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Archive for July, 2011

With the backing of major carmakers, President Obama announced a plan to increase the fleet average fuel economy of new cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, nearly double the current levels.

The new standards are the result of a compromise with the industry after the White House initially proposed raising the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standard to 62 mpg.

The compromise was a bit of a surprise and looked unlikely even a few days ago,and key parties didn’t sign off on the final language until nearly midnight Thursday.

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Seems like everyone is jumping onto the “Fracking” bandwagon. 

In an earlier blog we talked about the US Department of Energy’s entrance into the “Fracking” fray with Secretary Steven Chu appointing an Energy Advisory Board subcommittee on natural gas, led by former CIA director John Deutch, who plan to have recommendations on the table in the next few weeks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the other federal agency looking at the environmental impact of drilling for huge volumes of shale gas, but EPA doesn’t plan to release its initial findings until 2012 at the earliest. Nevertheless, this week they unveiled proposals to regulate air pollution from oil and gas operations, taking aim for the first time at the fast-growing practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Environmental activists say the regulations would mark the first significant steps taken by the EPA since 1985 to control harmful emissions released during production and transport of oil and gas, and the Texas Oil and Gas Association is already characterizing the proposed rules as an “overreach.”

The EPA’s suggested regulations fit into four categories, including new emissions standards for (1) volatile organic compounds (VOCs), (2) sulfur dioxide, (3) air toxics during oil and gas production, and (4) air toxics for natural gas transmission and storage.

The EPA expects the following emissions reductions would result if the new standards were fully implemented:

  • VOCs: 540,000 tons, or industry-wide reduction of 25 percent
  • Methane: 3.4 million tons, which is equal to 65 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or a reduction of about 26 percent
  • Air Toxics: 38,000 tons, a reduction of nearly 30 percent.

Now Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter has put together the Eagle Ford Task Force, whose top concerns include:

  • Protecting water resources while tapping into millions of gallons to help shake oil and gas out of tight shale formations
  • Waging good community relations via public education of how the oil and gas industry will operate in the area
  • Listening and working with concerns of locals citizens concerning noise levels and wear and tear on county roads and state highways
  • Developing a well-trained, technical workforce to fill thousands of entry-level jobs with starting pay of $60,000
  • Exercising stewardship over the area’s natural resources while balancing environmental concerns with cost-effective regulatory practices

Individuals named to the task force include:

  • Stephen Ingram, Halliburton Technology Manager
  • Brian Frederick, southern unit vice president of for the east division, Houston, of DCP Midstream, a gatherer and processor of natural gas
  • Trey Scott, founder of Trinity Minerals Management of San Antonio
  • Leodoro Martinez, executive director of the Middle Rio Grande Development Council, Cotulla.
  • Webb County Commissioner Jaime Canales, Precinct 4, Laredo.
  • Teresa Carrillo, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club executive member and Eagle Ford landowner.
  • James E. Craddock, senior vice president of drilling and production operations, Rosetta Resources, Houston.
  • Erasmo Yarrito, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Rio Grande Water Master, Harlingen.
  • Steve Ellis, senior division counsel, EOG Resources, Corpus Christi.
  • Dewitt County Judge Daryl Fowler, Cuero.
  • Anna Galo, vice president, ANB Cattle Company, Laredo.
  • Mike Mahoney, Evergreen Underground Water Conservation District, general manager, Pleasanton.
  • James Max Moudy, senior client service manager, MWH Global, Inc., Houston.
  • Mary Beth Simmons, senior staff reservoir engineer, Shell Exploration and Production Co., Houston.
  • Terry Retzloff, founder, TR Measurement Witnessing, Campbellton.
  • Greg Brazaitis, vice president government affairs, Energy Transfer, Houston.
  • Glynis Strause, dean of institutional advancement, Coast Bend College, Beeville.
  • Susan Spratlen, senior director of corporate communications and public affairs, Pioneer Natural Resources, Dallas.
  • Chris Winland, Good Company Associates; University of Texas at San Antonio, interim director, San Antonio Clean Energy Incubator, Austin/San Antonio.
  • Paul Woodard, president, J&M Premier Services, Palestine.

 It will be interesting to see what kind of a production this cast of thousands puts on.

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Earlier this week, NPR reported on the anticipated arrival of nearly 1,000 tons of nuclear waste from Germany at Oak Ridge, TN. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a plan in June for an American company to import and burn low-level nuclear waste from Germany.  The radioactive residue left over from the process will be sent back to Germany for disposal.  That’s a lot of travel for waste, and Germany isn’t the only country looking for means of disposing of its radioactive waste.

Located just outside Knoxville, Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942 to help build the atomic bomb and has become a world-renowned center for nuclear research. Operations there generate a great deal of radioactive waste and some of that waste ends up at EnergySolutions’ Bear Creek incinerator plant in Oak Ridge.

With the recent permitting of WCS in Texas, there are now four low-level waste facilities in the U.S, Barnwell in South Carolina, Richland in Washington, and Clive in Utah are the others. The Barnwell and the Clive locations are operated by EnergySolutions, the Richland location is operated by U.S. Ecology and the Texas site is operated by Waste Control Specialists.  WCS, Barnwell and Richland accept Classes A through C of low-level waste, whereas Clive only accepts Class A. The Department of Energy (DOE) also has dozens of LLW sites under management which includes the Bear Creek incinerator.

When you start to talking about managing the rest of the world’s waste, the German waste looks like the beginning of what could be a large flood of material from other countries.  And given the blank check the Texas legislature handed WCS this past legislative session, you can bet they will be back at the table trying to get a piece of that operation.  Let’s hope the Texas legislature stands firm in their resolve to not accept foreign radioactive waste, ‘cause there is a lot of it that could come our way.

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US Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu

US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Chu may play a role in sorting out the entangled mess of misinformation and spin about the environmental impacts of gas drilling.

U.S. gas producers are looking to ramp up industrialization in rural areas outside of some of the nation’s largest cities.  Secretary Chu has indicated that the White House has charged the DOE with helping to develop this industry, but in an environmentally responsible way, but no one knows what that looks like at this point.

The Obama administration enforcement of the Clean Air Act is pushing the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants out of the nation’s electricity fleet. That means tapping and burning trillions of cubic feet of newly booked gas reserves is quickly becoming a de facto energy policy in the absence of federal policies designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and gas producers are hoping that gas will replace the coal burners.

Because of these “game changing” new gas discoveries near population centers in Pennsylvania, Texas and New York  have entered the public consciousness through environmental lenses, and the EPA coming under siege because of their new rulemaking on air quality, the DOE is looking to play a larger role.

U.S. energy debate around this industry is dominated by a fear that extracting this gas through “fracking” is too invasive and fouls air and water.

Impacted States and U.S. EPA have been searching for a balance that allows companies to expand their drilling operations, while government agencies craft policy that addresses public concern about contaminating water aquifers, toxic waste pits and air pollution.

The nation’s massive shale and tight gas reservoirs are spread across the Northeast; in the upper Midwest; under Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas; and north into the Rocky Mountain region.

In May, Chu appointed an Energy Advisory Board subcommittee on natural gas, led by former CIA director John Deutch and which includes Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

EPA is the other federal agency looking at the environmental impact of drilling for huge volumes of shale gas, but EPA doesn’t plan to release its initial findings until 2012 at the earliest. Chu’s panel plans to have recommendations on the table in the next few weeks.

Where DOE’s report will fit into the broader array of  investigations into the environmental pitfalls of the gas boom is hard to say.  Regardless, DOE’s authority is limited. Land and water management tied to gas production on private and state lands is left to state and local regulators.

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A report by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Office of Inspector General found that the groundwater at some coal ash sites is contaminated with arsenic and other toxic pollutants and is a health hazard.

Levels at the Gallatin plant site in Sumner County and at the Cumberland site, 50 miles northwest of Nashville, are at health-hazard levels.  Beryllium, cadmium and nickel levels are above drinking water standards at Gallatin, as are arsenic, selenium and vanadium at Cumberland and arsenic was found above allowable levels repeatedly in groundwater at TVA’s’ Allen coal-fired plant in Memphis.

Coal ash, once considered harmless, has been shown to contain a variety of heavy metals in low concentrations that can leach into drinking water sources and pose “significant public health concerns,” an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report has said.

Currently, the EPA is evaluating rules for coal ash waste as a pollutant.  If the EPA regulates coal ash waste, it could have a much greater effect on many coal-fired plants in Texas coming into compliance than the new air quality rules will have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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According to the Austin Business Journal, Donna Nelson has been appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to be chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Ms. Nelson will replace Barry Smitherman in that position.  Smitherman resigned earlier this month and Gov. Rick Perry quickly appointed him to the Texas Railroad Commission.

Nelson is a former special assistant and advisor on energy, telecommunications and cable budget and policy issues in the governor’s office, and has served on the PUC as a Commissioner since 2008.

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Review Highlights of a Decade of Texans for Public Justice’s Perry-related Research

NOW

THEN (as TAMU Yell Leader)

Texas Governor Rick Perry is unknown to much of America.  Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) has followed this politician since he became governor in late 2000, publishing numerous reports on Perry’s politics and policies.  With talk of a Perry presidential campaign escalating, “The Rick Perry Primer” summarizes the highlights of a decade of TPJ’s Perry-related research.

“The Rick Perry Primer” is available at TPJ.ORG.

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The EPA under Perry . . . what would that look like?  I don’t know about you, but that thought sends cold shivers down my spine, even on a 104 degree day.

The Austin American Statesman takes a look at what the EPA might become with a Perry White House.  Public Citizen’s own “Smitty” weighs in:

Perry environmental stance would transform EPA

By Asher Price
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

As governor of Texas, Rick Perry has argued that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has strangled business and interfered with state environmental efforts, and he has championed a half-dozen lawsuits challenging federal air pollution and greenhouse gas regulations.

The dispute with the EPA serves as a proxy for larger Perry arguments about states’ rights versus federal power. It “illustrates how Washington’s command-and-control environmental bureaucracy is destroying federalism and individuals’ ability to make their own economic decisions,” Perry wrote in his book “Fed Up! ”

So, should he run for the White House and win, how would a President Perry treat the EPA?

From his rhetoric and record as governor, one might think that he’d be tempted to dissolve the agency. He has actively loosened regulations in the name of economic development and denied that scientific consensus exists on climate change, ascribing anxieties about greenhouse gases to a “secular carbon cult.”

But on the campaign trail, he is likely to tell a story about environmental accomplishment. He will point to improvements in air quality in the state’s major cities, and he will note that the state leads the nation in wind power. And he will say that Texas has done it by working with industry, not being its adversary.

“If the EPA thinks a sweeping mandate is required to spur the creation and adoption of alternative energy sources, they need to know the private sector is already making that happen here in Texas, helped by incentives from this state,” he said in a news conference after Obama’s victory in 2008 .

The state’s wind industry won its greatest boost from a 1999 mandate by the Legislature that Texas utilities buy a certain amount of power from renewable sources as part of a grand bargain to deregulate the state’s electricity market. In other words, wind power got a foothold because of just the sort of big government edict that Perry abhors.

To his credit, he encouraged a $5 billion ongoing plan to build transmission lines from West Texas and Panhandle wind farms to the state’s population centers, said Tom “Smitty” Smith, the head of the Austin office of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group. The lines will be paid for by utilities, which will pass costs on to ratepayers.

Perry also could repeat a claim about improvements to the state’s air quality. Between 2000 and 2010 , he noted in a news release last year and in a letter to President Obama, “the Texas clean air program (has) achieved a 22 percent reduction in ozone and a 46 percent decrease in (nitrogen oxide) emissions.”

PolitiFact Texas rated that statement as Half True: UT chemical engineering professor David Allen told the Statesman that it’s difficult to say quantitatively whether federal or state regulations were primarily responsible for the emission reductions. A quarter of the state’s nitrogen oxide pollution comes from industrial sources, which are mainly what the state regulates, but much of the rest comes from cars and other mobile sources, which the federal government regulates.

The point of Perry’s statement, in any case, was to say to the federal government, “Hands off; we can handle environmental issues ourselves.”

“It isn’t necessary to bludgeon job creators with hefty fines and penalties in order to make progress,” he writes in “Fed Up!” “It is better to work with business and harness American innovation — the same innovation that drives our economic success — in the realm of pollution control.”

One example: In the mid-1990s, Texas opted to issue so-called flexible permits that set facilitywide emission limits. The permits, strongly defended by Perry, set overall emission caps for facilities, rather than particular limits on emissions from a single boiler.

The flexible permit program “is like saying, ‘As long as you go 55 miles per hour, on average, in a month, you can go 100 or 125 some days,'” Neil Carman, air quality specialist at the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, once told the American-Statesman . “It allows excessive kinds of pollution if you play that game.”

Federal regulators say the permits leave them in the dark about how many gases particular parts of a plant are belching into the air, and they are demanding an overhaul to the permitting program. The upshot has been hot rhetoric over the past two years between Perry and EPA officials. (The EPA now appears to have the upper hand, as some refiners, utilities and manufacturers have been working with federal authorities to revamp their permits.)

According to several measures tracked by the Environmental Defense Fund, Texas is the nation’s leading polluter. Its national rank among emitters of sulfur dioxide, which contributes to acid rain and smog, actually rose during Perry’s tenure from fifth in 2000 to third in 2009.

But the state’s pollution might be as much a reflection of the richness of Texas’ industrial base as a comment on environmental compliance.

Perry “approaches the issues from a very libertarian bent,” said Jim DiPeso , policy director of Republicans for Environmental Protection. “The EPA would be in for some significant budget reduction. There would be no new intiatives, no regulatory programs that would be initated. There’d be litigation from environmental groups that believe he’s not enforcing the Clean Air Act and Water Act as robustly as the law provides.”

“Any regulatory programs would be really throttled back,” he said. “He has shown no interest in climate policy at all. He doesn’t accept the science.”

With the governor’s blessing, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is challenging at least six EPA greenhouse gas-related regulations. The state’s underlying argument: The fundamental finding that greenhouse gases are a public health threat is scientifically flawed.

The federal government is pushing “hastily enacted, cascading regulations” on states and businesses, Abbott argued in a June brief filed on behalf of nine states in federal court.

Perry’s approach to energy, DiPeso said, “would be to produce more,” rather than discourage the development of energy projects, such as coal plants, that emit greenhouse gases associated with global warming.

“In terms of energy, (Perry) would pursue what many Republicans call the ‘all of the above’ strategy, with more energy development offshore and onshore,” DiPeso said.

Individuals and committees associated with energy, the extraction of natural resources and waste disposal contributed just short of $14 million to Perry’s campaigns between Jan. 1, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2010, according to Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit that tracks money in politics. Overall, donors gave more than $102 million to his campaign during that period.

His top individual donor during that time was homebuilder Bob Perry, who contributed $2.5 million and has supported property rights efforts unsympathetic to endangered species protections. Ranking behind him was investor Harold Simmons, who owns Waste Control Specialists. In 2008, over the objections of environmental groups and its own staffers, the state environmental commission approved a license for Waste Control Specialists to build a dump near the New Mexico border for disposal of radioactive waste related to Cold War-era uranium processing. Three agency staffers quit in protest.

Broadly speaking, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has shown itself to be sympathetic to business interests. In several prominent cases, its commissioners, appointed by Perry, have ignored the recommendation by the agency’s public interest counsel to deny major air and waste disposal permits.

In requests for permission to build a coal plant about 100 miles northeast of Austin, to reopen a copper smelter in El Paso and to dispose of various kinds of waste at the West Texas radioactive waste landfill, the commission sided with recommendations by its executive director over those of the public interest counsel. By some empirical measures, its enforcement arm is weak. A 2009 Notre Dame Law Review article comparing 15 states found that Texas spent less on environmental programs than all but one on a per capita basis. And in the recent round of budget cuts, the commission suffered disproportionately high cuts of 30.2 percent.

Perry himself earned the ire of environmental groups for trying to fast-track the permitting of as many as 17 new coal-fired power plants in 2006. Most were never built.

An EPA under a President Perry “would be more effective, accountable, pragmatic and realistic,” said Kathleen Hartnett White , a former environmental commission chairwoman and a Perry appointee to the board of the Lower Colorado River Authority. She also is a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a small-government think tank.

Under Perry, the commission “operated under the rule of law and has not stretched it or contracted it,” she said.

“The current EPA really stretches the limits of law in which they operated,” she said. “They need to be more accountable to Congress and to the states. Needless to say, the governor would give more respect for state authority.”

Perry also would have “higher standards for science,” she said, echoing arguments that the attorney general has made in disputing the EPA’s finding that carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health.

Despite those claims, there is consensus among scientists that humans contribute to climate change. An international climate change panel of more than 2,000 scientists came to just that conclusion in 2007.

“Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems,” concluded a May report of the National Research Council, which is charged with advising Congress on health and science policy. “Each additional ton of greenhouse gases emitted commits us to further change and greater risks.”

The best guide to a Perry EPA might be an early Bush EPA, which was concerned with energy development.

Among other things, the Bush administration downplayed and edited work by EPA scientists warning about climate change and sought to loosen rules about putting power plants near national parks.

But upon Bush’s departure from office, Richard Greene , then the head of EPA’s regional office in Dallas, told the Statesman, “A claim can rightfully be made by the Bush EPA that air is cleaner, water is purer, and land is better protected than it has been in three generations.”

Environmentalists would beg to differ. But a Perry administration could be even worse for environmentalists’ interests, Smith said.

He said Perry criticizes EPA initiatives that had roots — if weak ones — in the Bush administration, such as more stringent smog standards, and tougher rules on power plant emissions.

A Perry EPA, Smith said, “would pander to the polluters.”

[email protected];445-3643

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Lights. Camera. Help is a nonprofit film festival dedicated entirely to nonprofit and cause-driven films.  This 3-day event held in Austin Texas, July 28th through July 30th, gives films-for-a-cause the attention they deserve by putting them up on the big screen in a theater setting.  One of the films, On Coal River,  showing at Lights. Camera. Help. is of particular interest to the community in Austin interested in energy.

We sometimes forget that turning on a switch at home affects people on the other side of the country or in other countries, and not necessarily in a good way.

Coal River Valley, West Virginia is a community surrounded by lush mountains and a looming toxic threat. ON COAL RIVER follows a former miner and his neighbors in a David-and-Goliath struggle for the future of their valley, their children, and life as they know it. Ed Wiley once worked at the same coal waste facility that now threatens his granddaughter’s elementary school. When his local government refuses to act, Ed embarks on a quest to have the school relocated to safer ground. With insider knowledge and a sharp sense of right and wrong, Ed confronts his local school board, the state government, and a notorious coal company’ Massey Energy’ for putting his granddaughter and his community at risk.

This film will be showing at the festival on Saturday, July 30th Saturday, sometime during the festival hours of 3pm – 6pm at t he The RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service  located at 2311 Red River Street – Free Parking in lot on Red River.  Single day passes are $13.00 and are available for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, but only holders of the festivals exclusive three-day pass, which is $28.00, get in to all screenings, events, and after parties!

Film Summary and Trailer of “On Coal River” http://lightscamerahelp.org/2011/films/386-on-coal-river

To learn about other selections at the festival this year: http://lightscamerahelp.org/2011/selections

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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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According to ABC News, a new intelligence report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued Tuesday, entitled Insider Threat to Utilities, warns “violent extremists have obtained insider positions,” and that “outsiders have attempted to solicit utility-sector employees” for damaging physical and cyber attacks.

The report goes on to say, “Based on the reliable reporting of previous incidents, we have high confidence in our judgment that insiders and their actions pose a significant threat to the infrastructure and information systems of U.S. facilities,” the bulletin reads in part. “Past events and reporting also provide high confidence in our judgment that insider information on sites, infrastructure, networks, and personnel is valuable to our adversaries and may increase the impact of any attack on the utilities infrastructure.”  Which is DHS jargon when translated says, if terrorists infiltrate our utilities we are in trouble.

In the materials recovered after the Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden in May, officials found evidence bin Laden was seeking to repeat the carnage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on or around its ten year anniversary and there are a lot of very sensitive facilities where someone can get a job on the inside, get access to a control room, and flip a switch – causing an electric power grid to short circuit or a pipeline to explode or OMG, other mayhem happens like with the guy in the insurance commercials.  At a minimum, something like this could disrupt the lives of 10s to 100s of thousands of people.

The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement there was no specific threat, so let’s hope no one moves on a threat of this nature this week with most of the country sweltering from a record breaking heat wave.  OMG, that would cause mayhem!

Update

A round of applause for former Public Citizen researcher, TexasVox’s number one fan and all around know-it-all — Matt Johnson.  He found a link to the report referenced above.  Click here if you want to read this Homeland Security report.

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Scorching temperatures continue to bake half the country, as a massive heat wave that has killed at least 22 people nationwide this week leaves twenty-nine states still under a heat advisory.

Meteorologists are also warning folks in numerous cities in the northeast that they are under a code red for air quality — designated as unhealthy for all people.

This exacerbates the health risks associated with this heat.  People in areas with high heat and poor air quality need to take care to avoid sunburn, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and breathing the air (especially if they have respiratory problems – such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, emphysema, or asthma).

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Statewide organizations support youth as they appeal TCEQ decision
denying petition to reduce carbon emissions and prevent climate catastrophe

Three Texas youth and one young adult filed for judicial review today of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) denial of their petition to force action on climate change. Specifically, the rulemaking petition requests TCEQ to require reductions in statewide carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels consistent with what current scientific analysis deems necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

“TCEQ and the Texas government have failed to live up to their responsibility to protect my future and take the urgent action needed to halt climate change,” said 15 year-old plaintiff, Eamon Umphress. “My generation will be hurt the most by climate change, but instead of taking action, Texas is putting short-term profits for corporations above a livable planet for me and future generations.”

As part of the iMatter Campaign, a petition was filed on May 5th in conjunction with legal actions in 47 other states, the District of Columbia, and against the federal government on behalf of youth to compel reductions of CO2 emissions in an effort to counter the negative impacts of climate change that these youth expect to manifest in their lifetime.

The petition relies upon the long established legal principle of the Public Trust Doctrine that requires all branches of the government to protect and maintain certain shared resources fundamental for human health and survival. Science, not politics, defines the fiduciary obligation that the government, as the trustee, must fulfill on behalf of the beneficiary—the public.

“Dr. James Hansen, a prominent and widely respected climate scientist, has warned that our window of opportunity is quickly closing to take serious action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “Since 1991, TCEQ has had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases but has lacked the political and moral will to do so. The moral failure of the leadership of Texas, particularly Governor Perry and TCEQ Commissioner Shaw, is shameful and betrays future generations. We urge the courts and TCEQ to follow the science and take action to protect the climate and future generations by reducing CO2 emissions now.”

“The Public Trust Doctrine requires TCEQ, as a trustee, to protect and preserve vital natural resources, including the atmosphere, for both present and future generations of Texans,” said Adam Abrams, an attorney with the Texas Environmental Law Center. “TCEQ’s fiduciary duties as trustee of the public trust cannot be disclaimed.”

TCEQ’s decision states that any reduction in CO2 emissions will not impact the global distribution of these gases in the atmosphere. “But as the largest emitter in the United States, reductions in Texas can make a difference in overall reductions,” said Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Every ton of carbon contributes to global warming, and fewer emissions means less heating in the pipeline and a better chance of reversing Earth’s current energy imbalance.”

“Texas is not only the largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the U.S., the state is also reeling from severe impacts of climate change right now—namely heat waves, droughts, and wildfires,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “The U.S. Global Change Research Program states in its 2009 report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, that with rising high temperatures, droughts and heat waves will become more frequent and severe, and water supplies are projected to become increasingly scarce. Just last month, the federal Department of Agriculture declared 213 counties in Texas disaster areas, due to ‘one of the worst droughts in more than a century.’” Texas has “sustained excessive heat, high winds and wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres,” and many farmers and ranchers “have lost their crops due to the devastation caused by the drought and wildfires,” USDA stated in its press release. “We call on Texas government officials to take these impacts seriously and act now to reduce CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels,” stated Metzger.

To protect Earth’s natural systems, the best available science shows that average global surface heating must not exceed 1° C and concentrations of atmospheric CO2 must decline to less than 350 ppm this century. We are currently at around 390 ppm. To accomplish this reduction, Dr. Hansen and other renowned scientists conclude that global CO2 emissions need to peak in 2012 and decline by 6% per year starting in 2013. The rulemaking petition seeks a rule that would require a reduction of statewide CO2 emissions at these levels. Click here to read Dr. Hansen’s recent paper.

“The Texas government continually claims that any kind of regulation on CO2 is a regulation that would hurt business and the economy. This does not have to be the case,” said Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. “The shift to an economy based on energy efficiency and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels is not only technically but economically feasible, and with the right policies in place, our economy could flourish in new green jobs from this shift. Wind energy is comparable in price to coal and the cost of solar is falling, as San Antonio’s recent investment in a 400-megawatt solar project demonstrates. While touting the possible negative impacts on the economy that reductions in CO2 emissions could have, Texas consistently fails to consider the negative economic impacts of climate change—such as the increased weather extremes of heat waves, drought, and hurricanes—already felt by many Texans.”

“We have a moral duty to provide our children and our children’s children with a livable planet,” said Brigid Shea, mother of 15 year-old plaintiff, Eamon Umphress, and former Austin City Council member. “The Texas government must live up to its responsibility to protect and preserve our planet and our atmosphere. We need to end our reliance on fossil fuels and live as if our children’s future matters.”

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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.

Our Children’s Trust is a nonprofit focused on protecting earth’s natural systems for current and future generations. We are here to empower and support youth as they stand up for their lawful inheritance: a healthy planet. We are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers. We are adults, part of the ruling generation, and we care about the future of our childrenand their children’s children. www.ourchildrenstrust.org/

iMatter is a youth-led campaign of the nonprofit group, Kids vs Global Warming, that is focused on mobilizing and empowering youth to lead the way to a sustainable and just world. We are teens and moms and young activists committed to raising the voices of the youngest generation to issue a wake-up call to live, lead and govern as if our future matters. www.imattermarch.org/

 

 

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On the last day of September in Austin, Texas, we may have put the 100 degree days behind us.  No guarantees, but unless we have a very late heat wave, yesterday’s 100+ degree day may have set the new record to break of 90 days* of 100+ degree days in 2011.

We have also tied or broken several other records this year.  We tied the record for the hottest day ever @ 112 degrees and we easily sailed past our previous record of 21 consecutive days of triple digit temperatures for Austin, to set a new record of 27 days on August 12, 2011.

While the heat wave may finally be loosening its grip on Texas, the drought goes on and the brief, but very welcome showers that have popped up around the state in the last couple of weeks, have done little to alleviate that condition.  85.75% of the state still remains in “exceptional” drought status (the highest level of drought the US Drought Monitor measures), up from 85.43% the previous week. Unless we see extended and significant rain, this extreme drought will continue and that has some communities worrying about running out of water.  See our earlier blog for more on this.

The Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) monthly outlook offers little hope for a change in the overall dry and warm weather pattern through the fall season and beyond.

Climate models are also indicating that the drier and warmer than normal weather will continue through the coming winter. By spring though, the CPC indicates an equal chance that Central Texas could return to a more normal temperature and precipitation pattern.  But, before you get too excited about that, the temperature outlook for next summer is for hotter than normal weather yet again!

We continue to encourage Texans to continue to conserve energy and water where they can.

Austin has had over six times the annual average of 13.5 days of 100 degree weather this year and below are some other fun Austin triple digit degree day facts

Average date of the first 100 degree day:  July 11th, this year it was May 25th
Average date of the last 100 degree day:  August 20th, this year, possibly it was September 29th, but there are still three months left in the year.
Historically-the earliest 100 degree day was May 4th in 1984 and the latest 100 degree day was October 2nd in 1938

*Temperatures are for Camp Mabry which is the location our historical data is based on.  Weather.com likely reports from ABIA located outside the city of Austin.

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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.

spousal

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According to a Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) press release, there will be a public meeting in Bay City on July 28th at 6:30 pm regarding the White Stallion water contract.

The Lower Colorado River Authority will hold a public information meeting in Bay City on Thursday, July 28, on a proposed water contract with White Stallion Energy Center. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Bay City Civic Center, 201 Seventh Street.

“LCRA recognizes how important this proposed water contract is to the public and we want to give everyone the opportunity to fully understand the proposed contract before the Board of Directors makes its final decision,” LCRA General Manager Becky Motal said.

The meeting will be structured to offer visitors multiple opportunities to ask LCRA staff about the proposed contract with White Stallion and related issues. The meeting will begin with a short video and presentation on the proposed contract. The public will then have an opportunity to visit with LCRA staff at stations set up for the following issues:

  • Water supply,
  • Proposed White Stallion contract,
  • Water quality and bay health, and
  • Lower basin reservoir.

During the meeting, visitors will be encouraged to submit written questions for a panel question and answer session. The panel will feature LCRA Water Operations Manager Kyle Jensen, LCRA Manager of Water Resources Management Karen Bondy and LCRA Water Supply Strategist James Kowis.

White Stallion has requested 25,400 acre-feet of water a year from LCRA for a power plant in Matagorda County. As a legislatively created regional water supplier, if LCRA has water available to meet a request for supply and an applicant complies with LCRA’s rules, LCRA must make that water available and cannot unreasonably discriminate. LCRA has the water available for White Stallion’s request, even in the current drought conditions.

Because of the size of the request, LCRA has developed a proposal designed to benefit the water supply system of the entire lower Colorado River basin. Under the terms of the proposed contract, White Stallion must pay LCRA $55 million within one year of the contract date. That money must be used for water supply enhancements. LCRA intends to use this payment for:

  • Pumping plant improvements at LCRA’s Bay City pumping plant;
  • A 5,000 acre-foot off-channel reservoir in the lower basin that can serve White Stallion and other customers; and
  • A study to determine the best configuration of water supply projects and enhancements and where they will be located. This could include options like lining canals to save water.

In addition to routine raw water use and reservation rates, White Stallion would also pay $250,000 per year from the date the plant is completed through the end of the contract. These additional funds would be used for future water supply projects. White Stallion also plans to have additional water storage on its plant site capable of storing a week’s worth of the plant’s water use.

Under these terms, once the new reservoir is constructed, LCRA should be able to supply White Stallion without impacting the Highland Lakes or water for agriculture. The new reservoir and future water projects made possible by this contract would also benefit other customers throughout the basin.

“The job of LCRA’s staff was to develop the best water contract it could, and we believe we accomplished that,” Motal said. “This proposed contract is intended to offset the impact of White Stallion to the Highland Lakes and the downstream farmers and also benefits the water supply system of the entire basin.”

A copy of the proposed contract is available at LCRA.org. The LCRA Board will consider the proposed contract August 10.

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