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Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

There’s a lot to like in the president’s plan that he announced today, but there is a lot that falls short, too. Certainly on the most important measure, reducing coal-burning plant emissions, the president is a day late and a dollar short. The lack of specificity on the standard eventually to be issued makes it impossible to know how far reaching it will be.

But Texas shows how it can be done!  See below.

Associated Press/Charles Dharapak - President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change

Associated Press/Charles Dharapak – President Barack Obama wipes perspiration from his face as he speaks about climate change

Catastrophic climate change poses a near-existential threat to humanity. We need a national mobilization — and indeed a worldwide mobilization – to transform rapidly from our fossil fuel-reliant past and present to a clean energy future. We need a sense of urgency – indeed, emergency – with massive investments, tough and specific standards and binding rules which are missing from the president’s plan.

The administration is finally using the authority ratified by a conservative Supreme Court to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Administration will re-write rules for new plants and develop rules for all existing power plants. This is the most important tool the Administration has, and if the rules are written the way they should be, it will go a long way towards protecting consumers and our climate. This initiative builds on the successful and strong automobile tailpipe standards that have already been successfully rolled out. The downside is that the late 2015 final rule date is far off in the future, and will likely see lengthy legal challenges.

The plan also, helpfully, builds on existing programs and plucks some low-hanging fruit to reduce carbon emissions: Increasing renewable targets and efficiency on federal land, in the federal government’s operations, in the Pentagon, and in federally-assisted housing.

The Administration set the table recently by increasing the estimated cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to society, from $23.80/ton to $38.

Targeting oil industry subsidies, as the Administration proposes here, is also commonsense, and much needed policy.

However, there is no mention in the plan of using a uniform, strong climate change impact assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which would require the costs and impacts of GHG in every federal environmental impact statement. The failure to utilize NEPA for GHG assessment is a huge oversight.

Reserving the troubled loan guarantee program for “clean coal” is a taxpayer boondoggle waiting to happen. A case in point is the Obama-backed Kemper IGCC coal plant owned by Southern Co, which has seen costs balloon from $2.4 billion to $4.2 billion, with costs still rising further.

In general, the President’s embrace of an “all of the above” strategy, including oil and gas expansion, is a disaster. His focus on fossil fuel exports — including the explicit promotion of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and his failure to curtail coal exports – threatens to undo any positive elements of the plan. By promoting LNG, the Administration is moving full-speed-ahead on fracking – with no mention of how to control fugitive emissions, water contamination and other environmental problems posed by the controversial process. And while the proposed EPA rules over existing and new coal power plants will result in significant GHG reductions here at home, all of that will be negated (and more) if we ramp up our coal exports to China. Using NEPA and other statutes to ensure that the emissions of coal exports – and the fugitive emissions of fracked gas – are included in the environmental impact study (EIS) for export projects is essential.

The same goes for Keystone XL. Awaiting approval by the State Dept, the Keystone XL pipeline’s EIS is fatally flawed. The Administration has a chance to re-write the EIS to take into account the true GHG impact of the tar sands, which would require this gas-price boosting project to be rejected.  And Obama’s welcome announcement on KXL won’t affect the southern segment of the line being built from Oklahoma to Houston, nor will it stop the conversion of existing pipelines to carry tar sands. These are the back door ways that tar sands and its carbon pollution will leak into the international markets

At the end of the day, it would be helpful if the Administration would lend its support to an existing climate bill – the Climate Protection Act of 2013. This legislation places a price on carbon, sending revenues back to families and into investments for a sustainable energy economy (not to mention regulating fracking and repealing oil industry subsidies).

“Texas Shows How It Can Be Done”

The good news is that the solutions to global warming from the energy sector are within reach — and Texas shows how it can be done. We can power our state with renewable energy, energy efficiency demand side management and energy storage technologies and techniques that exist or are being developed right now.

“Here’s what Texas has shown in recent years:

  • In 1999 Texas adopted renewable energy goals – partially to reduce global warming. Now Texas leads the nation in production of wind energy, which is now so cheap that it is reducing consumers bills;
  • Renewable energy is now employing more people than coal plants and coal mines are  in Texas;
  • If we were to  develop more solar and geothermal, and employ energy  storage, we could meet our energy needs around the clock without relying on coal;
  • With the combination of those tools we could phase out and shut down our 22 climate killing coal plants;
  • Adopting building energy codes has reduced statewide carbon emissions by as much a coal plant would produce.”

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wind_turbine_aalborgProbably not overall, but the City of Houston has made a historic commitment – to buy half its power from renewable sources.

Houston was built around the oil and gas industries and has long suffered the consequences of being home to many of the nation’s most polluting refining and chemical manufacturing facilities.  Purchasing clean energy for the City’s facilities won’t change all that, but it does represent a significant change in mindset.

In the absence of federal legislation to address the increasingly pressing problem of climate change, local action has become essential.  At the very least, the energy used in public buildings – that taxpayers pay for – should be clean energy.  Houston is taking a huge step in that direction.

Wind energy is already one of the cheaper energy sources in Texas and solar energy is becoming competitive, especially as prices increase with higher energy demand.  These trends will be helped by large-scale investments like the one Houston is making.

Moving away from energy from coal-fired power plants will also help keep jobs growing in Texas.  Luckily, this isn’t an issue of jobs vs. the environment.  It’s an easy choice of supporting both.  Kudos to Houston to for recognizing an opportunity to take a leadership role.

Talk to your local elected officials about using clean energy to power your public buildings.

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Texas’ governor is at it again.  Just 15 minutes ago, dozen’s of bills went down in flames under the governor’s veto pen.  This included a bill essential to providing more efficient enforcement of ethics violations in the Texas political process: the Ethics Commission sunset bill (SB 219), which passed by 97 percent in the House and 94 percent in the Senate.

Why veto such an overwhelmingly popular bill? It is because of a provision in the bill that would require members of the Railroad Commission to step down if they announce their candidacy for another office. This again demonstrates that the governor is more interested in protecting powerful politicians than protecting Texas residents.

Members of the Railroad Commission frequently seek higher office. Recently, two commissioners ran against each other for the same U.S. Senate seat. The commissioners, who serve more like judges than elected state officials, oversee complex oil and gas cases that require familiarity with the law and impartiality. When commissioners use their position as a springboard to run for another office, they often go absent from the commission, and the demands of campaigning reduce their ability to do their job.  This portion of the legislation could have been used as a model for how to adequately reform the Railroad Commission, but instead the governor shot it down.

It is worth noting that 81-93 percent of the total campaign donations to the commissioners come from the oil and gas industry, which is overseen by the Railroad Commission. Perhaps that’s why in 2012, despite handling 82 contested cases, the commission didn’t deny a permit to an oil and gas company even once. Clearly, the industry doesn’t want to risk losing members of the Railroad Commission who have been carefully cultivated.

It is a bad sign for democracy when a single person can veto the will of almost an entire legislature, and when a sunset bill for an entire state agency is sunk because of just one provision that would inconvenience the oil and gas industry.

Click here to see other bills vetoed by the governor and his justification for some of them.

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Fire season started early in California this year because the winter rains that usually tide this area over until July or August, barely materialized. Last year, the focus was on wildfires in Colorado and New Mexico. In 2011, Texas was a hotbed of drought and wildfire.  Now, all signs point to a destructive 2013 season, given how parched the earth is in the southwest and west, and we are starting to see that materialize.

Typically, this would be the height of the wildfire season in the southwest – New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Colorado, but despite how dry it is and how hot it’s been, a lot of the region had been spared until the big fire started in Colorado this week near Colorado Springs.

According to several scientists on a Climate Nexus panel on Tuesday (Climate Nexus is a strategic communications group dedicated to highlighting the wide-ranging impacts of climate change and clean energy solutions in the United States), major wildfires could occur across the Southwest this year, including in Texas.  Now that Texas is in its third year of drought, the state is likely to experience a longer fire season as a result of dry conditions and rising summer temperatures. High fire risk conditions raise the concern that Texas could again experience severe wildfires. Fires on Labor Day weekend in  2011 destroyed more than 1,600 Texas homes

A draft report by the federal National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Council (NCADAC) shows that in recent decades, the frequency of large wildfires and the length of the fire season have increased substantially.  Earlier spring snowmelts and warmer spring and summer temperatures have increased the risk of fire in the Southwest. Fire models predict that more wildfires will occur in the future, with increased risks to communities throughout the region.

US wildfires May to June 2013

US wildfires May to June 2013

To see this interactive map click here

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Earlier today, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that they will retire Units 2 and 3 of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), essentially closing the troubled nuclear power plant which is located between San Diego and Los Angeles.

SONGS, which has been in operation for 45 years, may be a harbinger for the future of our aging nuclear fleet, many of which are near the end their original license period and are applying for extensions.

  • Unit 1 began commercial operation on January 1, 1968 and ceased operation on November 30, 1992.  Since then it has been dismantled and is used as a storage site for spent fuel for Units 2 and 3,
  • Units 2 and 3 were both licensed in 1982 and by license amendments in March, 2000 are currently licensed until 2022. However, unit 3 has been shut down since the detection of a leak in one of the steam generator tubes on January 31 and Unit 2 is off line, for routine inspections which found that design flaws appeared to be the cause of excessive wear in tubing that carries radioactive water at San Onofre.

SCE cited continuing questions about when or if the remaining SONGS units might return to service as the cause for their decision, concluding that the uncertainty was not good for customers or investors.

In a statement Friday, California Public Utility Commission’s President Michael R. Peevey called the decision “understandable,” and that the closure of the nuclear power generating station “will require even greater emphasis on energy efficiency and demand response programs.” Utility companies will also need to add transmission upgrade and find new generation resources.

Concerns in Texas

In Texas, both nuclear plants (Comanche Peak outside of Fort Worth, and South Texas Nuclear Generating Station (STP), between Houston and Corpus Christi on the Texas Gulf Coast) are nearing the end of their life expectancies as reflected in their original licenses which are due to expire in 2027 and 2028, and have filed for a license extension.  STNP’s unit two has experienced nine months of outage during 2 prolonged shutdowns in 2 years. The second outage was triggered by a fire that occurred only days before the public hearing on the license extension application.

Environmentalists expressed concerns about the plant’s ability to operate safely beyond the original life expectancy of the plant.

“Relicensing should be halted while a serious, in-depth examination occurs,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Austin-based SEED coalition, which advocates for sustainable energy, and member of the Austin Electric Utility Commission (Austin Energy owns 16% of STP Units 1 and 2). “I think it’s becoming increasingly unreliable, and it’s costing us money to fix it.” She noted that it was difficult to get information about the plant’s problems and she expressed concern that these aging plants will experience problems more often and of greater threat to the safety of the plant and the surrounding communities.

 

 

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Guest Blog by Marion Mlotok

On Thursday, May 30, 2013, the Texas Senate held a public hearing on redistricting as a launch of the 83rd 1st special session.  The hearing started at 9:00 am and closed at 11:30 am after everyone had testified.  Testimony was for 3 minutes each. I arrived early to a nearly empty auditorium, and when the hearing started, the hearing room was far from packed.

A number of attendees at the hearing, including some of the Senators, pointed out that this was mighty short notice for a public hearing with such far-reaching consequences.  The announcement of the hearing was made Monday, May 27 at 5:30 pm, 62 hours before the hearing, according to Chair, Kel Seliger.  Also the hearing was set for 9:00am on a work day.  No field hearings were or will be scheduled.  It was also brought up that the minorities most affected by this redistricting were the least likely to be able to arrange and afford to take time off work, arrange and afford childcare and afford transportation to Austin.

There will be two more Senate redistricting hearings, Thursday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 12, both at 9:00 a.m. in the Finance Room, E1.036.  All amendments and alterations must be submitted by noon June 10 for consideration for the June 12 meeting.

Most of the testimony was opposed to the maps in SB1, SB2, SB3 and SB4 on the basis of disenfranchisement of minorities.

My testimony was about Austin being split into 6 US Congressional districts, one snaking to Houston, one to Fort Worth, two to San Antonio and one to Laredo.  I pointed that Austin would have no US Congressional representation in Washington.  Austin is big enough to have 7/8 of it as one Congressional district.  In a world that made sense, the other 1/8 of Austin would be in a compact district contiguous with the main Austin district.  Likewise, Travis County is big enough to be almost two US Congressional districts and shouldn’t be split into 5 districts, effectively disenfranchising Travis voters in Washington.

The only elected officials from Travis County or Austin represented were the Travis County Commissioners who registered opposition to the US Congressional map splitting Travis County into 5 US Congressional districts, each having less than 35% of the voters from the district living in Travis County.  The objection was that effectively Travis County would have no representation in the US Congress.

The maps in these bills are the interim maps that were drawn so we could have 2012 elections.  You’ll find interactive maps on the official Texas Redistricting website here: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.html

You can choose cities and choose to overlay various maps that have been submitted as well as overlay the interim maps for US Congress, Texas Senate and Texas House.

Parallel to this, court is in session in San Antonio with various minority plaintiffs on our redistricting vis a vis the Voting Rights Act.

House Hearings
The House will be having hearings on the companion bills HB1, HB2, HB3 and HB4 tomorrow, Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, both days at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, E1.004, opposite the cafeteria.

I would urge those who can to attend the hearings and record your opposition to these bills.  They disenfranchise the minority vote and they disenfranchise Austin and Travis County.  To that end,  I’ve reached out to a number of our City Council members and Texas House Reps from Austin and our Austin/Travis Senator Kirk Watson to please come to the hearings and get on record with their voice on this significant issue for the area.

Video of the hearing is at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchives/ramav.php?ram=00006247

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pants on fireAccording to PolitiFact Texas, State Representative Wayne Smith’s pants are on fire.  PolitiFact Texas recently analyzed a statement regarding global climate change by Mr. Smith, a Republican from Baytown.

During floor discussion of his greenhouse gas permitting bill, HB 788, he said, “Science has not shown greenhouse gases to be a problem.”  Then Smith went on to say, “There’s no need to regulate greenhouse gases.”  Well, Politifact Texas disagreed.  They throughly researched Mr. Smith’s statements and found them to be totally false, or “pants on fire” as they put it.

Take a look at the PolitiFact Texas analysis and give Representative Smith’s office a call and tell them what you think about his inaccurate statements: (512)463-0733.

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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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Just before Earth Day, the House of Representatives once again demonstrated its commitment to protecting the fossil fuel industries that fund many of the members campaigns instead of protecting the people of our state from the devastating impacts of climate change by passing HB 788. The bill requires the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to permit greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change, but would remove the agency’s authority to limit such emissions.

You might wonder “what’s the point?”  The point is to take control of greenhouse gas permitting for Texas facilities from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and place it in the hands of our state environmental agency – which has a much cozier relationship with industry.  While EPA may ultimately prefer that states take responsibility for such permitting, we hope they wouldn’t support such a ineffective system as is proposed in HB 788.

Adding insult to injury, the author of the bill, Representative Wayne Smith, took advantage of the opportunity to spread misinformation.  Smith stated, “…the terms ‘climate change’ and ‘global warming’ are based on an unfounded science,” claiming this language was struck to remove the politics from the bill.  His remarks epitomizes a legislature that continues to threaten the health and safety of the people it should protect through weakened environmental regulations.

In fact, removing language which has been in Texas’ Health and Safety Code for 22 years which gives TCEQ the authority to limit greenhouse gases put the politics in the bill and took the science out of it.  Governor Rick Perry is an avid climate change denier and may have influenced the drafting of HB 788.

This type of misinformation does a disservice to Texas citizens who must endure the harmful impacts of climate change, such as drought, wildfires, sea-level rise and more volatile weather patterns. These changes have already cost our state billions of dollars and numerous lives.  Climate change is happening now and given the big jump in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions last year, we’re probably in for more harmful impacts than many predicted just a few years ago.

Image

This graph compares increasing CO2 levels (dark line) to increasing average global temperature over the last century (blue and red bars).

Although our efforts to stop or amend HB 788 in the Texas House were unsuccessful and it was disheartening to hear Representative Smith’s comments, Earth Day brought a refocusing on facts.

The Committee on International Trade and Intergovernmental Affairs held a hearing on Global Climate Change and Trade.  Attendance was sparse in the audience, but a stellar line-up of scientists, delegates, and business representatives took the witness stand to testify on the fact of climate change.

HB788 was mentioned in anonymous fashion as a bad greenhouse gas bill on several occasions.  But, the most glaring comments were directed at Texas’ lack of policy to address climate change.  Cynthia Connor, the Resource Security Policy Adviser for the British Consulate General in Houston spoke in serious tones.  Her message was that Texas has a responsibility to adopt climate change policies to protect $20 billion in Texas investments by UK-owned business, which are responsible for  70,000 jobs.

Almost all of the witnesses addressed Texas’ policy of climate change denial.  To their credit, most of the Representatives on the committee asked questions to confirm the scientific findings, how climate change affects Texas, and how our climate change policies compare to the rest of the modernized world.  The general consensus is that Texas lags far behind the rest of the world.  Texas fails to acknowledge the potential harms of climate change and ignores its responsibility to lead the nation in ethical energy policies as the top producer of oil and natural gas.

While these weren’t messages of hope, at least they were based in scientific facts and observations.  At least for a brief time, science was recognized in our state capitol.

We must each do what we can to reduce our personal impact and we must convince our elected officials that the time for climate change denial is over.

HB 788 is now being considered in the Texas Senate.

Email your Texas state senator to oppose HB 788 and protect Texas’ climate, economy and people.

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NRC Says NINA Doesn’t Meet Their Requirements

STP US vs Foreign OwnershipOn Tuesday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told judges overseeing the licensing case for two proposed South Texas Project reactors that the applicant (NINA) is subject to foreign ownership control or domination requirements and does not meet the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act in this regard. This will help licensing opponents in the hearing that is anticipated this fall.

“This NRC notice is great for us as opponents of two proposed reactors at the South Texas Project,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED Coalition, a group that has intervened in the licensing process, along with the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy and Public Citizen. “We hope that we’ll soon see clean, safe energy developed in Texas instead of dangerous nuclear power. We must prevent Fukushima style disasters from happening here.”

“Federal law is clear that foreign controlled corporations are not eligible to apply for a license to build and operate nuclear power plants. The evidence is that Toshiba is in control of the project and this precludes obtaining an NRC license for South Texas Project 3 & 4,” said Brett Jarmer, an attorney also representing the intervenors.

“Foreign investment in U.S nuclear projects is not per se prohibited; but Toshiba is paying all the bills for the STP 3 & 4 project. This makes it difficult to accept that Toshiba doesn’t control the project,” said Robert Eye.

Toshiba North America Engineering, or TANE, will assume exclusive, principal funding authority for the project, but they are a wholly owned subsidiary of Toshiba America, Inc, a Japanese corporation. Opponents contend that this makes them ineligible for licensing.

“National security and safety concerns justify NRC’s limits on foreign ownership and control of nuclear reactors,” said Karen Hadden, Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “What if a foreign company was careless in running a U.S. reactor? International allegiances are known to shift. Our own reactors could become a weapon to be turned against us in the future and be used to threaten civilians in a war against the U.S. The NRC is right to protect against this possibility.”

“Even if the reactors are operated by the South Texas Nuclear Operating Company, they will get their orders from foreign owners. What if their concerns are more about cost-cutting and less about safety?” asked Susan Dancer, President of the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. “Japanese investors would have us believe that they can come to America and safely build, own and operate nuclear plants, and that we should not concern ourselves with passé laws and regulations, but the recent Fukushima disaster has demonstrated the flawed Japanese model of nuclear safety and the lack of protection afforded the Japanese people. In such an inherently dangerous industry, the American people deserve protection through federal law, including that our nuclear reactors are controlled by the people most concerned about our country: fellow Americans.”

“Foreign Ownership, Control or Domination policy is spelled out in the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) of 1954,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.  “In Section 103d it says that no license may be issued to an alien or any corporation or other entity if the Commission knows or has reason to believe it is owned, controlled, or dominated by an alien, a foreign corporation, or a foreign government.”

The NRC interprets this to mean that these entities are not eligible to apply for and obtain a license. According to Commission guidance, an entity is under foreign ownership, control, or domination “whenever a foreign interest has the ‘power,’ direct or indirect, whether or not exercised, to direct or decide matters affecting the management or operations of the applicant.” There is no set percentage point cut-off point used to determine foreign ownership. The factors that are considered include:

  • The extent of foreign ownership
  • Whether the foreign entity operates the reactors
  • Whether there are interlocking directors and officers
  • Whether there is access to restricted data
  • Details of ownership of the foreign parent company.

For further information please visit www.NukeFreeTexas.org

To read the staff FODC determination letter, click here.

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Guest post by the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards

Texas Plant Disaster Shows Fragmented System of Oversight

The specific cause of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant disaster is still being investigated, but one thing is clear: Tragedies like this shouldn’t happen in America. Our country can and should do more to prevent these kinds of tragedies from occurring, and businesses must be required to develop safety and emergency plans, said the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards (CSS), an alliance of groups working to protect and strengthen public protections. The victims of the tragedy at the West, Texas, fertilizer facility will be honored today in a memorial service in Waco, which President Barack Obama is scheduled to attend.

The fire and explosion last Wednesday at the West Fertilizer Company killed at least 15 people and injured more than 200. It demolished up to 80 homes and damaged other buildings nearby, including an apartment complex, a middle school and a nursing home.

“You’d like to think something like this could never happen, that there’d be tight oversight by some agency, but that’s not how it looks,” said Peg Seminario, director of Safety and Health for the AFL-CIO. “In reality, the regulation and oversight systems are often fragmented, so a small but potentially hazardous facility like this one in Texas can get what appears to be little scrutiny. There’s a lot we don’t know yet about what happened, but we do know there are gaps in the regulation and oversight systems. The president should provide leadership in coordinating the investigation and response from federal and state agencies.”

West Fertilizer filed an emergency response plan update in 2011 with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listing anhydrous ammonia on site, but did not indicate there was a risk of fire or explosion at the plant. And no one can explain the enormous quantity of ammonium nitrate (the substance used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995) that was on site but unreported to the Department of Homeland Security.

Local firemen and volunteers who rushed toward the facility represented the majority of the deaths from the incident, indicating that first responders may have been unprepared for the dangers of explosion. But the company was supposed to have a risk management plan developed and shared with local first responders. The law requiring such a plan – the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 – was passed in response to earlier tragedies.

Almost 10,000 facilities across the United States are storing or handling anhydrous ammonia, according to the Center for Effective Government’s RTK NET (www.rtknet.org). There is currently no way to determine whether these facilities have up-to-date risk management plans, and whether these plans have been shared with plant employees, residents of the surrounding community and local emergency personnel. The EPA does not require facilities to include ammonium nitrate in their risk management plans.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last inspected the West facility in 1985. But OSHA is generally only able to inspect facilities with fewer than 10 employees in response to a complaint or incident, and in 2011, the West plant reported only seven employees. Small facilities like this one scattered throughout the nation are “regulated” by a system rife with gaps in oversight, limited enforcement and unclear rules.

Loopholes that allow lapses in health and safety standards must be closed if we’re going to avoid future tragedies. Companies have to be required to create and register emergency plans and share this information with emergency personnel and the communities in which they operate.  And oversight agencies must have staff and resources to ensure this happens.

“As we mourn the human losses West has had to endure and grieve for the courageous people who rushed in to help, let’s commit ourselves to creating a system that prevents other communities from having to experience similar events,” said Katherine McFate, president and CEO of the Center for Effective Government and a CSS co-chair. “That would be a most fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in West, Texas, and other industrial accidents across the country.”

diamond line

The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards is an alliance of consumer, small business, labor, scientific, research, good government, faith, community, health, environmental, and public interest groups, as well as concerned individuals, joined in the belief that our country’s system of regulatory safeguards provides a stable framework that secures our quality of life and paves the way for a sound economy that benefits us all. For more information about the coalition, see: http://www.sensiblesafeguards.org/about_us

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Julia Trigg Crawford, a Texas landowner fighting a legal battle with TransCanada over the rights to her family’s farm, will be in Washington on Thursday to testify in front of the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice during a hearing on the Private Property Rights Protection Act. Ms. Crawford will be discussing her personal experience with the use of eminent domain by a foreign company, as it is being used by the Keystone XL pipeline.

The bill filed in the 112th Congress as H.R.1433 can be read here.

The hearing will begin at 9am ET on Thursday and may be covered on C-Span in case you want to catch Julia’s testimony.

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Arkansas Spill Points to Problems With Diluted Bitumen Crude Transport Through Aging, Repurposed Pipelines; Tar Sands Crude Poses a Threat to Texas Drinking Water, Home, and Public Health

The recent Good Friday tar sands crude spill in an Arkansas neighborhood and an earlier catastrophic spill in Michigan highlight the dangers of transporting large volumes of tar sands crude into the United States through aging pipelines, warn Public Citizen and others.

ExxonMobil Corp. is still cleaning up thousands of barrels of Canadian tar sands crude spilled from the aging Pegasus pipeline near Little Rock, Ark. Michigan residents are still dealing with the fallout from a devastating pipeline rupture in 2010.

“Texas not only has the same 65-year-old Pegasus pipeline coursing through the state but also has the 34-year-old Seaway line, both slated to carry Canadian tar sands or diluted bitumen (Dilbit) crude,” said Rita Beving, Public Citizen consultant.

The Pegasus and Seaway pipelines travel within a few miles of medical facilities, schools, churches and community subdivisions. Both pipelines cross tributaries and are within a few miles or underneath existing water supplies for many Texas cities (See Map of Pegasus Pipeline route through Texas and affected communities and List of affected communities along the Seaway Pipeline route through Texas). The Seaway passes near Dallas, and is slated to carry more tar sands crude than the combined pipeline segments of Keystone XL, up to 850,000 barrels per day.

Not unlike other tar sands spills, the Pegasus pipeline spill near Little Rock forced the evacuation of people from dozens of homes. In 2010, the largest onshore spill in U.S. history occurred in Michigan, where a pipeline break on a 43-year-old pipeline spewed tar sands into the Kalamazoo River. This Enbridge Lakehead B spill resulted in residents being evacuated up to six miles away, as high levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide became airborne and sickened local residents. More than 1.1 million gallons of tar sands or dilbit spilled into the river and traveled more than 35 miles along the waterway. Almost three years and $850 million later, the problematic spill is still not cleaned up, and Enbridge has now been ordered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to dredge the river.

Children living near the Michigan spill reported cases of vomiting, upset stomach, shortness of breath, lethargy, headaches, rash, eye irritation, sore throat and cough within the first week. Adults experienced similar symptoms, and pets suffered from continuous vomiting and diarrhea. The EPA established that benzene levels in the area near the spill were exponentially higher than the standard established as safe for human exposure.

Dr. Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist with experience in crude oil spills including the Exxon Valdez and the Michigan spill noted, “In Michigan, we had 16-year-olds having seizures, and adults with dizziness and symptoms of a tightening chest after the Kalamazoo spill. Now you are seeing the same thing happen in Little Rock. It could happen next in your backyard, and you may not even know a pipeline was carrying tar sands until after a spill happens, as many communities haven’t even been told that this is what’s going through the line. This can repeat itself wherever Canadian tar sands is being transported.”  (see Human health risks of exposure to tar sands)

“As we see the Michigan spill still being cleaned up today with the the long-term health effects still unknown, we can only anticipate that cities in Arkansas may face similar issues,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of the Texas office of Public Citizen. “Seeing what has now transpired in these other states, and now with both the Pegasus and Seaway pipelines in Texas carrying tar sands crude, a tar sands rupture on aging pipelines is not a matter of if, but when. These incidents beg the question to our lawmakers, ‘What are you going to do to help protect Texas from such spills?”

The Seaway line passes within one to two miles of 8 medical facilities and nursing homes, 45 schools, 56 churches and dozens of Texas communities include Rockwall, Terrell, Corsicana and Royse City, Kaufman, and Baytown. Seaway crosses near tributaries of Lake Lavon, Cedar Creek Reservoir and beneath Richland Chambers Lake – all major water supplies for Dallas and Ft. Worth.

The Pegasus line crosses into Texas northeast of Dekalb and travels within a couple miles of more than 29 Texas communities including Mt. Pleasant, Mt. Vernon, Winnsboro, Canton, Navarro, Polk and Livingston. Upon initial analysis, at least 16 schools and 12 medical facilities are within one to two miles of Pegasus. More than 14 lakes including Lake Cypress Springs, Bob Sandlin, Lake Fork, Cedar Creek Reservoir, Lake Halbert, and five tributaries of Lake Livingston are also crossed by the pipeline.  Some of these water supplies serve as drinking water sources and are favorite recreational areas for sportsmen.

Documentary filmmakers, Elliott Gilbert,II and Joe Capps, run into a cleanup crew in Mayflower, AR.

Documentary filmmakers, Elliott Gilbert,II and Joe Capps, run into a cleanup crew in Mayflower, AR.

Elliott Gilbert, a Dallas documentary filmmaker, and his assistant Joe Capps, rushed to the Arkansas spill site after it was discovered. Both commented to Public Citizen about visiting an Arkansas elementary school where they interviewed the principal, who had sent children home due to dizziness, nausea and vomiting. The school was within a half mile of the Pegasus spill.

“After filming and hearing from the school principal and the residents in Arkansas, it definitely gives me pause as to what could happen with communities near Dallas should our area encounter such a spill,” Gilbert said. “I have a young daughter. I shudder to think that could happen near her school.”

As the proposed Keystone XL northern segment awaits approval from the U.S. State Department and the southern segment is now being constructed in East Texas, many worry that repurposed pipelines carrying tar sands are the wave of the future.

“Why should pipeline companies apply for permits and go through tedious environmental impact statements when you can repurpose an old pipeline, with little, if any, environmental scrutiny from a state agency and with little resistance from landowners who already have an existing line in the ground,” asked Beving. “These pipeline companies that are carrying Canadian tar sands are in a race to get lucrative shipping contracts with Texas refineries. Why not get your product to market the easy way with an old repurposed pipeline instead of undergoing permits and review by applying for a new construction permit?”

Beving notes that some companies, such as Enbridge, are twinning or adding additional lines to existing ones as they are doing with the existing Seaway pipeline. “Using existing pipelines and then twinning them is like building your own tar sands superhighway, an interstate for crude oil that you can expand at will with built-in condemnation rights. But this product is more toxic and problematic to clean up,” she said.

Tar sands are mined and then diluted with natural gas condensate and a host of toxic chemicals, according to Chris Wilson, a chemical engineer who has consulted for Public Citizen. Tar sands or dilbit is up to 70 times more viscous, 20 times more sulfuric and 10 times more acidic than conventional crude.

A shot of tar sands from the Arkansas spill pumped into a containment pond

A shot of tar sands from the Arkansas spill pumped into a containment pond.

“Canadian tar sands are not your granddaddy’s West Texas crude,” Wilson said. “It is transported from Canada in a more ‘raw’ form than other forms of oil, and that is what makes it more deadly and more problematic to clean up.”

Added Ed Parten, executive director and political liaison of Texas Black Bass Unlimited, “Lake Fork is the ultimate sportsmen’s fishing destination, known throughout Texas and the world for its premier bass fishing. It is my understanding that Lake Fork was built over this pipeline. Based on what we know with the Michigan tar sands spill, if this pipeline ruptures, it not only will destroy a valuable water supply, but also will devastate this great recreational resource known to fishermen across the country.”

“Texas lawmakers are debating pipeline safety standards for other types of pipelines during this session,” Smith said. “Are they asking the right questions to protect Texans from tar sands? Do they understand the urgency to act now to protect Texas before we have a tar sands spill here? And finally, do they have the political will to enact legislation to protect our state? We need proper notice, disclosure, filing of emergency response plans before operations begin, and a Texas liability fund to protect our state, since these companies are exempt from paying into the U.S. Spill Liability Fund.”

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It wouldn’t be a Texas legislative session without some truly backwards bills.  Today we have House Bill 2026 by freshman Representative Sanford of Collin county that would eliminate our state renewable energy goals.

BeachWindIn 1999, the state of Texas made a commitment to renewable energy in the form of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS).  That decision played a major role in spurring the development of the wind industry in Texas.

We have now exceeded the renewable energy goals established in the 2005 update to the RPS and Texas has more wind energy capacity than any other state.[1]  On the surface that may seem to indicate that the RPS has been 100% successful and is no longer needed, but that isn’t the case.

One of the major reasons for establishing the RPS was to encourage diversification of our energy sources, which ultimately makes us more resilient to physical and economic forces that can impact the availability and price of energy sources.  While wind energy has increased from zero percent when the RPS was first established to around ten percent today, other renewable energy sources are still largely absent from our energy portfolio.

With more solar energy potential than any other state, Texas should be the center point of the solar industry as well.[2]  Instead we are lagging behind states with far less solar resources, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania,[3] and are paying the price in missed opportunities for job growth and new generation capacity that can produce during peak demand.

Solar companies invest in California and other states, because smart policies created attractive markets in those places.  California has 1,505 solar companies compared to Texas’ 260. Even New Jersey has more, with 382.[4] Texas should be doing more, not less to attract solar businesses to our state.

SolarInstallProjections showing that we won’t have enough electricity to meet demand by 2020.[5]  The maximum wholesale price of electricity has been set to triple by 2015, without even determining what the cost to consumers will be.  There have been workshops and meetings to consider the prospect of implementing a capacity market in Texas, which would raise costs even more.  But little time has been spent considering simpler, cheaper solutions such as expanding efficiency and demand response (where customers get paid to reduce there energy usage for short periods of time when demand is high) and getting more solar capacity built in Texas.  Solar is most productive when we need it the most – on hot, sunny afternoons.

The RPS should be retooled to focus on solar and other renewable energy resources that are most capable of producing during peak demand.  Millions of dollars could be saved in the wholesale electric market if we had more solar panels installed.[6]

Solar, like wind, also has the benefit of needing very little water to operate.  Solar photovoltaic (PV) installations need an occasional cleaning to keep performance high, but the amount of water need is minimal in comparison to fossil fuel options.  Coal-fired generators need billions of gallons of water to operate each year[7] and while natural gas-fired generations consume less water than coal-fired generators, they still use more than solar, even without accounting for the millions of gallons of water used to extract the gas with hydraulic fracturing.[8]  Including more renewable energy in our portfolio will make our electric grid less vulnerable to drought[9] and will free up water supplies that are desperately needed for human consumption and agriculture.

Abandoning the RPS now would send a terrible signal to renewable energy companies that are deciding where to establish their businesses.  Our state made a commitment that isn’t set to expire until 2025 at the earliest.  There is no good reason to abandon the policy now.  We should be moving in the opposite direction of what is proposed in HB 2026.  Instead of giving up on a policy that has been successful, we should be looking at ways to build on that success and benefit our state.


[1] AWEA. “Wind Energy Facts: Texas.” Oct 2012. http://www.awea.org/learnabout/publications/factsheets/upload/3Q-12-Texas.pdf.

[2] NREL. “U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS Based Analysis.” July, 2012. Pg. 10-13. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy12osti/51946.pdf.

[3] SEIA. Solar Industry Data. http://www.seia.org/research-resources/solar-industry-data#state_rankings.

[4] SEIA. State Solar Policy. http://www.seia.org/policy/state-solar-policy.

[5] “Report on the Capacity, Demand, and Reserves in the ERCOT Region.” Dec 2012. Pg 8. http://www.ercot.com/content/news/presentations/2012/CapacityDemandandReservesReport_Winter_2012_Final.pdf.

[6] Weiss, Jurgen, Judy Chang and Onur Aydin. “The Potential Impact of Solar PV on Electricity Markets in Texas.” The Brattle Group.  June 19, 2012. http://www.seia.org/sites/default/files/brattlegrouptexasstudy6-19-12-120619081828-phpapp01.pdf.

[7] “Environmental impacts of coal power: water use” Union of Concerned Scientists http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02b.html

[8] http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/energy-and-water-use/water-energy-electricity-natural-gas.html

[9] Wu, M. and M. J. Peng.  “Developing a Tool to Estimate Water Use in Electric Power Generation in the United States.” Argonne National Laboratory – U.S. Department of Energy. http://greet.es.anl.gov/publication-watertool.

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The House Energy Resources Committee is scheduled to hear Representative Dennis Bonnen’s bill, HB 2166, relating to the continuation, functions, and name of the Railroad Commission of Texas; providing for the imposition of fees, the repeal of provisions for the suspension of the collection of fees, and the elimination of a fee.

During the 81st interim session, the Texas Railroad Commission underwent a review by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission.  During the 82nd Legislative session, the legislature failed to pass a bill reauthorizing the continuation of the Commission and instead added it to the ombudsman bill that extends an agency temporarily when it fails to get sunset legislation passed.  Now that bill is starting to move through the 83rd legislature and the first hearing is scheduled on Wednesday, March 27th starting at 2pm or upon final adjournment or recess of the House in John H. Reagan building on 15th Street between Colorado Street and Congress Avenue in room 120 (JHR 120).

To read the entire bill, click here.

We will keep you posted on this bill as it moves forward.

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