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climate change

ERCOT acknowledges that meeting EPA clean air requirements won’t be that big a deal

From Texas Clean Air Matters:

ERCOT

Well, it didn’t take long before the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released, at the request of Texas’ very political Public Utilities Commission, another report about the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rules designed to protect public health.

This time ERCOT, which manages 90 percent of Texas’ electric grid, looked at the impact of seven EPA clean air safeguards on the electric grid, including the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the Regional Haze program (all of which go back before the Obama administration), the proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, and others. What was surprising to learn, though, is that after power companies in the state start complying with EPA’s other clean air protections, the proposed Clean Power Plan poses a minimal incremental impact to the power grid. We would only have to cut 200 megawatts of coal-fired generation, which equates to less than one coal-fired power plant.

For as much doom-and-gloom we heard last month in ERCOT’s report about the Clean Power Plan, they certainly seem to be singing a different tune this go-around. The new report shows that Texas can go a long way toward complying with the Clean Power Plan by meeting other clean air safeguards, for which Texas power companies have had years to prepare.

Very soon power companies in Texas will install control technologies to reduce multiple – not just one – pollutants, thereby making compliance with EPA’s subsequent regulations easier and more cost-effective. In the end, Texas will only need to take a minimal amount of additional aging coal plants offline by 2029.

Plus, other energy resources, like energy efficiency, rooftop solar, and demand response (which pays people to conserve energy when the electric grid is stressed) are gaining ground every day in Texas. They have proven to be vital resources on the power grid that help reduce electricity costs for Texas homes and businesses.

Energy efficiency, in particular, provides significant reductions in power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone-forming pollutants, and has a four-to-one payback on investment. This is the type of performance worth investing in.

See here for the background, and click over to read the rest. In addition to what the EDF says above, complying with the new regulations would also save a ton of water, which is a pretty big deal in and of itself. So let’s have less whining – and fewer lawsuits – and get on with the compliance. It’s a win all around.

EPA climate change plan would save water

Well, what do you know?

ERCOT

As state regulators fret about how President Obama’s effort to combat climate change would affect the Texas power grid, a new study says the rules would be simpler to adopt than those regulators suggest – and that it would save the state billions of gallons of water annually.

In an analysis released Wednesday, CNA Corporation, a nonprofit research group based in Arlington, Va., said the federal proposal – which requires states to shift from coal power to cut carbon emissions – would slash water use in the Texas power sector by 21 percent. That would save the drought-ridden state more than 28 billion gallons of water each year.

“It’s a surprising finding,” Paul Faeth, the report’s author, said in a statement. “People don’t often associate water conservation with [carbon] cuts, but for Texas, they work together.”

[…]

CNA Corporation’s analysis comes two days after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, said the proposal would threaten reliability and raise energy costs by as much as 20 percent by 2020 – not including the cost of new power lines needed to keep the grid running.

The CNA report, which relied on a model ERCOT has used in the past, said shifting away from water-guzzling coal power plants and boosting energy efficiency would ease Texas’ water woes.

Compared to Texas’ grid operator, CNA painted a rosier picture of price and reliability effects. With big investments in natural gas and wind power, Texas is already on pace to meet 70 percent of its target by 2029, according to the study. Improving energy efficiency could move the state the rest of the way.

The federal proposal would increase the per-megawatt cost of electricity by 5 percent by 2029, but cut total system costs by 2 percent, the group said.

“We find that the state will be able to meet the final and interim targets with modest incremental effort,” the study said.

See here for the background. The CNA report page is here, the press release is here, the executive summary is here, and the full report is here. It’s not clear to me if CNA was invited by someone to review the EPA plan as it affects Texas or if they did it on their own, but this is a strong argument for going along with what the EPA recommends rather than filing another frivolous lawsuit. The considerable water savings is enough by itself to make this worthwhile.

SBOE adopts history textbook changes it hasn’t read

Awesome.

After adopting hundreds of pages in last minute updates and corrections, the Texas State Board of Education approved new social studies textbooks Friday.

All but the five Democrats on the 15-member board voted to accept products from all publishers except Worldview Software, which they rejected because of concerns over factual accuracy.

“When I think of the other publishers, they were on it. They were on the errors. I did not see that here,” Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican, said of Worldview.

In total, they approved 86 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas public schools for the next decade. School districts do not have to buy products from the list vetted by the state education board, but many do because it offers a ready guarantee that materials cover state curriculum standards.

The TFN Insider liveblog from Friday’s clown show explains just what this means.

Publishers have been submitting changes to their textbooks since the public hearing on Tuesday. The last batch of changes — listed on more than 800 pages from publisher WorldView Software — was posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website mid-afternoon on Thursday. Who has reviewed these and other revisions from publishers? The truth is that there is no official process for doing so. It’s hard to believe that SBOE members had time to do it. They were in meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, for example, they debated important issues such as whether teachers should be thrown in jail if they use instructional materials tied to Common Core standards. (Seriously.) So SBOE members today are being asked to vote on textbooks that they, TEA staff and most Texans haven’t had time to read and scholars haven’t had an opportunity to vet. But millions of public school students will use these textbooks over the next decade.

Better be sure to read your kids’ textbooks along with them for the next ten years. Or better yet, tell your local school board – if they have sane representation – to buy their own textbooks and avoid the SBOE’s shenanigans. TFN’s press release is here, and Newsdesk has more.

It’s OK if energy costs go up for now

That’s my reaction to this.

ERCOT

As Texas regulators weigh a response to President Obama’s proposal to combat climate change, the operator of the state’s main electric grid says the plan would raise energy costs and threaten reliability – particularly in the next few years.

In an analysis released Monday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said the plan — which requires states to shift from coal-power to cut carbon emissions — would significantly increase power prices in the next few years. But those extra costs would fall in the next decades as Texans reaped long-term savings from investments in solar power and energy efficiency. 

Under the federal proposal, Texas would need to slash carbon emissions from its power plants by as much as 195 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next 18 years, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. That 43 percent reduction is among the larger percentage of cuts required among states.

The EPA suggests that Texas could meet its goal though a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, adding more renewable resources and bolstering energy efficiency. Texas would have until 2016 to submit a plan to meet its carbon target.

The ERCOT analysis comes as Texas regulators prepare to file formal comments to the EPA ahead of the Dec. 1 public comment deadline.

[…]

“Given what we see today, the risk of rotating outages increases,” Warren Lasher, director of system planning at ERCOT, said Monday in a media call.

The changes would hit coal-dependent communities around Dallas and Houston particularly hard, Lasher said. Those areas would quickly need new power lines to connect with new power sources. That could prove costly. For instance, officials project a major transmission project for the Houston area to total $590 million.

“All of those costs could ultimately be born by consumers in the power bills,” Lasher said.

And I’m okay with that. The costs would be borne in the short run and would likely lead to lower costs as more renewable sources came online and became part of the statewide grid. As the Rivard Report reminds us, there’s a lot of that happening already. The pollution reduction benefit from the EPA’s directive would be substantial as well. If ERCOT is trying to scare me, it’s not working. I’m sure the EPA would be willing to be flexible with Texas on the schedule if Texas negotiates in good faith and demonstrates a real commitment to meeting the stated goals. Or Texas can sue and lose and get no help in getting this implemented as smoothly as possible. Seems like a pretty easy choice to me. Texas Clean Air Matters has more.

SBOE defers new textbook decision

They’re funny even when they’re not trying to be.

After an afternoon spent wrangling over the proper definition of jihad and the influence of Moses on the Founding Fathers, it was Common Core that ultimately derailed the State Board of Education’s initial vote on giving a stamp of approval to new social studies textbooks Tuesday.

An initiative spawned by the National Governor’s Association to set uniform academic standards across U.S. public schools, Common Core has become a frequent punching bag for conservative activists who believe it injects liberal bias into the classroom.

Its specter first emerged Tuesday when one of the more than 20 witnesses testifying at the meeting alerted board members that supplementary materials on the website of Cengage Learning, publisher of a sixth grade social studies textbook, mention the national standards.

“I don’t know how this book even got past anybody,” said Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican. “I’m not voting for anything that says common core, I can assure you of that.”

Until the last hour of the meeting, it appeared the 15-member board would grant preliminary approval for instructional materials from all publishers except Cengage. Then, some board members balked at that, worried that with changes from publishers still coming in, they would be voting on content without a chance to review it.

With four Republicans abstaining and all five Democrats voting against approval, the motion for preliminary approval failed — leaving only a final vote Friday.

The board is considering 96 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas classrooms next fall, the culmination of a public review that began this summer.

Throughout the approval process, publishers have faced criticism from groups across the political spectrum for perceived flaws in how books handle topics like climate change, Islam, and the role Christianity played in the American Revolution. The process itself, which allows publishers to make changes in response to public input up until the day of the final vote, has also raised concern.

“Some of it’s some personality, it’s some process. But this process is jacked up when we make decisions at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night for 5 million kids.” said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican, after the vote. “We’re getting stuff still coming in and being asked to vote on it.”

You can say that again. The Chron story on the SBOE meeting and its lack of approval is here. Naturally, following the sustained grassroots movement that led to a victory for common sense on climate change, Tuesday’s hearing was partly hijacked by a group of wingnuts called the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition that submitted – in late October – a 469-page report detailing 1500 “errors” in textbooks. I’m sure the Board gave it the attention it deserved. Anyway, they’ll try again today. I’m not even sure what I’m rooting for at this point. Newsdesk, K12 Zone, Unfair Park, and TFN Insider, whose liveblog of the hearing will be the most comprehensive thing you read about it, has more.

It’s textbook approval time again

You know what that means, because we can’t do this sort of thing without controversy and a generous side order of knuckleheadedness.

Bowing to public pressure, the world’s largest textbook publisher has revised misleading language on global warming in a proposed Texas reader. But another major imprint has yet to do the same, worrying scientists and educators just a week before new textbooks are approved in the state.

Proposed wording in Pearson Education’s English textbook for Texas fifth-graders described climate change as a concern of “some scientists.” It then went on to say: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.”

That wording rankled several leading scientific organizations, which point out that 97 percent of qualified scientists say that humans are overwhelmingly to blame for climate change.

The American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education raised complaints with the Texas State Board of Education, urging that the language be changed.

“For these textbooks to present climate change as a ‘debate,’ or to suggest that there is scientific uncertainty around the drivers of climate change, is to misrepresent our scientific understanding and do a disservice to our children,” AGU Executive Director Christine McEntee wrote in a recent letter to the board’s leadership.

In response, Pearson submitted a revised text to the Texas education board on Wednesday — less than a week before the agency votes to approve textbooks to be used at the start of the 2015 academic year.

The new language discusses climate change far less equivocally.

“Burning fuels like gasoline releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, which occurs both naturally and through human activities, is called a greenhouse gas, because it traps heat,” it says. “As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society. These include rising sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns.”

[…]

Another industry heavyweight — McGraw-Hill — is sticking with language that scientists and some educators find objectionable. The sixth-grade geography text asks students to compare texts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a Nobel Prize in 2007, with one from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that has misrepresented climate science and attacked the reputations of climate researchers.

“It’s certainly encouraging that most of the publishers are making changes and revising their materials on climate change,” Quinn told VICE News. “It would be unfortunate if McGraw-Hill is the lone holdout at the end of all this.”

In the end, McGraw Hill came to their senses. There’s still room for improvement overall, but this was a nice result. Today is the day that the SBOE meets to approve (or not) new textbooks, and there are other bones of contention to be dealt with as they debate. As that Chron story notes, a 2011 law allows school districts to buy their own textbooks and not the SBOE-sanctioned ones if they want to. Local action is an option if you think it’s necessary. TFN, Newsdesk, Grist, and the National Journal have more.

Mayors against climate change

From the Think Globally, Act Locally department.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker briefly took center stage Monday in the campaign against climate change by pledging to make America’s energy capital a laboratory for experimentation and action.

Frustrated with the congressional response to global warming, Parker and the mayors of Los Angeles and Philadelphia vowed to set more aggressive targets for reducing their cities’ heat-trapping pollution while challenging others to do the same.

“Mayors are uniquely compelled and equipped to lead on the fight to stem climate change, as well as to adapt to it and prepare for the impacts of global warming,” Parker said after the mayors unveiled their agenda in New York, where world leaders were gathering for a United Nations summit meeting on climate change.

The mayors, all Democrats, stepped forward as the Obama administration faces Republican opposition to its efforts to tackle climate change, notably new rules that would slash emissions from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.

[…]

As part of the plan, Parker said Houston would lower emissions 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made the same pledge Friday, two days before more than 300,000 people marched through the city in what was possibly the largest climate-related rally ever held.

Houston already has made significant cuts by reducing energy use in its public buildings, adding hybrid and electric-powered vehicles to its fleet and replacing 165,000 streetlights with more efficient light emitting diodes, or LEDs – a project city officials call the largest of its kind nationwide.

Houston also is the nation’s leading municipal purchaser of renewable energy, with 50 percent of its power coming from wind and solar sources. And it’s likely that the city will buy even more before Parker’s term ends in 2016, said Laura Spanjian, the city’s sustainability director.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. I couldn’t find a website for the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda, but a Google News search shows they’ve been busy. Some of the Houston initiatves, like the ones for LED streetlights and electric cars, are things we have discussed here before. Some of them are things the city can do on its own – and remember, anything that saves energy also saves money, meaning it’s a painless way to cut costs – and some of them are things the city helps provide to enable its residents to use less energy, like improving the bike infrastructure. There’s no one silver bullet here, just a lot of big and small ideas that will add up to a lot in the long run.

Next in “What’s wrong with our textbooks”: Climate change

From the inbox:

An examination of how proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools address climate change reveals distortions and bias that misrepresent the broad scientific consensus on the phenomenon.

Climate education specialists at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) examined the proposed textbooks, which publishers submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. NCSE identified a number of errors as well as an exercise that absurdly equates a political advocacy group with a leading international science organization.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” explained Dr. Minda Berbeco, a programs and policy director at NCSE. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

NCSE’s analysis is available at http://ncse.com/files/Texas-social-studies-report-2014.pdf.

The distortions and bias in the proposed social studies textbook are troubling, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” Miller said. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”

NCSE’s examination of the proposed textbooks noted a number of problematic passages dealing with the science of climate change. Among the problems:

  • McGraw-Hill’s Grade 6 textbook for world cultures and geography equates factually inaccurate arguments from the Heartland Institute, a group funded by Big Tobacco and polluters to attack inconvenient scientific evidence, with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a highly regarded international science organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
  • A Pearson elementary school textbook tells students: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” In fact, the vast majority – 97 percent – of actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers agree that humans bear the main responsibility.
  • WorldView Software’s high school economics textbook includes an inaccurate and confusing section that misleadingly links tropical deforestation to the ozone hole.

These distortions of science raise concerns like those expressed in last year’s science textbook adoption, when more than 50 scientific and educational societies signed a letter to the Texas SBOE stating: “climate change should not be undermined in textbooks, whether by minimizing, misrepresenting, or misleadingly singling [it] out as controversial or in need of greater scrutiny than other topics are given.” That statement is available at: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/states/2013_TX_SBOE_from_NCSE.pdf

NCSE and the TFN Education Fund are calling on publishers to revise the problematic passages to ensure that political bias doesn’t undermine the education of Texas students. On Tuesday the SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new textbooks. The board will vote in November.

Last week the TFN Education Fund released a series of reports from scholars who have detailed other serious concerns about the proposed textbooks. An executive summary and those reports are available at www.tfn.org/history.

Here’s TFN Insider and the NCSE on the matter. Given the way the SBOE has handled subjects like social studies and evolution in Texas’ textbooks in the past, this hardly counts as a surprise. There’s a petition to sign if you want to add your name to the effort.

Something else to consider here. When I did a Google news search on Texas climate change textbooks, I got a number of results from various national news sites – Politico, Huffington Post, National Journal (be sure to read their quote from SBOE member and part of the problem David Bradley), Ars Technica, io9, among others – but only two from the major Texas dailies, in the Chron’s Texas Politics blog and the Statesman. (The alt-weeklies did themselves proud, as the SA Current, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls also had posts about this.) Maybe I didn’t type in the right combination of search terms to find more Texas coverage on this, but still. We need to do better than that.

Anyway. This is all happening as the SBOE meets to hear testimony about the new social studies textbooks. You can imagine the capacity for unintentional comedy therein, but you don’t have to imagine it because TFN Insider is there liveblogging the madness. Look and see what’s going on and what sorts of things your kid might be taught someday soon. The Trib, which is also covering the hearings, has more.

Two environmental stories

Some good news, and some bad news. The bad news: We have an oyster shortage.

Add an oyster shortage in Texas Gulf Coast to the problems exacerbated by the state’s years-long drought.

But Texas’ dry spell isn’t the only reason the slimy delicacies are harder to come by lately. What was once an abundant supply of oysters in bays from Port Aransas up past Galveston has taken a succession of hits, including sediment dumps from Hurricane Ike in 2008, continually increasing water temperatures – as well as hyper-salinity due to drought and thirsty inland cities with fast-growing populations.

Heightened saltiness encourages the spread of parasites and disease.

“Drought plus a growing population equals no water entering the bays,” said Bryan Legare, a natural resource specialist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “The reservoirs aren’t releasing as much water as they need to for environmental concerns.”

[…]

Legare, meanwhile, has been working to re-create habitats for oysters by pouring tons of river rock into viable locations such as Sabine Lake and the East Bay. With spat, or juveniles, already settling in, there’re hopes for market-size oysters two years from now.

For now, Legare’s take on the state of the Texas oyster habitat is that it’s “a combination of change – and not good.”

Nor is the situation much better for the Gulf’s other oyster- producing states.

“Overall, the Gulf Coast’s just been hit with a number of negative events that seem to have cumulatively depressed production,” said Chris Nelson, vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries in Bon Secour, Ala.

The events have included floods, droughts, hurricanes and precautionary harvesting bans in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill.

In one case, the flood was man-made, caused by the state of Louisiana’s release of Mississippi River water in attempt to push the oil away from sensitive coastal areas. The gush of river water may have saved marshlands, but it flushed out oyster beds. To make matters worse, reefs were further depleted by a naturally occurring flood in 2011.

On the other side of the Gulf in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay, the problem has been continuing drought.

Nelson said there hasn’t been a good harvest since 2007, before Ike barreled in. “The impact of all these different problems, challenges along the Gulf Coast have led to an historical low point in the production of oysters,” he said.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just limited to the Gulf of Mexico. But don’t worry, climate change is still just a fairy tale invented by Al Gore. I’m sure this will all work itself out.

For the good news, the pine trees of East Texas are doing a lot better now.

From Texas 327, the two-lane highway that cuts a straight east-west line though Hardin County, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.

There are sweetgum and Texas hickory, loblolly pine and bluejack oak in the blur of green. But just beyond the dense thicket is one of the state’s last stands of longleaf pine, a towering tree that dominated these sandy flatlands before the area was heavily logged a century ago.

This remnant of a once common landscape is the centerpiece of the 5,600-acre Sandyland Sanctuary, a Nature Conservancy-managed property some 100 miles northeast of Houston. It’s also part of a new push to preserve and restore a key piece of the Southeast’s environmental heritage.

Across the eight-state region, timber companies, conservation groups and government officials are working to revert millions of acres to longleaf-pine forests and keep them free from development. It’s no small task because most of the land is privately owned, but there seems to be real interest in bringing back the native hardwood throughout its historic range.

That’s because the open piney woods are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems outside of the tropics. The red-cockaded woodpecker, bobwhite quail and eastern wild turkey – as well as nearly 900 plant species found nowhere else – live among the majestic trees.

[…]

Estimates vary, but many experts figure the Southeast has lost up to 97 percent of its longleaf-pine forest. The all-time low of 2.8 million acres came in the 1990s.

Since then, the amount of longleaf-pine forest has increased to an estimated 3.4 million acres, mostly because of a federally funded effort to restore the woodlands. Several states, including Texas, have set a goal of 8 million acres over the next 15 years.

At least half of the new acreage will come from 16 targeted areas, known as significant landscapes. In Texas, the restoration work mostly will be done in and around the Sabine and Angelina National Forests and the Big Thicket National Preserve.

“The good news is that it’s already hit rock bottom and it’s rebounding,” said David Bezanson, who leads the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to protect Texas land through the purchase of easements. Under such deals, timber companies hold onto ownership but agree to some restrictions on how the property is used.

It’ll never be as it was, but it’s better than it used to be and it’s headed in the right direction. That counts as a win.

What do the Mayors want?

Action on climate change.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan group that represents the leaders of 1,400 cities, each of which is home to at least 30,000 people, has called on the Obama administration and Congress to “enact an Emergency Climate Protection law that provides a framework and funding for the implementation … of a comprehensive national plan” to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

If members of Congress understood the urgency of climate change as well as the nation’s mayors do, we might not be in as much of a screwed-up climate situation as we are in today.

The resolution, which was approved by delegates during four days of meetings in Dallas, expresses strong support for the EPA’s draft rules on power-plant pollution. It also calls on Congress to hurry up and extend renewable energy tax credits.

Another resolution approved by the group endorses the establishment of Obama’s proposed $1 billion climate-adaptation fund.

“[R]esiliency efforts, especially those regarding water and wastewater, not only save lives and taxpayer dollars but also play a key role in preparing cities for the challenges they face from these events,” the adaptation-related resolution stated. “[C]ities currently face several barriers to properly planning and implementing resiliency efforts, including funding and financing challenges, insufficient permitting and regulatory flexibility, a shortage of data and modeling information, and a lack of communication and partnership among communities.”

[…]

Another resolution approved on Monday “encourages” the group’s members to “prioritize natural infrastructure,” such as parks, marshes, and estuaries, to help protect freshwater supplies, defend the nation’s coastlines, and protect air quality amid worsening floods, droughts, storms, and wildfires.

Laura Tam, the sustainable development policy director at San Francisco-based urban affairs think tank SPUR, described that resolution as a “statement that de-polarizes climate adaptation.” After all, Tam told Grist, “Who can argue with the premise of encouraging cities to protect waters, coasts, plant trees and improve air quality?”

A higher federal minimum wage.

Mike Rawlings oversaw many minimum-wage workers as top executive at Pizza Hut.

Now, as the mayor of Dallas, he’s trying to determine what a living wage is for city residents and city contract workers.

The minimum wage debate has taken center stage as leaders of cities big and small across the country look for ways to help fix growing income inequality.

“The biggest problem in America … is income disparity, and we see it in Dallas,” Rawlings said. He and other mayors have suffered state and federal budget cuts, watched residents’ household incomes decline or flatten and seen many new jobs concentrated in low-paying fields.

As a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour languishes in Congress, cities and states are taking matters into their own hands, creating a patchwork of minimum-wage rates across the country.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Dallas on Monday, a majority of mayors voted to adopt a resolution to raise the federal minimum wage, sending a message to congressional leaders about how serious the issue is.

Voting has not concluded, and Rawlings said that he was going to vote for the resolution.

“It’s healthier for our economy, neighborhoods and businesses to have a living wage,” he said. “The economy has been stagnant because the lower end doesn’t have disposable income to spend.”

Marriage equality.

[Monday], June 23, at its annual conference in Dallas, the U.S. Conference of Mayors overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to expeditiously bring an end to marriage discrimination against gay couples nationwide.

Dozens of mayors, including many from states that still restrict marriage to different-sex couples, including Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, and Georgia, were among those who led passage of the resolution.

The resolution, which passed by voice vote, states: “The United States Conference of Mayors reaffirms its support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and urges the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to speedily bring national resolution by ruling in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide.”

The text of that resolution is here. When would the Mayors like these things? Now would be nice.

Texas will do just fine under the new EPA clean air regulations

Unless it wants to fail, of course, which is always an option under the likes of Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

Greg Abbott approves of this picture

Texas could lead the way into a less carbon-intensive future under the Obama administration’s plans to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Or the state could have trouble keeping the lights on.

The competing views underscore the exquisite complexity of the rules scheduled to be unveiled Monday. The proposed regulation represents the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda – one that could lead to the shuttering of hundreds of coal plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.

Already Texas officials are lining up against the plan, with 29 members of the state’s congressional delegation – Republicans and Democrats – voicing concern in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency. They say the rules could drive up electricity bills, threaten reliability and lead to job losses in a state that pumps far more carbon dioxide into the air than any other.

But environmentalists note that Texas already is shifting closer to Obama’s goals. Last year, 63 percent of the state’s electricity came from sources other than coal.

“We will hear a lot of complaining about the rule, but we have a lot of options in Texas that other states do not have,” said Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.

Oh, there’s plenty of complaining, all right. The hot air generated by Rick Perry and Ted Cruz alone might be enough to offset whatever gains the Obama administration hopes to make via these new regulations. Just remember, when you hear the usual assortments of gasbags start to bloviate about this, we’ve heard it all before, and they’ve been wrong every single time. Consider this, for example:

Let’s flash back to an article from the Van Nuys Valley News, dated Sept. 10, 1970 — when the Clean Air Act was young and eager and taking aim at unchecked, noxious emissions from U.S. cars. “Ford Motor Co. said yesterday in Dearborn, Mich.,” the item begins, “that some of the proposed changes in the Federal Clean Air Act could cut off automobile production in just five years, lead to huge price increases for cars even if production were not stopped, do ‘irreparable damage’ to the American economy — and still lead to only small improvements in the quality of the air.”

Sound familiar? Are you driving a car nearly half a century later? Yes, those controls had a cost — and so too will future efficiency mandates that the Obama administration has put in place — but in the long view, the view that matters, life will go on and be cleaner for it. Not so sure? Consider that between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants dropped by 68 percent, even as U.S. gross domestic product grew by 212 percent and vehicle miles traveled increased by 167 percent. The number of private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during that same period.

So yeah, pay them no attention. And remember as well, they’re vastly out of step with public opinion:

* Among Americans overall, 69 percent say global warming is a serious problem, versus 29 percent who say it isn’t. Among Americans in the states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, those numbers are 67-31. Among Americans in states carried by Barack Obama, they are 70-28.

*Americans overall say by 70-21 that the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing plants to reduce global warming. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 68-24. In 2012 blue states, they are 72-20.

* Americans overall say by 70-22 that the federal government should require states to limit greenhouse gases. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 65-23. In 2012 blue states, they are 73-21. Even in red states, then, support for the feds stomping on states’ rights (on this issue at least) is running high.

* Americans overall say by 63-33 that the government should regulate greenhouses even if it increases their monthly energy bill by $20 per month. In the 2012 red states, those numbers are 60-35. In 2012 blue states, they are 64-32.

On every one of the above questions, in red states, large percentages of independents and moderates favor action. And more broadly, as you can see, those just aren’t meaningful differences between red and blue states on these questions. This applies even in nearly two dozen coal states [emphasis added].

Who wants to bet the Trib will come out with a poll showing the opposite in Texas? I can see it coming from here. Unfair Park and the Rivard Report have more.

It’s like the drought never really went away

If it ever did go away it didn’t go far, because here it is again.

Even as light rain moved through the region Thursday, Houston officially slipped back into a moderate drought.

Although most areas only recorded a few hundredths of an inch of rain, it nevertheless was the first measurable precipitation much of the city has received in more than three weeks.

The rain-free second half of April capped a very dry spring, pushing nearly all of the region back into a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought is more severe to the west of the metro area.

[…]

Houston has only received a little more than 7 inches of rain this year, which is less than half the city’s normal total of 15 inches through early May.

However forecasters believe the city is unlikely to suffer a repeat of the catastrophically dry summer of 2011, which killed millions of trees in the area and forced widespread water rationing.

“If it was not for the current strong El Niño signal coming along over the Tropical Pacific, I indeed would be very concerned that another 2011 type drought could occur over the metro area due to the very dry soil west of the area,” [ImpactWeather forecaster Fred] Schmude said. “Fortunately, the upcoming El Niño is starting to shuffle the flow pattern around a bit more which should allow for more rain producing systems as we move into the late spring and summer months.”

Any time 2011 is being invoked as a comparison, even in a “not as bad as” way, it’s not a good thing. The fact remains that much of the state has been in a multi-year drought, while our state leaders remain in denial about the underlying factors. It’s a scary place to be.

SCOTUS will hear another EPA lawsuit appeal

Gird your loins.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Texas’ challenge of federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants and factories, the court announced Tuesday. But it declined to hear the state’s appeals of two other decisions, effectively upholding rules that limit such emissions from vehicles and maintaining the Environmental Protection Agency’s assertion that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.

Federal judges had previously knocked down efforts by Texas and several other states, along with powerful industry coalitions, to challenge the EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Should the Supreme Court justices determine otherwise after hearing oral arguments next year, there could be severe implications for rules limiting emissions from big power plants and other facilities. The EPA recently proposed rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, prompting critics to accuse the agency of trying to destroy the coal industry and economy while drawing praise from environmental advocates.

At issue is whether the EPA can use the Clean Air Act, which gives it the authority to regulate emissions of toxic air pollutants and to limit emissions of greenhouse gases as well. In 2007, the court had ruled in the landmark case Massachusetts v. EPA that the EPA could do so for motor vehicles, which has led to stringent fuel-efficiency requirements for cars.

But Texas, joined by Mississippi and industry coalitions including the American Petroleum Institute, is arguing that the Clean Air Act was never meant to apply to anything other than air pollutants, because greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane “[do] not deteriorate the quality of the air that people breathe.” Attorneys representing the groups added that “carbon dioxide is virtually everywhere and in everything,” and called the EPA’s proposed regulations of greenhouse gases “absurd.”

Of the nine petitions the group of states and industry leaders had filed to the Supreme Court regarding its challenge of climate change rules, the justices agreed to hear six, but only want to consider one question: “Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.”

I’ve kind of lost track of which lawsuit is which since there have been so many, but this was the most recent appeals court ruling, which went against Texas. SCOTUS has also agreed to hear an appeal of the CSAPR ruling, which went against the Obama administration. The consensus seems to be that this is a fairly narrow issue for SCOTUS to rule on and that the EPA should be on solid footing, but you never know. See Wonkblog, SCOTUSBlog, TPM, and the NRDC blog for more in depth analysis of this.

Texas versus EPA, round one zillion

The desire to coddle polluters is strong in this one.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

A Texas-led coalition of energy-producing states has asked the Supreme Court to hear a case involving the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

The petition, which was filed last week, comes 10 months after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the legal underpinnings of the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever rules limiting emissions of greenhouse gases.

In the 33-page petition, the states said the justices should hear their appeal because the new federal rules are hurting their economies. The EPA “is a runaway federal agency that must be reined in,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said.

[…]

David Doniger, who directs climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the argument would be a non-starter with the court.

“The court has ruled that the Clean Air Act covers climate-altering pollution, just like any other pollution,” he said. “I don’t see it reaching a different conclusion now.”

The Supreme Court already ruled in 2007 that the EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, but that’s not stopping Abbott and his gang. This is as much about politics as anything else. Let’s hope SCOTUS remembers its ruling from six years ago and sends this appeal off to the dustbin.

That drought we’re having? It’s still bad

So says our state climatologist in testimony before the Lege.

John Nielsen-Gammon

John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, said that during the past two years Texas received only 68 percent of its typical rainfall, making it the third driest period on record. If the extreme conditions extend through the summer, only the 1950s drought would be drier, he said.

“There is still a good chance that this could be the drought of record for parts of the state,” Nielsen-Gammon told lawmakers.

The most recent federal data shows 90 percent of Texas experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with 22 percent in extreme or exceptional drought. Meanwhile, the amount of water stored in reservoirs statewide is at its lowest point for this time of year since 1990, state officials said.

Against that backdrop, lawmakers are considering a one-time transfer from the state’s unencumbered rainy day fund into a new account to help pay for reservoirs, pipelines and other water-supply projects. The Texas Water Development Board has identified $53 billion in needed infrastructure to avoid grave shortages over the next half-century.

Seems like every time I write about the drought we get a good soaking, so consider this my contribution to drought relief. As Forrest Wilder noted, Nielsen-Gammon even managed to talk about the correlation between climate change and drought without anyone’s head exploding, so you know, progress. Let’s see if that makes it easier to take action.

We’re still looking at a drought here

I know we just got a lot of rain this week, but that doesn’t mean that drought conditions are over.

The latest seasonal drought outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that for much of Texas and the rest of the Southwest, the drought is likely to “persist or intensify” over the next three months. Currently, 97 percent of the state is in drought conditions, with Texas’ water supply reservoirs only 65 percent full overall. And a late December briefing by NOAA on the climate notes that drought continues in over 61 percent of the country.

“During the upcoming three months, a much drier pattern is expected across the southwestern quadrant of the nation, limiting the prospects for further drought improvements during the wet season in California and Nevada,” NOAA says in its drought outlook.

State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon adds on.

2012 was a drought year. Following the driest 12 consecutive months on record and second driest calendar year on record, 2012 was running 0.14″ above normal through September. This wasn’t enough to end the drought statewide, but many parts of Texas, especially in its eastern half, drought became a distant memory and a distant problem. Elsewhere, reservoir levels continued to drop, but rain in most of the major metropolitan areas of the state made things seem much better.

Then, starting in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and eventually spreading to much of the rest of the state, the rainfall stopped. The final three months of 2012 were the third-driest October-December on record for Texas. Drought spread, and Galveston even had to impose water restrictions, although restrictions on outdoor watering aren’t much of a problem this time of year.

With the year ending up with below-normal precipitation, the combined two-year period 2011-2012 was the fourth-driest on record, beaten only by 1916-1917, 1955-1956, and 1909-1910.

Click over to see the pictures. We headed into January last year expecting a dry winter and were very pleasantly surprised to get an unusually large amount of rain over the next few months, enough to erase the drought in many places. We got lucky, in other words. We need to be lucky again, but more than that we need to be better prepared for when we’re not so lucky. Oh, and 2012 was really warm, too. It’d be nice to be better prepared for that, too.

The drought is back

Bad news, y’all.

The latest report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, released this morning, shows that more than three-quarters of Texas is now in at least a “moderate” drought, and nearly half the state is in a “severe” or worse drought.

Now to be clear, conditions are still far better than 13 months ago, when the great 2011 drought peaked. At the time 100 percent of Texas was in a moderate drought, 99 percent in a severe drought, and 88 percent in an exceptional drought.

But conditions have gotten quite a bit worse since May, when the drought was at bay for about half of Texas, including the Houston metro area. Now the majority of greater Houston has returned to drought conditions.

Although November isn’t over, it’s possible Texas could end with its driest October and November period since 1950, says Victor Murphy, a climate specialist with the Southern Region Headquarters of the National Weather Service.

Statewide average rainfall for Texas in November 2012 should be about 0.5 inches versus a normal of nearly 2 inches, he said. That would make the October/November time period total about 1.3 to 1.4 inches, or about 30 percent of the state’s normal of 4.60 inches.

More from the print edition.

The current October-November period may end up being drier than the same period in 2010, when 1.85 inches of rain fell. That launched the state in the great drought of 2011.

“This is not a good way to be moving into winter,” Murphy said.

Also of concern is the latest winter outlook from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which finds that without an El Niño pattern developing in the Pacific Ocean as expected, Texas can no longer look for a wetter-than-normal winter.

The greater Houston region, NOAA says, has an equal chance of above- or below-normal rainfall, and a 40 percent chance of having significantly above-normal temperatures this winter.

Last year’s drought primarily affected Texas and Oklahoma, but this year it has spread to much of the midwestern United States.

More than 60 percent of the contiguous 48 states are gripped by some level of drought, erasing two weeks of improvement, the Drought Monitor reported, with widespread agricultural effects.

We got lucky at the beginning of the year, when winter and spring were far rainier than we had any right to expect. We better hope we get at least some of that luck this winter and spring. Now would be a good time for us all to start conserving water again.

CNG garbage trucks

You won’t hear them coming.

Waste Management [announced on Friday that] it is pushing forward on a nationwide plan to convert all of its 18,342 trucks from loud and smoky diesel engines to quieter and cleaner compressed natural gas-powered machines. The latest destination for the company’s CNG trucks will be the Houston area, starting at a facility in Conroe where 80 trucks will be able to refuel with gas overnight.

The Houston-based refuse collection giant is the latest in a line of major corporations, including UPS and AT&T, to expand their use of natural gas in fleet vehicles – convinced it is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly option to power their daily road operations.

“The economics and payback of natural gas are so strong that it dwarfs any other technology,” said Eric Woods, vice president of fleet and logistics for Waste Management.

The company saves $3 for each gallon-equivalent of CNG it uses instead of diesel, and recent changes in prices of heavy-duty trucks made the vehicles more viable, Woods said.

[…]

At least one resident in The Woodlands has had to chase after a garbage truck because she didn’t realize it was on her block until it already moved on, Waste Mangement driver Servando Rosales said.

“She said, ‘I didn’t even hear you,'” Rosales said of the resident, who had grown used to the noisy reminder of a rumbling diesel engine before moving her garbage outside.

The trucks are decidedly less noisy than their diesel-powered counterparts, quiet enough for Rosales to talk without yelling in the cab of the vehicle, which has monitors and alarms to warn of gas leaks.

Our dog Harry used to go ballistic whenever he heard the garbage truck, or any other vehicle with a rumbly diesel engine. The sound just drove him crazy, and he’d plaster himself up against the door or a window and bark his fool head off at the offending noisemaker. I suspect he wouldn’t be placated by these apparently quieter vehicles, but perhaps the duration of his frenzy would have been reduced.

The noise reduction resulting from this switch is unquestionable. The effect on climate change is less clear to me. Googling around I found this Clean Air Task Force post about whether public transit buses would do better to switch to CNG or newer diesel models. Both are better than the older diesel buses, but CNG buses aren’t clearly better than newer diesel buses. Since I assume Waste Management is replacing older vehicles that this is an overall win for the environment. I just don’t know how to quantify it, and I don’t know if this was the best possible option from that perspective that was available to them. But it is better than doing nothing, so that’s something.

How dry we were

We were drier than ever last year.

U.S. Drought Monitor

How bad is it?

Federal scientists confirmed Friday that Texas had its driest year on record in 2011.

The statewide average rainfall for the year totaled just 14.88 inches, according to the National Climatic Data Center, beating the previous low of 14.99 inches set in 1917.

During the last century, Texas averaged 27.92 inches of rain per year.

Temperature-wise, the state ended the year with its second-hottest mark, 67.2 degrees, finishing just below the record of 67.5 degrees set in 1921.

“Drought begets heat and then heat begets drought, and a feedback cycle develops,” said Victor Murphy, manager of climate services at the National Weather Service’s southern region headquarters in Fort Worth. “We saw this in May through September.”

So, climate change would be bad, then. Just something to think about. The bad news is that the La Niña pattern that drove last year’s dry weather is expected to persist in 2012. So making sure we are doing all we can to not waste water would be a good idea. SciGuy has more.

We’re #9!

The ninth greenest metro area, at least in terms of “green” jobs, according to a Brookings study.

Houston’s “clean” or “green” economy is ranked 9th among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.

“There is room for clean technology in a city with the largest number of fossil fuel jobs in the country and where oil is still king,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “In fact, many of our local energy companies are also at the forefront of research and production on environmentally-friendly alternatives. Going green is creating good paying jobs for Houstonians and growing our economy.”

The Brookings Institute report, “Sizing the Clean Economy: A National and Regional Green Jobs Assessment,” provides the following profile of Houston’s clean economy:

  • 9th among the 100 largest metro areas
  • Nearly 40,000 jobs, or 1.6 percent of all jobs in the region
  • Job growth exceeding 5 percent annually between 2003 and 2010
  • Each job produces nearly $17,000 in exports
  • Estimated median wage of $42,779 a year, compared to $38,608 for all jobs in Houston

Houston boasts an impressive list of green accomplishments. For three years in a row, it has appeared on the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual “top 10 list” of U.S. cities with the most Energy Star certified buildings. It is also the country’s largest municipal purchaser of renewable energy, with 33 percent of the City of Houston’s energy load provided by wind energy. Just last month, Mayor Parker was chosen as the nation’s top winner for large cities in the 2011 Mayors’ Climate Protection Awards sponsored by The U.S. Conference of Mayors. In addition, Houston has been selected as the site for Total Energy USA, an annual trade event that will assemble renewable energy, clean energy and energy-efficiency sectors in one place to provide a comprehensive look at the overarching, integrated energy solutions taking shape today.

The Brookings report can be found here, and the profile of the Houston metro area is here. If you go to that first link and click on the interactive indicator map, you’ll see that the rankings correlate strongly with overall metro area population. That shouldn’t be a surprise – these places are where most of the jobs of all kinds are – but it should be kept in perspective. Thanks to Houston Tomorrow for the catch.

TCEQ a no-show at EPA hearing

They’d rather sue than engage.

At the hearing in a hotel ballroom, Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administrator for Texas and five adjacent states, said the federal agency prefers to let the state issue the permits, as it does for other air pollutants.

“This isn’t a program that we want to implement for years,” Armendariz said. “We want the state of Texas to take ownership of it, and we are ready to work with the TCEQ. However, at this time, those discussions have not begun.”

In a statement, the TCEQ said it didn’t attend the hearing because the state agency’s position “has been clearly articulated to the EPA and well documented in several pending court cases.”

“Our attempts to reason with EPA and efforts to have constructive discussions on our position and their authority under federal law have been ignored,” the statement said. “We look forward to pursuing our position in the court system and we are confident that science and the law will prevail.”

All they care about is finding a judge to let them off the hook. Remind me again why we even have the TCEQ?

EPA 3, Texas 0

How many times will the courts have to bench-slap our Governor and Attorney General before they get the message that Texas must comply with the same laws as every other state? It’s three and counting.

Texas had asked the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to block a program that awards construction permits to major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as cement kilns and oil refineries. Every other state has begun the permit program or allowed EPA to award permits for them.

On Wednesday, the court denied Texas’ request for a stay, clearing the way for the EPA to regulate major sources in Texas. A three-judge panel wrote that Texas didn’t satisfy “the stringent standards” required for a stay.

Environmental groups said the decision shows that Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott have filed frivolous lawsuits that amount to political statements about global warming.

“Texas is the only state in the nation that refused to let anyone – the state or the feds – issue permits for carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming,” David Doniger, the chief global warming lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote on his blog. “The court’s ruling now assures that EPA will be able to fill that void for as long as Texas’ leaders continue their grandstanding, so that companies can continue building their projects, but with reasonable limits on all of their dangerous pollutants.

You can read that blog post here, which includes a copy of the court’s order. The story has one of Abbott’s usual whiny statements about how this will kill jobs. Which would be funny if the Lege weren’t likely to adopt a budget that will eliminate various state departments and cause school districts to lay off thousands of teachers. Anyway, Abbott and Perry will continue to shop for a court in the hope that they’ll eventually find one that will pat them on the head and tell them how very special and not like those other 49 states they are.

On a related note, those of you in Dallas will have an opportunity to have your voice heard about this. From the inbox:

EPA TO HOLD PUBLIC HEARING ON GREENHOUSE GAS PERMITTING PROGRAM

Public Hearing in Dallas on Friday, January 14, 2011

Texas Public Voices to be Unified, asking for Federal Implementation Plan to take over State Permitting process

HOUSTON – Tomorrow in downtown Dallas, the Environmental Protection Agency will come out to face public, industry and political comment regarding its recent highly controversial decision to assume greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting functions for the state of Texas Citizens from around the state will converge on the city to voice their hopes for EPA’s decision to step in to the void left by Texas’ refusal to reckon with global climate change.

In December, the EPA clarified that they will be responsible for issuing Clean Air Act permits for GHG emissions on the state’s behalf. This decision came after months of oftentimes acrimonious volley between the federal agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) on the underlying flaws and limitations of the state’s air permitting process. Texas, the country’s leading emitter of pollutants which contribute to global climate change, has staunchly refused to either regulate greenhouse gases or even accept the opinions of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on human contribution to climate change.

“For the good of Texans’ health, Texas’ business and our planet’s future, our state has to be a leader in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions”, implores Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston. “Instead, our state leaders chose to stick Texas’ collective head in the sand, so we applaud the actions of the EPA in putting sensible science and policy ahead of local, shortsighted and divisive politics.”

Texans hope the proposed Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) will allow EPA to work with Texas’ industry and TCEQ for a cleaner, healthier state that abides by the same regulations as the other 49 states in our union. The time has come for Texas politicians to put the long term interests of our state ahead of their next election cycle and work with federal officials to ensure regulatory clarity and protection for public health across the state of Texas.

Here’s where the hearing will be: Crowne Plaza Hotel Dallas Downtown, 1015 Elm Street Dallas, TX 75202 map). Be there if you can.

Federal court denies stay in Texas’ lawsuit against EPA

No love from the Fifth Circuit.

Texas’ bid to stop the federal government’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases hit another roadblock today, when the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals turned down the state’s request for a stay of a move to force states to implement federal plans.

“Petitioners have not met their burden to satisfy the legal standards required to allow a stay pending appeal,” the court said, in its short denial.

[…]

Texas’s efforts are hardly over, however. “The Respondent’s Motion for dismissal or in the alternative transfer to the D.C. Circuit remains before the panel,” the 5th Circuit said.

You can read the denial here; there’s not much more to it than was quoted above. As noted, the case itself is still ongoing, so denying the request to halt the EPA before it begins doesn’t mean that the suit will be resolved in the EPA’s favor. And this particular setback hasn’t stopped the state from filing more lawsuits.

The Texas petition to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia accuses the Environmental Protection Agency of abusing its powers by taking control of the permitting program without proper public notice. The EPA made the unilateral move Dec. 23.

“Once again, the federal government is overreaching and improperly intruding upon the state of Texas and its legal rights,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a statement. Typically, the federal government delegates implementation of Clean Air Act rules to the states.

Abbott previously filed a challenge to the new rules, saying their underpinnings — that the gases threaten public health by warming the planet – are based on faulty data. Two federal appeals courts, including the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as recently as Wednesday, rejected his requests for a stay while the lawsuit is pending.

Al Armendariz, the EPA’s regional administratorbased in Dallas, criticized Texas “politicians” for filing suit again “instead of working with EPA to protect Texans’ health and welfare.”

You can read AG Abbott’s fulminations here, if that’s your thing. As the HuffPo reports, we’re in for a long and drawn-out fight. A statement from the Environmental Defense Fund is beneath the fold, while Grist and Kos have related items.

(more…)

Federal court clears the way for greenhouse gas rules to be enforced in Texas

Apparently, Texas is subject to the same laws as those other states. Who knew?

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected pleas from Texas, some other states and industry allies to block nationwide rules on greenhouse gas emissions slated to start next month.

The states, industry groups and free-market groups are suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its first attempt to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from automobiles and large industrial sources. The rules, they argue, would harm the economy.

But the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied the request to freeze the new regulations while the lawsuit is pending, ruling that the challengers failed to show that the harms they allege are certain, rather than speculative.

The decision of the three-judge panel clears the way for the rules to take effect Jan. 2, as planned. The federal rules require new controls on emissions from vehicles and industrial sources, such as power plants and refineries.

Bear in mind, the DC circuit appeals court has a reputation for being very conservative. It’s the venue that Texas Republicans plan to use instead of the Justice Department to preclear its redistricting plans, with the hope of getting a more lenient interpretation (or an outright overturning) of the Voting Rights Act.

In challenging the EPA, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has argued that the underpinnings of the new rules — that the gases blamed for global warming threaten public health — are based on faulty data. The new rules also will hurt business, he told the court.

But the Texas lawsuit had a “see- through problem,” said David Doniger, director of climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which supports the new rules.

“You can say anything you want in a press release or a two-page lobbying letter to Congress,” Doniger said. “But when you go to court, you have to prove your case, and they didn’t. These cases were brought to dress up a political argument.”

Imagine that. Facts are stubborn things.

Burning biomass

I can’t say I knew much about this before I read the story, but now that I have my initial reaction is to be skeptical.

Interest in building power plants fueled by wood waste has recently surged in East Texas, which has none of the wind-power potential of West Texas but does have plenty of pine trees. Forty-five miles away from Lufkin, in northwestern Nacogdoches County, a larger plant with the capacity to power about 75,000 homes is being built by Southern Company, an Atlanta-based utility holding company. That plant, which will sell its power to Austin Energy, broke ground a year ago and should be operational by mid-2012.

Two other plants, near Woodville and Lindale, received crucial permits from Texas air-pollution regulators this year, though construction has not yet started. A fifth plant, near Greenville, has an application pending.

The case for biomass power is that it derives from a renewable resource: trees. The power plants can produce electricity around the clock, unlike wind turbines and solar panels, which work only when the weather is right. They also create jobs.

I certainly get why East Texas might be interested in tree waste as a source of power, but I have two concerns. One is that any time you talk about burning something, you have to wonder about the carbon effect, among other things.

Neil Carman, the clean air director of the Sierra Club in Texas, says he is skeptical of the claims by biomass plants that they are “carbon-neutral” because the calculations would depend on how long it takes for the trees — the original source of the fuel — to grow back.

However, other types of pollution are more immediately worrisome, according to Carman. “They can have a lot of dirty particulate matter from what they’re burning,” he says. “I would be very concerned about the potential for local air pollution problems.”

Indeed, a few years ago locals raised concerns about pollution from the Lufkin plant, which is co-owned by Vines. That led to a protracted and rancorous permitting battle in which the Environmental Protection Agency got involved. Eventually, improvements in pollution controls were required, says Aaron Hartsfield, a postal worker who lives about a half-mile from the plant.

The other question is, what exactly is “wood waste”, and isn’t there something else you could be doing with it?

The pulp and paper industry also has reservations about potential competition for woody debris. Biomass plant operators insist they will use leftover materials — the Lufkin plant, for example, plans to use logging debris and limbs remaining in the forests that would otherwise rot or get burned, as well as trees and shrubs cut down by homeowners, and available wood waste from mills.

But sometimes, wood waste gets used for other purposes. Pulp mills, for example, use their debris to generate energy within their plants (as opposed to feeding it into the electric grid). There are 50 to 100 such plants across the Southeast, including in Texas, Whiting says.

“Potentially, you’re driving up the cost of their feedstock,” says Luke Bellsnyder, executive director of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, whose members include pulp and paper mills.

Landowners, however, will welcome a new market for their product, says Ron Hufford, executive vice president of the Texas Forestry Association, whose members span a range of forest-industry players, including some of the biomass plants.

Rotting in the forest is how nature has taken care of this stuff forever, so it’s not clear to me why we shouldn’t just keep letting that happen. Beyond that, I remain skeptical but would like to learn more. What do you think about this?

San Antonio solar farm

There’s more solar energy available in Texas now than before.

[Texas’] first solar farm, an array of 215,000 photovoltaic panels that capture sun rays and turn them into power, went on line Thursday in San Antonio. Statewide, at least six more projects are in earlier stages of development.

“We have some of the best solar radiation in the country,” said a hopeful Luke Metzger of Environment Texas, “just a ton of sun.”

Until the big plants are up and adding electricity to the consumer grid, however, that power remains primarily potential. Tapping it will be controversial as long as solar is expensive relative to energy from other sources, overwhelmingly coal and natural gas.

And even if all the projects now on the books get built, they would create a mere sliver of the electricity Texans consume every year.
Yet proponents insist solar power has a bright future here, with economic as well as environmental benefits.

Electricity generated by solar-photovoltaic technology today costs five times as much to produce as coal-fired energy, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Natural gas is an even cheaper source.

Solar is expensive even compared with other renewable sources, especially wind, which is narrowing the price gap with fossil fuels. And the Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2016, photovoltaic power on average will remain more than twice as expensive as wind-generated and more than three times as expensive as coal-fired.

Yet state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, contends that renewable energy, particularly solar, “is where the market is headed,” and Texas would be wise to support the fledgling industry. He sponsored legislation in 2009 that would have provided rebates for individuals adding solar panels to their homes and for companies building utility-scale solar plants.

First, 2016 is just five years out, so there’s no reason to believe that solar won’t continue to get cheaper in the long run. Technology doesn’t necessarily advance linearly, either. It also may be the case that it’s just going to cost more to generate power down the line. If we were properly pricing the externalities of coal and other greenhouse gas sources, we’d already be thinking of it in more expensive terms. So the sooner we start working on and improving cleaner sources of energy like solar, the better off we’ll be.

Cap and trade would cut the federal deficit

Surely this means all those “deficit hawks” I keep hearing about will rush to embrace the American Power Act now. Right?

The CBO analysis of the American Power Act, championed by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) found that government revenues would grow by about $751 billion from 2011 to 2020 if the bill became law. By contrast, the legislation would create direct spending of $732 billion over the same 10-year period.

Authors of the proposal called the CBO report a “powerful message” ahead of a floor debate next month. They are still searching for a formulation that will draw 60 votes.

“There is no more room for excuses; this must be our year to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation and begin to send a price signal on carbon,” Kerry and Lieberman said in a joint statement. “Many of our colleagues have said they flatly oppose anything that adds a penny to the deficit, so we hope they look anew at this initiative, which reduces it.”

The CBO report is here. Of course, no one actually believes the American Power Act can pass, because we can’t afford it or some such, so the talk is about various alternate approaches that may have a chance of surviving the Senate. No, I don’t understand that either. Texas Vox has more.

What will climate change legislation cost?

My friend Robert Nagle surveys the literature on climate change, specifically analyses of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACESA), also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, and finds estimates for how much it will cost the average household on an annual basis. Not too surprisingly, it’s a lot less than what fearmongers like Rick Perry claim. He also notes that one study reports its “key finding is that clean-energy investments generate roughly three times more jobs than an equivalent amount of money spent on carbon-based fuels”. Check it out and see for yourself.

CO2 emissions down

I thought this was worth sharing.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) just issued its must-read report on U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions in 2009.  It turns out energy-related CO2 emissions have dropped faster than EIA had expected just a few months ago (see my September post, “EIA stunner: By year’s end, we’ll be 8.5% below 2005 levels of CO2 — halfway to climate bill’s 2020 target“).

Surely this country could reduce CO2 emissions a little more than 7% in 10 years and meet the modest target set out in the Senate climate bill, which appears likely to be introduced next week.  It really isn’t bloody hard (see Game changer part 2: Unconventional gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet).

Yes, a part of the recent drop in CO2 is due to the recession, but actually that was only just a piece.  Other key factors including low natural gas prices, gains in efficiency, state renewable energy standards, and a clean-energy-friendly stimulus (see “EIA projects wind at 5% of U.S. electricity in 2012, all renewables at 14%, thanks to Obama stimulus!“).

You’d think the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico would make it easier to pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill, but so far that hasn’t been the case. It would help if more government officials viewed the matter as important, since the consequences could be truly catastrophic, but again, so far that hasn’t been the case. The sad thing is that achieving the modest goal that the House and Senate bills aim for may be easier than we think, as we’re farther along already than we realize. Look at the graph in the link above – we’re almost at 1990 levels of CO2 emissions. Surely we can take the next steps.

Texas State Climatologist on the EPA and greenhouse gases

Did you know that Texas had a State Climatologist? I didn’t. His name is John Nielsen-Gammon, he’s a professor at Texas A&M, and you should read this brief interview in Think Progress about his opinions on carbon dioxide, the Environmental Protection Agency, and that lawsuit that was filed by our state leaders challenging the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Dr. Nielsen-Gammon also blogs for the Chron if you want more detail about what’s in that lawsuit and atmospheric science in general. Check it out.

Seeing gold in green

Denying climate change and the adverse effects of carbon dioxide may be official policy of our Republican leaders, but word has apparently not filtered down to the business entrepreneurs whose capitalistic opportunism those Republicans usually lionize.

“Energy is the biggest opportunity Silicon Valley has ever seen,” declared T.J. Rodgers, the founder of Cypress Semiconductor and chairman of SunPower, a leading maker of photovoltaic panels to produce solar energy.

How big? Consider that the sum of America’s yearly utility bills, one component of the nation’s overall energy costs, exceeds $1 trillion — or nearly triple the annual global revenues of the semiconductor industry. The solar and wind energy markets, which totaled about $80 billion in 2008, are projected to nearly triple in size in 10 years, employing 2.6 million people worldwide, according to Clean Edge, a cleantech research group.

Leading venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers muses that Silicon Valley may someday be called Solar Valley, given that dozens of solar companies that have sprung up here in recent years.

But solar represents just one aspect of the cleantech revolution. Around the valley, some former e-commerce and software mavens are now busy trying to electrify the automobile industry while other techies are developing energy-efficient glass, drywall and cement. Still others are introducing cutting-edge information technology to the 20th-century electricity grid, working on biofuels and fuel cells, and pioneering new methods to recycle waste, protect air and water quality and enhance agriculture and aquaculture.

The payoff: progress toward a “low-carbon economy,” thousands of new jobs in the valley — and perhaps a new set of corporate titans.

I sure hope their optimism is well placed, because at this point they may be the only hope we’ve got for any real action on climate change.

Texas takes a stand in favor of global warming

There was a time when stuff like this would have surprised me. But then, there was a time when being anti-science wasn’t a point of pride for the Republican Party.

Texas on Tuesday became the first state to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that gases blamed for global warming threaten public health.

Gov. Rick Perry and other Texas officials said the federal finding is based on flawed science and would harm the state’s economy.

The EPA issued the finding two months ago in an attempt to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Such rules would have a profound impact on Texas, which pumps more carbon dioxide into the air than any other state because of its scores of coal-fired power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities.

“The EPA’s misguided plan paints a big target on the backs of Texas agriculture and energy producers and the hundreds of thousands of Texans they employ,” Perry said in a statement. “This legal action is being taken to protect the Texas economy and the jobs that go with it, as well as defend Texas’ freedom to continue our successful environmental strategies free from federal overreach.”

Texas asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to review the finding, with its petition coming on the heels of similar filings by business and conservative groups.

There are many things about which Rick Perry and the state of Texas is officially indifferent, ranging from food stamps to getting a complete Census count and on and on. But when business and conservative groups say “Sue!”, he’s right there to reply “Which court?” I believe this effort will go nowhere and will waste a lot of money in the process, but it will keep Perry’s base happy, and that’s what really matters. BOR, SciGuy, Rep. Mike Villarreal, and Texas Vox have more.

If we’re looking for revenue to help deal with that budget gap…

We could always follow the lead of many other states and adopt our own climate plan.

Already, ten states in the Northeast have put their electric utilities under a cap-and-trade system known as RGGI. Eleven Western states and Canadian provinces are now laying the groundwork for their own cap-and-trade system, known as the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), which would begin in 2012 and could well expand further. Right now, there’s a lot of cooperation between RGGI and WCI, [Terry Tamminen, who advised California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on that state’s climate policy] said—so that in the future they could be linked up, possibly with Europe’s system, and possible with offset projects in, say, China and India. (Relatedly, Schwarzenegger is putting together an “R-20” for various subnational governments, modeled after the G-20, to get together and coordinate these sorts of regional efforts.)

Okay, but what sorts of cuts are we really talking about? The WCI, after all, includes some hefty states and provinces—California, Ontario, Washington, Arizona—but it doesn’t include some of the heaviest polluters, like Alberta and Texas. Unfortunately, no one’s done a full tally of the total impact on U.S. emissions—it’s still too early for that. But, Tamminen notes, when you add state efforts to the hundreds of cities that have pledged to reduce their emissions, suddenly we’re talking about a big swath of the United States. “Eighty percent of the country’s emissions come from cities and industrial areas that are often located near those cities.”

And, Tamminen adds, other states will have plenty of incentive to buy into these climate plans. For instance, some of the RGGI states have used revenue from selling carbon permits to help fill in their budget shortfalls ($100 million in New York’s case)—an option that may increasingly look attractive to many governors around the country. It’s a move that has a certain logic too it. “When you think about a coal-fired power plant,” says Tamminen, “it’s not just the greenhouse gases—there are all sorts of other pollutants causing asthma and so forth, and that ends up costing states in medical bills. So it’s totally appropriate for states to offset those costs by forcing polluters to internalize them, through a price on carbon.”

A hundred million bucks is still a relatively small amount in the context of our budget and its currently projected shortfall, but it’s still a hundred million bucks, and I’d bet Texas has a lot more revenue potential there than New York does. Yeah, I know, this is about as likely to happen as a tax on concealed weapons. But just take a minute and imagine what it might be like if we provided incentives to not pollute, instead of the other way around.

EPA public hearing on hazardous ozone standards in Houston

The following was sent to me from the Sierra Club:

Right now the EPA is accepting public comments on proposed new ozone standards that will make the air we breathe cleaner and our communities healthier, but they are facing fierce opposition from the coal industry and its allies. We need you to join us the public hearing in Houston to show that Texas is ready to be a leader, instead of a laggard.

Can you join us for an important EPA public hearing on hazardous ozone standards in Houston on February 2nd?

The Coal and Oil industry is going to come out with a vengeance.  TCEQ and Governor Perry have already threatened to sue the EPA over this proposed ruling on ozone standards.

Texans deserve standards that follow the law and abide by the Clean Air Act.  There are TWELVE NEW coal plants proposed in Texas, and we already have 17 coal plants up and running (some of the dirtiest in the country).  We deserve better.

The final decision by the EPA will have an impact on our air quality for decades, but they need to hear from you.

If you can help organize turnout for the event—making phone calls, going to meetings, and spreading the word please email [email protected] or call Eva at 512.299.1550.

Who: The EPA and You, your friends, family and neighbors.

What: EPA public hearing on proposed revision of the ozone standard which would improve the air quality in Texas—see below to register to give your comment. For more information on the EPA’s ruling go here: www.sierraclub.org/coal/tx

Where: Hilton Houston Hobby Airport

Moody Ballroom

8181 Airport Boulevard

Houston, TX 77061

When: Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 – 9:30am – 7:30pm or later

Press Conference at 11am

Rally in the evening at 7pm

I look forward to hearing from you!

Very best,

Eva

How to preregister to speak at the Houston Ozone Hearing
To preregister to speak at the public hearings, please contact Ms. Tricia Crabtree at:
[email protected]; telephone: (919) 541-5688.

If you wish to speak at the hearing but don’t pre-register, you much arrive before 7:30 pm that evening at the Hearing location.  Otherwise, you can submit a comment to the EPA Docket here.

The public hearings will begin at 9:30 a.m. and continue until 7:30 p.m. or later, if necessary, depending on the number of speakers wishing to participate.  The EPA will accommodate all speakers that arrive and register before 7:30 p.m.

For Rideshare info to the hearing, click here.

A list of people who are already scheduled to speak, including Houston Mayor Annise Parker and State Sens. Wendy Davis and Rodney Ellis, is here, and more information about the hearing is here. Please come out in support of clean air if you can make it.