community Health, November 2010, http://www.michigan.gov/documents/ mdch/enbridge_oil_spill_epi_report_with_cover_11_22_10_339101_7.pdf; Dahr Jamail, “Pipeline of ‘poison’,” Aljazeera English, Oct. 17, 2011. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/10/2011101151776808.html

11 Michelle BorlandSmith, Jackson, MI, pers. communication.

12 Michelle BorlandSmith, Jackson, MI, pers. communication.

13 NRDC et al., Tar Sands Pipeline Safety Risks, June 2011, on p. 6, http://www.nrdc.org/energy/files/tarsandssafetyrisks.pdf

14 Cornell University Global Labor Institute, The Impact of Tar Sands Pipeline Spills on Employment and the Economy, March 2012, http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/globallaborinstitute/research/upload/GLI_Impact-of-Tar-Sands-Pipeline-Spills.pdf

15 Erin O’Sullivan, “Toxic and tax exempt,” Oil Change International, April 2, 2013, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/how_tar_sands_spills_from_michigan_to_arkansas_cost_us_all/; Oil Change International et al., “Irrational exemption: Tar sands pipeline subsidies and why they must end,” May 14, 2012, http://ecowatch.com/2012/tar-sands-industry-remains-exempt-from-spill-liability-fund/ and http://priceofoil.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Irrational-exemption_FINAL_14May12.pdf

16 http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/07/media_boaters_could_face_crimi.html

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Canadian Oil Sands: Location of Canadian oil sands and viscous heavy oil deposits (Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) website at http://www.canadasoilsands.ca/en/)

Canadian Oil Sands: Location of Canadian oil sands and viscous heavy oil deposits (Source: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) website at http://www.canadasoilsands.ca/en/)

On Good Friday, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Canadian Wabasca Heavy crude burst in Mayflower, Arkansas and was discovered—not by the pipeline company—but by a local resident.  According to the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), which referred to Wabasca as “oil sands” in a report, the “heavy crude” is a heavy bitumen crude diluted with lighter liquids (or diluted bitumen also called dilbit) to allow it to flow through pipeline. So we will be referring to the spill as oil sands to differentiate it from crude oil.

Exxon Mobil Corp continues its efforts to clean up thousands of barrels of Canadian tarsands spilled from a 65-year-old pipeline in Arkansas, as a debate rages about the safety of transporting rising volumes of the fuel into the United States.

Oil Sands spilling from Exxon pipeline, March 29, 2013

Oil Sands spilling from Exxon pipeline, March 29, 2013 – http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/aswift/tar_sands_pipeline_safety_risk.html

The Pegasus pipeline, which ruptured in a community near the town of Mayflower, spewing oil sands across lawns and down residential streets, remains shut and Exxon didn’t begin excavating the area around the breach until Monday, a critical step in assessing damage and determining how and why it leaked.  And no reports we have seen indicate the community was alerted to the potential health impacts the residents might experience.

Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline crosses 13 miles of the Lake Maumelle watershed. Many are concerned this poses a risk to Central Arkansas’s water supply, which includes the drinking water for Little Rock, the capital and the largest city of the state of Arkansas

The spill has stoked a discussion about the environmental dangers of using aging pipelines to transport dilbit from Canada, as a boom in oil and gas production in North America increases volumes moving across the continent.  The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) said in a recent report that more than half of the nation’s pipelines were built in the 1950s and 1960s in response to higher energy demand after World War II.  This is of particular interest to East Texans who may become host to hundreds of miles of re purposed Seaway pipeline that, like the Arkansas pipeline, passes near three major DFW water supplies.

Environmentalists argue that oil sands are more corrosive to pipelines than conventional oil and that spills from these pipelines pose a risk to drinking supplies and the health of residents living near a spill.

A 2010 Michigan spill resulted in residents being evacuated up to six miles away with more than 60% of the local population complaining of illness. (Source: Michigan Messenger,July,  2010)  In a spill of oil sands, high levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide go airborne requiring evacuation.

A film crew from the DFW area doing a documentary on the Tarsands fight, that traveled with a group of Texans to the Climate Rally in DC in February, were quickly dispatched after the Arkansas spill was discovered.  They have shared with environmental groups that while filming in a local elementary school not far from the spill, numerous children at the school were reporting bouts of vomiting.

Children living near the Michigan spill reported cases of vomiting, upset stomach, shortness of breath, lethargy, headaches, rash, irritation with the eyes, sore throat, and cough withing the first week. Adults experienced migraines, eye irritation, sore throat, nausea, and coughing, and pets suffered from continuous vomiting and diarrhea.  While the pipeline company told residents that they couldn’t prove that the pipeline spill was the cause, the EPA established that there were 15 parts per billion of benzene in the atmosphere in the region of the spill, which is roughly three times the standard established as safe for human exposure.

And to add insult to injury, this community found out after the fact that, while companies that transport oil are required to pay into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, giving the government a pot of money for immediate spill responses, the Enbridge pipeline in Michigan and the Exxon pipeline in Arkansas, are exempt because these pipelines are not considered to be carrying “conventional oil”, despite the fact bitumen spills are more expensive and more dangerous.

So after 3 years, the Michigan spill is far from being cleaned up, and the long term affects of exposure to the toxins released from the spill won’t be known for years.  We can only anticipate that the Arkansas community will experience similar issues in cleanup efforts and Little Rock will wait to see if there are going to be impacts on their water resources.

Texans along the pipeline routes have expressed many of these concerns over the past year fighting the tar sands pipeline companies that want to run these through their lands and here are a few things that they have learned.

Despite tar sands unique properties of high pressure, high transport temperatures, higher acidic, sulfuric, and chemical content, these pipelines are built to conventional crude pipeline standards and in Texas:

  • Emergency response plans are only required after a pipeline company begins operations, not before.
  • Pipeline testing is self-determined by industry for both new and re-purposed pipelines.
  • The Railroad Commission has few inspectors to check pipeline integrity.  Companies only propose flyover inspections of these lines every two weeks.
  • Pipelines travel through rural areas, are considered low consequence, so are not given the same safety considerations as more populated,  high consequence areas.
  • Volunteer fire departments in rural areas lack the expertise, training and equipment  to deal with a tar sands spill which is a hazardous material spill
  • Computerized detection system tout spotting pipeline problems within 10 minutes, but this has failed with both new and re-purposed pipeline spill detection.

I certainly don’t feel like the government has my best interest at heart looking at these failures to protect the citizens of Texas and other states along these pipeline routes.  We will be watching this one.

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On February 17th, environmental activists gathered in front of the Whole Foods headquarters in Austin, TX to show their support for the Tar Sands Blockade and to raise climate change awareness, adding their voices to the over 40,000 that gathered on the Mall in Washington, DC that same day.

The Keystone XL Pipeline would carry oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Around 200 people in attendance at the Austin rally, from many organizations, said the pipeline is environmentally toxic. The protestors chose Whole Foods as the best location for their action because CEO John Mackey recently said “Climate change is not that big a deal.” Chris Wilson with S.T.O.P. (Stop Tar Sands Oil Pipelines) said the oil that will come out from the pipeline will be exported overseas and none will stay in the United States.

Click here to watch the local CBS news affiliate’s coverage.

2013-02-17 Forward on Climate Rally on the National Mall

Texans who rode on a bus for 36 hours to Washington, DC to participate in the Climate Forward rally in 30 degree weather with 6 degree wind chill.

Austin Rally - Sasha Violette

Rally in Austin for those unable to make the trip to DC. – Photo by Sasha Violette

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Today, Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman issued the following statement on new research from the Pembina Institute and Oil Change International, indicating that the Keystone XL pipeline will accelerate the reckless expansion of the tar sands industry and the climate impact of tar sands and the pipeline will be significantly worse than anticipated:

“The new reports show that TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is the key that will unlock the tar sands.  If the pipeline is approved, the world will face millions more tons of carbon pollution each year for decades to come.  After Hurricane Sandy, devastating drought, unprecedented wildfires, and the warmest year on record in the United States, we know that climate change is happening now, we have to fight it now, and we must say no to this pollution pipeline now.”

To access the report released at the event, please visit:
Petroleum Coke: The Coal Hiding in the Tar Sands – Oil Change International
The climate implications of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline – The Pembina Institute

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Actress Daryl Hannah has been arrested along with Winnsboro ranch owner Eleanor Fairchild, 78, while staging a protest against Keystone XL construction on Mrs. Fairchild’s farm. The duo where defending Mrs. Fairchild’s home and business, Fairchild Farms, a portion of which has been expropriated by TransCanada, for its toxic tar sands pipeline.

More details on their blog: http://tarsandsblockade.org/darylandeleanor/

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Eight Tar Sands blockaders just climbed 80 feet into trees in the path of Keystone XL construction, and pledged not to come down until the pipeline is stopped for good. TransCanada workers are starting to arrive on the scene. The tar sands blockade folks will be tweeting and live blogging as today’s action unfolds so check for live updates throughout coming days…weeks?!

You shall not pass!

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The following story on testimony provided to the Texas House Energy Resources Committee about the threat the proposed Tar Sands pipeline poses for the state was reprinted with the permission of the Texas Energy Report.

House Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer on Tuesday promised environmental advocates warning of dangers posed by pipelines carrying Canadian tar sands – especially under outdated Texas regulations – that his committee will do its “due diligence’ on the issue.

“You have certainly helped me in things I didn’t know. I want to assure you this committee is going to take everything you said very seriously with the utmost respect it deserves,” Keffer (R-Eastland) said during a day-long hearing on Texas energy and regulations governing it.
Comparing pipeline safety and transparency to his landmark legislation on public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals, Keffer said he is committed to ensuring “we disclose everything we can to really help the industry going forward.
“We will certainly do it with all due diligence and make sure it is done right,” he added.
He lamented that no one from the pipeline industry attended the hearing to answer questions raised in detail about the safety of pipelines carrying tar sands, also known as oil sands, and commonly referred to as diluted bitumen when in transport.
Julia Trigg Crawford, a family farmer battling TransCanada Corp.’s use of eminent domain to condemn easements on her farm for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, testified that diluted bitumen is not akin to heavy Venezuelan crude, as many in the industry insist. (Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman also made the comparison earlier in the hearing.)
“Please don’t allow our land to be taken and then endanger it by allowing old standards to be used for something that is an entirely new product that’s going to come across Texas soil. One does not have to pull back many layers to discover that Canadian tar sands are not your mother’s crude oil,” Crawford told the committee.
Noting that she’s learned TransCanada could begin pipeline construction on her land as early as August, Crawford said state officials have an obligation to ensure the “highest and most stringent” pipeline construction regulations are in place when transporting diluted bitumen.
She underlined that her family is fighting TransCanada’s use of eminent domain law to condemn easements on her land, claiming it is a common carrier. Diluted bitumen is not one of seven products listed in the state’s natural resources code that fall under current pipeline regulations, she pointed out.
The Crawford family’s fight against TransCanada will be aired next at a hearing July 18 in the Lamar County Court of Law with Judge Bill Harris presiding, she said. The family will argue the company cannot claim common carrier status in order to employ eminent domain. It also has raised legal issues regarding Native American artifacts that could be disturbed by the proposed pipeline construction route.
“The proposed pipeline that’s going to cross my land will transport Canadian tar sands,” she said. “This product has never come across our soil before. Our current state regulations have never had to address this specific product,” Crawford said, adding officials need to study ample existing data to prevent a repeat of a tar sands catastrophe in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. “We really don’t know what we’re up against with this product. I don’t think we should use our Texas lands and resources as guinea pigs.”
Trevor Lovell, environmental program coordinator of Public Citizen’s Texas office, told the committee that he coauthored an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News warning about Enbridge Inc.’s repurposing of the 36-year-old Seaway Pipeline to carry a “poisonous mix of chemicals and tar sands bitumen up to 20 times more toxic than traditional crude.” The pipeline crosses three major water sources for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
The articl,e co-written by Public Citizen-Texas Executive Director, Tom “Smitty” Smith, raised several concerns: tar sands are solid at ambient temperatures, far more acidic than crude oil, and chemical diluents must be added to move them through a pipeline. Yet companies like Enbridge have refused to disclose the chemical mixes, calling them proprietary information.
They added that data from tar sands pipeline spills show the blend is heavy in benzene at toxic levels and other chemicals that are “far more deadly” than contents in ordinary crude oil pipelines.
While a chemical engineer formerly employed at Mobil responded that he agreed with the op-ed points on dangers posed by the Seaway pipeline conversion, Lovell said, a dueling op-ed submitted by an Enbridge executive did not address even one of the 10 key points Public Citizen had made.
Instead, it attacked the two authors, accusing them of distortion and misinformation. It cited statistics showing that no tar sands pipelines have ruptured due to corrosion, a point Lovell said the two did not assert.
After the hearing, Lovell said he felt “pretty good” about Keffer’s pledge to investigate the subject further to ensure safety and continued economic contributions from oil and gas activities in the state.
“It was very encouraging,” Lovell told Texas Energy Report. “I think that Keffer’s done a lot of leadership on that committee. He didn’t make any statements he can’t back up. He framed it in the terms he’s comfortable with, which is protecting the industry from itself, so to speak.
“At the end of the day,” he added, “what we care about is safety on these pipelines.”

By Polly Ross Hughes

Ramrodded by veteran reporter Polly Hughes, the Texas Energy Report’s Energy Buzz specializes in what is happening on the ground in Texas energy ranging from dedicated coverage of the Texas regulatory agencies to battles in the Legislature that affect the future of the industry.

Copyright June 21, 2012, Harvey Kronberg, www.texasenergyreport.com, All rights are reserved.  Reposted by TexasVox.org with permission of the Texas Energy Report.

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Bastrop Texas wildfires

Wildfires rage over Labor Day near Bastrop, TX, southeast of Austin

Our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to the people currently evacuated and who have lost their homes this holiday weekend. I, myself, having gone through losing a home to fire I send my best to all of you affected, and have already contacting folks via our church to find out how we can help. I’ll post links as soon as I can get them to give directly to disaster relief. UPDATE: KVUE has a great list they are updating with where to donate. Please give what you can.

This puts into focus several things that have been ruminating in my head all weekend, and it all comes back to this one question– Why does Rice play Texas?  This weekend, two of our nation’s best universities met on the football field. And while both Rice and University of Texas can duke it out on relatively equal footing on the basis of academics, Rice is. . . shall we say, not the athletic powerhouse that Texas is. So, why does Rice always begin its football season with a drubbing of 34-9 (hey, tip of the hat for getting 9 points on the scoreboard– I guarantee there will be teas that do less this year), with the Owls now having lost 41 games out of the last 42 meetings to the Longhorns? And here the answer lies with the other goings-on of this long weekend.

It started with a bang and whimper as our Caver-in-Chief, President Obama, announced he would overrule both the Supreme Court in Whitman v American Trucking Associations and the EPA in pulling back on the agency’s interstate smog rule that has been in the works since the Bush Administration. As Prof of Law Lisa Heinzerling points out in an excellent post over at Grist called Ozone Madness, this decision is wrong based on the law, the science, the economics, and the transparency.

While the President is trying to, I’d assume, take what he sees as the high ground and compromise with those people who claim that these regulations kill jobs, the opposite is, in fact, true. These National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, are set by the Clean Air Act and, defined by the Supreme Court, are to be based on the best available science about what levels of pollutants are healthy for human beings (people like you and me) to breathe. Tea partiers and some of their corporate paymasters in the fossil fuel industry have been caterwauling that these rules will be “too expensive” to implement, and therefore shut down a lot of old, dirty power plants.

coal smokestacks polluteUmmmm.. . . yes, please? Couldn’t we, nay, shouldn’t we shut them down? Our best available science tells us these pollution sources are making us sick. We need these life-saving regulations to help all of the sick children, the elderly, and just the plain folks who  suffer from asthma and other respiratory disease. Count up the missed school days, the missed work days, the premature deaths– count how they hobble our economy. How can children compete in a global economy if they are missing days from school sick because they can’t breathe? How much work is done not on time? How much lost productivity have we hamstrung our economic engine with to cater to people who don’t know how to compete in a modern energy economy against cleaner forms of production? Because the new EPA rules won’t shut down all power plants, only those who can’t compete, who can’t run cleanly. And since there is also good evidence to show that these sorts of life-enhancing regulations actually help, not hurt,  the economy. It also rebuts the White House’s own stated position that they posted just one. day. earlier. that clean air helps the economy, preventing in this year alone:

  • 160,000 premature deaths;
  • More than 80,000 emergency room visits;
  • Millions of cases of respiratory problems;
  • Millions of lost workdays, increasing productivity;
  • Millions of lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution.

So aside from the doublespeak and the just plain bad policy, it looked like the Obama Administration is also taking early steps to signal that they will approve the Keystone XL pipeline to bring the world’s dirtiest and most carbon-intensive source of oil on the planet to Texas Gulf Coast refineries, despite weeks of protests involving thousands of people and hundreds of arrests.

The impact on the climate if this is approved? Well, according to Jim Hanson, one of our top climate scientists, he called it “essentially game over.” Or, as Bill Paxton in Aliens put it:  (WARNING: NSFW for swearsies, including the dreaded f-dash-dash-dash word)


Ok, well, all kidding aside because this is deathly serious, as in the fate of the planet’s climate, THIS is what Jim Hanson told climate protesters outside the White House just before he was arrested for his part in the protest.


Bill McKibben, environmental activist and one of the ringleaders of the several weeks long protest event, said this on Friday about how this is not the end of the protests, it’s only the beginning:


These are serious stakes. “Game Over” stakes. What does that mean? Well, for climate, if you’ve liked the record-breaking heat this year in Texas, you’re in luck, as this could easily become the new normal with climate change. And with the heat, we’ve got the huge economic impacts of the drought. For farmers and ranchers, the Dallas Morning News is reporting a 5 billion dollar loss. Thats Billion with a B, folks.

So next time someone starts talking about how it’s “too expensive” to deal with climate change, do what the Violent Femmes say to do and “Add it Up.” (warning:song lyrics also NSFW because of those darn swearsies)  Loss from hurricanes like Irene, loss from this summer’s floods and tornadoes in Joplin, loss from drought, loss from wildfires, loss to the economy from dirty air (since hotter temperatures mean worse smog), and tell me that just continuing to do nothing and just putting more carbon into the atmosphere is potentially the most expensive thing we can do.

JFK speaking at Rice University

So, what does this have to do with Rice vs Texas? Well, what we have here is political expediency and taking the easy path instead of fighting for what is right. Regulations, regardless of their impact on a multinational corporation’s bottom line, save lives, and improve lives. This is what Ralph Nader fought for when he wrote Unsafe at Any Speed. Corporate whining and their record-breaking profits are not more important than people, and people’s’ rights to breathe clean air, or live in a stable climate. I, for one, am not willing to give up on Central Texas, and let this become the new normal for climate. When I first came to Austin, my literal first impression of the area was “I now understand why people were willing to die at The Alamo to protect this land.”

Decades ago, another President came to Texas to challenge a nation to go to the moon before the end of the decade, and asked an assembled crowd at Rice University the magic question.

“Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.” … But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

President Kennedy answered his own question:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

Climate change is the same challenge, which I previously hit on in another blog post where I also used this quote. It is certainly one we must be willing to accept, unwilling to postpone, and which we intend to win.


But, most importantly, he notes that “But this city of Houston, this state of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.”

Let me take liberty with JFK’s speech where he talks about the need to build a space industry and replace it with a clean energy economy. “If this capsule history of our progress teaches us anything, it is that man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. The [creation of a clean energy economy] will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in this race for [clean energy].  Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolution, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of [energy]. We mean to be a part of it—we mean to lead it.

Our economic torpor, our environmental problems, and yes, our hurricanes and droughts and wildfires, are ALL things we can solve if we are willing to take this same leadership role. Surely there will be pollution in the future, there will be recessions, there will be storms and droughts and fires– but they will NOT be supercharged by an ever-increasing blanket of carbon making our planet warmer and warmer. We must stop doing the same things over and over, relying on fossil fuels, and expecting different results. We must put our courage to the sticking place, and say that we will not allow the voices of a few, economically powerful and well-connected industries to wreak untold havoc on us and our neighborhoods.

You’ll notice, in JFK’s speech, he talks about the costs that a trip to the moon will require. He advocates not spending money recklessly, but in spending a large amount of money to win this challenge.

To be sure, all this costs us all a good deal of money. This year’s space budget is three times what it was in January 1961, and it is greater than the space budget of the previous eight years combined. That budget now stands at 5 billion 400 million dollars a year—a staggering sum, though somewhat less than we pay for cigarettes and cigars every year. Space expenditures will soon rise some more, from 40 cents per person per week to more than 50 cents a week for every man, woman and child in the United States, for we have given this program a high national priority—even though I realize that this is in some measure an act of faith and vision, for we do not now know what benefits await us. But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240 thousand miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25 thousand miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun—almost as hot as it is here today—and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out—then we must be bold

However, I think we’re going to do it, and I think that we must pay what needs to be paid. I don’t think we ought to waste any money, but I think we ought to do the job.”

President Obama will be giving a speech on jobs later this week. In it, I’d love to hear even a smidgen of the boldness and realism of Kennedy. I’d love for him to recant his statement on the EPA smog rule, and say that he will stop the Keystone XL pipeline, as it will only increase our dependence on oil when we need to be quitting it. But I doubt it.

But, it could be worse. We could be realistically thinking about electing as President of the United States someone who believes climate change is a hoax, that climate scientists are in it for the money, and the best way to run a state is to slash the budget of the Forest Service, the agency responsible for fighting fires in Texas, by $34 million– almost one-third of its budget– on the eve of one of the most destructive fire seasons ever. It is worth noting that during the sunset hearings on the Texas Forest Service I testified as to the need of the Forest Service to engage in extra forecasting as to what a climate-change-fueled fire season would look like and be prepared to fight it, so this is a little bit of a personal issue for me.

Apologies for the political birdwalk and the sniping at the two likely major-party candidates for the Presidency. What is clear is what JFK was talking about: we must do things like fight climate change not because they are easy, but because they are hard, and because they are a challenge we are willing to accept and unwilling to postpone. It is a fight we must win, it is a fight for our very existence as we know it here in Texas.

This Saturday my alma mater will be coming to Austin to play Texas, and as my BYU Cougars sit as 4.5 point underdogs against the Longhorns, they and we must remember that this is why Rice plays Texas. This is why BYU plays Texas. To challenge ourselves, and organize our best efforts to make us better. That is why Rice plays Texas. And that is ultimately why we must get our head in the game on clean energy and quit our addictions to fossil fuels and their campaign contributions.


For updates on where exactly wildfires are raging in Texas, please visit http://ticc.tamu.edu/Response/FireActivity/

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Energy companies are increasingly suing South Texas landowners as they work to build pipelines to accommodate surging oil and gas production.

The question isn’t whether a company can route a pipeline across a property owner’s land.  Pipeline companies, under Texas law, wield the power of eminent domain and can use it to acquire an easement even if the property owner opposes it.  But landowners can negotiate for compensation and when those talks break down, companies can file suit.  Actually, all the companies have to do is make and offer and if the landowner doesn’t accept, then they can file suit (really hardly a negotiation, more like a shakedown).

In 2011, pipeline companies have filed at least 184 lawsuits against landowners in four South Texas counties, but concerns about pipelines snaking across your property whether you want them to or not should be of concern to more than South Texans.  Folks in the DFW area have already expressed concern over the probability of increase pipelines in their region with the every expanding fracking industry.  And many property owners along a proposed tar sands pipeline from Canada to Houston have already experienced heavy-handed treatment from the pipeline company, even though many of the needed permits are not yet in place.

So while fracking or tar sands mining may not be happening in your backyard, it doesn’t mean that these activities won’t affect you directly.

If you want to read more about the proposed tar sands pipeline and the proposed pipeline routes, click here.

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The Terry-Greene Tar Sands Resolution Would Allow Hasty Decision to Be Made Regarding an Oil Pipeline Through Texas

 The Terry-Greene Tar Sands Resolution (H.R .1938), which is scheduled for a vote Tuesday, would expedite the approval for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, requiring a decision by Nov. 1 of this year, causing important objections to the pipeline to be overlooked.

Public Citizen, ReEnergize Texas, and the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition told Congressional members in a letter that the construction of this pipeline would increase gas prices and release pollutants into the air, with no benefit for Americans. and that they should vote against a bill that would reduce the review of a proposed oil pipeline running through the Ogallala Aquifer in Texas.

The proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline would run from Canada through the Ogallala Aquifer in Texas to the Gulf of Mexico, where refineries would make oil available for export. The pipeline would transport the dirtiest oil in the world through America’s largest freshwater aquifer, risking a major oil spill and causing dangerous pollutants to be released into the air during the refining process, the groups said. This tar sands oil contains three to four times as much carbon, five times as much lead, six times as much nitrogen and 11 times as much sulfur as is found in conventional crude oil.

A spill from the proposed pipeline would be devastating because the Ogallala Aquifer supplies water to approximately a quarter of the country’s irrigated land. A recent study by University of Nebraska professor John S. Stansbury shows that TransCanada has vastly underestimated dangers posed by the pipeline. The study reveals that the Keystone XL pipeline could have up to 91 spills over 50 years, compared to TransCanada’s claims that there would be only 11.

In addition, the pipeline would drive up fuel costs in the United States. According to TransCanada’s own documents and oil industry economist Philip Verleger, the pipeline would bypass Midwestern refineries, which help keep fuel costs low for American farmers by boosting competition. TransCanada predicts this would drive up fuel costs in the U.S. by up to $4 billion annually, and Verleger anticipates gas prices rising 10 to 20 cents a gallon. So TransCanada’s proposed pipeline would require America to bear the burden of transport and raise gas prices only to send the profits to Canada and the oil to global markets.

“While this might appear to some to be an economic trade-off worth considering, a major issue is that the oil is being transported to the Gulf of Mexico to make it available for export. In other words, Texans would bear the burden of the pollution, but the oil would either supply our global competitors or be priced equivalent to the export market set primarily by the OPEC nations,” the letter said.

Click here to see the letter and click here to see the fact sheet.

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It’s been a while since a status update has been given on the Keystone XL pipeline project here at Public Citizen so the time has come!

The Keystone pipeline project is Canadian initiated undertaking involving both TransCanada and ConocoPhillips.  The pipeline is set out to be about 1380 miles long and the pipe itself is projected to be about 36 inches in diameter.  The Keystone pipeline will enter the United States from Alberta, Canada through Montana, cross through South Dakota and Nebraska to send its 700,000 barrels/day supply into stations in Oklahoma and East Texas.  In doing so, this means the pipeline would be crossing 554 acres of wetlands and 91 streams that support either recreational or commercial fisheries.

The Keystone pipeline will also run right through the Ogallala Aquifer, meaning potential damage to one of the country’s largest sources of water if a spill should occur.  Dirty Oil Picture And we all know how easy it can be for an oil spill to occur.  (see the recent WSJ article on the BP Alaskan pipeline leak)

In fact, TransCanada is supposed to construct the actual pipes to be made out of a thinner material, but the oil will be pumped at a higher pressure than normal, which increases the risks of spills even more.  The last thing we need is another BP disaster in the gulf or pipeline leak in Alaska.  But suppose you say, “So what, what’s another oil spill?”  Well, it just so happens that this pipeline will be transporting some of the dirtiest oil in the world.

This type of oil, known as tar sands oil, produces more global warming pollution than our normal conventional oil, 20% more to be exact.  It also makes conventional oil seem pretty darn clean.  Tar sands oil is full of toxic and harmful materials not only dangerous to the environment but the health of the communities surrounding the pipelines are endangered  as well.  Producing this oil for the Keystone XL will essentially result in the emittance of 11 million more tons of carbon dioxide. (more…)

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Not your average swimming hole

From the New York Times:

Syncrude, the largest operator of oil sands projects in Canada, was ordered to pay $2.92 million on Friday for causing the deaths of 1,603 ducks.

The company was convicted in June by an Alberta court for failing to deploy scarecrows and loud cannons in April 2008 to prevent the migratory birds from landing on a tailings pond containing oily residue from one of its operations.

Mike Hudema, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, said the fine was “no more than a slap on the wrist” considering the size of Syncrude, which produces about 110 million barrels of oil a year. He acknowledged, however, that Syncrude had now been forced to improve its bird deterrence and monitoring.

This is just one of many incidents involving wildlife mistaking tar sands oil tailing ponds as safe natural places. Many of these lakes are enormous and pose great risk to wildlife as clearly shown in this massive bird kill. The most disturbing thing about this incident is Synacrude’s neglect. Tar sands operators aren’t taking care of their basic responsibilities and doubtless they are cutting corners elsewhere in order to maximize their profit at others expense. These fines will go to environmental charities, but Mike at Greenpeace has a point; $3 million doesn’t mean anything to a multi-billion dollar company and safety lapses will continue. While conditions have improved here, where else are bad deeds taking place that haven’t been corrected? Tailing ponds are one of hundred reasons why tar sands oil is the dirtiest massive energy project on the planet and why it can’t continue.

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Thall shalt not take

As you may have read in an earlier blog, Texas landowners who live in the path of the proposed Keystone Pipeline route may be dealing with the threat of eminent domain to force them into a contract.  If the landowner doesn’t come to an agreement with the entity intent on “taking” their land, then they might be put in the position of hiring an attorney to fight condemnation proceedings against their property in court.  If you think you might be facing such a fight, we thought we’d post what we know about this process. (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 15598888]



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.


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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