Your Weekly Environmental Roundup For Texas and Beyond

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The Keystone XL Pipeline just won’t go away.  Texas and the UK are dealing with water crises while Saudi Arabia, of all places, is wasting it.  Wind energy is soaring.  Solar is getting slimmed down. And Cuba is leading an agricultural revolution.  All that and more, in this weeks environmental roundup


  • Though the Canada to Oklahoma portion of the Keystone pipeline was rejected by his administration,  President Obama vowed, last week, to fast track the southern portion of the pipeline, which would bring bring tar sands, diluted bitumen oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries on the Texas coast.  The White House reiterated the “administration's commitment to expediting the construction of a pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico, relieving a bottleneck of oil and bringing domestic resources to market.”  Problem: that oil is not a domestic resource (last time I checked, Alberta is in Canada).  

  • David Daniel, an East Texas landowner, whose property would be cut in half by the southern portion of the pipeline wrote this editorial in response to the President’s statement.  He asked, “Does the president stand with American families and their right for clean water, air, and land or does he stand with Big Oil in its never-ending quest to wring private profits from the tar sands?”

  • A collaboration between the Travis County District Attorney’s office, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and the EPA resulted in the conviction of Bencor LLC, and its owner, Christine Giese, for abandoning large drums of hazardous waste in a storage unit in Austin.  The company was ordered to pay a $50,000 fine, and the owner was fined and placed on deferred adjudication.  While this offense occurred in Austin, Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis Co DA, has jurisdiction over statewide environmental crimes and has aggressively prosecuted polluters.  “This prosecution reflects our commitment to defending the environment,” said Lehmberg.

  • Here are two great reads that sum up the looming water crisis Texas faces despite recent rains.  The first, from Community Impact gives a great overview of the drought and the lack of unified water planning.  The second, from the Texas Tribune details a recent Texas House committee hearing on the drought wherein the legislators discussed mandatory watering restrictions and desalination plants.  Both are insightful reads.  “[Texas is] projected to double our population in the next 50 years, and we currently do not have the water to support that future growth,” Travis County Commissioner Karen Huber said. “Water policymaking in Texas is fragmented, and as a result, no one takes responsibility for actually solving bigger problems. We must figure out how to change this and change it soon.”

  • Wind power is, by far, the fastest growing component of the energy sector in the US, with output growing by 36.5% between 2007-2011.  Texas leads the nation with 10,400 megawatts of wind production.  T. Boones Pickens, the mercurial Texas billionaire, announced plans to build a new 377 MW wind farm in the panhandle.  Three years ago he scrapped plans to build a 4,000 MW farm near Pampa due to a lack of adequate transmission lines.

  • Apparently, radioactive waste dumps are the new growth industry in West Texas.  Well, at least if Harold Simmons, a major Republican donor, gets his way.  After years of lobbying the Obama administration to get the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to change rules which limit the types of nuclear waste that can be dumped in landfills, Simmons has shifted tactics towards electing Republicans.  Thus far, he has donated $15.9 million to various R candidates and Superpacs.  So, just to reiterate, electing Republicans will lead to more hazardous radioactive waste being dumped in Texas.

The Nation

  • Ian Carey debunks the notion that what is good for the environment is bad for the economy. “A healthy environment is a prerequisite for a healthy economy.”

  • A new report shows that New Jersey dumps 8.5 million pounds of toxins into its waterways every year.  The bulk of the pollution comes from one plant, the DuPont Chambers Works in Salem county which releases 5.4 million pounds of hazardous waste into the Delaware River each year.

  • Facing rising gasoline prices, FedEx CEO Fred Smith announced an ambitious plan to sharply limit his companies use of fossil fuels.  The plan includes replacing its light truck and van fleet with electric vehicles, which “will operate at a 75 percent less per-mile cost than an internal combustion engine variant,” he said.  He expects his company’s heavy trucks to run on natural gas, and its planes to run on biofuels in the near future.

  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and the group Environment Illinois issued a report Wednesday urging immediate action to address climate change.  The report highlighted the large number of extreme weather events in Illinois in recent years.  97% of Illinois residents live in counties affected by weather related disasters since 2006.  Here is an example of extreme and bizarre weather closer to home:

The World

  • Two years of severe drought has forced much of England institute a ban on almost all outdoor watering.  Meanwhile,  Saudi Arabia is busy squandering its limited supplies of underground water on a massive expansion of agriculture in the middle of the desert.  Those supplies are expected to only last about 50 years.  Way to think long term guys.

  • Illegal logging is now a $10-$15 billion per year enterprise according to a report issued by the World Bank. “Most illegal logging operations are run by organized crime, and much of the profit goes to corrupt officials.”

  • Cuba’s agricultural transition from a Soviet Bloc factory for cigars, sugar, and rum that had to import the majority of its foodstuffs into a land of small tenant farmers who have great freedom with their land and are able to feed the rest of the country makes for an interesting read and could make a model for other desperately poor countries in Latin America and Africa.

  • Finally, scientists in Austria and Japan have created a solar panel that is thinner than a spider’s silk and can be wrapped around a human hair.  In 5 years, we could have electronic clothing and other futuristic goodies as a result.


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