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Posts Tagged ‘Public Citizen’

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As you close out 2016, consider joining or making a gift to Public Citizen’s work – click here.

Thank you and we wish you a safe and happy holiday.

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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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IMG_1653Around 10:10 AM on Sunday July 17th, a pipeline leaked propylene in the community of Baytown, TX, near the ExxonMobil Baytown refinery. Propylene is a dense, colorless gas that is considered non-toxic but flammable. The pipeline leak highlights some of the challenges associated with emergency response along within the Houston region.

At 10:30 AM, according to the Houston Chronicle, three houses were evacuated and all others within the vicinity of the leak were told to shelter in place. The emergency response was mixed. Residents who signed up for city notifications through Baytown Alert were apparently notified by phone and by email around 10:30 AM about the order to shelter-in-place. Yet some confusion remained – who exactly did the shelter-in-place include? What had happened, and what kind of chemical was released – something flammable or something toxic? Should residents downwind be concerned?

The CAER line, which is supported by the East Harris County Manufacturers Association, provides a hotline for Harris County residents to call to obtain more information regarding emergency situations. During the incident on Sunday, several people known to us called CAER to hear the messages it posted regarding the situation. It is unclear how quickly the first message regarding the incident was posted to CAER; a Baytown resident stated that it took about an hour following the incident before CAER posted a message. On Sunday at 1:05 PM, there were no current messages, even though the shelter-in-place had not yet been lifted. At 2:30 PM, CAER’s message stated that a propylene leaked resulted in the shelter-in-place warning. The City of Baytown reported via twitter that the shelter-in-place had been lifted at 2:38 PM. At 3:30 PM, CAER’s message line mentioned the leak without any mention of a shelter-in-place. Around 4:20 PM there were no current messages on the CAER line.

Although the City of Baytown notified residents of the shelter-in-place, the residents we spoke with never received the all clear and were not informed when the shelter-in-place had been lifted either via siren or via email and phone. In fact, it is unclear if sirens were used to communicate the shelter-in-place, which is an important way to inform people who may be visiting the area or who may not have access to other technology. Many questions remain unanswered and the Healthy Ports Community Coalition (HPCC) is actively researching to fully understand the emergency response.

The HPCC is also proposing a system like an amber alert system to make use of our modern technology so that residents can be informed immediately when emergency evacuations or a shelter-in-place is called for, notified when it is all clear to return to normal, and they can be instructed specifically on what steps to take to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy. In this case, Baytown residents were lucky that the chemical leaked was not deemed toxic and that no one suffered any known health impacts from the leak. HPCC is working to keep residents safe and informed for when the next incident happens.

hpcc

 

The Healthy Port Communities Coalition is growing a strong base of well-informed and active local residents who engage public and private stakeholders directly on priority issues including jobs, pollution, health, neighborhood safety, and economic opportunities.

 

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Porter Ranch - photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

Porter Ranch – photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

The massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, CA, just outside of Los Angeles, has been temporarily capped. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the leak isn’t yet permanently stopped and that it has already done incredible damage over the 111 days it spewed methane and toxic chemicals into the air.

The state of emergency called by Governor Jerry Brown is still in effect for what is being named the largest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill. Over 94,700 metric tons of methane has escaped since October 23, which is one of the largest leaks ever recorded. This incident has taken California two steps back in its progress towards greenhouse gas emissions reductions especially since methane is 87 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For perspective, the amount of methane released so far from the natural gas leak will have the same impact on climate over the next twenty years as emissions from seven coal power plants. Despite these environmental crimes, not one person has been arrested, although this past week, the citizens of Los Angeles County have begun taking legal action.

Southern California Gas Co (SoCal Gas), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, is the responsible company for the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak, and is finally facing charges for this disaster. District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the criminal charges filed against SoCal Gas for failing to immediately report the gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility to the proper state authorities. The site leaked for three days before SoCal Gas officials contacted the city’s fire department.

Major public health concerns are also leading to lawsuits. Residents across the county are reporting health issues such as nose bleeds, female health problems (excessive bleeding), rashes, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness, and have packed town hall meetings voicing their concerns. One Porter Rach resident, Christine Katz, stated, “Even though you can’t see the gas, it’s there. And that’s the saddest part — people don’t understand it. Because it’s not a mudslide, it’s not an earthquake. You just don’t see the devastation, but it’s there.”

SoCal Gas has yet to release a full listing of the chemicals being emitted from the leak, furthering distrust and anxiety from the community. Local law firms have organized a website (www.porterranchlawsuit.com) for citizens to reach out if they have been impacted. More than 25 lawsuits have been filed pursuing damages from the SoCal Gas and Sempra Energy. For example, a family of an elderly woman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the gas company, claiming that the leaking chemicals led to the worsening of her health and untimely death this past January.

Legal actions will certainly hurt these gas companies financially, but is this an effective way of enforcing the law? History says no. Time and time again, environmental crimes are punished with fines, and these disasters continue to happen putting the public at risk. New regulations, transparency, and stricter criminal enforcement on the individuals responsible very well could bring justice in these incidents.

Crimes committed under a corporate veil are still crimes and should be treated as such. No amount of money will ever reverse the harsh health and environmental effects the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak is having on the region. But we can put into place policies that make corporations take the environmental risks of their operations much more seriously. A proactive justice process would be exponentially more effective means of dealing with environmental crimes than merely reacting after the fact.

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The Keystone XL pipeline in Texas is slated to start up next week, pumping toxic tar sands to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, unless Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott steps up to protect our land and water.

Now is the time to email Texas Attorney General Abbott and ask him to use his broad powers to demand the federal government conduct safety inspections of the Keystone XL before it starts.

Junk pipe with signLast November Public Citizen came out with a report detailing hundreds of anomalies at over 125 sites where pipeline was dug up along the route in Texas. CBS News reported on Public Citizen’s report and on warning letters (click here and here to see two from last September) issued by PHMSA, the federal agency that oversees pipelines, to get TransCanada to fix their faulty pipes.

We already know the dangers that communities face from toxic tar sands, whether it’s the land owners whose property is at risk from a spill or the fence line communities that live adjacent to the referies and have to breathe the toxic emissions .

Director of Public Citizen Texas Tom “Smitty” Smith says, “Attorney General Abbott claims to believe in private property rights. If he really does, he should take action now to protect landowners in East Texas from tar sands contamination.”

Click here now to help pressure Attorney General Abbott to protect Texas landowners and water supplies before it is too late.

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Dear Senators and Representatives,

Last Tuesday (Nov. 12), CBS reported that nearly 50 percent of the welds on a section of the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline were faulty. That revelation was based on a Sept. 26, 2013, warning letter to pipeline owner TransCanada from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).  It was part of a broader story about problems with Keystone XL’s southern segment that included Public Citizen’s own investigative report, also released last week.

In the report, we documented 125 excavations TransCanada made to remedy possible “anomalies,” welds, dents or other problems in the southern segment of the pipeline, which runs from Oklahoma through Texas. In conjunction with the report, we sent a letter on Nov. 11 to Congress asking for oversight hearings.

Since then, we have reviewed the two letters cited by CBS, reviewed other PHMSA warning and corrective action letters sent to TransCanada, and spoken to a PHMSA official about some of the correspondence.

The Sept. 26 letter from PHMSA to TransCanada said that “TransCanada experienced a high weld rejection rate” on the section of the pipeline known as “Spread 3” and that “205 out of the 425 welds, or 48.2 percent,” required repairs.  The letter explained that TransCanada employed a welding process that was not a “previously qualified procedure” and “failed to use properly qualified welders.”

In an earlier, Sept. 10 warning letter, PHMSA said field inspectors found dents in pipe that appeared to be the result of rocks in the backfill used around it. The letter said TransCanada did not ensure that the pipe was installed “in a manner that minimizes the possibility of damage to the pipe.”

Damon Hill, a Washington-based public affairs analyst for PHMSA, said in a phone interview that after the letters were sent, PHMSA had “gone out and conducted inspections.” However, he said he could not provide dates of the inspections, confirm that they focused on the problems identified in the letters, or give even an approximate time frame for providing information on the results of these inspections.

Hill said, “The results of the inspections won’t come out until we issue an enforcement order.” He also said, “You’re trying to get me to say something specific, and I am not going to tell you something specific.”

Meanwhile, that section of the pipeline is scheduled to be filled with tar sands crude within a matter of weeks.

The construction problems and the lack of information about inspections are particularly alarming because of TransCanada’s history. The first phase of Keystone XL spilled 14 times in the first 14 months of its operation, according to a U.S. State Department report, and TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation.

Moreover, the number of weld problems has implications for the entire southern segment. If 205 repairs are needed on a single section, how many flaws are there likely to be in the rest of the pipeline’s 485 miles?

In light of the above, we firmly believe that the following should take place:

  • PHSMA should ensure correction of the problems identified in its letters, inspect the corrected work, and make the process and results publicly available and readily accessible.
  • PHMSA should inspect all of the “anomalies” indicated by our report and make the process and results publicly available and readily accessible.
  • Because of the high number of problems identified in PHMSA letters and our report, PHMSA should inspect the entire southern segment of Keystone XL. PHMSA should conduct a quality assurance review, and because the quality of the welds is critical to ensuring that the pipeline won’t leak or rupture, another hydrostatic test and caliper inline test should be complete before it is filled.
  • Congress should conduct oversight hearings to ensure that the pipeline is safe for the public and the environment.
  • All of the above should be completed before the pipeline is filled with tar sands crude and put into use.

Our report and PHMSA’s own letters raise the specter of a pipeline rife with construction flaws from its start in Cushing, Oklahoma, to its end at Texas’s Gulf Coast. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that flaws already identified and any undiscovered flaws do not result in a public health or environmental disaster. Texas’ waters should not be put at risk of contamination from pipeline breaks or spills.

Sincerely,

Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director
Public Citizen’s Texas Office
1303 San Antonio St.
Austin, Texas
(512) 477 1155
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UPDATE:  If you didn’t catch the CBS national news report on Tuesday, November 12th on the problems with the Southern Segment of Keystone XL, click here.

Public Citizen Calls for Congressional Oversight Hearings and Delay in Startup 

As the Obama administration considers whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline’s northern segment, owner TransCanada faces serious questions concerning construction and pipeline integrity issues on the Texas portion of the pipeline that throw its safety into question, Public Citizen said today.

In light of the problems – documented in Public Citizen’s newly released report, “TransCanada’s Keystone XL Southern Segment: Construction Problems Raise Questions About the Integrity of the Pipeline” – citizens and elected officials should call for a delay in startup until an investigation into its safety is completed.

The report documents construction problems and apparent engineering code violations along the Texas portion of the southern segment of the pipeline. The full southern segment, scheduled to be filled with oil by the end of 2013, will run from Cushing, Okla., to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. It traverses 631 streams and rivers in Texas alone (see http://texaspipelinewatch.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/watersheds.pdf).

The apparent problems documented in the report include pipe being installed as part of new construction that had excessive bending or sagging, and peeling patches of field coating applied to cover damage on pipe about to be placed into the ground.

The report also notes more than 125 excavations in 250 miles of possible “anomalies” on pipe that had been buried for months. Those anomalies included dents, sags and other problems that could lead to spills or leakage of toxic tar sands crude.

“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “Given the stakes – the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities – it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.”

Public Citizen also urges President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, when deciding on the northern leg of Keystone XL, to consider TransCanada’s record of construction problems and code violations, and the pipeline’s potential impact on the sensitive areas of the Ogallala aquifer, which provides drinking water for millions of people, and the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which the pipeline route crosses.

The report, available at http://www.citizen.org/documents/Keystone report – November 2013.pdf, encapsulates information gathered by Public Citizen, whose consultant traveled the area from May through June. Public Citizen collaborated with former TransCanada engineer and whistleblower Evan Vokes, who worked for TransCanada from 2007 to 2012 in the division responsible for construction standards.

For the report, landowners were interviewed, excavation sites were observed, video was reviewed and hundreds of photos of damaged pipe and work sites were examined. Observers also flew over the pipeline route several times.

In some areas, observers noticed stakes marked with “anomalies,” placed by TransCanada, with companion stakes marked “welds” and “dents.” One landowner reported that TransCanada contractors said as many as 70 anomalies were found in a 60-mile stretch between the Sulphur and the Sabine rivers in Texas.

TransCanada has claimed that the excavation and replacement of new pipe demonstrates its commitment to implement 57 special conditions of quality assurance and to build a “state-of-the-art” pipeline.However, TransCanada has had a history of problems with pipeline construction and safety for two decades:

  • During the construction of Keystone I, TransCanada pledged to meet 50 special conditions. But more than 47 anomalies along the line in four states had to be retested, and the Keystone I line spilled 12 times in the first year of operation.
  • In July 2011, TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation, blowing out an approximate 40-foot section of pipe. TransCanada had been warned of potential quality problems with construction and inspection.
  • In the 1990s, Iroquois Pipeline Operations, a subsidiary of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., and four senior executives pleaded guilty to knowingly violating environmental and safety provisions of the pipeline construction permit. Iroquois executives had promised a pipeline of exceptional safety.

Public Citizen is calling on the Pipeline and ­­Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) to review TransCanada’s construction quality assurance records, determine whether state and federal laws have been violated, and not permit the start of operations on the southern leg of the Keystone XL until the entire line has been hydrostatically retested – a sophisticated process that sends water through a pipeline at a specified level of pressure higher than the maximum operating pressure to test the integrity and strength of a pipeline. The southern segment also should be tested by an inline caliper device called a smart pig to look for integrity problems.

Public Citizen also calls on Congress to hold oversight hearings to ensure that PHMSA investigates and addresses the safety of the pipeline.

“TransCanada’s history with pipeline problems speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I fear we could be looking at another pipeline whose integrity may be in question.”

Citizens can:

  • Call upon Congress to hold oversight hearings to assure that the pipeline is retested and its safety is ensured;
  • Attend one of seven upcoming citizen hearings on the safety of the pipeline in East Texas (see http://texaspipelinewatch.org/calendar/ for schedule and addresses);
  • Meet with local first responders and ask county governments to develop tar-sands-spill- emergency response plan; and
  • Ask legislators to reform Texas common carrier laws pipeline and pipeline safety standards.

 

For  video of pipeline issues, see http://nacstop.org/EastTexasObserver.html.

June 16, 2013 tape

  • sagging, 4.38-4.59 minutes;
  • coating problem, 5.25-6.12 minutes;
  • anomaly mark, 6.24-7.10 minutes.

See May 31, 2013 tape

  • sagging, 26-31 seconds;
  • water, 4.59 minute
  • unsupported pipe, 4.29-6.20 minutes

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Energy Future Holdings $1 Billion Bonding for Texas Mines Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test

An exclusive report from Public Citizen and Sierra Club reveals that Energy Future Holdings (EFH) and its subsidiaries have not set aside cash or real assets to cover the $1.01 billion cost of cleaning up its strip mines in Texas.  Click here to get a copy of the full report entitled “Energy Future Holdings and Mining Reclamation Bonds in Texas“.

As a result, taxpayers could end up with the bill if mines are abandoned by EFH, which is expected to file for bankruptcy by year’s end.

“The report shows that Energy Future Holdings has been playing fast and loose with its obligations to Texans,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.  “The law is clear, and Texas regulators should take immediate action to demand a cash bond so taxpayers and the environment are protected.”

The Public Citizen and Sierra Club report, titled “Energy Future Holdings and Mining Reclamation Bonds in Texas,” was authored by Tom Sanzillo, Director of Finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. (Sanzillo previously served as first deputy comptroller of New York State and has thirty years of experience in public and private finance.)

Under federal law, mining companies are required to set aside money for clean-up of mines so resources will be available even if the mines are abandoned. The law was created because many mines were abandoned across the United States when companies went bankrupt, leading to contamination of surface water and groundwater.

In Texas, EFH’s subsidiary, Luminant Mining, is responsible for the operation and clean-up of its eleven active strip mines. The reclamation is estimated to cost as much as $1.01 billion.

In many states, Luminant Mining would be required to put up a $1.01 billion cash bond or other financial assets equal to that amount. But Texas’s Railroad Commission, which administers state mining law, has allowed Luminant to “self-bond,” which means it is relying on a “guarantee” without having real cash bonds set aside that the state can readily access.

Sanzillo’s analysis shows that the Luminant Generation assets that are used to pass the Railroad Commission’s financial tests for the $1.01 billion “self-bond” are already committed to secure other debt incurred by EFH.

“Luminant Generation’s revenue-generating assets, its power plants, are pledged as security for Energy Future Holdings debt,” said Sanzillo. “That means there may not be liquid assets available for the cost of reclamation. The fundamental problem is that there does not appear to be any unencumbered capital obligated to the state.”  Sanzillo added, “EFH has been playing a shell-game, and state regulators have allowed it, Sanzillo said. “If EFH is just now trying to come up with money for reclamation, that confirms it wasn’t there before. Any new financing mechanism that EFH comes up with must be reviewed rigorously. EFH has to segregate the money – set cash aside or post a third-party bond specifically for clean-up of the mines.”

Al Armendariz, senior representative in Texas for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said, “This billion-dollar bonding should be a wake-up call for future buyers of EFH’s oldest coal plants. It may be that these old EFH coal plants are just too expensive to operate. They’re the subject of enforcement actions by the U.S. Justice Department, and EFH may be required to add  hundreds of millions of dollars in additional pollution controls to meet new ozone, mercury, and  carbon standards.”

Smith pointed out that how Texas handles the EFH financing for clean-up of mines could set national precedent.

“One hundred and fifty coal generating units in the United States have announced they plan to retire, and as a result many of the mines that supply them may end up in financial trouble,” Smith said. “This problem is bigger than Texas and regulators across the nation should take steps to protect consumers and the environment in their states.”

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SAN ANTONIO – The newly formed Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition called on CPS Energy to meet a set of conditions before following through with an October rate hike.

Describing the hike as an increase that will “unfairly burden residential taxpayers,” coalition members called on CPS to take steps to reduce pollution, waste and costs for consumers.

The coalition presented its demands in a petition handed off to the utility during the Monday, Sept. 9 CPS Rate Case Input Session held at the TriPoint Grantham Center.

“We oppose the rate hike because it promotes unsustainable growth, driven by dirty energy, on the shoulders of the poor and working class folks who already pay the most for energy costs relative to income and quality of housing stock,” said Dr. Marisol Cortez, scholar-in-residence at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center.
(more…)

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The newly formed Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition put its opposition to CPS’s proposed rate hike on the record during a Sept. 9 citizen’s input meeting. Coalition representatives presented the utility with a plan of action that they want addressed before an increase goes into effect. Here’s the petition.

PETITION FOR CPS ACTIONS PRIOR TO PROPOSED RATE INCREASE

Submitted to CPS Energy during the CPS Rate Case Input Session, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013.
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This article written by Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, appeared on the editorial page of the San Antonio Express-News on Sept. 2

The newest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, leaked to media earlier this week, is frightening and conclusive.

The panel of several hundred scientists, which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, says the odds are at least 95 percent that humans are the principal cause of climate change. The panel predicts an increase of 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century and warns that a rise of that magnitude would cause “extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including   a wave of extinction,” according to the New York Times.

Yet U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chair of the Committee on Science and Technology, claims the science is uncertain about how much of the warming is caused by humans.
(more…)

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Armstrong Energy is facing challenges from the market that may threaten the viability and profitability of its proposed coal export terminal in Louisiana, a new Public Citizen report (Armstrong Coal final report) finds. A failed company and abandoned export terminal would create significant costs for Plaquemines Parish.

In the report, “RAMming It Down Our Throats: Armstrong Energy Could Leave Louisiana Taxpayers Holding the Bag on Its Proposed RAM Terminal,” Public Citizen looked at Armstrong Energy’s financial condition and the effect of market conditions on the coal export company.

“Armstrong Energy is in hot water,” said Hillary Corgey, researcher for Public Citizen and the report’s author. “Between rising debt, market conditions unfavorable to coal, and climate change, the RAM Terminal may have a good chance of sinking, both in terms of its hurricane-prone location and the viability of the company.”

The RAM Terminal is to be built near the 150-year old community of Ironton in Plaquemines Parish, La., 30 miles south of New Orleans. The terminal is to be fully operational within two years of construction and ship 10 million tons of coal. Two hearings on August 14 and 15 attracted more than 100 residents who oppose the terminal’s latest push for permits.
(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 [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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Press Conference RE: Austin Energy Governance 2-13-13

UPDATE

This morning, Mayor Lee Leffingwell pulled Item 29 from the consent agenda indefinately.  Item 71 has been set for 7PM

May 22, 2013

Our basic premise that governance by an elected body is more accountable is proving true.  Over the past couple months, many Austinites have expressed their concerns to City Council about a proposed ordinance that would establish an un-elected board to govern Austin Energy.

Before citizens got involved in the process, this ordinance seemed destined to pass and we all would have found ourselves with less power over an important piece of our local government.

As citizen’s began to voice their concerns the majority of city council members heard their constituents and the ordinance was substantially changed. Councilmembers deserve a lot of credit for the work that they have done to improve this ordinance.  However, it would still establish an un-elected board, which is a dangerous road to go down because such a board could be granted more powers in subsequent ordinances.

Discussion of the ordinance that would establish an un-elected board to govern Austin Energy has been set for 7 pm this Thursday (5/23).  It is item #29 on the agenda. (click here and select item 29 to watch the portion of today’s work session concerning this ordinance)

If you wish to sign up to speak on it or just to register your opinion, you can do so at the kiosks inside City Hall.

Because of the changes made to the ordinance in response to citizen participation in the process, the primary supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Leffingwell, now no longer support it.  Thus, the ordinance may be withdrawn on Thursday morning, so look at the agenda before heading to City Hall Thursday evening.

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Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell just postponed a major agenda item (#15), regarding an un-elected board taking over Austin Energy. Numerous citizens were planning to attend the council meeting tonight to express  concerns, and had gone out of their way to arrange their schedules to be there. The mayor completely removed the issue from discussion, not just from a council vote.

The disregard for citizens’ input and time is appalling. Perhaps the mayor’s move is simply a response to citizens having organized more effectively than special interest groups, such as CCARE, who haven’t been able to mobilize support for changing the governance of Austin Energy.

The ordinance may not have been ready for a vote tonight, but the mayor should have left the item open for discussion for the large number of citizens who have set time aside to be present tonight.

We hope that all the engaged citizens that planned on attending the city council meeting tonight will come to the meeting on May 23 and show the Mayor that the public won’t be silenced.

Please contact us with any questions on this issue:

Kaiba White, Public Citizen, [email protected], 607-339-9854 
Karen Hadden, SEED Coalition, [email protected], 512-797-8481 

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