This is the first in what will be a weekly rundown of environmental news affecting Texas, the United States, and the world. In brief, the drought in Texas continues despite recent rains in East Texas, news leaked out of an ongoing oil spill in the Gulf that began in 2004, the Keystone XL pipeline debate made its way onto Comedy Central, nuclear power is making a comeback in the US, and President Obama released his 2013 budget.
The Drought In Texas
The water supply system in Texas was built in response to the 1950’s drought. Laura Huffman of the Nature Conservancy argues that Texas needs major investments to meet the needs of today’s population and economy. The drought cost Texas over $5.2 billion in crop and cattle losses last year. If water supplies do not improve, losses could reach $116 billion a year by 2060.
The drought killed 5.6 million trees in urban areas and up to 500 million trees statewide, or about 10% of the state’s forest cover, according to a report from the Texas Forest Service. Houston saw some of the worst drought damage, with thousands of trees lost in Memorial Park alone. Central and North Texas parks tend to feature hardier, drought resistant species, so losses were less in those areas.
Arcane water rights laws force East Texas landowners to forgo water from the Sabine River because a hunting and fishing club needs more water, revealing a patchwork of water rights dating back to the 18th century. More than 1200 water rights permits were suspended in 2011, and with the drought expected to continue through 2012, expect more lawsuits in the future.
The Seven Year Old Oil Spill You Haven’t Heard Of
- The Waterkeeper Alliance filed suit against Taylor Energy LLC for failing to stem, or even acknowledge, an oil spill that has been leaking off the coast of Louisiana since Hurricane Ivan, in 2004, triggered an underwater landslide that severed one of its well heads. SkyTruth, a satellite imaging firm, estimates that about 1.1 million gallons have spilled thus far. Given the difficulty in estimating flow rates from deep water spills, it is possible that up 10.2 million gallons have spilled. In contrast, the BP disaster in 2010 spilled 4.9 million gallons.
Keystone XL Pipeline News
Republicans in the Senate are attempting to attach an amendment to a highway bill that would force approval of the pipeline. President Obama has threatened to veto a similar bill in the House.
Anti-Keystone activist, Bill McKibben, appeared on the Colbert Report to discuss the widespread public outrage over the Senate Republicans’ plans. His group, 350.org collected over 800,000 signatures urging senators to vote against the pipeline.
- Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has labelled the citizens of British Columbia “enemies of the government of Canada” for protesting against the Northern Gateway Pipeline which would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to Kitimat on the pristine northwest coast of BC.
As we all know, our Governor, and national disgrace, Rick Perry loves polluters, and hates anyone (such as the EPA, children with asthma, and even religious organizations) that get in the way of his huge crush on those who poison our Texas environment. The Texas Tribune has a neat interactive guide to Perry’s pursuit of dirty water and unbreathable air for all.
President Obama released his 2013 Budget that would increase funding for clean energy and energy efficiency by 30%.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) released the agenda for its last meeting, on Feb. 8 showing fines totaling $636,000 were handed down for violations including 11 air quality, 3 municipal solid waste, 7 municipal waste discharge, 3 petroleum storage, 2 public water system, and 2 water quality violations. One particularly macabre violation was handed out to an Illinois medical waste disposal company, Stericycle, which was improperly dumping human remains in landfills in Austin and McCallen. Stericycle was fined $42,000. The entire agenda text can be read here. TCEQ will meet next Feb. 22.
Nuclear power is back in the news after the announcement that 2 new reactors will be built in Georgia. They are the first reactors approved in the US since 1978. Nuclear power requires very little fuel, produces a huge amount of energy, and creates almost no waste… Unless something goes wrong. The biggest obstacle to new nukes is, of course, the fear of another Fukushima like tragedy, but the cost of new plants is prohibitive as well. The Georgia plants are expected to cost $14 billion! Gizmag has a fascinating piece on Small Modular Reactors which are significantly smaller, safer, and, potentially, orders of magnitude cheaper than the current massive plants. Its definitely worth a read.