Author Archives: flaviaisabel

Burnet Beyond Coal

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal team put together a small town hall event in Burnet County.  We talked about the importance of the energy-water nexus, and how important it is for us to use less water-intensive energy sources in this time of drought and inclement climate changes. We had a member of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Board, a local city council member, and a local reporter among those in attendance. Check out the pictures and let us know if you want to get involved!

PEC Board Member Cristi Clement talks about her work on moving Pedernales towards more renewables while balancing immediate needs.

Kaiba from Public Citizen talks about what PEC could be doing to reach its renewable goals.

Colin Clark, Lauren Ross, and Lydia Avila.

Lydia discusses next steps. Flavia observes.

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Sierra Club and Steelworkers

20em

20em (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent the morning with United Steelworkers in Texas City in a forum organized by the Blue Green Apollo Alliance. Spent the night at Economy Lodge and there were funny smells in the air. Sigh.

The presentation rolled out by the Blue Green Apollo Alliance identified these problems:

  1. the US economy depends on oil
  2. the US is using more oil than we produce
  3. improvements are needed in the safety practices of oil production and refining
  4. the oil industry is a powerful political force, resulting in an unhealthy cycle of huge subsidies and lax regulation

And they proposed a suite of solutions:

  • we can cut our consumption of oil in half
  • we can ensure the oil we use is domestically produced and improve job security of US refinery workers
  • we dramatically improve safety and health practices in the US oil industry
  • the people we elect to represent us are committed to these ideals

In order to accomplish these things, there were suggestions of improving vehicle fuel standards, improving infrastructure for more efficiency, investing in transit options, and of course, smarter growth (courtesy of Agenda 21! just kidding).

We were asked to opine on the presentation, whether we agreed, disagreed, or had any further thoughts. We actually didn’t disagree with anything in the presentation, neither the facts of it nor the aspirations (Steelworkers: “Cut our consumption of oil in half? Desirable. Just not sure if it’s possible, or if Big Oil will let us do it.”) There were three similar events of this kind all over the country preceding our encounter, and the presentation changed after every presentation, so I’m assuming the content was perhaps more controversial at the beginning.

What I actually learned:

  • Steelworkers are having a tough time building their own membership. Their coworkers are mostly conservatives. The USW consistently supports Democrats, so they’re having a rough time.
  • Enforcement (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, EPA, any kind of state/federal regulator) only come around when they are called. They spoke frequently about more safety and more regulations.
  • I could have guessed this, but contract workers are a huge problem. They aren’t as well trained, and in a dangerous line of work like this one, the consequences for not knowing how to properly operate machinery or troubleshoot safety issues are enormous.
  • Deaths of contract workers in accidents do not count against “Safety Awards” given out by executives for no accidents. That is why the Texas City BP refinery had a “Safety Award for 4 years without an injury” in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, even though the Texas City BP refinery exploded on March 23, 2005, and killed 15 workers.
  • These companies cut corners wherever they can. They care about safety, as long as it isn’t expensive.
  • These guys know solidarity. They’re going to protest at Costco to get them to pull Palermo’s pizza after Palermo employees tried to form a union and the managers promptly called ICE on them. (Saturday, August 25th from 10am-noon at 3836 Richmond Avenue, Houston TX 77027 if you’re interested).
  • USW Local 13-2001 Vice President Mark Schubert, who was recently fired for statements he made at a new worker orientation, said this: “I’ve heard environmentalists belittle themselves. I have to say, that when I was growing up in the ship channel, I remember horny toads, fish, split-tail lizards… [I think that’s what he said, he was just listing wildlife]. Those guys were all gone for a while, but thanks to you guys, they’re coming back. And now maybe my grandkids will see them. And that’s really nice.”

To support Mark, you can sign this petition to Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson asking him to reinstate his job.

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Tour goes Toxic in Corpus Christi

On Thursday, April 19th, members of several federal agencies and the EPA’s top lieutenants, Lisa Garcia for environmental justice and Al Armendariz for Region 6 (which includes Texas), toured refinery row in Corpus Christi.

Residents told stories of living near the refineries and of their concerns that even more big polluters may be coming to the area.  Among the issues highlighted:

  • The use of hydrofluoric acid, a lethal toxic chemical, in the refineries. There is a safer substitute, and residents are urging local refineries to switch. See this investigative special by ABC News to learn more.
  • The constant nature of flares and upsets. Residents are asking TCEQ, EPA, and DOJ for more stringent enforcement of appropriate fines.
  • Coal and petroleum-coke dust blowing over people’s homes. Currently the piles are sitting in large piles. The piles are so large that only the bottom half gets watered down, and the top blows off into adjacent communities.
  • The possible construction of Las Brisas, a 1,320 mw coal-fired power plant that would increase pollution in the area by over 82%.
  • The possible plans by the Port of Corpus Christi to export huge amounts of coal, which would mean even more coal dust in the area.

Residents in the area had teamed up with the Sierra Club to create and distribute over 150 yard signs that emphasized the underlying issues of public health and the cumulative effect of pollution. Here they are:

Your Congressperson is in Town- Time for a Visit

Congress is officially in recess. Most members go to their home districts and host town halls, local meet-ups, “constituent coffees”, and attend local events.

You can find your representative by going here: http://www.house.gov/

In the top right hand corner, fill in your zipcode. When it shows you your representative, click on the little computer icon to go to their website. Search their website for a calendar of local events.

We’re looking for people to be a part of Sierra Club contingents to these events to stand up for clean air and clean water. If you’re interested, email Flavia at flavia.delafuente@sierraclub.org and I’ll get you started.

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Series Explores Central Texas Water Crisis, but Hasn’t Yet Found Common Ground

Guest Post by Jared Pesseto, Student Intern Coordinator.

This week the Texas Tribune and KUT 90.5FM have partnered on a series called “Water Fight,” a close look at the various demands on Central Texas’ threatened water supply. The series has made its way further down the Colorado River each day, starting first with a look at dwindling water-levels in the Highland Lakes, then on to municipal demands from cities like Austin, and today to the lush but endangered rice fields near the Texas coast. Tomorrow they will conclude the series with a look at new demands on the water supply in the lower Colorado River, and fortunately they have not overlooked the proposed White Stallion coal plant in Bay City.

It is reassuring to see that KUT and the Texas Tribune are giving serious attention to a serious issue, but one aspect of their approach that is troubling is that the various parties have been prematurely positioned in direct conflict with each other when in fact there is much reason for them to join hands. Lakeside residents, farmers, and cities along the river basin may indeed be party to competing interests in the Colorado River, but when discussing water supply issues in Central Texas we should be careful not to put these groups into opposition quite so readily, for there is an even more pressing threat to water supply in the lower Colorado River that can, and indeed already has brought these groups together in common cause.

As mentioned just briefly in the first part of the series—and something that hopefully will be taken up in much greater detail tomorrow—a coal-fired power plant proposed for Bay City jeopardizes the livelihoods of rice farmers and lakeside property owners alike. Slated for construction 100 miles southwest of Houston on the Colorado River, the White Stallion coal plant requires an 8 billion gallon per year water contract from the Lower Colorado River Authority. If this contract is granted, White Stallion will drain 22 million gallons of water from the lower Colorado River each and every day—a water commitment that is neither wise nor sustainable says Dr. Lauren Ross of Glenrose Engineering, Inc., who authored a report detailing the demands that the White Stallion plant will place on the water supply in the Colorado River. Add to this the disastrous and proven public health threats associated with coal-fired power plants and you have an issue that all sides can find common ground on.

Rice farmers, residents of the Highland Lakes region, and Texans along the Colorado River basin can and should come together to oppose the granting of the White Stallion water contract. Not only can these groups find common ground, but they already have. Just last week members of the various groups came together at a meeting of the LCRA Board of Directors to state their unified opposition to the board’s granting of the water contract. After hours of individual public comments—only one of which was made in support of the contract—the LCRA board took into account the concerns of the people and chose to withhold voting on the contract until further consideration at their August meeting.

Come August, I can guarantee that rice farmers and lakefront property owners will be standing side by side in front of the LCRA Board of Directors to express their disapproval of the White Stallion water contract. Until that vote is taken, though, and the fate of the White Stallion coal plant decided, it would be a gross misfortune to agitate divisions between these groups.  In no way do I feel that this was the intention of KUT and the Texas Observer in producing the second part of this series, and perhaps this issue will be addressed in the final segment of the series. If by chance the issue is not given further voice to, whether by airwaves or by print, it should be known that competition and confrontation between Highland Lakes stakeholders and farmers along the Colorado River is not the de facto relationship in all cases. Threats to our water supply come from all angles, some dividing and some uniting the parties discussed in this series. And while the competition between these parties may be actual and acknowledged, I would hate for our focus to be so narrowed on the obvious divisions that we miss the very thing that threatens us all—White Stallion.

­­­­­­­­­­­­The fifth and final part of the “Water Fight” series will air tomorrow morning at 7:30am on KUT 90.5 FM. Past segments of the series can be found in both audio and text online at KUT.org and TexasTribune.com.

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Austin Energy: Green-ish

Blue Wing Solar (photo 2 of 3)

Image by Duke Energy via Flickr

Yesterday, the Alamo city dealt a serious blow to Austin’s somewhat greenish reputation. San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro announced that City Public Service’s (CPS) Deely coal-fired power plant will shut down by 2018, and solar power contracts for the San Antonio area will replace the dirty energy and bring clean energy jobs.

CPS Energy has committed to meeting 20% of its energy needs through renewable energy by 2020, and reducing its peak demand through energy efficiency by 780 megawatts. CPS Energy recently began receiving power from a 14 MW solar plant in South San Antonio, and has signed a contract with SunEdison for an additional 30 MWs of solar power.

This is the first coal plant retirement in a state that leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions. This is the first coal plant retirement in a state that dedicates almost half (47.8%) of all of its water withdrawal goes to thermoelectric plants.

To quote Biden, this is a big… deal. You know.

Meanwhile, the city of Austin continues to get its power from the Fayette coal plant in Fayette county, notwithstanding the fact that the plant has caused $200-300 million in health injury costs just in 2005 (According to the National Research Council’s 2009 Report, “The Hidden Costs of Energy”) and destroyed the livelihood of local pecan farmers. Go local, indeed.

The city of Austin is taking its sweet time on the Austin Energy Resource Generation and Climate Protection Plan, which was developed to “make Austin Energy the leading utility in the nation for greenhouse gas reductions” and meet certain clean energy goals, including 30% renewable energy by 2020 and at least 700 megawatts of energy efficiency measures.

The plan requires three studies with an expected completion date in 2012, including 1) exploring the possibility for phasing out the Fayette coal plant by 2020 2) increasing the energy efficiency goal from 800 megawatts to a possible 1000 megawatts 3) setting an onsite renewable goal for Austin (distributed solar).

There are six months left in the year 2011. The expected completion date for these studies is in 2012.  The city is focused on the rate case this fall, where the costs of installing half a billion dollar pollution control equipment on the Fayette coal plant (scrubbers) will no doubt be passed on to ratepayers. Apparently, we have to pay the coal plant not to contaminate our seafood with mercury.

Concerned? The Austin Sierra Club group meets every second Tuesday of the month at Scholtz’s garden at 6pm.

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Put Your Hands Across the Sand!

Guest post by Intern Lena Lane!

On April 20th, 2010 an explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig radically changed the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. It also changed the lives of all those along the coast who saw their shrimp and oyster catch disappear, the wetlands die, and the thick slick of oil causing sickness in their towns.

A mile underwater, around 185 million of gallons of oil began pouring out of the damaged rig, uncovered for 86 days. This disaster killed 11 workers.  And, according to the National Wildlife Federation, more than 8,000 birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals were found injured or dead in the six-month period after the spill.  Today, there are still concerns about the long-term effects of the sometimes mile-long plumes of oil still deep in the ocean.

Although it has been said that the Gulf of Mexico is recovering the truth is a huge dead zone has formed near the mouth of the Mississippi and the wetlands on the Louisiana coast rapidly shrunk in size by around 2,000 square miles. Health concerns have also arisen from the use of dispersants- chemicals that break up the oil so that it would sink to the bottom of the ocean. High levels of ethylbenzene, a byproduct of using dispersants, have been found in the blood of those near the spill. In fact, a three year-old boy who visited the Gulf Coast had at least three times the normal level of ethylbenzene in his blood, an organic hydrocarbon toxic in large quantities. Other components of the crude oil and dispersants such as benzene and Xylene were found in the blood of those close to the spill. These components are known to be cancer-causing agents. However, most of their long-term effects on human health are still unknown.

Although the BP oil spill has largely disappeared from the media, this tragedy set off a movement that continues to unite people regardless of economic status, ethnicity, and political affiliation. This movement is called Hands Across the Sand.

Individuals in 42 nations across the world will join hands on June 25th this year to take part in a peaceful demonstration supporting the efforts of those who are still cleaning up the BP oil spill as well as condemning the dangerous oil extraction process that caused it. The event is also a means of showing support for a cleaner future and greener energy.

Register here!

To be a part of this event in Austin, arrive at the Pfluger Bridge on South Lamar Boulevard at 11:30am.  

To take part in the Corpus Christi event go to Mcgee Beach on Shoreline Dr. between the Holiday Inn- Emerald Beach and the Seawall.

If you are near South Padre Island please meet at Beach Access No.21. For more information please visit http://www.handsacrossthesand.com/.

Come out and show your support!

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