Archive for February, 2011

Melissa Leo drops the F-bomb at the OscarsThe Texas Progressive Alliance would like to thank the Academy for this week’s blog roundup.

Off the Kuff published an interview with Chris Barbic, founder and CEO of the YES Prep charter schools, which included a discussion of what the looming budget cuts will do to charter schools.

Doing My Part For The Left is having a greeting card event. Refinish69 thinks it is time to Send Republican Senators and Representatives a Greeting Card to thank them for the work they are doing.

WCNews at Eye On Williamson points out that the he GOP’s wish is coming true – the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, Plutocracy, or the 30 year class war on working and middle class Americans.

Nat-Wu analyzes the Tucson shootings and the guns on campus bill before the Texas legislature.

From Bay Area Houston: “Teabaggers are the most dangerous, ignorant, disrespectful bunch of people on the planet.”

No one fails quite like Mucous.

The Texas Cloverleaf speaks out against concealed firearms on Texas campuses.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme calls out the Dallas Morning News for siding with the Koch brothers against hard working people.

Lightseeker over at TexasKaos thinks he knows what game the Republicans are playing at and what the Democrats are trying in reply. Check out Shock and Awe and The Democratic Strategy Going Forward.

Redistricting endangers several Texas House representatives, Democratic as well as Republican. The mapmakers may need long knives instead of sharpened pencils (since we can all do maps online now). PDiddie at Brains and Eggs summarizes the opening of “negotiations”.

Neil at Texas Liberal discussed the fact that he will soon be taking an airplane trip.

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On March 15th, Texans from all corners of the state will be in Austin, visiting our elected officials and letting them know that we want them to protect our land, our water, and our health. Sign up now! (more…)

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Texas Barnett Shale gas drilling rig near Alva...

Image via Wikipedia

I hope you’re going to have a great Oscar night, and while we may all have our favorites for best picture (True Grit was my favorite, but I think The Social Network and The King’s Speech are also very deserving), this year we have one of the most important issues of our time as the subject of one of the nominees for best documentary.

In Gasland, director Josh Fox travels across America to learn about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a method to drill for natural gas. Despite the rhetoric about how clean natural gas is compared to other fossil fuels (kind of like saying it’s the least ugly stepsister), fracking is causing major problems across the US.

One of our favorite local bloggers in Texas, TXSharon, has been documenting these same problems living on top of the Barnett Shale. We don’t have a clip we can embed from Gasland, but I’ll use this as a placeholder:

Fox’s filmmaking is beautiful, frightening, humorous where possible, wry, and dismally depressing all at the same time. But he educates you on this terrible problem seeping up from the ground, and he makes you a little bit hopeful that we can find ways to get energy that don’t destroy our water supplies. That don’t ruin suburban neighborhoods or productive farmland.

And ultimately why it should win is because it’s fairly obvious the truth it is telling is far too dangerous to those who profit from fracking with our water. The natural gas industry has been on a months-long crusade to try to discredit Gasland, even going so far as to try to get it declared ineligible to receive the award, and if Hollywood bows to the pressure it will be an even worse tragedy than allowing them to censor The King’s Speech so it can get a PG-13 rating.

Also, Id like to see it win because it features my favorite EPA Regional Administrator, Dr. Al Armendariz, talking about his research about how the drilling from the Barnett Shale in suburban Ft Worth is creating more pollution than all of the cars and trucks in the Dallas/Ft Worth area combined. It also features Cal Tillman, the mayor of the little town of Dish, TX, who recently sold his home in Dish because of health problems his family was having from the drilling. He made the new buyer watch Gasland before they bought the house. These real, but amazing, subjects in the documentary are folks I’m proud to rub shoulders with here in Texas.

Enjoy the Academy Awards, hopefully surrounded by some good, geeky friends and family. And even if “Exit Through the Gift Shop” wins for best documentary, make sure you see Gasland as soon as possible.

Cross-posted at BigShinyRobot.com where I occasionally blog about geeky stuff under the pseudonym CitizenBot

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The Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest civil court, will hear a controversial case over whether a company that plans to build pipeline to carry carbon dioxide and natural gas from Louisiana to site south of Houston qualifies as a “common carrier,”  giving it the power of eminent domain. That means if they want to come through your property and you don’t want to sign the offer they make on your property, they can begin condemnation procedures to just take your property for what they think it is worthAnd that just ain’t right.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments before the Texas Supreme Court on April 19th.  At issue is whether the  Jefferson County trial court ruled incorrectly when it said Denbury was a common carrier (meaning besides the company’s private, for-profit use, the line would be available for public use as well) and therefore could force private landowners to sell right-of-way so the 320-mile stretch of pipe could be built.

The appeals court upheld the trial court.

The industry is watching the case closely, and so should you, as lawmakers this session are considering emergency legislation that would strengthen the position of private property owners in eminent domain cases.  If the Supreme Court rules in the company’s favor and the legislation is passed, we could see a whole network of new pipelines snaking across areas of northeast and east Texas as natural gas companies expand their fracking projects and with a Canadian company pushing the tar sands pipeline from Western and Central Canada, down through the middle of the country on its way to crude refineries in the Houston area.  And they’ll be singing:

So Lord help the sister, who comes between me and my pipeline terminus.

To see the court documents filed in the case, click here.


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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The funding bill the House of Representatives voted in favor of is an attack on climate change solutions and climate change science. The House cuts would:

  • Prohibit the EPA from setting limits on greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, factories and refineries, among the most significant sources of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States.
  • Prohibit the EPA from collecting information about the sources where greenhouse gas pollution is coming from.
  • Eliminate funding for a Climate Service at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This program would efficiently supply scientific data and information about climate change and its impacts.
  • Slash the EPA’s total budget by about 29%.

Fortunately, both the Senate and the President still need to weigh in on the funding proposal. They must act before March 4.  Your help is needed if you want to make sure they take the climate crisis more seriously than the House of Representatives did.  Read Repower America’s summary here — and then spread the word among your friends and family.


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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The Senate is about to hear legislation pertaining to coal ash waste regulation. There is an amendment proposed to slash EPA’s funding so that they cannot enforce safeguards at coal ash waste landfills. The following is a message from our friends with Environmental Integrity Project. Please take a few moments to contact your senator and let them know you want enforcement of regulations on these very hazardous and dangerous waste sites.

Dear Friends,

Thank you for helping to influence 183 Representatives in the US House to vote against Congressman McKinley’s amendment to eliminate EPA’s funding to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste.  Eighteen Representatives were Republicans switching ranks to vote against their party’s leadership and for safe water.

Within one week we MUST defeat this amendment likely to be proposed to the budget bill (Continuing Resolution) that is brought to the floor of the Senate, or this egregious proposal to slash EPA’s funding could become a reality – leaving EPA unable to enforce basic safeguards at toxic coal ash dumps such as liners, covers or monitoring and thousands of American communities nearby in harm’s way.

Nearly a half million Americans submitted comments on the EPA’s proposed coal ash rules with a majority of them in support of safeguards.   More than a thousand concerned citizens who traveled to 8 day-long EPA hearings supported these safeguards.  Clearly, Americans have voiced their support FOR protection of our drinking water and public health by the US EPA.

Please call your Senators today and urge them to vote NO to any amendments to cut the US EPA’s authority to protect our health from toxic coal ash.
Use this link to find phone numbers for your Senators – you just need to type in your zip code: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/

1.  Tell your Senators you want them to respect the rule-making process and the comments that their constituents submitted on the EPA coal ash regulation.

2.  Tell them to let the US EPA to do its job and protect public health.

3.  Ask them if you can count on their support for basic safeguards to protect public health from toxic coal ash.

After you make your call, please let us know you’ve made the calls and what their offices said.  Send your responses to: [email protected].

Please let your US Senators know today that Americans throughout the country want to be protected – call them immediately and tell them to uphold our right to safe drinking water.

Thanks for your continuing help and please spread the word.


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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John Moritz and Patrick Graves covered the joint hearing of the House Energy Resources and Environmental Regulation committees for the Texas Energy Report, which they say continued the long-running theme at the Texas Capitol that the feds are unfairly targeting Texas industries while ignoring progress made over the decades on clean air matters.

But about a half-hour into the familiar thumping of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, two Democratic lawmakers offered a rare counter-veiling view on the on-running battle.

Representative Jessica Farrar (D-Houston)

“It’s not as rosy a picture as you are painting,” state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) told Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw, Ph.D.

Shaw had repeated his oft-state concern that the EPA’s action last year effectively outlawing Texas’ flexible permit program will kill jobs in the refining and manufacturing sectors and that the feds were ignoring Texas’ efforts to lower pollution levels.

But Farrar argued that people in her working-class district that is also home to several manufacturing facilities are often frustrated that plants operating under the flexible permit program often make changes that appear to affect emission levels without allowing for public comment.

Shaw argued that any such changes would not increase pollution because flexible permits set caps on overall emissions. Farrar argued that her constituents don’t always know that. Further, she said, coming budget cuts will likely mean less money for programs aimed at providing incentives for polluters to adopt greener policies for their facilities.

Representative Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth)

Those comments were followed by an observation from Fort Worth Democrat Lon Burnam that Republicans on the committee were suggesting that the EPA had acted in bad faith by declining an invitation to attend today’s joint hearing.

Burnam pointed out that the hearing was only called late last week, while Shaw had been given a month’s notice of an EPA hearing last year in Dallas that he decided to pass up.

Shaw acknowledged that he declined to attend, saying that he and his staff have had numerous meetings with EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz but have still been unable to resolve their difference.

“It was not an effort to snub anyone,” Shaw said. “It (the meeting) was just not a good use of our resources.”

While TCEQ decided that this public hearing was not a good use of their resources, they squandered any goodwill they had with the citizens of the DFW area who took time out of their busy schedules to attend the hearing and were probably hoping TCEQ would show up to tell them directly why they have taken the position they have.

Moritz and Graves go on to report:

It was unclear if the two committees are planning any legislative remedy to the EPA/TCEQ standoff over flexible permits and related issues, or whether Republican-controlled Legislature will wait for the outcome of court challenges the state has filed against the federal agency’s policies affecting Texas.

Representative Jim Keffer (R-Eastland)

It was clear, however, that neither Energy Resources Chairman Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) or Baytown Republican Wayne Smith, who chairs Environmental Regulation, intended the hearing to derail the state’s civil action that remains pending in the federal court system.

Representative Wayne Smith (R-Baytown)

“Tell us all you can,” Smith told Shaw as he sat down to testify, “but don’t jeopardize your case.”

Later in the hearing, Deputy Attorney General William Cobb III  gave members a blow-by-blow account of the events leading up to the state’s lawsuit against EPA. He also said the case, which is still pending in a Washington, D.C., court is moving slowly, saying the parties have not even received a briefing schedule yet.

But, added, the state is committed to continuing the battle with the feds.

“It’s a fight worth fighting,” Cobb said, who described the back-and-forth over EPA‘s rule interpretations in detail without the benefit of notes. “We’re taking every measure to oppose these rules.”


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Great news from St. Louis! Students and other activists from “Green Action” (at Washington University in St. Louis) and Missourians Organized for Reform and Empowerment (MORE) entered the Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark to disrupt a meeting of the National Coal Council – a federal advisory committee to the U.S. secretary of energy (see their extremely dramatic website here).

The meeting was to focus on carbon capture and sequestration technology, but was canceled do to the disruption and chants of “Coal is never clean” and, “Clean coal is a dirty lie.” The group was peacefully escorted out of the hotel by police.

The meeting was canceled, but members of the council stayed to enjoy the private lunch they had already ordered. I’d have a joke about that, but I’m not that funny.

See more details at Washington University’s independent newspaper: Student Life


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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So now San Antonio is sitting back watching with a knowing eye as NRG/Toshiba (formally know together as NINA) approaches the City of Austin with the hope that Austin hasn’t been paying attention to what they put San Antonio through just a year ago.

Greg Harman of the San Antonio Current provides an update to his readers:

Though the nuclear discussion in city circles has cooled dramatically since CPS Energy extracted itself from a 50-percent share in the proposed doubling of the South Texas Project nuclear complex down to a mere 7 percent, the project’s key boosters have continued scrambling to make the project as attractive as possible to the U.S. Department of Energy and — more recently — the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. To pretty-up the massively expensive project (in the course of the local debate, it shot from around $8 billion to $18 billion), NRG and Toshiba have rounded back on Austin, hoping to win a change of heart from a newer mayor and council. Years back, the city, a 16-percent partner in STP’s Units 1 and 2, voted not to partner on the expansion, citing concerns for both likely cost overruns (how prescient) and the troubling question of how to dispose of the high-level radioactive waste that is left behind.

Click here to read the whole blog post.

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In a piece by John W. Schoen, senior producer at MSNBC, he leads with:

As the turmoil in the Middle East spreads to Libya, a major oil producer, the shockwaves of Arab unrest are reverberating through the global oil supply chain – and threatening to spill over into the global economy.  Click here to read the full story.

Even if prices stabilize, the higher cost of energy comes as the global economy is already struggling to come back from the recession, with Texas just now seeming to enter that arena (as evidenced by the states’ significant budget shortfall this biennium).

You can be sure that a crisis in the oil industry will have an effect on the bills passed this session in the oil refining Mecca of the United States.  Stay tuned as Public Citizen tracks the impacts on the regulatory industry in the State over the next year.

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Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

Lawrence Lessig, Professor at Harvard Law School, is coming to Austin to speak on the corrosive influence of Money in Politics.

Lawrence Lessig, Professor at Harvard Law School, is coming to Austin to speak on the corrosive influence of Money in Politics, thanks to our good friends at the Coffee Party Austin.  Seating is limited, and having a ticket will guarantee you a seat. However, if you do not get a ticket, there will be some seats left for those no-show ticket holders. We want to fill the room, so even if you don’t get a ticket, show up and chances are you can get in.

We’ve decided to give these away in a fashion befitting both Dr. Lessig and the Coffee Party, via social media. We will give away some via our Twitter, some on our Facebook, between now and the weekend. So friend us or follow us for your chance to score some of these fabulous prizes.

If you’ve never seen a Lessig presentation, you need to.  Watch this brief clip, via Lessig’s FixCongressFirst Youtube page:

We’ll be giving tickets away several times a day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, so keep a watch on our Twitter/Facebook for your chance for guaranteed entrance to what will definitely be an amazing evening.

Professor Lessig’s presentation will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by the Quorum Report’s Harvey Kronberg, featuring (more…)

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Doyle Beneby, CPS CEO and President

Doyle Beneby, CPS CEO and President

Solar Austin is hosting a special event featuring the CEO of San Antonio’s municipal utility, Doyle Beneby of CPS.

Mr. Beneby will discuss CPS Energy’s plan to pursue affordable renewable energy. This special event will take place at Malverde (400 W. 2nd, next to City Hall) with a Reception starting at 4pm and talk from 5 to 6pm.

WHO:  CPS Energy CEO & President Doyle Beneby

WHAT:  CPS Energy: Leading San Antonio into the New Energy Economy

WHEN: Wednesday,   February 23   from 4:00 – 6:00  pm

WHERE: Malverde, 400 W. 2nd, Austin, TX (immediately NW of City Hall)

For more info: http://www.solaraustin.org/. To learn more about Doyle Beneby, click here.


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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NRG desperate for PPAsNRG Energy, Inc. posted their 2010 Full-Year and Fourth Quarter results today.  It appears that if no loan guarantees are forthcoming and the company fails to secure sufficient Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) for the STP expansion project by the third quarter of this year, NRG could make a final decision to pull the project.

For this reason, Central Texas utilities like Austin Energy, LCRA, and San Marcos are going to be lobbied heavily by NRG representatives in the coming months.  Click here to read our earlier post on NRG’s approach to Austin Energy.

A section directly from their 4th quarter report is excerpted below:

On November 29, 2010,  NINA awarded the EPC contract for the development of STP Units 3 and 4 to a restructured EPC consortium formed by Toshiba America Nuclear Energy Corporation and The Shaw Group Inc. Shaw is providing a $100 million credit facility to NINA to assist in financing STP. The credit facility will convert to equity in NINA upon the satisfaction of certain conditions including the project receiving full notice to proceed, which is expected in mid-2012. The project is presently scheduled to come online with one unit in 2016 and the second in 2017.  The project remains subject to receipt of a conditional loan guarantee from the Department of Energy and to the satisfaction of certain conditions, most notably, the arrangement of long term PPAs for a significant portion of the plant’s capacity. It is anticipated that the pace of development and pre-construction work required to meet the 2016/2017 online schedule dictates that the loan guarantee needs to be received and critical conditions satisfied in the third quarter of 2011. As a result, NRG expects to make a final decision with respect to its continued funding of STP 3&4 during the third quarter of 2011.


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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The Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) has named R.B Sloan as its new CEO. Sloan begins March 6, leaving his current job as director of utilities in Danville, VA.  He also ran the city-owned electric company for Vero Beach, Fla.

PEC, the nation’s oldest and largest co-op has been plagued by scandal and management upheaval over the past few years. Sloan will come to Pedernales just three months after longtime General Manager Bennie Fuelberg was found guilty of a money-laundering scheme.

See our earlier posts on Fuelberg’s trialconviction and sentencing.


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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Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France -Wikipedia

According to the Associated Press, France, the most nuclear-dependent country in the world, with over 75 percent of its electricity coming from nuclear reactors, recently reported incidents at 8 of their 59 reactor units.

French authorities say they are having to replace faulty metal bearings in the emergency power systems of eight nuclear plants due to signs of wear.

At the Tricastin nuclear complex, located 90 miles north of Marseille, all of the emergency diesel generators used as backups for two of the four reactors were equipped with the faulty bearings.

That incident was classified as a level 2 incident, on a scale of zero to seven, with seven being a major disaster.  At other plants the same problem was classified at level 1.

To give some perspective to a level 1 incident, in July 2008, thousands of gallons of uranium solution, containing unprocessed uranium, were accidentally released when cleaning and repair work on the containment system for a holding tank caused the tank to not function properly when filled.  The faulty containment system allowed 7,925 gallons of uranium solution to leak out of the tank, with 4,755 gallons of the solution spilling onto the ground.   Later testing showed elevated uranium levels in the nearby Gaffière and Lauzon rivers. The liquid contained about 165 pounds of un-enriched uranium which, while only slightly radioactive,  is highly toxic as a heavy metal.  Ground and surface water tests indicated that levels of radioactivity were 5% higher than the maximum rate allowed.

French authorities have banned the use of water from the Gaffière and Lauzon for drinking and watering of crops. Swimming, water sports and fishing were also banned. This incident has been classified as Level 1 on the International Nuclear Event Scale .

France is often held up as the poster child for nuclear energy, but the country has had its share of problems with their nuclear plants.  Among the problems are included a partial core meltdown in 1980 at the Saint-Laurent Nuclear Power Plant, and the shut down of plants during a summer heatwave in 2003.  In spite of heatwave preparedness efforts in Europe, the intense heatwave that swept through Europe in 2009 put a third of France’s nuclear power stations out of action and forced France to buy electricity from England.

And even French nuclear power plants are not immune to the high capital costs and construction delays that plague the industry.

In May 2006, Electricité de France (EdF) approved construction of a new 1650 MW European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) unit, alongside two existing 1300 MW units.   The first concrete was poured on schedule in December 2007 and construction was expected to take 54 months.  However, completion is now expected late in 2012.  Even in an extremely nuclear friendly country, nuclear plants have a history of coming online later than estimated.

According to the The World Nuclear Association, an international organization that promotes nuclear energy and supports the global nuclear industry, France’s nuclear power program cost 400 billion French Francs in 1993 currency, (or $8.4 billion U.S.) excluding interest during construction. Half of this was self-financed by Electricité de France, 8% was invested by the state but discounted in 1981, and 42% was financed by commercial loans.

In 1988 medium and long-term debt amounted to 233 billion French Francs, or 1.8 times EdF’s sales revenue. By the end of 1998 EdF had reduced this to about two thirds of sales revenue and less than three times annual cash flow. Net interest charges had dropped to 4.16% of sales by 1998.  In 2006 EdF debt had fallen to 25% of sales revenue.

In October of last year, the French parliament passed legislation establishing NOME, or new organization of the electricity market, which put an end to two European Commission antitrust cases hanging over the French electricity sector without threatening the pricing that stems from France’s nuclear-heavy energy mix.  The restructuring requires EdF to sell a quarter of its nuclear electricity production to competitors on a temporary basis, allowing them to develop their own power supplies.  The restructuring was designed to create a framework for investment in much-needed peakload capacity and financing for the modernization of the existing nuclear fleet.

But lingering concern over the effects of this reform of the French electricity market coupled with a weakened outlook in European energy markets after the 2009 recession has caused some trepidation about the price the company will be forced to accept under the NOME law, making the outlook for this restructuring as a financing tool for new nuclear projects somewhat questionable even in the world’s most nuclear friendly country.

Because of the high capitol cost, debt service on these projects is quite high and long term even in France. And here in our own back yard, the City of Austin is still paying several hundred million dollars on the debt from our measly sixteen percent of STP units 1 and 2.   We can do better than that as we move forward.  We can invest in truly renewable energy that won’t break the backs of taxpayers and ratepayers.


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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