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!
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 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.
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.
Settlements and handcuffs are passed out in the wake of the BP Spill. Crazy SoCal water dispute has two sides and more than one story. FOX News wants to invade Russia. My tree is smarter than your honors student, or so it seems. All that, plus zombie Keystone XL Pipeline, and more in this week’s Environmental Roundup for Texas and beyond!
The Deepwater Horizon Disaster (Getty Images)
The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was in the news twice this week. First, BP announced it has reached a settlement with thousands of individuals and businesses affected by the disaster. The company will pay about $7.8 billion in damages, including $2.3 billion to Gulf Coast fisherman whose livelihood remains at risk due to the massive plume of hydrocarbons released during the spill.
Also, Federal prosecutors charged former BP engineer, Kurt Mix, with destroying evidence (consisting of more than 300 text messages) relating to the Deepwater Horizon spill. David Uhlmann, of the University of Michigan Law School, believes this is “just the first of what will be multiple criminal charges” handed out to BP employees who might have been covering up the size and complexity of the spill.
The Keystone pipeline we never wanted just won’t leave us alone, as Transcanda submitted a new route to regulators for the 1,700 mile long pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Port Arthur, Texas. The updated path for the controversial pipeline would avoid Nebraska’s Sand Hills region, which was the focus of much of the earlier opposition to the project within Nebraska. The Oklahoma to Texas portion of the project (which will cross several environmentally sensitive regions including the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer recharge zone) has been fast-tracked by the Obama administration.
The great drought of 2011 has officially ended in Bastrop County. Bastrop, of course, experienced the worst fire in Texas history this past summer as flames fed by a fierce north wind and bone dry conditions destroyed almost 1,700 homes and 35,000 acres of forest. A hydrologist, Barney Austin, warns Texas that it must plan for future water crises like last summer’s drought, because they may become more common.
Researchers at Texas State University in San Marcos won a EPA P3 Sustainability Award for a neat process that converts rice husks (a generally useless agricultural waste product) into lignocellulose, a material which can be used for producing fabrics and biofuels.
San Diego accused the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (a consortium of municipalities that provides water to 19 million Californians) of “conspiracies, illegal secret meetings and double-dealing.” The accusations stem from two 5% annual water rate increases that San Diego is challenging in court. A PR campaign accompanying the lawsuit includes an inflammatory website which implies the MWD is increasing rates to make up lost revenue due to San Diego’s increased water efficiency. San Diego is at the end of a very long system of pipelines, and may be suffering from “end-of-pipeline paranoia,” according to Lester Snow of the California Water Foundation.
If you weren’t already aware, the Obama administration enacted very real and beneficial environmental policies during the last three years. Along with funding for green technology and efficiency, Obama instituted landmark emissions standards which limit greenhouse gasses, mercury and other forms of toxic air pollution. These standards will protect countless children from chronic asthma and other respiratory diseases. His challenger, Mittens Romney, has pledged to “aggressively” roll back these critical protections, he would cut funding to new technologies which currently support 37,000 jobs, and believes in increasing subsidies to oil companies including ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world. Think Progress has a handy guide to the two candidates’ positions on environmental issues. Of course, Romney will likely change his position on each of these issues in the coming weeks.
Everyone’s favorite “news” outlet, FOX, ran a bizarre story which seems to imply that Obama’s hatred of drilling in Alaska (for what its worth, drilling has increased substantially there during his term in office) is forcing ExxonMobil to enter into a secret pact with Russia (the vast majority of Exxon’s business is overseas) to explore for oil in the arctic (its in their arctic, not ours) which will somehow raise the price of oil in the US (it won’t), and is cause for alarm (it isn’t). They “report,” you decide.
The Royal Society, a British think tank, released a profoundly depressing report on the future of the planet titled People and the planet. It predicts that if humanity remains on the current course, “a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills” will follow. Its recommendations for dealing with these problems, however, are quite reasonable:
The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty.
The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilize and then reduce material consumption levels.
Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programs urgently require political leadership and financial commitment.
Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues.
Here is a really cool reusable water bottle that actually keeps track of how many plastic water bottles you have saved by using it. 51 billion plastic water bottles were purchased in the US last year, and only 25% of them were recycled.
Plants are much “smarter” than we usually give them credit for, according to this piece from io9. They can hear, create communication networks, have memories, and can recognize their relatives among other nifty tricks.
(Last day to comment on this crucial issue, y'all! Also check out the awesome "Built to Spill" poster below the jump. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)
The State Department is currently considering TransCanada's application for a Presidential Permit to build and operate the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This massive pipeline would be the third and largest dedicated tar sands pipeline running between Canada and the US, and would deliver up to 900,000 barrels a day of this toxic oil from Canada to Texas.
Allowing TransCanada, a foreign company, to profit from a dirty and dangerous tar sands oil pipeline at the expense of of Americans' drinking water, food supply and economy is not in our national interest. Please stand up for our clean energy future and submit your public comment today.
Here's just a few reasons to oppose KXL:
Producing tar sands oil creates 3x more carbon pollution than conventional oil and will push our climate system past the tipping point. Also, the refining of tar sands oil will further threaten the public health of communities in Houston and Port Arthur.
Regarding water security, the first Keystone tar sands pipeline has already spilled 12 times in its first 12 months, and a recent study concludes this new KXL pipeline poses a major threat to our water supply, especially the Ogallala and Carrizo-Wilcox aquifers.
In addition to being bad environmental policy, there appears to be a conflict of interest between some officials in the State Department and TransCanada lobbyists and consultants. According to the New York Times, "The State Department assigned an important environmental impact study of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to a company with financial ties to the pipeline operator, flouting the intent of a federal law meant to ensure an impartial environmental analysis of major projects."
There are many problems with bringing Canada's dirty oil to Texas, but we can still stop this mistake before it's too late.
The BP Oil spill was one of the worst natural disasters to take place in US history. The resulting drilling moratorium that was imposed on the oil industry has only doubled the economic impact that the tragedy has had on those gulf state residents who rely on this industry to make their living and provide for their families. Permits for new drilling have only just begun and things are moving slowly. BP is not living up to its promises and the policies in place are only making things tougher on those affected by the tragedy.
One Gulf state resident, Thomas Clements the owner of Oilfield CNC Machining, in Broussard, LA has been outspoken about the impacts the BP spill and resulting moratorium have had on his small business. Mr. Clements recently did a piece that he has given permission to repost here so that he can express a firsthand account of this continuing tragedy to us. It is BP that should be held responsible and punished not people like Mr. Clements.
Punish BP, Not U.S. Energy Production and Economic Growth
By Thomas Clements
The President's Oil Spill Commission co-chairs will testify before Congress this week on their findings. Commission chief counsel Fred Bartlit released a report last month on the sinking of Deepwater Horizon in which he characterized the April 20 incident as "an entirely preventable disaster." His conclusions confirm what many have suspected all along: that BP has been an irresponsible safety outlier in American energy production for decades.
Mr. Bartlit's report details what personnel described as a "by the seat of our pants" mentality onboard the Deepwater Horizon. Employees were feeling pressure to hurry operations on a project already 38 days behind schedule and $58 million over budget. The report made clear that BP was more focused on finishing their assignment than with implementing standard safety protocols, or providing employees the training and information they needed to safely drill and operate the well.
This revelation of irresponsible, potentially criminal behavior by BP should act to acquit the rest of the oil and gas industry, and put the Gulf back to work. Yet the Obama Administration has issued only two deepwater permits, and to add insult to injury, one went to a well BP stands to substantially profit from as the majority owner. BP was also allowed to drill two relief wells after the spill in the Gulf, meaning they've played a part in all Gulf water drilling following the spill, while permits remain frozen for the safe and responsible players in the industry. While they profit, the future of Gulf businesses and others who appear to have been deemed collateral damage of the spill remain in limbo.
Now, this company which caused the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history appears primed to skirt any real accountability.
At a Houston Conference, BP CEO Bob Dudley apologized on behalf of the entire energy industry, trying to clean up their image by dragging everyone else into the mud. After the spill, instead of owning up to their responsibilities, BP invested $100 million in an image campaign to "Make it Right". Yet, despite these claims, it demonstrated callousness towards desperate workers and small business owners by forcing them to waive their rights to sue for paltry payouts of as little as $5,000 in hush money and refusing to compensate those affected by the moratorium altogether.
Unfortunately, instead of recognizing this blatant pandering and neglect by isolating the outlier for punishment, the federal government's industry-wide moratorium is costing our entire country jobs and economic activity. In fact, scrapped plans to develop additional U.S. energy resources following the spill will cost the country 250,000 jobs and $500 billion in economic activity; completely separate of the moratorium damages. Now, with the growing uncertainty in places like Egypt and Libya, the policies enacted as a response to the spill are jeopardizing our energy security as well.
Fuel prices are now near $3.50 a gallon across the country, yet potential production of 1.5 million barrels per day in areas already 'technically' open to exploration remain under federal lock and key. Instead of shrinking the energy industry, policymakers should be seeking ways to expand it. Increasing domestic production adds to the world supply of oil, ensuring that the international oil market does not experience extreme price fluctuations when a relatively minor producer faces political turmoil. And the benefits extend to the government as well.
A recent study by the research firm Wood MacKenzie suggests expanding offshore drilling has the potential to increase government revenue by up to $150 billion over five years. With all the debate in Washington regarding the deficit, the idea of more funding without higher taxes should be welcomed with open arms. Yet the disaster in the Gulf has ensured that these beneficial plans are off the table for the next half decade.
Lawmakers and regulators must finally end this saga of unnecessary damage to the economy by lifting the ban on energy workers and domestic energy development in the Gulf, and instead impose a drilling moratorium where it belongs: on BP.
In the aftermath of 9/11, we saw thousands of workers develop devastating respiratory conditions and other illnesses as a result of exposure to toxic dust that filled the air in the days and weeks after the twin towers fell. To this day, these peoples' plight continues to add misery to the ongoing tragedy of 9/11. What makes it even worse is that these people were assured the air was safe. As we all know now, it wasn't.
Today, sadly, history may be repeating itself in the Gulf of Mexico.
Amazingly, despite reports like this one, BP "continues to pretend that - just like an oil spill of this magnitude could never happen - there also could not possibly be a worker health concern." While the potential health hazards posed by chemical dispersants and oil itself are debatable, it is clear that significant risks existed.
Already, we've seen evidence of the impact that spilled oil can have on human health. For starters, an increasing number of workers and residents in Gulf Coast areas have reported "suffering from nausea, vomiting, headaches and difficulty breathing." Considering that oil contains "petroleum hydrocarbons, which are toxic and irritating to the skin and airways", as well as volatile chemicals "which can cause acute health effects such as headaches, dizziness and nausea" it's no surprise that these symptoms are appearing.
So now, with the "60 exposure-related complaints filed with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals", not to mention the "overwhelming evidence that many of the compounds found in crude oil are dangerous," shouldn't BP be protecting the people who are cleaning up this mess? If they aren't doing so, why aren't they?
The bottom line is this: people along the Gulf Coast deserve to know the facts regarding the dangers they are facing and how to protect themselves. It's bad enough that their economic livelihoods are in danger of destruction in part due to BP's greed and recklessness. But if their lungs and other organs are damaged by oil and dispersant particles in the air, more than their economic livelihoods could be damaged.
None of us should ever forget that this disaster was brought on, at least in part, by BP cutting corners to save a few (million) bucks, and by the government's failure to prevent the company from doing so. As a result, the unthinkable has happened. We must learn from those grave mistakes, not repeat them. That means, in the long term, ridding ourselves of our dangerous, destructive addition to oil. But what must happen now - right now - is for BP to stop cutting corners with the health of the people cleaning up the Gulf.
At the minimum, BP must switch its philosophy from "hope for the best" to "do whatever it takes, whatever the cost, to make sure people are safe." If BP won't "make it right," as the company's ads like to say, then the government should force BP to do so. In the words of one Venice, LA mother: "I've got the two most beautiful children in the world. If something were to happen to them, how could I look in those baby blues and say, Mommy didn't know?" It's a great question. What's the answer, BP?
Literally moments after my earlier post hit Burnt Orange Report, and around roughly the same time that Smokey Joe Barton was pleading before the Republican Caucus in Washington to retain his Energy and Commerce Committee post, a twitter headline hit on @RepJoeBarton's site that he now wishes didn't.
"Joe Barton Was Right"
The headline was in reference to a Republican penned article by the American Spectator so elegantly entitled "Joe Barton was Right." Naturally, the DNC was giddy over the North Texas Congressman, who is the political gift that keeps on giving. From DNC Press Secretary Hari Sevugan:
"It's not just Joe Barton who thinks 'Joe Barton is right' in taking the side of oil companies instead of our families. Republicans have repeatedly proven that they agree with him. They proved it by making him the top Republican overseeing oil companies in the first place and allowing him to keep that job now. They proved it in their opposition to lifting the liability cap on oil companies which caused this kind of devastation. They proved it in their opposition to the BP accountability fund. They proved in their opposition to the President's call for an energy policy that ensures we are never in a position again where we are reliant on oil and oil companies. Joe Barton defiantly saying he was right and Republicans keeping him in a position to oversee oil companies says everything you need to know about the sincerity of Republican protestations about the behavior of BP and the oil industry. This is how they truly feel."
This arrogance and ignorance would be astounding if probably it were from any other politician, but given Barton's leading role this past week in exposing the GOP's solid relationship with big oil and big business, I am not-so-surprisingly numb to this report.
Having said that, does this tweet from @RepJoeBarton really surprise you? It doesn't me. I really do believe that Joe Barton believes he is right. When over $1.5 million dollars of campaign fundraising comes from the industry you are now emotionally apologizing to---no, none of this should be surprising to even the staunchest of Republican supporters.
Last Thursday Smokey Joe Barton cemented what many Americans already knew---that the modern Republican Party is too cozy with the oil industry and will continue and defend big business' interests over the American people's interests any day.
Since that time we saw a lot of huff and puff from the Republican Leadership in Washington but Joe Barton's house was not blown down. Barton retains his leadership position on the Energy and Commerce Committee despite a veiled threat of losing it. Keeping that role places Barton in a position to Chair the committee once again should Republicans take back the House in November. After apologizing to BP CEO Hayward it took two separate apologies on the part of Smokey Joe to attempt and clean up his political mess; however, the fact still remains today that big oil, big energy, and big business control the interests of the Grand Oil Party.
Over the past week several ads have emerged that continue and reinforce what Rahm Emanuel articulated best over the weekend. Barton simply aired an ideology and Party philosophy that the Palin/Limbaugh/Beck wing in today's Republican Party is just too cozy with big oil, big insurers, big banks and big business. Which means those entities interests will consistently take precedent over any interests of the American people should the GOP take charge in November.
Wonder how the Palin/Limbaugh/Beck Grand Oil Party will govern? Check it out:
BP has a long history of cutting corners and ignoring basic safety guidelines, and now the survivors of the Deepwater Horizon explosion are publicly confirming that BP ordered shortcuts on the day of the blast.
On a related matter, BP and the other oil companies are now proposing that tar sands oil production can help replace dangerous offshore drilling. This is a giant step in the wrong direction. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry toxic tar sands oil across the Ogallala Aquifer and 32 Texas rivers and streams. Given the gulf oil disaster, can we really trust BP and the big oil companies when they claim that tar sands oil spills are unlikely?
The Houston Chronicle editorial board shines a spotlight on this controversy in today's paper:
But the process of approving new pipelines coming into this area must be undertaken with great care. We share the concerns of local Sierra Club officials that such care is not evident in the approval process for the proposed Trans- canada Keystone XL Pipeline, which has two destinations on the Texas Gulf Coast, one in east Houston and the other in Port Arthur.
We share their worry about proposals to use a thinner-than standard pipe (0.465 of an inch versus 0.515) and run the cargo through at higher-than-stan-dard pressures (80 percent of design strength versus 72 percent). Surely, concerns about cutting corners raised by the BP spill ought to mean a belt-and-suspenders approach on pipe thickness and pressures on this project.
And then there's the Keystone cargo itself: 500,000 barrels per day of heavy, high-sulfur tar sands crude from Canada. The Sierra Club folks say the refinery process for the tar sands could put air quality here at risk. Would it? We need to know. Hearings on the project are scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening in Channelview.
Please spread the word about the tar sands public hearing tonight, and let's make our voices heard and stop this mistake before it's too late. Refining tar sands oil causes 3x more air pollution than conventional oil, and it would further degrade our air quality in Texas.
If you can't attend tonight's hearing, then please go online and register your public comment before the July 2nd deadline. To learn more about the threat from tar sands pollution, go to the Sierra Club site or watch the video below.
Over the last few weeks, many people have asked me whether there was something that the Texas Railroad Commission could have done that might have affected, or prevented, the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill catastrophe. The short answer is no, but there are important lessons to be learned from the tragedy that has unfolded.
The Texas Railroad Commission regulates oil and gas operations in our state. This responsibility is one of the most demanding in state government. Texas leads the nation in production (and consumption) of both oil and natural gas. Texas operators drill more wells each year, and Texas has more miles of pipeline, than any other state in the nation. In fact, no other state is even close to our statistics. But, this volume of activity requires that we have vigilant, active Commissioners who are knowledgeable about the industry and who make Commission service their full-time jobs.
Technology, best practices, and challenges accompanying exploration and production evolve constantly. As it becomes more and more evident that human error can result in serious consequences, especially in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Texans deserve Commissioners who focus on keeping state regulations and rules up to date to meet all safety and environmental concerns. Having grown up in the industry, I know for a fact that safety and environmental stewardship are top priorities and that the Texas Railroad Commission should lead the way in protecting our citizens and the environment, while helping the industry produce affordable, abundant Texas resources.
I want to be your next Railroad Commissioner. I've worked in the field and represented individuals and companies on all sides of disputes in the oil and gas industry. I'll bring the Texas Railroad Commission into the 21st Century in a workable and transparent manner. But I need your help to get me there. If you want a Commissioner who will protect Texans and help the oil and gas industry produce affordable resources, join our campaign today.