Your Weekly Environmental Roundup For Texas and Beyond!

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Judge Reverses Air Permit For Dirty Las Brisas Power Plant, Protects Corpus Christi

  • District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky signed a long awaited order yesterday which invalidated the state issued air pollution permit for the proposed Las Brisas (which means, ironically, ‘the breezes’ in Spanish) power plant in Corpus Christi.  The plant would be fueled using petroleum coke, a oil refining by-product, that operates, and pollutes much like coal.  Erin Fonken, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project summed up the ruling:

The judge found several major legal errors – essentially gaping holes and inconsistencies – in Las Brisas' required air permit. Las Brisas needed to demonstrate that, if the plant is built, the extra air pollution will not harm the people of Corpus Christi. Las Brisas failed to do that.

Lead Author Of Fracking Study Has Controversial Links To Gas Industry

  • The lead author of a recent study finding that fracking for natural gas does not pose a risk to groundwater came under scrutiny this week after the revelation of his links to a major fracking firm.  Charles “Chip” Groat, a professor at UT, failed to disclose his role on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Co. to either the university or to fellow researchers participating in the study where he earned $413,000 in cash and stock in 2011.  While, it does not necessarily invalidate the study’s findings, his dual roles as fracking researcher, and fracking profiteer do seem to constitute a classic conflict of interest.  UT Provost, Steven Leslie, told the Statesman that he does not believe Groat’s position at Plains is a conflict of interest, but that the “issue is one of disclosure.”

US Senate Committee Approves Tough New Toxic Chemical Reporting Regulations

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Safe Chemicals Act Tuesday, which will be the first overhaul of federal chemical law since 1976 if it becomes law.  The law, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), would force chemical companies to provide more information about the safety of their products, and would provide the EPA more authority to remove harmful substances from the market.  Citing support from groups of public health advocates, scientists, and physicians, Latuenberg hailed the bill’s approval:

Too many toxic chemicals end up in everyday consumer products, and too many of our children are born with untested industrial chemicals in their bodies.  This legislation establishes a strong but practical system for guaranteeing the safety of chemicals, and that will protect American families.

The History Of Gulf Chemical, Texas’ Worst Polluter, Reveals  Deep Problems Within State Agency Tasked With Regulating Pollution

  • Forrest Wilder, of the Texas Observer, has a fascinating article up about the history of Freeport, one of Texas’ most polluted cities, and its most notorious polluter, Gulf Chemical.  Though Freeport is home to Freeport-McMoran (operator of a scandalous gold mine in Indonesia), and two massive Dow Chemical plants, Gulf Chemical, a reasonably small plant which extracts valuable heavy metals from petroleum by-products, is the area's worst polluter by far.  Workers at the plant and locals have been exposed to toxic levels of ammonia, sulphur dioxide, chromium, cobalt, nickel, lead, molybdenum, vanadium, benzene, etc.  Freeport residents have complained of plumes of foul smelling black smoke which leaves them with bloody noses, dizziness, headaches and nausea.  The town’s shrimping industry has been ruined by decades of industrial pollution.  Even TCEQ, the state agency tasked with monitoring polluters but which has a reputation of rarely imposing harsh penalties or fines is fed up with Gulf Chemical.  “This is only one of a handful of companies in the state that worries me,” wrote TCEQ's chief toxicologist, Michael Honeycutt, in a 2007 email to another official. “They have a long, sordid history.”
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