Posts Tagged ‘San Antonio’

Map of air monitoring sites in Austin. Light blue sites monitor for ozone.

On June 12, Governor Greg Abbott signed a $217 billion budget for Texas into law. Abbott also exercised line-item vetoes to eliminate $120 million from the budget. Among those cuts were $87 million for the Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance Program, a voluntary program that helps low-income Texans replace their old, polluting vehicles with newer ones.

Continuing the assault on clean air, Abbott also cut $6 million for air quality planning in certain areas of the state (see pdf p. 5). The governor’s comment on this funding cut is worth quoting in full, beginning with the item vetoed and then the comment in italics:

  1. Air Quality Planning. Amounts appropriated above include $6,000,500 for the biennium out of the Clean Air Account No. 151 in Strategy A.1.1, Air Quality Assessment and Planning, for air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas during the 2016 17 biennium and as approved by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These areas may include Waco, El Paso, Beaumont, Austin, Corpus Christi, Granbury, Killeen Temple, Longview Tyler Marshall, San Antonio, and Victoria. These activities may be carried out through interlocal agreements and may include: identifying, inventorying, and monitoring of pollution levels; modeling pollution levels; and the identification, quantification, implementation of appropriate locally enforceable pollution reduction controls; and the submission of work plans to be submitted to the TCEQ. The TCEQ shall allocate $350,000 to each area and the remaining funds to each area based on population in excess of 350,000. The grant recipients shall channel the funds to those projects most useful for the State Implementation Plan (SIP).

This program funds, among other items, bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs in near non-attainment areas, which can be funded at the local government level. Resources in the Clean Air Account should be prioritized to directly address problems in our non-attainment areas of the state so that we are better positioned to combat the business-stifling regulations imposed on these areas by the Environmental Protection Agency. I therefore object to and disapprove of this appropriation.

This is an unfortunate description of air quality planning activities and of the purpose of the Clean Air Account itself. So what are “air quality planning activities to reduce ozone in areas not designated as nonattainment areas”?

Ozone is a harmful pollutant that is linked to everything from asthma attacks and difficulty breathing to heart attacks, stroke, and premature death. Ozone is formed in the atmosphere through the mixing of other pollutants that are emitted by vehicles and industrial sources such as refineries. There are two areas of the state—Houston, and Dallas—that do not meet the federal air pollution standards for ozone. These are our “nonattainment” areas. There are many other areas in the state—including San Antonio and Austin—that do meet the federal ozone standard but still have numerous bad ozone days throughout the year. These areas, especially San Antonio, risk worsening air quality and an eventual “nonattainment designation” by the Environmental Protection Agency. Such a designation would subject the area to decades of regulation and costs that could reach the billions.

All of us have seen the ozone action day announcements.  Those alert at-risk citizens (like children, the elderly and those who have certain health risks) to curtail their outside exposure to mitigate the negative health impacts.  Local air quality monitors are what alert us to those dangers.

In order to keep the “near-nonattainment” areas clean and healthy (and to avoid the federal designation), Texas appropriates several million dollars for air quality planning activities. This money enables these areas to participate in programs like the ozone Early Action Compact. So far, these programs have been successful, though San Antonio may inevitably face a nonattainment designation as it grows.

Surely Governor Abbott understands the importance and success of these air quality planning activities. Describing the program as consisting of “bicycle use programs, carpooling awareness, environmental awareness campaigns, and locally enforceable pollution reduction programs” is an obvious straw man. Bicycle and carpooling programs—while important in their own right—are not all that goes into air quality planning.

Air quality planners in Houston demonstrate how that city’s air monitors operate.

In Austin, for example, the city maintains eight ozone monitors in addition to the two maintained by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). These additional monitors help with air quality forecasting. They also help us to better understand large-scale impacts on air quality to our region by sources such as the Fayette power plant to the southeast, or Dallas to the north.

San Antonio just announced that it will shut down six ozone air monitors and lay off four staff members in response to the governor’s cuts. This is truly unfortunate for the people affected and for air quality monitoring and pollution prevention. If data is never collected, the ability to paint long-term pictures and identify trends in air pollution is lost for that time period. San Antonio may one day refund its program, but its former employees will have moved on, and the data will have been lost forever.

On the same day, San Antonio made this announcement, the Central Texas Clean Air Coalition in Austin held an emergency meeting to discuss how it would respond to the proposed funding cuts. The Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) has asked its member counties and cities to consider an additional financial contribution to support ongoing air quality planning activities in Austin. CAPCOG proposed tiered levels of funding that would alternatively fund more or less the region’s activities.

At the meeting, CAPCOG members seemed to understand the importance of a funding level that would keep all staff in place and all air monitors active. Cuts will definitely have to be made (to, for example, the regular maintenance schedule for those monitors) but if CAPCOG’s members do approve the appropriate tier of funding, then air quality planning programs in Austin will remain largely intact.

We hope that Austin is able to continue its important work by keeping Austinites safe from dangerous ozone pollution. Governor Greg Abbott may not recognize the importance of this work right now, but we hope that he does some day and that these shortsighted cuts do not continue.

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This coming weekend is a busy one for folks concerned about a variety of issues around climate change and eminent domain focusing around the Texas leg of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines.

Saturday, September 21, 2013 is a national day of action, some of the events happening in Texas:

  • San Antonio – 10am to noon
    San Pedro Springs Park, 1415 San Pedro Avenue, San Antonio, TX
    Part of the 350.org national “Draw the Line” day of action, with Energia Mia, Alamo Chapter of the Sierra Club, Esperanza Center, the People’s Power Coalition, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Bexar County Green Party, Texas Indigenous Council, and others will gather at the park to voice opposition to tar sands. (Pinata burst at 11 am)
  • Houston
    1:00 pm – Corner of Post Oak Blvd, and Westheimer, in Houston, TX and
    2:00 pm – Hermann Park, at the Street Theater.
  • Dallas
    9:30 am – White Rock Lake (West Lawther between Fisher and Branchfield), Dallas, TX.  Lake spruce up activities
    7:00 pm to Sunset – a roadside rally and candlelight vigil
  • Austin – Rally at the Texas Capitol

Click here to find out more about these actions and to locate actions in other communities.



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SAN ANTONIO – The newly formed Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition called on CPS Energy to meet a set of conditions before following through with an October rate hike.

Describing the hike as an increase that will “unfairly burden residential taxpayers,” coalition members called on CPS to take steps to reduce pollution, waste and costs for consumers.

The coalition presented its demands in a petition handed off to the utility during the Monday, Sept. 9 CPS Rate Case Input Session held at the TriPoint Grantham Center.

“We oppose the rate hike because it promotes unsustainable growth, driven by dirty energy, on the shoulders of the poor and working class folks who already pay the most for energy costs relative to income and quality of housing stock,” said Dr. Marisol Cortez, scholar-in-residence at the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center.

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The newly formed Re-Energize San Antonio Coalition put its opposition to CPS’s proposed rate hike on the record during a Sept. 9 citizen’s input meeting. Coalition representatives presented the utility with a plan of action that they want addressed before an increase goes into effect. Here’s the petition.


Submitted to CPS Energy during the CPS Rate Case Input Session, Monday, Sept. 9, 2013.

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If you weren’t already convinced that Austin would be misguided to hand over governance and oversight of our municipal electric utility, Austin Energy, to an unelected board, CPS Energy’s unelected board just provided a great example of what we can expect under such a regime.

CPS Energy on Tuesday proposed cutting the amount it pays for solar power generated from residential customers roughly in half, angering clean-energy activists and system installers who say the cuts would cripple the local solar industry.

“There was zero consultation with the solar industry in the development of this proposal,” said Lanny Sinkin, executive director of the advocacy group Solar San Antonio, who was made aware of the plan Monday night. “They’re going to kill the solar industry.”

Read the rest of the story on MySanAntonio.com.

Two important things to note:

  1. This is a bad, anti-environmental, anti-consumer policy change.
  2. No public input was sought prior to announcing this very significant change to CPS policy.

In Austin, we have come to expect that the public will be consulted on changes to our community.  An unelected board doesn’t fear political blow-back and will therefore be beholden not to the ratepayers (that’s you and me), but to special interests.  I don’t know who was behind this proposal at CPS, but it wasn’t the people of San Antonio.

Please, stop by City Hall and register against item #11 on today’s City Council agenda.  If you have time to say a few words on behalf of democracy, arrive by 4pm if you can.  Council doesn’t always run on time though, so even if you can’t get there until 5:00 or after, you might still get a chance to speak.

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San Antonio Kick-Off is scheduled for Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at the Whole Foods Market Meeting Room, 255 E. Basse Rd. #130, San Antonio, TX, 78209

RSVP here!

This past year, Texas experienced one of its worst droughts: Reservoirs dipped to record lows, and as many as 500 million trees across Texas died.  In San Antonio, it seems everyone knows the level of the Edwards Aquifer, and recent storms have not brought adequate relief or repaired this damage.

The good news is that we can save millions of gallons through common-sense, cheap solutions like fixing leaky pipes and recycling water that we have already collected. But we need YOUR help. The best way to learn more and get involved is to join San Antonio’s Save Texas Rivers Kick-Off Wednesday, March 13 at 6:30PM.

Environment Texas will discuss Texas water policy, the importance of conservation, and ways to ensure a sustainable water future. RSVP here and bring a friend!

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A survey done by Solar Austin at the beginning of 2012 shows there are at least 615 full-time solar energy jobs in Austin.  These jobs include manufacturing, R&D, solar installation, financial and engineering consultants.  Adding standard jobs multipliers the total direct and indirect employment supported by the Austin solar industry is 1,180 to 2,190 jobs.

The job figures in Solar Austin’s survey did not include the 240 local job years of employment created by the 30-Megawatt solar park at Webberville east of Austin.  The group says the job potential for rooftop solar is even greater.

In 2004, Austin Energy began a rebate program to promote rooftop solar panel installations.  It was the first program of its kind in Texas. Austin has since founded and funded institutions that develop new clean energy technology and businesses resulting in clean-tech start-ups, spin-offs, and expansions with many of the jobs at family-wage scale – solar electric system installers making $36,000 a year, solar manufacturing jobs averaging $50,000 a year, and solar engineering paying $75,000 and more annually.

In spite of the potential for job growth, the group pointed to Austin’s south where San Antonio’s public utility CPS, has begun funding solar rebate programs that have overtaken Austin’s and challenged the city to continue to capitalize on their previous commitment, taking it to the next level to make Austin a renewable energy industry cluster in the same way it has electronic manufacturing and software clusters.

We want thousands of jobs in renewable energy, not hundreds!,” says Public Citizen’s Texas director, Tom “Smitty” Smith.

Take a look at the 4 page flyer on the survey put out by Solar Austin – Jobs Survey 4-Pager.

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San Antonio’s dreams of becoming a solar manufacturing hub have been deferred temporarily.  CPS Energy, the city’s municipally owned utility, couldn’t come to agreement with two unnamed finalists and will restart a bidding process that would put San Antonio into the top tier of solar users around the globe by seeking bids for 400 megawatts of solar power, enough to power 80,000 homes, and will require the winning bidder to bring manufacturing jobs to the Alamo City.

San Antonio is trying to marry investment in renewables with economic development in an effort to keep the cost of electricity as low as possible while getting as many jobs as possible, but the city has had a learning curve in this process, yet they remain confident that this vision can come to fruition.

Thirty two companies initially submitted 111 proposals several months ago. The utility then re-opened the bidding process and expected to make a decision by Sept. 1. Even as CPS Energy zeroed in on two finalists, Lewis said, other companies around the globe approached the utility with their own ideas and CPS Energy officials decided to end negotiations and open a third round of bidding after rewriting the specifications of what it wants.

So the problem lies not with no takers, but with many and new ideas coming forward to possibly make this move by San Antonio more profitable.  What this Central Texas metroplex does with this process could set the trend for the country and remains an experiment to watch.

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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the operators of the Texas electric grid, has released its Emerging technologies report that includes the state of renewables on the Texas grid.

Monthly wind energy graph

Some interesting facts show that wind generation continues to provide a significant amount of energy to the grid as the technology matures, new turbines are developed and better tools are put in place to maximize the turbines generation. The effects of the CREZ (certified renewable energy zone) transmission line build out are starting to be seen as congestion from wind rich west Texas is reduced and more energy is being able to be delivered to the major urban ares. The report shows that wind generation provided 9.9% of the total energy used from January thru June of this year.

Other good news is that the capacity factor (100% capacity factor would be a perfect generator running flat out all of the time all 8760 hours of the year) for the wind fleet has now reached 38.3%  and continues to increase, that’s better than a lot of natural gas plants.

In addition on June 19, 2011, at 10:26 PM, ERCOT set a record for instantaneous wind generation of 7,355 MW (which represented 77.6% of installed wind generation capacity and 14.6% of the ERCOT load at the time).  This broke the previous instantaneous wind generation record of 7,227 MW set on December 10, 2010. So much for wind not working in the summertime.

The amount of wind produced energy continues to increase and the new coastal wind farms have been a major contributor.  According to the CEO of ERCOT wind has saved us a couple of times this year. Back during the February 3rd rolling blackouts the wind farms played a large roll in keeping the grid running when the aging fleet of fossil fuel generators, along with some brand new ones, failed in the cold.  Then during the current heat wave, the coastal wind farms supplied around 2000 mw of much needed energy during one of the highest energy demand days, keeping the lights on. Perhaps the PUC should start paying more attention and let us add some solar to the mix instead of letting the 500mw non-wind project expire as they did.

ERCOT Wind Generation Capacity

Recently San Antonio put out a request for a large solar project and was bombarded with proposals.  ERCOT then announced they are planning to un-mothball several old gas plants just in case we run short on energy again.  It’s the same thing we saw during the legislative session – the fossil fuel companies got to keep billions in tax breaks but solar didn’t get a dime.   Now the PUC is having a meeting (August 22nd) on how they can “fix” the market to get more generation built when they already have the tools and the opportunity staring them in the face.

During a recent ERCOT meeting held at the peak of the energy demand, I over heard folks saying how “it sure would be nice to have some more solar on the system.” Perhaps the politicians should get out of the way and let the engineers do their job.   The public power utilities (municipally owned and rural electric cooperatives) are leading the way.  San Antonio is looking to build 400mw utility scale solar, Austins 30mw Webberville project moving along and several other Munis and Co-ops looking to build solar projects.  But where is the much vaunted deregulated energy market when we need them?  Relying on 30-50years old smelly, toxin spewing existing fleets – or business as usual.

As Texas bakes in the the record summer heat wave and our scarce water resources are being sucked up by traditional power plants ( a typical coal plant can use 10 million gallons of water a day) low impact non polluting energy sources are being allowed to languish on the sidelines. Its time to get with it, and bring some new industries, more jobs and clean renewable energy to the Texas grid to keep the lights on and meet the EPA regulations for clean air and water for us and our children to enjoy. Companies want to build 3000 MW of offshore wind beyond the barrier islands south of Corpus Christi, and there is a 10,000 mw farm that is in the plans to be built up in the Panhandle.

To paraphrase, the answer my friends truly seems to be blowing in the wind, just as the sun comes up every morning.

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CPS Energy, San Antonio’s municipal utility, has announced plans to shut its two-unit, 871-megawatt JT Deely coal station down by 2018. The utility estimates this move could save as much as $3 billion in environmental upgrades needed for these aging coal-fired units to comply with pending federal regulations.

CPS Energy is the nation’s largest city-owned utility and supplies both natural gas and electricity to the nearly 1.4 million residents of 9th largest city in the US.  San Antonio is on a path to reduce its reliance on fossil-fueled generation and boost its use of renewable resources, such as wind and solar power, to 20 percent, or 1,500 megawatts, by 2020.

Stricter regulations being formulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce air and water pollution as well as to control coal waste are expected to force retirement of between 30,000 and 70,000 megawatts of coal generation in the next few years, according to industry studies and San Antonio’s efforts to get ahead of these regulations is pushing them to the forefront of a new energy future here in Texas.

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San Antonio’s electric utility, CPS, has halted their negotiations on a power purchase agreement between CPS and STP’s expansion units 3 and 4.  CPS’s CEO, Doyle Beneby, announced that CPS and NRG have mutually agreed to terminate their PPA negotiations at this point. 

It would appear that the issues facing NRG’s Japanese partners (including Tepco, the beleaguered owners of the doomed Fukushima nuclear plant) are giving everyone pause in their relentless pursuit of the STP expansion.

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Map of Texas highlighting counties served by t...

Texas counties served by AACOG

San Antonio, which sits just north of what many say is one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the country known as the Eagle Ford, is a heart beat away from violating federal air quality standards for ground-level ozone. It seems it is only a matter of time before the increased emissions from the Eagle Ford could drift up on prevailing winds, pushing the area out of compliance.

With drilling expected to increase over the next decade, those responsible for this region’s air quality say the increased pollution could make it difficult to remain under federal limits.  In the past decade, San Antonio’s ozone levels have decreased by 13 percent while its population has increased 13 percent, managing to stay just ahead of federal standards.  However, once a region falls out of compliance, efforts to get back in are time-consuming, politically unpopular and expensive.

It is going to be a tough contest for the environment to compete with the hype about the economic benefits (which always fail to take into account the economic costs to the region for these types of activities – increased health care costs, decreased quality of life costs, and the cost of coming back into compliance with federal air quality standards).

According to a study by the Center for Business Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio and commissioned by America’s Natural Gas Association:

Activity in the Eagle Ford in 2010 alone generated more than $2.9 billion in total revenue, supported roughly 12,600 full-time jobs and provided nearly $47.6 million in local government revenue.

Last year there were 72 active oil leases, some of which may have more than one well, and 158 producing gas wells.

However, the number of drilling permits issued by the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, has reached 1,132 as of February. In just one year, the output of crude oil, condensate and other liquids nearly quadrupled to 3.9 million barrels.

And the boom has just begun; the UTSA study forecasts that 5,000 more wells could be drilled by 2020.

So far, no regulatory agency has begun comprehensive air monitoring in the Eagle Ford area, meaning there’s no baseline to measure any increased pollution.

Models for other regions of the country show drilling and related emissions can increase ground-level ozone significantly and the sheer volume of drilling that’s expected over the next decade, will require Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) to add a new category, for drilling and recovery, into its air pollution forecasting models.

The San Antonio Express News writes about the area:

The Eagle Ford shale covers a swath roughly 50 miles wide and 400 miles long, from Maverick and Webb counties sweeping north and east up to Leon and Houston counties, but not including Bexar County. Unlike other large shale formations that have recently been tapped, the Eagle Ford includes a good deal of oil, mostly along the northern reach.

Because oil prices are high and natural gas prices low at the moment, there’s more activity in the oil region at this time, industry analysts say.

Drilling has occurred in South Texas for decades, but the oil and gas trapped in the deeper, dense rock layers once were too expensive to reach. Advances in drilling technology, most notably hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, have allowed an unprecedented amount of hydrocarbons to be extracted.

“Fracking,” as it’s known, forces millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and a variety of chemicals, into shale formations, forcing open fissures to allow the natural gas and oil to escape. Horizontal drilling allows for one hole to be drilled vertically, then one or more pipes to branch out into the shale.

Together, these techniques have spawned a natural gas boom in the country, with some industry experts estimating a 100-year supply of a fuel that burns more cleanly than coal and could help push the country toward energy independence.

In other parts of the country the boom is well under way, and as drilling has increased, so have complaints about its environmental impacts, most notably drinking water contamination.  While it remains unclear whether fracturing has contaminated drinking water, the EPA last month agreed to study the entire life cycle of the gas production process, to determine how it can affect drinking water supplies.

While water has gotten the lion’s share of the attention thus far, air quality concerns also are increasing and seem to be the area of most concern to San Antonio as they look toward increased drilling activities in the region.  Let’s hope they can stay ahead of this new boom.

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

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

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

Click here to read the whole blog post.

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Future's so brightCPS Energy CEO Doyle Beneby announced that the utility will acquire an additional 50 megawatts of solar power and that the company chosen to build the new plants for it will be required to locate a portion of its business in San Antonio.  Currently the negotiations include a leading solar manufacturer to locate a small office in the area and invest in an educational center at one of the solar sites with a larger goal of having a solar company locate a manufacturing plant or perhaps an assembly plant in San Antonio.

San Antonio is trying to do locally, what the State should be doing – luring new renewable industries and jobs to Texas.  As CPS and San Antonio take the lead in fulfilling their potential as a clean energy hub, let’s hope the State takes notice and begins to follow suite.

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A couple of weeks ago an outage at South Texas (Nuclear) Project (STP) occurred when unit 2 automatically shutdown due to an “equipment failure”.  This outage triggered a reliability deployment of LaaRs (Load Acting as a Resource) event at ERCOT.  This shifting of load to cover an unexpected event can be quite expensive and the retail electric providers who purchase their electricity from STP will bear the brunt of that cost.

South Texas Nuclear Plant entrance from NRC.gov

One of these two reactors isn't working. And they call renewable energy unreliable!

South Texas Project has since announced it will extend its Unit 2 outage to repair a seal-housing gasket on a reactor coolant pump, which moves water through the steam generator.   The company has decided that, while the gasket’s condition is within operating criteria, STP will make the needed repairs, while they also continue to run unit 1.

A repair schedule is being finalized and restoration of the unit is projected to be completed sometime in November, but we here wonder if it won’t be even into December before it is repaired.

In the meantime, Austin Energy, which gets 27% of its energy from STP, and San Antonio’s CPS, which gets 38% of its energy from STP will be purchasing energy from other sources to make up for the loss from the STP outage.  Let’s hope we don’t have a major cold front come in before STP unit 2 is back online, or these energy companies could be looking at a lowered earnings projection for their final quarter.

This continues a banner few weeks for the nuke industry, who had to shut down Vermont Yankee because of a radioactive water leak and an unexplained transformer explosion at Indian Point 2, a reactor just 24 miles north of New York City, a known secondary target of terrorists on 9/11.


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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