Representatives of Public Citizen’s Texas office will testify in a state House Committee today against legislation that would allow a major nuclear company to pay less to dump more contaminated waste.

Rep. Brooks Landgraf’s HB 2269 is scheduled for a hearing late this afternoon in the Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulation.

This bad bill would allow the expansion of Waste Control Specialists’ radioactive waste dump in West Texas and would eliminate the fee that the company pays to the state.

A companion bill, SB 1021, sponsored by Sen. Kel Seliger, is scheduled for a 9 a.m. hearing of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources & Economic Development on Wednesday.

If you oppose state policies that allow nuke waste operators to dump more while paying less for the privilege, please consider showing up at either – or both – hearings to register your opposition. Texas oil industry representatives are also expected to testify against the bills because they fear nuclear waste could contaminate the oil-rich Permian Basin.

Meanwhile, read testimony from Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, against Landgraf’s House bill here: HB 2269.

Public Citizen testified in the House State Affairs Committee this month about three important government ethics bills pending in the chamber.

All three bills are sponsored by Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston Republican.

The first of Davis’s bills Public Citizen lent its public support for is HB 1297. This legislation would bar those who have been fired or have resigned from a state agency position due to malfeasance from serving as the executive or on the executive staff of a state agency. Malfeasance is defined in the bill as “intentional misconduct or the knowingly improper performance of any act, duty, or responsibility, including unethical or criminal conduct, financial misconduct, or fraud.”

Public Citizen also testified in support of HB 1876, which reflects the recommendations of the Texas Ethics Commission. This bill would, among other things, address the “revolving door” of legislators-turned-lobbyists by barring a former lawmaker from registering as a lobbyist for one year, beginning with the first regular legislative session to convene. It would also ban political contributions during special legislative sessions.

We also spoke in favor of HB 1877, which would enact eight different ethics-related bills that passed the House in the 85th Session of the Legislature but not the Senate.

Read all three letters from Public Citizen’s Texas office director, Adrian Shelley, to members of the Texas Legislature on these important bills:

Chemical Fires Far Too Common in the Houston Area

HOUSTON – A chemical fire that erupted early Sunday morning at the Intercontinental Terminals Company (ITC) plant in La Porte, Texas, and is expected to continue to burn through Wednesday shows the dire need for tougher regulation and enforcement, Public Citizen said today. In addition, the disaster underscores the need for more public information from both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about chemical risks and disaster response efforts.

The fire, which so far involves seven petrochemical storage tanks, sent a thick plume of smoke over the Houston region, forcing local officials to urge residents to shelter in place and cancel classes in both the Deer Park and La Porte Independent School Districts. At least three toxic chemicals involved in the blaze – naphtha, xylene and toluene – pose a danger to public safety. Short-term exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, breathing irritation, weakness and memory loss – with potentially fatal effects from longer-term exposure.

The ITC fire comes on the heels of a separate, unrelated fire at ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery on Saturday, which has been contained. A 2016 Houston Chronicle investigation found that chemical incidents occur once every six weeks in the Houston area.

“The ITC chemical fire demonstrates how chemical disasters happen far too often in our region, often due to lax regulatory oversight and enforcement,” said Stephanie Thomas, researcher for Public Citizen’s Texas office. “While this fire rages on for days, the Trump administration is trying to slash the budgets of the EPA and the Chemical Safety Board, and is rolling back the 2017 Risk Management Plan amendments, which sought to bring greater safety to communities like Deer Park that are surrounded by the petrochemical industry. We need more protections for our communities and a serious investment in our health and safety.”

Public Citizen has called for restoring chemical right-to-know standards, so that first responders and residents who live near industrial facilities can fully understand the potential hazards of plants’ chemical inventories. The TCEQ needs additional staff and tools – such as a mobile monitoring unit for full-time use in Houston – to be able to adequately respond to pollution disasters, and needs to be more forthcoming with information about serious health-related incidents, Public Citizen maintains. As of 1 p.m. CDT on Monday, the agency still had not posted any information about the Houston fire on its website or social media accounts.

“Industrial disasters are the natural and inevitable outcome of administration policy to let corporate wrongdoers off the hook, slash regulatory and enforcement budgets, and not update regulations to deal with serious health, safety and environmental risks,” added Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.


Public Citizen’s Texas office wrote to state lawmakers today urging them to vote in support of HB1.

The letter calls on lawmakers to support funding specifically for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, or TERP.

“TERP is the most cost-effective way to reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution in Texas,” the letter says. “Reducing NOx pollution improves public health and reduces ozone pollution in our federal ozone non-attainment areas of Houston, DFW, and San Antonio. Despite this, the 2018-19 biennial allocation to TERP was down 22.3 percent from 2016-17 spending levels.[1]

Our letter also aims to address some misconceptions about the Light Duty Purchase or Lease Incentive Program.

“We would…like to correct a misperception about the Light Duty Purchase or Lease Incentive Program (LDPLIP), which provides grants for the purchase of passenger electric vehicles,” we wrote. “This program has been characterized as providing funds for “rich environmentalists to buy electric vehicles.” While we would love to meet some of these rich environmentalists, we aren’t aware of too many of them, and we note that the two most popular vehicles in the LDPLIP program are the Nissan Leaf, with a 2018 MSRP of $29,990 and the Chevy Volt, with a 2018 MSRP of $33,220.[4]”

Read Public Citizen Texas Office Director Adrian Shelley’s complete letter to lawmakers below.

Continue Reading »

San Antonio’s draft climate plan – SA Climate Ready – is out for public comment until March 26 and is expected to be up for a vote at City Council in May. We hope that city staff will take the next several weeks to strengthen the plan, and that the City Council will then adopt it without further delay. You can weigh in here.

Climate change is already wreaking havoc on communities around the world, with the loss of life and damage to ecosystems, public infrastructure and private property already at unacceptable levels, and worse to come. So the most important thing is to avoid further delay in acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change, and subsequently extreme weather, including droughts, wildfires, floods, and stronger hurricanes, as well as rising sea levels and melting permafrost

Greenhouse gas emissions actually increased in 2018, demonstrating why every city in the U.S. needs a climate plan and needs to implement those plans with a real sense of urgency. There is no time to waste and our federal government isn’t helping.

How does SA Climate Ready stack up? In short: it needs work.

At the most fundamental level, the plan doesn’t set goals that align with the scientific consensus on how quickly emissions must be reduced to keep global warming to 1.5°C (a level that will result in more disasters than we are currently experiencing, but will hopefully avoid ecological collapse). Likewise, it fails to recognize that U.S. cities, including San Antonio, have a responsibility to reduce emissions more quickly than cities in poorer countries with lower emissions. The reality of what is needed from U.S. cities (ending our addiction to fossil fuels over the coming decade) may seem daunting, but the least we can do is recognize the fact, even if we don’t have a clear plan to achieve the goal.

What the World’s Climate Scientists Say

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,” which made it clear that the window of opportunity to avoid catastrophic climate change that is irreversible on the human time scale is closing. We need big changes now. We will have the best chance of keeping global warming to 1.5°C if we can achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions on a global level by 2040. Postponing significant emissions reductions until after 2030, as is implied by the SA Climate Ready plan, won’t land us in a world we want to live in.

From IPCC “Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C”

Listen to the Experts on City Climate Planning

C40 Cities – the leading organization that works with cities in the U.S. and internationally to take on climate change has developed a very helpful guidance document called “Deadline 2020” to help cities develop climate plans that align with meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. The name of the report comes from the fact that global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak by 2020 to give us a decent shot of limiting warming to 1.5°C, but the report describes emissions reduction paths for cities through mid-century.

As an organization that works with the world’s largest cities, C40 Cities is intimately aware of the fact that not all cities can reduce emissions at the same rate and that it’s not fair to expect all cities to be on the same path. Cities in wealthy countries with high emissions – like the U.S. – have the responsibility and the ability to reduce emissions much quicker than average. According to the C40 Cities methodology, San Antonio should be on the “steep decline” emissions reduction path.

From C40 Cities “Deadline 2020” report

Big, but Achievable, Emissions Reductions Needed in San Antonio

The “Deadline 2020” methodology was developed before the IPCC released its latest and most dire report, so we think that, taken together, the IPCC and C40 Cities reports point to U.S. cities needing to reduce emissions by around 80% by 2030. That’s a big drop, but fully transitioning to renewable energy (which is possible and can be done affordably with planning) and electrifying transportation (which is already a growing trend), would achieve this goal for a city like San Antonio. It’s cities that are home to more polluting industries that will have a bigger challenge.

CPS Energy Must Take Responsibility

San Antonio, along with the rest of the world, needs to stop burning coal and natural gas to make electricity. Cheap wind and solar, paired with now cost-competitive energy storage, along with energy efficiency, can replace fossil fuel power plants that pollute the community and are the city’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions. CPS Energy made a big deal about funding the development of the climate plan, but the utility failed to provide any analysis of options for phasing out it’s use of fossil fuels during the planning process. The city-owned utility is holding firm on waiting until 2050 to stop burning coal and natural gas. This simply isn’t compatible with climate action. That’s why we’re calling on CPS Energy to shut down the Spruce coal-burning power plant by 2025 and phase out it’s natural gas power plants by 2030

Our message to the city is this: Be straight about the facts and set goals that give the city a decent chance of meeting the challenge at hand. Do your fair share to preserve a livable planet.

If you live in San Antonio or are a CPS Energy customer, you can send the San Antonio City Council and the Office of Sustainability a message, asking them to strengthen and adopt the SA Climate Ready plan.

You can read our full comments on the draft SA Climate Ready plan here.

In the week since we learned from news reports that state and federal regulators inexplicably rejected NASA’s offer to monitor air quality in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Public Citizen Texas has asked the Texas Legislature to investigate this “willful negligence.”

“Both EPA and TCEQ officials must be held accountable for this inexplicable decision in the face of a grave public health threat,” Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office said in a statement.

Public Citizen continues to discuss this with state lawmakers to ensure that they are aware of the issue and responding accordingly. Of course, we weren’t the only ones appalled that the EPA and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s decided to rebuff NASA’s offer to help in those environmentally hazardous days after Harvey.

Harris County (Houston) Judge Lina Hidalgo took to Twitter to voice her dismay.

“This is disturbing,” Hidaldo tweeted about the news. “By rejecting NASA’s plan to measure pollution post-Harvey, EPA & TCEQ missed a critical opportunity. Air quality is vital to the health of Harris County residents. We need more assessments not less of potential environmental hazards.”

The Houston Chronicle Editorial Board published an editorial asking “Why would Texas officials refuse NASA’s help?”

“Harvey knocked down smokestacks, damaged pipelines, broke chemical storage tanks, and flooded hazardous waste sites, causing poisonous runoff to spill into nearby streams,” the newspaper noted. “All hands were needed to assess the 2017 storm’s environmental impact and figure out what immediate steps should be taken to protect the public. Yet when NASA extended its hand, it was refused.”

Congress also wants answers. The U.S. House Science Committee last week wrote letters to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Michael Honeycutt, chief toxicologist at TCEQ, demanding an explanation. The letter called the decision to reject NASA’s help “deeply troubling.”

This story isn’t over. We’re joining others in a call to Reps. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the House General Investigating Committee, and J.M. Lozano of Austin, who chairs the House Environmental Regulation Committee, to investigate the matter. Advocates have also requested that Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development, open an inquiry.

We hope you’ll click the links on their names above for telephone numbers and join us in calling their offices and asking them to hold TCEQ accountable. The public deserves more information about why TCEQ rejected some of the world’s most sophisticated air quality monitoring equipment in the midst of an epic natural disaster.

By Adrian Shelley, Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen

Today, Public Citizen supported, in the Texas House State Affairs Committee hearing, HB 935. A bill that would designate certain election days as state holidays. We are supportive because this bill would offer Texas voters more opportunity to vote and participate in elections.

Texas has the worst voter turnout in the nation.[1] I have personally experienced the difficulty of encouraging civic participation in Texas through my participation in the Houston in Action Coalition, which works to increase participation in voting and civic life in Harris County. Voter apathy and barriers to participation depress voter turnout in Texas. Texas’ population is increasingly young and diverse. The legislature should do everything possible to encourage civic participation among all Texans. When more Texans participate in elections, and in turn become more civically active, the democratic process benefits. Making election day a state holiday will surely increase voter turnout and participation in elections. And it comes with no fiscal impact to the state.

[1] See, e.g., https://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/texas/article/Voter-turnout-in-Texas-is-dead-last-in-America-13241845.php.

Public Citizen Texas today filed testimony in the legislature supporting a bill requiring landlords to notify renters if the dwelling they’re renting is in a flood plain or has been damaged by flooding in the past 20 years.

A FEMA representative looks at a house which shows the effect of flooding. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA

Home buyers already receive such notice. Renters also deserve to know all of the risks that they are assuming when they rent. The bill has no fiscal implication to the state.

Texans should be informed if their residence is prone to flooding and we urge state lawmakers to support this common sense legislation.

Read Public Citizen’s letter to members of the House Committee on Business and Industry, which has jurisdiction over the bill, below.

HBPublic Citizen Director Adrian Shelley wrote to members of the House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety today asking them to support HB 91, which would establish a disaster identification system for a declared state of disaster.

You can read the letter below.

Flashing Warning Light

HB 91 creates a standard system to convey that message: an illuminated display that uses a standard color scheme to communicate to first responders the needs of people and domestic animals.


House Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety. P.O. Box 2910 Austin, TX 78768

February 27, 2019

Re: HB 91, supporting testimony by Public Citizen

Dear Chairman Nevárez and members of the committee:

Public Citizen appreciates the opportunity to testify in favor of HB 91, relating to establishment of the disaster identification system for a declared state of disaster.

We support this bill because it will provide a means for emergency responders to locate victims in need of assistance during a disaster. Public Citizen has advocated for many years on behalf of communities and their needs during disasters.

We participated in two meetings called by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality with public health and environmental advocates to discuss the response to Hurricane Harvey. These meetings, held on September 12, 2017 and December 11, 2017, consisted of wide ranging discussions about Texas’ response to the public health and safety emergencies presented by Harvey. Through these meetings and our advocacy on this issue, we are well acquainted with the emergency response to Harvey, including areas where it could have been improved. In the midst of the Hurricane Harvey response, Texas Emergency

Management Chief Nim Kidd implored Texans in need of assistance “to make sure you put a signal out there, that you are still there, and you still need help, convey that message to first responders.” HB 91 creates a standard system to convey that message: an illuminated display that uses a standard color scheme to communicate to first responders the needs of people and domestic animals.

Because we want first responders to have every available tool to respond to people in need, and because we believe that HB 91 provides one such tool, we support the bill.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony, if you wish to discuss our position further, I can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-477-1155.


Adrian Shelley, Texas Office Director, Public Citizen

TCEQ and Social Media

Do you follow the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on Twitter? How about Facebook? Did you know they have an Instagram page? LinkedIn? YouTube?

The TCEQ has about 18,000 followers across those platforms, with 10,000 of those on LinkedIn and 6,000 on Twitter. They also maintain the website and social media for “Take Care of Texas,” the less-successful younger brother of TxDOT’s “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign.

Last week, at the first meeting of the House Environmental Regulations Committee during the 86th legislature, TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker told committee members that he hoped the TCEQ could use social media more effectively in the future. We agreed at the time, and now we’d like to take this opportunity to identify three things the TCEQ does well on social media and three things it could do better.

1. Air Quality Forecasts

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality uses its Twitter page to post daily air quality forecasts. The air quality forecasts might look familiar to you if you know of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index and AirNow.gov website. Many people use these tools to get information about air quality and air pollution near them, including people who suffer from asthma and people who work outdoors. When elevated ozone levels are the difference between a safe run or an asthma attack, you can imagine why some people rely on these resources. The TCEQ provides an email option for air quality forecasts, but posting them on social media is a great way to build the audience.

TCEQ began posting air quality forecasts back to 2015, when they were still using the @TCEQNews twitter handle. This happened in response to criticism from Air Alliance Houston (where I worked at the time), which had been calling attention to TCEQ’s total lack of an online presence. TCEQ never directly acknowledged our criticism, but to their credit, they did start posting daily air quality forecasts. In my research for this post, I found an archived Air Alliance Houston blog post from 2015 in which I (immodestly) took credit for prompting TCEQ to action.

2. Drought Maps

Some time after the TCEQ started posting daily air quality forecasts on Twitter, they added regularly updated drought maps. This is another example of actionable content about environmental quality. People across Texas can use the drought maps to adjust their water use or decide which of Texas’ many lakes, rivers, and streams to visit. Seeing periodic drought maps is also a good reminder that Texas often faces water shortages. We hope that this fact will prompt people to speak up about the need to use water more wisely in Texas by, for example, limiting the use of water in hydraulic fracturing or investing in urban water infrastructure to minimize transmission losses.

3. Notice of Public Hearings

This is another example where public criticism caused TCEQ to respond and change its practices for the better. Perhaps three years ago, the old @TCEQNews Twitter account posted to announce the close of a public comment period with no comments received. I responded (again from the Air Alliance Houston Twitter account) that receiving zero public comments was nothing to celebrate, and that perhaps TCEQ should post notice of public opportunities when they begin, not when they end without participation. Again I didn’t get a direct acknowledgement of my criticism, but again TCEQ responded, this time by beginning to post notice of public hearings. The public hearing is an essential opportunity for members of the public to weigh on permits and other decisions that affect our environment, so TCEQ should do everything it can to encourage public involvement.

A recent public meeting in Houston.

Pointing out these past exchanges with TCEQ isn’t about any desire for credit, but rather to show that the TCEQ does sometimes respond to publicly raised concerns. These may be a few modest changes by the agency, but they are typical of what we see from TCEQ. There are many, many hardworking, conscientious staffers at the Commission. Much of the good work that TCEQ does happens among these staffers, quietly and by degrees. These are the people who are listening when we make recommendations to the TCEQ. They may not announce changes with fanfare, but they can often nudge the Commission in the right direction. With that in mind, here are three things the TCEQ could do better on social media.

1. Focus on the Public

Do you know who TCEQ’s customers are? You might think it’s the 28 million Texans who breathe air, drink water, and enjoy unspoiled natural land. In fact, in TCEQ parlance, a “customer” is a company that has a permit with the Commission. What we might call a “polluter.”

This focus of attention on polluters is evident in TCEQ’s messaging on their website, social media, and elsewhere. So, for example, you will find social media announcements for the Environmental Trade Fair and Conference, but you aren’t likely to see any announcements for a workshop about, say, filing an environmental complaint. (As an aside, if you want to know how un-user friendly TCEQ’s complaint process is, consider that the actual email address they use is [email protected].)

2. Post permit notices and information Online

The TCEQ could promote public engagement by making more information available online. There is actually a bill filed in this legislative session by Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston, HB 245, that would require TCEQ to post certain environmental and water use permit applications online.

The TCEQ could do this by choice if it wanted to. If online posting required more resources, the TCEQ could request those resources in its budget proposal to the legislature. Furthermore, posting permits online would free TCEQ resources in the filing rooms across the state, where records are required to be kept for public viewing. Online posting wouldn’t eliminate the need for public maintenance of records, but it would drastically reduce the number of members of the public who came to view records, thus relieving an administrative burden on TCEQ. Details aside, there is little question that moving toward storing information online will save resources in the long run. TCEQ has, to its credit, done a lot of work in recent years to combine and update its online databases. Posting permits online is a next logical step.

3. Engage!

To recap, much of the story I have told here is one of advocates such as myself calling out TCEQ, and TCEQ quietly responding. At times the Commission seems singleminded about not engaging with the people. Perhaps they are concerned about creating liability or upsetting their customers. Whatever the reason, probably the biggest flaw in TCEQ’s social media strategy is the unwillingness to engage people where they are. To enter into frank exchanges about the hazards Texans face and what they can do about them. Nowhere is this more evident than during a natural disaster or an accident such as a fire or chemical release. These incidents often lead to robust discussions on social media, including people looking for information about risks and how to avoid them. In these up-to-the-minute conversations, the TCEQ is nowhere to be found. I suspect we could get an answer from some lawyers about why TCEQ cannot weigh in on a disaster as it is unfolding, but from our perspective that answer will simply be a justification to continue to not engage a willing public.

If the Commission is serious about improving its social media presence, our last suggestion is to loosen up, engage with people, and pull back the veil a bit. If people see the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality willing to engage with them, then perhaps they will be more willing to make that complaint, attend that workshop, or file those public comments. We have to believe that this is what TCEQ actually wants from average Texans, and social media is one way to encourage it.

Honorable Mention: TCEQ Executive Director Toby Baker

In conclusion, we have to applaud TCEQ’s Executive Director Toby Baker for having his own twitter account, @ctobybaker, since 2012. Mr. Baker has shared some fun tweets over the years, though at some point there was an addition to his twitter profile that is quite revelatory about the TCEQ’s current approach to social media. It reads, “Due to TX laws, I can’t receive certain communications– all ‘mentions’ are screened”

The nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) examined the 16 Texas power plants that are required to monitor groundwater under the Federal Coal Ash Rule, and found that 100 percent of the coal plants (16 out of 16) are leaking contaminants, including arsenic, boron, cobalt, and lithium, into groundwater at levels that would be unsafe for human consumption. For a detailed discussion of our study’s methods, see page 17. Some of the main findings include:

•   Thirteen of the sixteen coal plants have unsafe levels of arsenic in groundwater, with concentrations sometimes exceeding 100 micrograms per liter – ten times higher than the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level for arsenic.

•   Ten plants have unsafe levels of boron, which is toxic to both humans and aquatic life. Multiple wells at the San Miguel plant south of San Antonio have boron concentrations of more than thirty milligrams per liter, exceeding EPA’s health advisory by ten-fold.

•   Fourteen plants appear to be leaking unsafe levels of cobalt, which can harm the heart, blood, and other organs. The groundwater protection standard for cobalt is six micrograms per liter. At the San Miguel plant, Gibbons Creek facility northwest of Houston, and Welsh plant east of Dallas, cobalt in groundwater reaches more than 600 micrograms per liter, which is more than 100 times higher than safe levels.

· Lithium is associated with neurological effects and other health risks. Eleven Texas coal plants have unsafe levels of lithium in groundwater, with concentrations frequently exceeding 1,000 micrograms per liter, 25 times the health-based groundwater protection standard of 40 micrograms per liter.

In addition, with one or two exceptions, none of the coal ash ponds in Texas meet EPA requirements for liners, meaning that they lack underground barriers made of plastic or other waterproof materials that prevent them from leaking. 

The plants in the study are Oak Grove and Twin Oaks coal plants in Roberson County, Sandy Creek coal plant in McLennan County, Limestone coal plant in Limestone County, Sandow coal plant in Milam County, Fayette coal plant in Fayette County, Monticello and Welsh coal plants in Titus County, Pirkey coal plant in Harrison County, Martin Lake coal plant in Rusk County, Big Brown coal plant in Freestone County, Gibbons Creek coal plant in Grimes County, Calaveras coal plant in Bexar County, San Miguel coal plant in Atascosa County, Parish coal plant in Fort Bend County, and Coleto Creek coal plant in Fannin County.

The report goes on to say the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) can address the coal ash threat in the following ways:

•         Require coal-fired power plants to remediate coal ash contamination from any onsite ash dumps, regardless of whether these dumps are active or inactive.

•         Prohibit the dumping or burying of coal ash in places where it remains in contact with groundwater. The only way to prevent contamination from coal ash is to keep the coal ash contained and dry. Ash ponds at the Monticello and Welsh plants east of Dallas are in contact with groundwater, and the owners of these plants are planning to close the ponds in place. Leaving ash in these ponds will result in ongoing, long-term contamination of groundwater.

•         Require owners to post all groundwater monitoring data as soon as the data are collected, and require owners to follow the assessment monitoring schedule laid out in the Coal Ash Rule, not the creative interpretation suggested by industry groups and sanctioned by the Trump EPA. Assessment monitoring should begin no later than 90 days after finding statistically significant increases in detection monitoring, and the assessment monitoring data should be analyzed for significant increases within 90 days of initiating assessment monitoring.

•         Require owners to select background monitoring wells that are unaffected by coal ash from any coal ash unit, regulated or unregulated. This is what the federal Coal Ash Rule requires, and EPA and Texas should strictly enforce this provision of the rule.

•         Require testing of any residential or municipal drinking water wells within one-half mile of coal ash ponds and landfills.

•         Consider environmental justice and avoid disproportionate impacts of coal ash disposal on low-income communities and communities of color.

To read the entire report, Groundwater Contamination from Texas Coal Ash Dumps


Climate change is the defining issue of our time. Public Citizen believes that journalists and media outlets should give climate change the media coverage it deserves. Seven in ten Americans agree that they are interested in climate change and that the media should cover it more. Our “Cover Climate” campaign was launched to call attention to media outlets that are not adequately covering climate change.

A new report by Public Citizen’s Cover Climate campaign shows that media outlets typically do not discuss climate change when covering extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts, and hurricanes. The report, Carbon Omission: How the U.S. Media Failed to Connect Extreme Weather to Climate Change in 2018, shows that media outlets only mention climate change in conjunction with heat waves 34 per cent of the time, for droughts only 34 per cent of the time, and for last years hurricanes Florence and Michael, only 10 per cent of the time.

Interestingly, papers in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas–all states affected by hurricanes in 2017 or 2018–are actually worse than their peers in other states at mentioning climate change in conjunction with natural disasters.

This is especially concerning in Texas, which is more vulnerable to natural disasters than any other state. In fact, based on an analysis by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Texas has experienced 44% of all billion dollar disasters in the United States since 1980.

The United States has experienced 238 billion dollar disasters since 1980, with 105 of those occurring in Texas. Meaning our state is second to none in its vulnerability to natural disasters and should be very concerned about the relationship between these disasters and climate change.

Despite this, Texas Governor Greg Abbott remains defiant on the question of climate science. Earlier this month, Governor Abbott was presented with a letter from climate scientists explaining that there is a scientific consensus on climate change and that we can expect to see increasing consequences for our failure to act.

Abbott’s response? He can’t weigh in on the question of climate change because he is not a scientist.

This is not an adequate response. Nevertheless, it is a favored talking point by climate deniers. The argument that one must be an expert to make policy decisions is simply absurd. One can imagine the reaction if Governor Abbott, after a briefing by Texas teachers, asserted that he couldn’t make decisions about school finance because he isn’t a teacher. Or how about a Governor Abbott who wouldn’t weigh on the the abortion question because he isn’t a doctor?

In these areas, our Governor believes he is qualified to make policy pronouncements–as indeed any capable leader would. We rely on our elected officials not to be experts in each and every field, but to have the wherewithal to consult the experts and make policy decisions based on their recommendations.

This is all we ask of Governor Greg Abbott. No one expects him to become a climate scientist. His protestations that he cannot weigh in on the issue without personally possessing the expertise are a dodge, nothing more. If he refuses to answer important policy questions for the state, it is only because he knows he is out of step with mainstream science and public opinion on the issue.

This is why climate coverage by our state’s news media is so important. We cannot let our lawmakers dodge the issue any more. They need to know that when we discuss droughts, flood, heat waves, hurricanes, and yes, even polar vortexes, we will also be having a conversation about climate change. If the media continues the conversation, our policymakers will fall in line.

We aren’t asking them to be experts. We’re just asking them to listen to the experts.

By Rita Beving

On Wednesday, the Dallas City Council approved the selection of AECOM, an international, Fortune 500 consulting firm, to help develop a climate and environmental plan for Dallas and the surrounding community.

Rita Beving speaking at Dallas City Council meeting that launches Dallas’s efforts to mitigate climate change.

AECOM has given assistance in climate and sustainability planning to other cities including Mexico City and Los Angeles.

The vote marks the beginning of the climate planning process for Dallas to reduce its carbon footprint.  The planning process offers many different avenues to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including electrifying transportation, investing in green energy, retiring fossil fuel generation, securing commitments from industrial emitters and promoting energy efficiency.

The planning process will immediately commence in the upcoming weeks with an eye on a final plan to be reviewed in the spring of 2020.

It will involve a public process with stakeholders from business, industry, academia, the environment and the community.

Along with the selection of the consulting entity that will help develop the climate plan, the City of Dallas passed a multi-faceted resolution directing the City Manager to take the necessary actions to join the network of C40 cities.  The C40 is an association of the world’s largest cities committed to addressing climate change, connecting 96 of the world’s greatest cities to take climate action.

Additionally, the resolution also directed Dallas to support federal action on climate, supporting a proposal by Citizens Climate Lobby for congressional approval of a national carbon fee and dividend.  The carbon fee and dividend concept is part of the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act introduced in Congress in 2018.  The act provides for a national, revenue-neutral carbon fee-and-dividend system (CF&D) which would place a predictable, steadily rising price on carbon, with all fees collected minus administrative costs returned to households as a monthly energy dividend.

Dallas took the necessary steps this past Wednesday to chart a course toward rapid and decisive action at both a federal and local level to combat climate change.  And I applaud their broad and aggressive action. It is time that other cities in the DFW area also take the challenge to step up for their citizens and the region by pursuing their own climate plans and other initiatives to help clean the air and cool the planet.

*Note: this is a blog post by Miao Zhang, a junior at Rice University majoring in Mathematical Economic Analysis and Visual Arts. Ms. Zhang recently completed a Fall semester internship with Public Citizen.

Metal recycling sounds environmentally friendly, right? Did you know, however, that these recyclers can actually be a source of air pollution?

When did regulators find out about this?

The discovery that metal recycling can create significant pollution was publicized in Houston in late 2012. There were over 180 complaints of colored smoke and trouble breathing between 2008 and 2013. These complaints finally led Houston air authorities to discover this new source of air pollution. There were barely any regulations on the emission levels of metal recyclers since metal recycling is a business assumed to have low emissions.

Where does the air pollution come from?

Metal compounds may be released into the air when metal welding and cutting is taking place. Some of these chemicals are potentially cancer-causing.

In a study by the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, metal particulate matter including iron, manganese, copper, chromium, nickel, lead, cobalt, cadmium and mercury was detected in the ambient air near the five metal recyclers sampled. The concentration of these particulate matters poses carcinogenic risks to the communities nearby. The increased cancer risk is estimated to range from 1 in 1,000,000 to 8 in 10,000.

There are currently over 150 metal recycling facilities in the City of Houston. Most of them are in already underserved communities. With no buffer zone restrictions distancing these facilities from residential areas, many of them are right next door to people’s homes.

With Houston being prone to flooding, especially in certain communities, Houstonians also run the risk of having such pollutants reach further and even seep into the groundwater.  

What should we do?

Recycling is certainly a good thing, but it’s easy to be misguided by the positive connotation of the word. As eco-friendly as recycling sounds, the process still inevitably takes up energy and resources and produces waste. Procedures that make good on one end may cause damage to another. Take almond milk for example. Even though the production of almond milk doesn’t involve cows and thus reduces greenhouse gas emissions, the process requires much more water than regular milk or other milk alternatives.

Just because something is for a good cause shouldn’t excuse it from the same level of regulation as other industry. Specific and strict limits should be placed on the different kinds of pollutants that metal recyclers release. Neighboring communities should also be informed of the potential risks of living within close radius to these facilities. In the city of Houston, there is barely any required buffer zones for how close a metal recycler can be to homes. With many metal recyclers operating right by residential areas, the communities must be informed on the matter.

In December, the Houston Independent School District (HISD) school board members voted against a proposal to seek partnerships with charters to take over education at four schools. The four schools in question are Highland Heights Elementary School, Patrick Henry Middle School, Kashmere High School, and Wheatley High School. These schools are in historic communities of color. The schools have suffered for years from systemic racism and a lack of investment. Now the Texas Education Association (TEA) wants to take over control of the school district because they say that these schools are failing, when in reality, they have been failed by the system.

Public Citizen supports the school board’s decision not to move forward with partnerships.

We support Houston-based advocates who are calling for public education to remain firmly within the hands of democratically elected school boards. We support retaining community control of schools and ensuring that the remedies to support Houston children’s education come from the wisdom of the community and educators, not from disconnected state officials who lack community context and connection.

Why is a partnership a bad idea for schools?

The partnership plan comes out of the 85th Legislature through SB 1882. The legislation allows school boards to partner with charters to control low performing schools. The school board will then receive an exemption from intervention as well as additional funding for students. While this seems like a good idea on the surface – avoid state takeover, get more money – SB1882 can do great harm. Any partnership stemming from this bill effectively charters the schools in consideration. It removes the schools from the oversight and accountability of the democratically-elected school board. SB 1882 has already been the subject of a lawsuit in Travis County District Court over weakened protections for school teachers.

I spoke at public session the HISD’s board meeting in December to oppose partnering and chartering schools which are considered underperforming by TEA. You can read my statement here.

Who should be leading the vision for schools?

Educators and Community Members.

Wealthy, corporate board members have no business partnering with schools. School board trustees must ensure that educators with K-12 instructional experience drive the vision for these schools. Chartering is no solution, either. Chartering only enhances the possibility for privatization. School board members rightly denied opportunities for these historic schools to be chartered.

What can you do?

Groups in Houston are developing community-oriented solutions for the schools to ensure every student has equal access to quality education. On January 5th, there will be an Education Town Hall at Kashmere Gardens Multi-Purpose Center from 2 – 4 pm to discuss community-driven alternatives to privatization of schools, put on by Black Lives Matter Houston, Houston RisingHISD Parent Advocates, and Indivisible Houston.

Support our schools and take part in this important event.

Learn more about this issue. See: To save Houston’s schools, fight the TEA by Kandice Webber, Travis McGee and Sarah Becker.

Contact your state representatives to demand change to the laws that put corporate interests above students. School finance issues will feature prominently in the 86th Legislative Session (January – May) in Austin. Keep an eye on your representatives and call on them to stop promoting school privatization and to keep democracy alive in our school boards.