Adam Schwitters has been deeply involved in progressive politics since he pulled the lever for his mother for Walter Mondale at his elementary school in Boston in 1984. He lives and works in Austin.
Andrews County Nuclear Waste Dump Begins Accepting Waste, Paying County And State
Texas’s strapped budget coffers got an infusion of cash from a decidedly unsavory source this week, in the form of a $3.4 million check from Waste Control Specialists, the operator of a much maligned radioactive waste dump in Andrews, Texas, near Midland. The dump site had caused a prolonged legal battle over concerns that groundwater (including the vast Ogalalla Aquifer) could become contaminated by the waste, but, on July 31, radioactive waste from across the country began moving to Andrews. “TCEQ should never have granted WCS a license in the first place,” said Texas Sierra Club Conservation Director Cyrus Reed. “There are still serious questions about the hydrogeology under the site.” Waste Control Specialists is owned by Dallas Billionaire, and Republican mega-contributor, Harold Simmons, who is known for, among other things, being sued by his own daughters for making illegal campaign contributions in their names.
Mile Long Band Of Oil Washes Onto Pristine Padre Island Beach
A mile long, 10 foot wide band of oil and tar balls washed on shore about 40 miles south of the Padre Island National Seashore visitor center. Though the oil has not been “fingerprinted” to determine exactly where it came from, it was likely pushed to Padre Island by Hurricane Isaac, which struck Louisiana two weeks ago. Padre Island is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world.
Environmental Groups Lobby PUC To Boost Solar And Geothermal Production
A coalition of environmental, public health, and labor groups launched the Clean Energy Works for Texas Campaign on Wednesday to lobby state lawmakers and the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to help kick start “utility scale” production of solar and geothermal energy. A 2005 law, the Texas Renewable Portfolio Standard, helped launch the booming wind industry in Texas that now provides 10% of the state’s power, but the law “also intended for a portion of the mandated renewables to come from non-wind sources, such as solar and geothermal. To date, the PUC has taken no action to implement this portion of the law.” Al Armendariz, former EPA Administrator and current Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club said this about the group’s goals:
While wind energy has taken off and provided thousands of jobs to Texans, the PUC has so far taken no action to implement the non-wind provisions, which leaves solar and geothermal power behind. Solar and geothermal power are clean, abundant, and don't rely on our precious water resources to generate electricity. With a push from the PUC, the rest of the state could experience the same economic boom that wind energy has brought to West Texas. Our filing today asks the PUC to take the final step in fully implementing the renewable portfolio standard. Solar and geothermal are important to meet Texas's reliability needs and protect our water resources.
Speaking Of Wind, There’s Enough Of It To Power The Entire World
Two new studies from U.S. scientists show that Earth provides more than enough wind to power the energy needs of the globe. One of the study’s, authored by Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institute for Science, found that wind has the potential to produce more than 20 times the amount of energy now consumed on Earth. The economics of build the required number of turbines to actually accomplish this was not covered in the studies. “To power civilization with wind turbines, I think you’re talking about a couple wind turbines every square mile,” Caldeira said. “It’s not a small undertaking.”
House And Senate Farm Bills Encourage The Worst Agricultural Practices, Will Accelerate Global Warming
Mark Hertsgaard, of the New America Foundation, wrote a scathing Op-Ed in the New York Times describing the insane approach to agricultural, and climate, policy shown by members of the US House and Senate as the race is on to pass a bill to replace the current farm bill which expires September 30. Though there are a multitude of relatively easy and common sense measures that would limit farmers’ emissions and exposure to climate change, Hertsgaard argues, the proposed bills encourage the worst possible practices, including “fence-row to fence-row” monoculture planting, the exclusive use of chemical fertilizers, and others. “The proposed farm bill would make American agriculture's climate problem worse, in two ways. Not only would the bill accelerate global warming by encouraging more greenhouse gas emissions, it would make the nation's farms more vulnerable to the impacts of those emissions.” The bill has been held up because Republican members of the House want to limit food aid to the desperately poor.
An important clean air protection was threatened yesterday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The rule would have required 28 states in the Eastern US to sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution. These chemicals form soot and smog (particulate pollution and ozone) that can drift hundreds of miles from their source, often giant coal fired power plants such as Luminant’s aging trio of North Texas coal plants, Martin Lake, Big Brown and Monticello. Pollution from these plants can drift as far as Illinois.
Because these pollutants drift from one state into others, the federal government has a vested interest in protecting the citizens of states that are downwind from these plants. The rule would have reduced sulphur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide pollution by 54%.
According to the EPA, these reductions would have enormous benefits:
Saving up to 34,000 lives each year
Preventing 15,000 heart attacks each year
Preventing 400,000 asthma attacks each year
Preventing 1.8 million days when people miss work or school
Providing $120 billion to $280 billion in health benefits for the nation each year
Senator Tom Carper of Delware explains the impact of the ruling:
I’m very disappointed in the court’s decision to vacate the Environment Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The Cross-State Air Pollution rule - or “Good Neighbor” rule -was crucial for the health of citizens like those in Delaware, who live in a state that has cleaned up its harmful air pollution, but still are forced to live with their neighbor’s dirty air. This is the second time the courts have thrown out the Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to deal with interstate air pollution. I encourage the Administration to appeal the decision. In the meantime, as Chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee in the Senate, I will be working with this Administration, the impacted states and my colleagues to ensure we find a swift solution to ensure all states do their fair share to clean up our air if that appeal is not successful.
Bill Hammond, President of the Texas Association of Business, applauded the decision, “today's court ruling against the EPA's overreaching cross-state air pollution rule will save jobs in Texas and keep the lights on. Had this rule been allowed to go into effect it could have cost hundreds of coal miners and power plant workers their jobs and devastated the local economies of a number of Texas communities.”
While it is probably true that the rule would have shuttered coal power plants in Texas, Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, believes that is a good and necessary thing.
Americans have been waiting for the clean air they deserve for decades and the court's ruling today further delays the Clean Air Act's promise of safe, breathable air for our children. The EPA's long overdue and much-needed rule would have helped communities clean up their air and save lives by curbing millions of tons of air pollution that travel downwind and across state lines each year.
The EPA must now use the earlier CAIR rule for the foreseeable future.
With Texas producing more wind power than any other state, you would think that our representatives in Congress would be fighting for this growing industry that employs over 8,000 Texans. However, Mitt Romney and his Republican allies in the House of Representatives have decided that ending the Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), a vital incentive that has helped fuel the wind boom, is more important than protecting these jobs in a proven, clean technology that powers more than 2.5 million homes in Texas.
This week, the National Council of La Raza and the Sierra Club released a poll conducted by Project New America and Myers Research to “gauge Latino voters’ opinions on a range of environmental issues.” The results clearly show an increase in environmental awareness among Latinos, and they are now significantly more concerned about these issues than the American public at large.
Latinos Overwhelmingly Support Green Energy
A whopping 86% of respondents prefer that the government invest in clean renewable energy like solar and wind, while only 11% favor investments in fossil fuels. 83% agree that “coal plants and oil refineries are a thing of the past. We need to look toward the future and use more energy from clean sources.”
Toxic Pollution Is A Grave Concern For Latino Voters
61% said air and water pollution were the top two environmental issues for them and their families. A huge 94% said they believe they can help curb this toxic air and water pollution by conserving energy. Also, 72% agree that “environmental regulations protect our health and our families by lowering toxic levels of mercury, arsenic, carbon dioxide and other life-threatening pollution in our air and water.”
Latinos Are Concerned About Global Climate Change
77% of voters polled believed that climate change is already happening, while another 15% say it will happen in the future. Compare this to only 52% of total Americans who believe climate change has begun, according to a Gallup poll taken in March
Latinos Love Public Outdoor Spaces
94% said outdoor activities like fishing, picnics, camping, and visiting national parks are important to them. In fact, 69% said they would support the designation of more public land by the President. 92% believe that they “have a moral responsibility to take care of God's creations on this earth - the wilderness and forests, the oceans, lakes and rivers.”
This poll clearly shows that the protection of our health and our natural areas is of great concern to a large and growing segment of the US population. To Latinos, and to many other Americans, the protection of our bodies and our natural areas is a critical moral and social issue.
Judge Reverses Air Permit For Dirty Las Brisas Power Plant, Protects Corpus Christi
District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky signed a longawaited 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.”
Bill McKibben, noted climate change activist and director of 350.org has responded to the recent spate of abnormal weather with an alarming article in Rolling Stone which he calls, “the most important thing [he’s] written in many years.” Though it is long, it is well worth the read, even if its terrifying.
In it, McKibben reduces what we know about climate change into three basic numbers. In a post on Daily Kos, he explains them:
1) 2 degrees C–that’s what the world’s nations (even oil states) have agreed is the most we can possibly let temps rise. It’s actually too high–but it is the one thing about climate change that the world has agreed on
2) 565 gigatons co2–that’s roughly how much more carbon we can pour into the atmosphere between now and 2050 and have a reasonable chance of staying below 2 degrees. It’s not much–we burn about 30 gigatons a year, and growing, so at current rates would go by in 16 years
3) 2795 gigatons co2. This is the really scary number. It’s how much carbon the fossil fuel industry (and the countries that operate like fossil fuel companies) have already in their reserves. The stuff that props up their share price, lets them borrow money. The stuff they’re committed to burning.
What that means is: we now know for certain that the stated business plans of this industry will wreck the planet. It’s not even close–they’re planning to burn 5 x the carbon that any sane scientist sets as the absolute upper limit.
So stopping them doesn’t mean gradual shifts in trajectory. It means taking on this industry with at least as much vigor as we took on companies that did business with apartheid South Africa.
McKibben believes that the only way to slow down climate change, a process which could upend untold ways of life we take for granted (i.e. flowering plants like corn, wheat, and rice), is to mount a massive campaign of boycotts and public action in the vein of anti-apartheid protests in the 1980’s and early ‘90’s.
The three numbers I’ve described are daunting - they may define an essentially impossible future. But at least they provide intellectual clarity about the greatest challenge humans have ever faced. We know how much we can burn, and we know who’s planning to burn more. Climate change operates on a geological scale and time frame, but it’s not an impersonal force of nature; the more carefully you do the math, the more thoroughly you realize that this is, at bottom, a moral issue; we have met the enemy and they is Shell.
U.S. Leads World In Cutting CO2, But No One Wants To Talk About It
David Roberts of grist.org has an interesting article up about the great decline in CO2 pollution (over 7.7% since 2006) that will bring us down to 1996 levels by the end of the year, and why discussing it is politically awkward for everyone. The decline is due in large measure to the great recession of 2008 and to the fracking boom that has dropped gas prices to historically low prices and is making coal-fired power unattractive economically. Now no-one wants to praise the recession, and the Left is loathe to extoll the benefits of fracking, but the Right has the biggest bitter political pill to swallow: despite repeated assertions by their political figures that economic growth and carbon pollution are bound together like two ends of a rope, the economy is much larger today than it was in 1996, and yet our carbon pollution is roughly the same.
100,000 Tons Of Pollution Due To Accidents At Texas Plants
A new report from the Environmental Integrity Project based on data gathered from a TCEQ database shows that “non-routine emissions events” (aka accidents) at Texas refineries, chemical plants, and oil and gas facilities have released over 42,000 tons of sulphur dioxide, and 50,000 tons of smog forming volatile organic compounds over the last three years. These so-called “emission event” pollutants are in addition to the emissions released year-round during so-called “normal operations,” and are usually not included in the data the government uses to establish regulations or evaluate public health impacts. EIP is also pursuing a lawsuit against the EPA for the latter’s “failure to protect communities from toxic hazards.”
Judge To Issue Long Anticipated Ruling On Permit For Struggling Corpus Christi Mega-Power Plant Project
Judge Stephen Yelenosky is expected to issue a ruling on the Las Brisas Energy Center air permit today that could mean the end for the giant power project. Yelenosky previously ruled that a permit issued by the TCEQ failed to account for air pollution caused by piles of petroleum coke on the site. Ilan Levin, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project who argued the case on the behalf of the Sierra Club said “Sierra Club's position is that we won and the hearing will decide where to go from here. If Las Brisas wants to try to get that permit, they will have to at the very least address the legal deficiencies.”
California Pot Farmers Poisoning Cute Rare Creatures
The fisher, a rather large member of the weasel family that makes its home in the dense forests of Canada and the Northwestern US, was already among the list of animals that might gain protection under the Endangered Species Act due to habitat loss across its range. Now they face a new threat: rat poison that California’s legion of illegal marijuana growers put out to protect their crops. A recent study found that 79% of recent fisher carcasses had been exposed to rat poison. “The animals bleed to death, their internal organs turn to mush. … It’s a terrible death,” said Tommy LaNier, director of the White House-funded National Marijuana Initiative.
Land Commissioner Wants To Steal Money From Children To Fund His Nifty New Desal Plant
Though Texas schools lost over $4 billion from their budgets over the last legislative session, Texas Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, has come up with a devious plan to take even more money from them. His plan is to use funds from the Permanent School Fund to build a desalinization plant on General Land Office land somewhere between Austin and San Antonio. “Desal” (as those in the know like to call it) is the talk of Texas these days, with supporters imagining it to be a sort of silver bullet to end all our water woes. While Texas has a huge supply of brackish water stored deep in aquifers, the process of turning it into drinkable, lawn water-able water is hugely expensive. If similar Texas plants are any guide, this plant would cost around $100 million, and would produce water at 3-6 times the price of water gained thorugh conservation efforts.
Enron Apparently Still Exists, And Its Trying To Poison North Texans
Everyone’s favorite disgraced energy giant, Enron Oil and Gas (EOG) is up to its neck in complaints from residents living near a proposed sand mine in Cooke County, along the Oklahoma border. Residents expressed concerns about respiratory diseases and cancer to a TCEQ hearing on the subject in Gainesville. “The real problems begin when they start operating. We’re gonna have air pollution, that’s our major concern, we’re gonna have water problems, that’s another major concern, we’re gonna have truck traffic, emissions from those trucks,” said a concerned citizen, Ozlem Altiok. A TCEQ contested case hearing will begin on Thursday to determine who will be affected by the mine, and whether construction can continue.
Remember To Visit The Beach While It’s Still There
Climate Central released this nifty map which allows you to see exactly where flooding will occur as sea levels begin to rise due to global climate change. The map coincides with a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report which predicts that by 2070 sea level changes will effect 120 million people and cost around $35 trillion in damages. Galveston, for instance, sees little flooding from a moderate 2 foot flood surge, but is nearly wiped off the map in the event of a 6 foot surge.
Tar Sands Spill The Result Of Sloppy Management And Regulation
Federal investigators reported on Tuesday that the 2010 spill of 843,000 gallons of toxic tar sands diluted bitumen oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan was the result preventable safety measures. The report faults both Enbridge, the Canadian operator of the pipeline, and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal agency tasked with regulating pipeline operators. Enbridge (which is currently building a tar sands pipeline to the Texas coast from Oklahoma) was blamed for not incorporating readily available knowledge in its safety evaluations, and the PHMSA was blamed for “weak and ambiguous regulations.”
Though Texas has more than enough pollution to go around, we’ve got nothing on Guandong province, China.
China Daily Newspaper reported that about 9.5 billion tons of raw sewage (or about 3/4s of the province of 104 million people’s annual waste) is discharged, untreated into the Pearl River which supplies Hong Kong. That news of this sort is even reported is a sign that China’s government is beginning to get serious about the rampant air and water pollution that has followed China’s remarkable economic growth since 1976.
While most of the country baked under an unprecedented heat wave last week that shattered over 40,000 heat records, killed at least 46 people in the United States, and now threatens most of the US corn crop, the legendary right-wing columnist George Will appeared on ABC’s This Week (full video in link) to announce that in his “expert” opinion, the cause of this weather can be reduced to “one word: summer.”
Every time mother nature produces a somewhat freakish weather occurrence (be it the recent Mid-Atlantic derecho wind storm, the 2011 Texas drought, or Hurricane Katrina) the ever shrinking club of prominent climate change skeptics crawl out of the wood work to proclaim that this was not the work of global warming. While they are correct in a very narrow line of reasoning (no one weather event can be blamed on any one other event), there is no denying that current climate trends are disturbing. The 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1997, and June 2011-June 2012 ranks as the hottest 12 month period since accurate records were first kept. Continued warming will likely result in devastating flooding from sea level rises, and “Dust Bowl” like desertification of huge areas of farm land from “megadroughts.”
The deniers are out in force this time with the standard George Will “I grew up in central Illinois in a house without air conditioning” this is just summer line, the novel, “I will produce a graph that makes it look as if the weather” is not warming tactic, or, my personal favorite, the “Global Warming exists, but it is good” approach.
Last week, the Sierra Club announced that former EPA administrator Dr. Al Armendariz will join the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign using his “scientific expertise working on air, water, and climate science to help move Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas off coal-fired electricity and toward an economy powered by job-generating clean energy sources such as wind and the sun.” Armendariz is most famous for being forced to resign in April after Sen. James Inofe unearthed a 1 minute 51 second clip of an hour long 2 year old video of Armendariz speaking at a town council meeting in Dish, Texas in Denton County, during which he likened his enforcement strategy to a Roman conquest:
It is kind of like how the Romans used to conquer villages in the Mediterranean - they'd go into a little Turkish town somewhere and they'd find the first five guys they saw and they'd crucify them. Then that little town was really easy to manage for the next few years.
The video prompted a storm of faux right wing fury which quickly led to the resignation. At the time of that meeting in Dish, however, there was no publicity and no anger over his comments.