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Archive for April, 2017

The recently retired director of the Public Citizen Texas office, Tom “Smitty” Smith, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for his 30+ years of service.

An emotional Smitty says goodbye to friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle.

A fixture at the Texas Capitol for more than 3 decades, Smitty has fought long and hard on issues around the environment, renewable energy, ethics reform and nuclear waste disposal, but perhaps his hardest battle will be to be able to walk away from it all. He still cares deeply about the issues and knows there is yet much to be done.

“Smitty has always been an invaluable resource for Public Citizen and for the Legislature,” said State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez on the House Floor as he warmly spoke about Smitty’s work. “Thank you for your service,” he added, prompting warm applause from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Throughout his long years of service, Smitty organized the citizens of Texas around issues close to his heart, like campaign finance reform, shutting down dirty coal plants, increasing the state’s renewable energy portfolio and combating global warming. “Organized groups of students, teachers and concerned citizens can have a powerful impact on U.S. policy,” was his mantra and he applied it over and over again.

Smitty walks through the halls of the Texas Capitol prior to his send off on the House floor.

His hard work seems to have paid off. Today, Texas leads the nation in wind energy production and solar energy is growing. Programs Smitty championed (TERP) have removed more than 170,000 tons of nitrous oxides from our atmosphere and the energy efficiency codes he helped pass have saved the average homeowner around 30% of their average energy costs.

Undoubtedly, there is still a long and bumpy road ahead for environmental issues in the Lone Star State. However, Smitty’s life’s work will serve as a blueprint for the next generation of activists. The torch is lit, Smitty. Thanks for lighting the way.

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The U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) is holding a public meeting via teleconference on April 24, 2017 so that we can listen and learn from those directly impacted by our regulations. The focus of this teleconference will be on air and radiation actions only. We invite you to provide input on these rules during the public teleconference. Information on joining the teleconference and submitting comments through the docket are below. For questions about this process, please contact [email protected].

OAR’s public teleconference will be an operator assisted call. The call with start with brief remarks from EPA and the remainder of the call will be dedicated to listening to public input. Participants wishing to speak or listen do not need to register in advance for the teleconference. To hear the opening remarks, please dial in 10 minutes before the start time. You may call into the teleconference at any time during the three-hour period.

If you wish to speak, at any time, you may nominate yourself to speak by hitting *1 on your phone. Your name will be added to a queue. Speakers will be asked to deliver 3 minutes of remarks and will be called on a first come, first served basis. OAR will do our best to hear from everyone who wishes to speak. The teleconference will be transcribed and will be added to the docket. If you do not have the opportunity to speak on the call, please submit your input to the EPA-wide docket (docket number: EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190; https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190). OAR will give equal consideration to input provided through either of these methods.

For more information on upcoming public engagement opportunities offered by other EPA offices please visit: https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/regulatory-reform

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El Paso Electric (EPE) – which is a for-profit company with a monopoly in the El Paso area – is seeking higher rates for the utility’s west Texas customers and launching another attack on solar customers. Despite increasing rates last year, the utility wants to collect an additional $42.5 million each year from its customers. Under the new proposal, EPE’s customers would face an overall 8.7 percent increase, amounting to $8.25 per month for the average residential customer. Solar customers would be hit even harder under the proposal, which an average bill increase of $14.09 per month.

Under EPE’s proposal, residential customers with solar would be subject to demand charges, which factors in the customers maximum demand for electricity at a single point in time. Demand charges are almost never used for residential customers because they are complex and can lead to significant fluctuations in bills.  Demand charges also make it very difficult for customers to take action to control their bills.  Solar customers would also be subject to time-of-use rates, which means electricity rates are different based on the time and day of the week.  While time-of-use rates can be a good tool, there is no justification for forcing them on customers with solar, but not other customers.

The 2017 utility tries to justify its discrimination against solar customers by using the false “cost-shift” argument. EPE plans to put the solar customers in a special class to “establish a fair rate structure that reflects the cost to serve each customer class.” To put it simply, EPE and other utilities are using the false argument that solar customers do not pay their fair share of grid-upkeep costs. This has been proven to be a false assumption by numerous studies conducted to calculate the value of solar. The improper allocation of costs to solar energy users will reduce the number of people willing to invest in solar and will leave current customers with no way to recover their costs.

EPE’s persistence in targeting solar customers has raised concerns. Several solar industry and advocacy groups, including The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and Eco El Paso are going to fight the proposal at the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) . Public Citizen is supporting these efforts by pushing the City of El Paso to make fighting the unfair solar fees and preventing the attack on solar a priority.

If you live in El Paso, take a minute to email the city to voice your opposition to the proposed unfair rates for solar customers.

“Demand charges found unreceptive audiences among regulators in 2016, and last year, Texas residents clearly rejected El Paso Electric’s same drastic and unprecedented rate design that punishes solar customers,” says TASC spokesperson Amy Heart. Senator José Rodríguez also issued a strong statement in opposition to the proposal:

I’m disappointed that El Paso Electric insists on discouraging people from installing solar on their homes. The electric company once again wants to single out solar customers by increasing their rates at least two times the amount of their non-solar neighbors. Solar customers will no longer be able to save on their electric bills, which was the reason they installed solar panels in the first place…I strongly believe these anti-solar proposals contradict the intent of Senate Bill 1910, which I passed in 2011 to authorize solar net metering in El Paso Electric’s service territory.

Fortunately for solar customers and non-solar customers alike, the evidence clearly shows that solar customers are contributing at least as much value as they get from the grid. A recent report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center evaluated 16 “value of solar” studies, and all but a couple that were conducted by utilities showed that the value of energy solar customers contribute to the system is higher than the retail rate they offset with net metering.

If you live in El Paso, help us and Eco El Paso fight back by sending an email to the El Paso City Council.

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By Adrian Shelley, Public Citizen

In 2011, when I was serving as the Environmental Director and Counsel for Houston Representative Jessica Farrar, I met a remarkable man. He had a white hat and a penchant for storytelling, and he was well known around Austin.

“Smitty’s” presence became a usual sight at our State Capitol.

It’s an interesting experience walking around the Capitol with Smitty, the Director of our Texas Office for thirty-one years. He knows every third person in the building, and he usually has a story or two about something they did together several decades ago. They’re not all work stories either.

Something else Smitty has is an unparalleled reputation. Not everyone agrees with him, but they all respect him. One of the reasons he’s gotten so much done over the years is that he isn’t afraid to look for supporters from across the spectrum. As a young legislative staffer, I was sometimes bewildered by the unlikely alliances he proposed. Many of them came to nothing, but when they succeeded, you can be sure it was because Smitty believed they were possible.

There is a quote on the wall in our office by Kurt Vonnegut, “Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center. Big, undreamed-of things—the people on the edges see them first.”

Here in Texas, Smitty is definitely out on the edge. As for me, I started this work from my vantage in Houston, the city where I was born and raised. Growing up in the “Energy Capital of the World,” I had firsthand experience of the benefits that come with a thriving energy economy. I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, surrounded by families who knew the board rooms better than the well pads. It wasn’t until I was interning for Air Alliance Houston in my twenties that I gained an appreciation for the term “fenceline communities.” Until then, those neighborhoods and the people in them had been invisible to me. When I first saw the people whose health and quality of life suffered at the hands of the petrochemical industry, I was amazed. Even ashamed.

How could a native Houstonian—well aware of the economic benefits of the energy industry—be so blind to its human cost? The unfortunate answer is that those communities, which are predominantly low-income communities of color, do not have a voice.

This is where Public Citizen comes in. Public Citizen advocates for a healthier and more equitable world by making government work for the people and by defending democracy from corporate greed. When marginalized people are drowned out by global corporate interests—Public Citizen is there to speak up. In Texas, the loudest voice speaking on their behalf has been, for many years, Tom “Smitty” Smith.

Smitty’s voice and vision have driven our work in Texas for three decades. Now that he has handed the reins to me, many people are wondering what my vision is.

It’s not going to be easy to fill Smitty’s shoes, but nothing that’s worth doing ever is.

I can’t tell you how many time in the last week someone has issued a good-natured warning: “You have some very big shoes to fill.”

They might have added that I have a large white hat to fill as well. Somewhere between the shoes and the hat, I also need to develop the vision. After three days, I can’t say I’ve got it yet. What I know is that I share Public Citizen’s vision for giving a voice to marginalized people. And I’ve seen firsthand what happens when corporate interests prevail over human decency.

My hope is that I can bring Public Citizen’s mission, Smitty’s experience, and my own vision together. Standing out here on the edge, I can see plenty that needs to be done.

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