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Archive for December, 2010

UPDATE:  Hope you’ve been keeping an eye on this, but just needed to point out there have been major developments on this which make this post now completely false.  We don’t believe in just dumping things down the memory hole here, but do believe in making sure we get things right.  The updates are all posted here, so please keep your eyes on TexasVox for more updates on this.  Original story:

 

We’re still waiting for the final tally to come in, but it looks like through your efforts over 4,000 comments (probably closer to 5,000 or 6,000 with all of the other comments) were delivered into the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, despite it being over the holidays.  We’ve been working furiously on this issue the past few weeks, and it’s paid off.

And now, a judge has ordered a halt to the upcoming meeting of the Compact Commission, putting the brakes on discussion of the importation rule.

Stay here for an update, but huge thanks to everyone who submitted a comment and worked so hard on this, especially our friends at CREDO Action who got so many of the comments in!!  Special thanks to Sierra Club for their hard work on this as well.

Let’s keep this crazy train rolling into 2011 and make our new year nuke-waste free.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: We want to thank the TPA for sharing their roundup every week.  We may not agree with every story they put up (and some of them are more partisan and political than others or what we normally write about), but the content is always interesting and entertaining and a good snapshot of what went on during the week. We want to give a special shout out to the story by TXSharon about fracking this week featured in this week’s roundup.  And, of course, a HUGE thanks, as always, to Charles Kuffner over at Off theKuff for putting this together every week.  ~~~~Andy

News Roundup

The Texas Progressive Alliance hopes Santa Claus was good to you as it delivers the last blog roundup for 2010.

Bay Area Houston notices that Death Panels are starting in Jan.

Off the Kuff took a look at the election contest that was filed in HD48.

Harold at Letters From Texas told a little Christmas story from his childhood, to (unsuccessfully) prove that he’s not a scrooge.

It seems the EPA and Big Gas agree on something: Hydraulic fracturing causes gas to penetrate into the water zone! TXsharon caught Big Gas shooting themselves in the foot and exposed it on Bluedaze: DRILLING REFORM FOR TEXAS.

WhosPlayin has mostly been quiet over the holiday, but is following how one gas driller, Titan Operating has legal battles going on in two adjacent cities: Flower Mound, and Lewisville.

Over at TexasKaos, lightseeker talks about a recent story out of New Mexico. He asks a number of questions about abortion, choice and reality. Between the warring camps and what real people face there is an enormous gulf. See how you would answer his questions here: Abortion, Choices, and Compassion.

Neil at Texas Liberal wrote about federal money being used to improve the Galveston Seawall. Galveston County voted Republican in 2010. Where are bake sales to raise the needed funds to improve the Seawall and to get the Feds out of Galveston County? Where are the citizen volunteers doing the work themselves? Where are the committed liberty loving citizens of Galveston County living up all the talk of self-reliance and local governance?

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UPDATED: Thanks to everyone who commented!  We’ll have a blog wrapup/ news release ASAP.

VIDEO FROM OUR PRESS CONFERENCE !

And check our flikr photostream here on the blog for non moving pictures from this morning, if that’s more your thing.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled snark, already in progress. 

ORIGINAL POST:

Supervillain Harold Simmons sitting on a pile of radioactive waste

Bond Supervillain and sometimes Grinch Harold Simmons, picture from D magazine

This morning when I woke up my precious 2 year old son, he asked if I could sing him “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch“, and while I was singing and described the Grinch’s moldy, garlicky, spider-infested brain, heart, and soul, I couldn’t stop thinking of Dallas Billionaire Harold Simmons and the unelected bureacrats who decided the holidays were the perfect time to try to permit nuclear waste coming to Texas.  And while I wouldn’t normally touch them with a 39 1/2 foot pole, touch we must.

Whatever your plans for the holidays — putting up decorations, sending cards to friends and family, buying gifts and a much-needed vacation– I’m sure they did not include telling an obscure state commission you don’t want Texas to become the nation’s radioactive waste dump.  But more than any figgy pudding, that is what we must bring, and bring it right here!

Wait… you’re saying you weren’t planning to closely read and comment on a proposed rule that would put a big ole “for sale” sign on our state for anyone with unwanted radioactive waste?

Well that’s exactly what Michael Ford, the governor’s appointed (i.e. unelected) chairman of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (i.e. radioactive waste czar), is counting on.

At a meeting announced just hours after the November polls had closed and election winners and losers had been announced, the TLLRWDCC (I know, it’s a mouthful even abbreviated) voted 5-2 to repost a rule that would allow out-of-state radioactive waste generators – primarily nuclear power plants on the coasts and in the midwest – to send  their waste here.

Worse still, the TLLRWDCC managed to post the rule the day after Thanksgiving, ensuring that media and public attention would be minimal. The posting started a 30 day comment period during which the public can let the TLLRWDCC know how they feel about it. So let’s run the numbers and… oh, fabulous, comments are due the day after Christmas! Happy holidays, indeed!

Ford brought up this bad idea last summer, but polls showed a majority of Texans didn’t like the proposal.  Bill White made it an election issue, accusing Governor Perry of making the state a radioactive waste dump to benefit his donor.  So Perry’s Waste Czar pulled the proposal, waiting until day after the election to announce that the process would move forward once more.

But announcing a meeting the day after the election with just 10-days notice for people to travel to Midland (where the capitol press would be unlikely to follow), and then posting the rule itself such that the comment period would meet the literal definition of “the holidays” was only the beginning for Mr. Ford.

A commissioner named Bob Gregory who, like Ford, was appointed by Governor Perry asked that the comment period on this rule be extended to 90 days since a 30 day comment period would transpire during the holidays when most people are too busy to pay much attention to matters of civic engagement. Mr. Ford and 4 other members of the TLLRWDCC voted against Mr. Gregory’s very reasonable solution for this very obvious problem.

The bottom line is that Mr. Ford and several of the commissioners are afraid of public scrutiny. Last spring they received over 2,000 comments from Texans opposed to the rule. That was before the issue made the front pages of newspapers all across the state, so they have good reason to be afraid.

During the holidays many Americans take time to be with family, to exercise their generosity, and to reflect on all they have to be grateful for. Mr. Ford and 4 of the other commissioners have decided to cynically use this to keep the public out of the process on this enormously important matter.

And while you’re getting dumped on, someone will get a really nice Christmas gift this year.

This smacks of a political payback. Harold Simmons, whose company owns this dump, has spread his cash far and wide, giving Governor Perry over $1 million since 2000 (making him the governor’s 2nd largest individual donor) and funding campaigns for every member of the Texas Supreme Court among others. While Simmons gets to make billions off this waste, Texans will get the responsibility for managing it for 10,000 years and cleaning it up — Mr. Simmons’ license expires in just 15 years.

But there is hope. Send your comments to the Compact Commissioners telling them the only good radioactive waste importation rule is one that bans any waste from coming to this state unless there is a national emergency. Tell them lawmakers in Texas bargained for only Vermont and Texas waste, and that’s what the people of Texas expect. And tell them that Christmas isn’t a weapon to be wielded against the public.

The Grinch about to go down a chimney

The Grinch is likely to file a defamation suit against me for comparing him to Harold Simmons.

Please go to www.TexasNuclearSafety.org where you can learn more about this issue and submit comments to the commission, and I hope you’ll give ’em what-for because they certainly deserve it.

Keep Texas from becoming what they want it to: an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots. So, Mr. Ford, Mr. Simmons– between the three of you, I think I’d take the seasick crocodile. And the three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink. Stank! STUNK!

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Reuters carried a good story with this headline Texas, home to Big Oil takes a shine to solar power that describes the solar potential that exists, along with industry involvement and how it could be expanded here if we could just develop some statewide policy that supports it.

Too bad the commissioners at the Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC) don’t see it the same way. After spending years (literally, years– since 2005) to come up with a portion of the state’s renewable portfolio standard to deal with solar and other forms of renewables besides wind,  they finally got around to publishing a proposed rule (the 500Mw non-wind portfolio standard) for these technologies.

This effort, at best, would be best termed as abysmal.

As described by the Environmental Defense Fund in this post “The proposed rule drastically reduces the target set by the Texas Legislature in 2005 of 500 MW by the year 2015.”

Commissioner Ken Anderson  described it this way: “This is just a proposal.”  In fact, all three Commissioners stressed  that the simple act of publishing the proposed rule does not mean that the commission ever intends to implement the rule.

So it looks like the Legislature is once again going to have to take up this simple task. And give the commission direction. As they did 5 years ago. And again during last session.

Texas has lost hundreds of opportunities for solar companies to locate here–  and over 10 billion in capitol investment– because we don’t have any statewide policy in place to support what could be the biggest boom industry since they started calling the Austin the Silicon Hills (as opposed to the silicon valley).

With the Legislature having its hands full with a huge budget shortfall, redistricting and their usual work on top of it, let’s hope they can find time to  send a clear message to the PUC that this needs to be done (as they were instructed in 2005) and it needs to be done now before more opportunities slip away.

We need  a dramatically increased solar program.  More than anything, we need the jobs, we need the energy, we have the people and we have plenty of sunshine.  We just need a little good policy.

With ICF International’s John Blaney stateing “We’re continuing to expect renewable capacity to grow rapidly in the near term, but it slows briefly after the incentives expire. Despite the recent market volatility – the huge buildup in 2009 and the slowdown in 2010 — we project that the U.S. will install just over 51 gigawatts of renewables between 2011 and 2016 and 86 gigawatts between 2017 and 2030″, is Texas really going to miss out on this energy boom ?

With Austin and San Antonio making strides, the announcement of the ground breaking by RRE Austin on their solar farm and SunPower looking to open an office in Austin its just the tip of what could be a clean tech explosion for Texas.

Send some sunshine our way.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Need a new refrigerator, washing machine, dish washer, water heater, air conditioner or heat pump? The the state has a deal for you.

Texas has started another round of its energy efficient appliance rebate program. As we covered in a previous blog post this is a big, sweet deal of a rebate for new energy star appliances. But because of the problems with the way the last program was run, this time it’s a mail-in rebate.

Not only will you save dollars on a new appliance, you will save money for the life of the appliance because it will use less energy and water than the old one. They even give you some extra cash if you recycle the old one so it doesn’t end up in a landfill or wasting energy in somebody’s garage somewhere.

A benefit of the federal stimulus package direct to your wallet just in time for Christmas shopping.  Because, you know– there’s nothing you want in your stocking more than a new HVAC system or fridge, right?  RIGHT?  : )

Here are the details from the State Comptroller’s office on how the program works:

Texas Appliance Mail-In Rebate Program opens today! Monday, Dec. 20, 2010

Starting today, Monday, Dec. 20, 2010, Texans can purchase appliances and participate in the Texas Appliance Mail-In Rebate Program. The new $18.5 million Texas Appliance Mail-in Rebate Program is a traditional mail-in rebate program, and Texas consumers do not reserve funding for an appliance rebate. Now accepting applications! Rebates are available on a first-come, first-served basis until all funds are distributed.

Helpful Information
Please check the Eligible Appliances, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), Recycling Details and the printable resources listed below for key program information.

1.    Official Application Form for Texas Appliance Mail-In Rebate Program (PDF, 116KB)

Texans can also pick up a form at Comptroller field offices around the state. If necessary, consumers can call an automated toll-free customer information line at (855) 556-1312 to have a form mailed to their home. An application form is not required at the time of purchase, but is needed at the time of installation for disposal/recycling information.

2.     How to Apply Flyer (PDF, 187KB)

3.     Eligible Appliances Chart (PDF, 271KB)

They have added an additional 8.5 million dollars to the pool of funds left over from those that reserved funds but did not spend them, but it will be first come first served until the funds are gone.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Well, it’s official— and let the bloodbath begin.

Texas Tribune graphic of gains in congressional seats

Texas Tribune graphic of gains in congressional seats

Texas has been growing (this we knew), but by enough to mean that we will get 4 new Congressional seats.  Much of our growth has been occurring in suburbs and exurbs, and we’ve been losing relative population in rural areas, so it will be interesting to see how our Congressional and Legislative seats are reapportioned.

How these district lines will be drawn are now up to the Legislature, who will draw the maps that they, themselves, will run in.  Obviously, this creates a serious conflict of interest, as instead of having voters choose their representatives, we have representatives choosing their voters.

Some have guessed that the sudden party switch of the now-tilde-less Rep. Aaron Pena may be due to his desire to run for Congress– getting a seat at the table to carve up a custom-made Congressional seat would certainly make that tempting.  And this is exactly the kind of problem that we have when Legislators draw their own districts.

Given Texas’ troubled history with redistricting, including but not limited to the illegal redistricting plan forced through the Lege by Tom DeLay and the subsequent flight of Democratic lawmakers to Oklahoma, it is time for Texas to do the right thing and move to a system of independent redistricting.

Many states have adopted this vital reform, and Texas has considered this before, including bills in the last Legislative session by Rep. Mark Strama, a Democrat, and Senator Jeff Wentworth, a Republican.

The problem is, partisan politics is getting in the way of what is a bipartisan-supported reform measure.  Neither party wants to give up the possibility of being able to control redistricting, as Democrats believe demographic changes are moving in their favor, and Republicans think they can maintain control over a traditionally conservative state.  As to who is right and who is wrong, I don’t care.  But both parties need to be less like the partisan animals they so often can be, and more like Frodo.  (please forgive my nerd birdwalk here, but it illustrates an important point)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z58Y55XHCGI]

Frodo didn’t want to get rid of the ring of power, and it corrupted him, but he needed to get rid of it.  Unfortunately, when faced with the choice and standing at the precipice, he failed to make the right choice.  He had to have the ring forcibly taken from him, and cast into the fire.  I hate to compare “the people” to Gollum, but that’s what we have to do– bit the ring of power off of our leaders’ fingers and destroy it forever, so they can deal with more important issues, like, oh, say, $20-$25 billion dollar deficits and such.

Whatever bloodletting occurs over the upcoming redistricting fight (and there will be a fight), it ought to be accompanied by a bipartisan support for an independent, non-partisan redistricting plan.

And for a little bit more fun:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWf3iJjqYCM]

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During the final public meeting on the BP oil spill disaster, the Oil Spill Commission indicated that it would recommend reforms to address the current regime of lax safety and environmental regulations, future oil spill response, and Gulf Coast restoration. Not surprisingly, one theme surfaced that cuts across all of these areas – the need for increased local engagement and strong citizen oversight of Gulf oil and gas activities.

To that end, the Oil Spill Commission is considering recommending Gulf Coast Citizens’ Advisory Councils – an opportunity for local communities to have a role in protecting their environment and securing their livelihoods.
You can tell the Oil SPill Commission to include the creation of Gulf Coast Citizens’ Advisory Councils in their final recommendations by going to our petition site here.  Can you help make tragedies like the BP oil spill a thing of the past by making sure citizen participation is how we do things in the future?  By making sure that we are the watchdogs, we can insure that the watchdogs over our safety do not become the lapdogs of industry.

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The Texas Progressive Alliance is tracking reports of sugar plum sightings as it brings you this week’s blog roundup.

Off the Kuff reminds you that expanded gambling is still doomed in the next Legislative session.

The EPA Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order to Protect Drinking Water in Southern Parker County has spawned a media frenzy but news sources only tell part of the story. TXsharon has a short timeline of events surrounding the water contamination that should change the conversation.

Led by the so-called “professional left”, Texas Democrats locked Aaron Pena in the virtual town square stocks and hurled rotten tomatoes at him until he cried. “Call Out Aaron” Day was the social media hit of the holiday season, by all accounts (except Pena’s). See PDiddie and Brains and Eggs for details.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme wants to know how deluded you have to be to pick Dick Armey as Texan of the Year.

Neil at Texas Liberal ran the Dan Patrick family Christmas sugar cookie recipe that Mr. Patrick posted on Facebook. In addition, far-right Senator Patrick announced an update on the Tea Party caucus in the Texas Legislature. After you eat enough of the Patrick cookies loaded with butter and sugar, you can go and die because the Tea Party Caucus made sure you had no health insurance.

Mean Rachel got really pissed off at Aaron Pena.

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To make a year end contribution, click here

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President of RRE Solar at groundbreaking

RRE Solar Austin held its groundbreaking ceremony in Pflugerville yesterday. This is the first utility scale solar farm, and one of the largest photovoltaic projects in the country, to be built by the company and the first to break ground in the Austin area. Planned to produce 60Mw of solar energy when completed it will use more than 400,000 solar panels in its construction.

The project is planned to start installing panels by March of 2011 and needs the construction of a local substation to be finished before it can begin sending energy to the grid. If everything goes according to plan, this project should start producing its energy and sending into the Texas grid by the end of 2011. They worked extensively with the local community, school districts, county and the City of Austin to get this project started and will be providing solar panels to the local school districts for their use as part of this effort.

RRE Solar has plans to start developing on a second 60Mw Project located in Big Spring Texas through its subsidiary RRE Big Spring Solar .

While attending the groundbreaking I had an interesting conversation with the construction crew, who were just watching the festivities, and asked them about the project. They were glad for the work and it hadn’t occurred to them that they were part of the “green jobs” that they had  heard about. The project should employ around 250 construction jobs and the crew wants to have lots more of these projects to work on in the future.

With the Texas Legislature starting its session soon lets hope our legislators take notice and put policies in place to encourage more of these projects to be built around our state.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

RRE Solar groundbreaking first shovels

RRE Solar Austin ground breaking, green jobs

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A Texas Sunset Advisory Commission hearing, which was part of the first legislative review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in 12 years, drew hundreds of regular citizens from around the state, with most of them saying the agency had failed to protect them from pollution. Dozens of people, including doctors, school teachers, church-going grandmothers and a rabbi, who were able to stick it out until well after 5pm before the Sunset Commissioners got around to taking their testimony, asked Texas lawmakers to make the state’s environmental agency tougher on polluters.

The Legislature’s Sunset Advisory Commission evaluates and considers potential reforms at state agencies every 12 years, and its findings have the potential to lead to significant changes in the TCEQ’s operations during the legislative session that begins next month, if the Sunset Commissioners so recommends.

The Sunset commission’s staff, in response to complaints that TCEQ is too lenient on polluters, has recommended that the Legislature increase the statutory cap on penalties from $10,000 to $25,000, as well as change the way the agency calculates fines.  In fact, TCEQ agreed with the two dozen recommendations made by the Sunset commission’s staff, but TCEQ critics are asking for even more changes.  They accused the agency of being too cozy with industry and ignoring public concerns. They expressed frustration over the recent approval of air pollution permits for coal-fired power plants near Abilene and Bay City, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, even though State Office of Administrative Hearings administrative law judges recommended denying both permits.

Texas Sunset Commissioner, State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) asked TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw whether the agency has the authority to deny a permit application. Shaw said yes, and it had done so 14 percent of the time.  However, no one pursued how many had been denied in the past four years or if any of them had been for large industrial projects since TCEQ’s permitting process ranges from permits for auto repair and lube service shops to dry cleaning facilities to waste water treatment plants to billion dollar coal-fired electric plants. 

Wesley Stafford, an asthma and allergy specialist in Corpus Christi who opposes a proposed petroleum coke-fired plant in Corpus Christi because of the potential public health effects, asked lawmakers to require that one of the TCEQ commissioners be a physician to “bring more balance to the commission than we’ve seen in recent years.”   In the face of these criticisms, TCEQ Commissioner Buddy Garcia defended the agency’s performance, saying that it protects public health by “following the law”.

The Sunset staff’s 124-page analysis does not address the heated dispute between the federal government and Texas over the way the state regulates industrial air pollution that resulted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently rejecting some of the state’s permitting rules, saying they fall short of federal Clean Air Act requirements.  Texas has challenged the decision in court, even though the problems were first brought to the TCEQ’s attention shortly after the Texas rules were implemented, as far back as the Bush administration.  It is unlikely that the Sunset Commission will address these issues, and they will probably leave it to the courts to sort out that conflict.  But the Sunset Commissioners do have the opportunity to address the issues put to them by the citizen’s of Texas who pleaded with them yesterday for change.  Their recommendations will be released on January 11th, the day the 82nd legislature convenes.

Cross your fingers and hope they take up that mantle.

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Far from the madding crowd

It’s well after 10pm and the crowd at the Sunset Advisory Commission hearing has dwindled, including the commisioners.  Of the 12 commissioners, I’m only seeing five still on the dias and as the camera periodically pans the audience, one can see that it has thinned considerably since this morning. 

Here at Armadillo Christmas Bazaar Jimmy LaFavre is winding down his final set, and so am I.  Look for updates from folks who were at the hearing (and could actually hear the testimony) tomorrow. 

The Commission will announce their decisions on January 11, 2011, the first day of the Texas 82nd legislature.  We will see then what they do with all the input they have received from agency staff, industry, ordinary citizens and the environmental community.

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Here I am at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar people watching Christmas shoppers (for those readers not  from Austin, the Armadillo Bazaar is an annual artist Christmas venue which has been happening in our fair city for 30+ years and runs every day the two weeks before Christmas – yes they are here until 11pm on Christmas eve for those last minute shoppers).  I’m talking to people  about workplace giving and Texas environmental organizations while Jimmy LaFavre is performing about 300 feet away from me. 

At the same time. I’m streaming the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission hearing, which is finally getting around to TCEQ.   I can’t hear anything that is being said (what with that Jimmy Lafavre concert going on in the background), but I keep seeing folks, who showed up at 8:30 this morning ready to testify, finally getting to say their piece.  Many of them have a 3 to 8 hour drive home ahead of them.  All I can say is “Bless their hearts”, they are, in fact, the stuff of which Texas is made and I admire them greatly.

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pecan pie

It would be a shame to have to forego the Thanksgiving pecan pie because of air pollution - photo via Flickr

As the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission’s hearing on TxDOT, TxRRC and TCEQ continues, visiting citizens have been sharing their stories with us.  Many of them are here to testify about issues they have had with TCEQ, and we hope the commission will move the hearing along so that those who have traveled 3 to 8 hours to get to the hearing will have the opportunity to have their time at the mic. 

One of folks who came in from Victoria, TX was telling us about the impact that the Coleto Creek coal-fired plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions have been having on the  trees in their area – including his pecan trees.  We have been hearing similar stories from pecan growers in other parts of the state whose pecan groves are located near other coal-fired power plants and showing signs of decline. 

This Victorican was kind enough to give us a copy of a letter that he sent to TCEQ last week, detailing his ongoing saga of trying to elicit support, from the agency charged with regulating air quality issues in the state, in protecting his property from pollution.  Because this is a public forum, we’ve “redacted” his personal information. 

Click here to read Charlie’s letter.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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If you want to watch the hearing on streaming video, click here.  The hearing is being held at the Texas Capitol, hearing room E1.036 (scroll down to Video Broadcast #8).

The Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT) is working with numerous concerned citizens who have come in from all over the state – Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Victoria, Abilene, El Paso and other smaller communities – to testify on improvements they think need to be made at the Railroad Commission and the TCEQ. 

Thank you to these everyday citizens who have taken time out of their lives to ask the state to do a better job of protecting all Texans from pollution.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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