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More Like No Bridge To Somewhere: Your Weekly Environmental Roundup For Texas And Beyond


by: Adam Schwitters

Fri May 04, 2012 at 03:51 PM CDT


An EPA Administrator is ‘crucified.’ An election in El Paso might hang on a bridge.  Spills, fines, and lawsuits abound.  The future might not be so bleak after all.  All that, and more, in this week’s environmental roundup for Texas, the nation, and beyond!

Texas

  • Al Armendariz, the EPA’s Region 6 Administrator based in Dallas, was forced to resign after a video surfaced in which he likens his enforcement strategy to a Roman conquest, “they’d go into a little Turkish town somewhere, they’d find the first five guys they saw, and they crucified them.”  Needless to say, those comments have not gone over well with members of congress or the oil and gas industry in Texas.  Debbie Hastings, Executive VP of the Texas Oil & Gas Assoc, claims in a recent Op-Ed that Armendariz’s statement is part of a larger “federal undercurrent to undermine the oil and natural gas industry, which promotes our nation’s energy independence, provides millions of jobs and pays billions in taxes.”  EnergyWire is convinced that the feud between the Texas energy industry and the EPA will continue despite the resignation.
  • The 16th Congressional District Democratic primary contest might hang on the construction of a new international bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.  The incumbent, Silvestre Reyes, claims as many as 5,000 El Pasoans will be displaced by the bridge.  There is a slight problem for Reyes.  According to Roy Gilyard of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (which would be tasked with proposing the bridge in question), there is no current activity to build a new international bridge.  Reyes’s Democratic opponent, Beto O’Rourke, called the controversy “the worst kind of pandering. [Reyes] is using lies to create anxiety and play upon that to try to win votes.”  O’Rourke has called for the construction of a new bridge, which, he believes, will increase international trade and keep El Paso competitive with other inland ports.
  • After last year’s wildfire season burned nearly 4 million acres in Texas, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples announced the creation of the Texas Wildfire Prevention Task Force.  The task force is a partnership between the Ag Commission, the Texas Forest Service, the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, and researchers at Texas A&M.  It seeks to identify high fire risk areas and eliminate the risk through preventative measures, like controlled burns, before wildfires occur.
  • Four Southeast Texas marine-based entities have filed suit against BP, alleging that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill “has had detrimental effects on the Gulf’s marine and coastal environments and is to this day affecting business and their ability to generate revenue.”  This follows last week’s $7.8 billion settlement in another suit against BP, and federal charges brought against a BP engineer for supposedly trying to cover up the extent of the spill.
  • Flint Hills Resources, a Kansas based refining and chemical company that is “wholly owned by Koch Industries,” was fined $46,450 by the TCEQ for incorrect valve settings which led to the release of 4,875.5 pounds of hazardous organic compounds into the air from its chemical plant in Port Arthur.  At a different Flint Hills facility in Corpus Christi, a leak was reported in an orthoxylene unit last week which led to the plant’s shutdown.  The extent of the leak remains unclear.
  • Port officials say there is no risk for an oil spill after a 750 tanker collided with a drilling rig on Wednesday off the coast of Port Aransas.  There were also no reported injuries from the incident.
  • While Houston remains the worst city in the US, outside California, for ozone pollution, its air quality has improved significantly, according to the State Of The Air 2012 report from the American Lung Association.
  • Austin’s transit agency, CapMetro, added a cool new toy this week.  It is a zero emissions hydrogen fueled bus that has previously operated in Columbia, South Carolina.  A privately owned hydrogen fuel station will fuel the bus.

The Nation

  • The Sierra Club has filed suit against dated coal-fired power plants across Oklahoma.  According to Whitney Pearson of the Sierra Club’s OK chapter, all coal plants in Oklahoma emit excess emissions, and the EPA needs to “end the free pass that large polluters currently have which allows them to emit unlimited amounts of pollution during certain phases of their operations. Because people need to breathe all the time, limits of the amount of pollution that polluters can emit need to apply all the time.”
  • Amory Lovins, an “energy theorist,” claims in this TED Talk that ending the US dependence on fossil fuels will actually be easier, and more cost effective than most of us realize.  His central point is that once industry, individuals, academics, and the military start moving beyond coal and oil we won’t need federal regulations or acts of congress to help us along.  He also believes that this movement will begin soon.  I hope, one day, to share his optimism.

Beyond

  • A recent study shows that exposure to toxic chemicals can have risks over a much longer time frame than most of us realize.  Bruce Blumberg, a biologist at UC-Irvine, says, “it’s not just ourselves that are at risk. We’re condemning our descendants to have increased risks, too.”  
  • Greenland’s glaciers are still melting, but the rate of that meltdown is not increasing as fast as some climate scientists had predicted.  Earlier doomsday scenarios had the sea level rising by as much as 6 meters (20 feet) by 2100.  Now it looks, as if Greenland’s melting will only cause a 2 meter rise.  The vast majority of the Earth’s population lives less than 100 meters above sea level, so any rise could have a profound effect on millions of people.
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