Texas Clean Air Matters

Start Your Engines, New Funding Available in Texas for Newer, Cleaner Vehicles

By: Christina Wolfe, EDF's Ports & Transportation Analyst

Delivery trucks, wheel-loaders, school buses, and locomotives all have one thing in common – an internal combustion engine that keeps these machines churning for years. Maybe for too many years. The useful life for some of these engines, especially diesel engines, can last decades, deterring owners from upgrading to newer models with greater fuel economy and operational efficiency. Plus, these machines can be very expensive, making it difficult for owners to replace older equipment once the newest, cleanest technology becomes available. From an environmental perspective, this is bad news. Engines emit a variety of dangerous pollutants that adversely affect our health, including particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). So without the means to upgrade polluting, heavy-duty engines, what can owners do?

Enter the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP).

First, EPA established more protective emissions standards that require new engines to be many times cleaner compared to older models. These strong standards have helped drive innovations in engine technology so that emissions are now a fraction of what they once were. Here’s a breakdown: Read More »

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Elon Musk's Love-Hate Relationship with Texas

 (Source: Governor Rick Perry)

Texas Governor Rick Perry meets with entrepeneur Elon Musk
Source: Governor Rick Perry

For months now there has been much secrecy and mystery surrounding the location of electric car revolutionary Tesla's new $5 billion Gigafactory. The factory will supply cheaper batteries for the company’s Model 3 electric car and will be large enough to manufacture more lithium-ion batteries than the entire industry produces now. Due to its sheer scale, the factory is expected to reduce the cost of batteries by almost one-third and create close to 7,000 jobs directly and thousands more indirectly.

Amidst all the rumors abounding, closed door meetings, and tax break wars, I wrote about Tesla’s search for the perfect factory location – of which Texas was in the running. Despite Tesla breaking ground near Reno, Nevada a few weeks ago, there was still speculation about where the Gigafactory might be located, and Texas' chances remained somewhat alive.

But no more. Tesla indeed confirmed that Reno will be the home of the Gigafactory. This is great for Nevada’s economy, but as a Texan, it still feels like a bit of a blow – though I’m not surprised.

While Texas Governor Rick Perry personally lobbied for the Gigafactory to make its home in Texas, it doesn’t help that he’s at the helm of a state hostile to clean energy, despite Texas leading the nation in wind power. Although I’m hopeful that future clean tech endeavors will come to Texas, the existing status quo needs to change to combat this hostility.   Read More »

Posted in Legislation, Renewable Energy, Transportation| Tagged , , , , | 1 Response

Sprung a Leak? Smart Water Meters to the Rescue

Source: freshserviceinc.com

Source: freshserviceinc.com

A few months ago I logged into my online utility account and noticed it was more than twice the amount I usually pay, all of the excess going to water. Given the kind of work I do, I scour my bill every month, comparing electric and water usage month-to-month and over the course of the year. We are water and electricity savers in our household, so what on earth could this spike be?

I immediately called the City of Austin, and they sent someone out to check the meter. Nope, nothing on that end. Then we brought in a plumber, who spent many hours and many of our dollars searching and found a leak in the toilet. By the time we went through all of that and got the toilet fixed, we had to pay our enormous bill plus the plumber’s bill. Why should I have to go through that rigmarole just to find a leak?

Wouldn’t it be easier if a smart water meter could send my utility and me a message the moment the toilet starts leaking?

Unfortunately, water infrastructure in this country is sorely in need of a reboot. The American Society for Civil Engineers gave the U.S. drinking water infrastructure a grade of a “D” in its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, stating there are 240,000 water main breaks per year. And we’re still using antiquated “technology” in much of the sector. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Smart Grid, Utilities| Leave a comment

New EPA Report Assesses Achievements and Hurdles in Reducing Urban Air Toxics

Haze over Dallas (Source:  Texas Tribune)

Haze over Dallas (Source: Texas Tribune)

Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the second of two reports required under the Clean Air Act (CAA) to inform Congress about actions and progress in reducing air toxics. Given Texas’ history as an industrial state and major emitter of millions of tons of toxics per year, the report highlights the importance of the CAA in curbing toxic pollution. Ultimately, this is about saving lives, as exposure to air toxics is associated with health effects such as cancer, respiratory disease, neurological and reproductive problems, and other health risks.

 

 

What does the report say?

  • It demonstrates that federal, state, and local regulations have been effective in reducing millions of tons of air toxics over the last two decades.
  • It highlights that much more needs to be done, particularly in areas where there may be increased health risks from emissions of air toxics.
  • It shows that benzene and formaldehyde, two extremely potent and ubiquitous air toxics, contribute to the largest portion of estimated cancer risk in urban areas.
    • The report mentions the 2005 National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) data, which estimated that more than 13.8 million people in urban areas were exposed to cancer risks greater than 100-in-a-million due to air toxics from all outdoor sources. The next NATA will be released in 2015. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Dallas Fort-Worth, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston| Tagged | Leave a comment

Clean Power Plan to Reward Texas, not Wyoming Coal-Backers

Source: Aurora Lights

Chronicle readers would be forgiven if they opened their papers last weekend and thought it was 2005. That’s because the Koch brothers-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation published an editorial that echoed the pro-coal rhetoric we heard nearly 10 years ago when then-TXU wanted to build new power plants across Texas that would burn Wyoming coal.

Sure, this weekend’s piece had a different news hook – the new Clean Power Plan that will require Texas to reduce carbon emissions from power plants like every other state. But TPPF’s conclusion was the same: better, cleaner technology is bad and coal is king. As Yogi Berra would have said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Texas is the number one carbon emitter in the U.S. and power plants, together, are the largest emitters. Our state represents close to 10 percent of the entire nation’s carbon emissions. The Clean Power Plan will simply require Texas to adhere to the rules all other states have to follow. I love Texas more than the average person, but I don’t think we should get special treatment simply because some of our energy companies doubled-down on fossil fuels. And I certainly don’t think we should rely on Wyoming coal when Texas is the nation’s energy powerhouse. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Climate Change, GHGs, Renewable Energy, TPPF| Comments closed

The First US City to Run Out of Water?

By: Rachel Finan, student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies

Rachel Finan

Experts predict that by 2025 Sana’a, Yemen will become the first capital city to run out of water. They predict that by 2030 India will need to double its water-generation capacity or face the same fate, and water supplies in Istanbul, one of the world’s largest cities, is at just 28 percent. Yet before any of those cities run dry (in far off developing countries that most people in the US associate with water scarcity issues), it could be a US city that runs out of water. And it’s not just the usual suspects in the Southwest who face increasingly serious water concerns. Miami, FL is the second-most vulnerable US city in a drought according to a University of Florida Environmental Hydrology Laboratory study. Cities such as Cleveland, OH; Chicago, IL; and New York, NY follow not far behind.

Just last February, California state officials announced that 17 communities and water districts could run out of water in as little as 100 days. In Texas, that number more than doubles. Earlier this year state officials reported 48 communities were within 90 days of water interruptions; as of August 20th, there are 27 communities on that list. One small town in TX reportedly already has run dry.

This begs an obvious question; what are we doing about it? Additionally, what should we be doing about it – not just as a temporary fix, but as a long-term, strategic response? What would you do if water stopped coming out of your tap? Imagine if your town was one of the California or Texas communities with only 90 days of water left. As an EDF Climate Corps fellow, I’ve spent the last several weeks contemplating these questions and identifying opportunities for Texas-based institutions to not only conserve water, but to save money while doing so. I’ve been inspired by many examples throughout the state. Read More »

Posted in Energy-Water Nexus| Tagged | Comments closed

EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Texas’ Last Stand or Last Hope?

Source: North Texas Renewable Energy Group

Source: North Texas Renewable Energy Group

August has been an eventful month here in Texas. And, no, I’m not referring to news about Governor Rick Perry, rather some of his appointees. The Texas Public Utility Commission (PUC), Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Railroad Commissioner (RRC) Barry Smitherman, RRC Chairman Christy Craddick, and State Representative Jason Isaac held a joint session to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new Clean Power Plan (CPP).

The CPP will limit – for the first time ever – carbon emissions for existing power plants. Texas, the number one polluter in the country, needs to cut 195 billion pounds of carbon in the next 18 years, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. However, EPA suggests Texas could easily meet its goal through a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, using more natural gas plants, increasing the use of renewable resources, and expanding energy efficiency.

Texas has a choice: either roll up some sleeves and double down on the state’s clean energy leadership, creating jobs and wealth, or continue to play petty politics to buy the fossil fuel industry more time. Read More »

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Coal, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy| Tagged | Comments closed

Now is the Time to Protect Our Children from the Dangers of Oil Refineries

By: Guest Blogger Trish O’Day, MSN, RN, Texas Physicians for Social Responsibility

(Source: Earth Justice) A child plays in a park next to the Valero oil refinery in Manchester, Texas.

(Source: EarthJustice) A child plays in a park next to the Valero oil refinery in Manchester, Texas.

Texas children growing up near oil refineries are not breathing easy. Living near a refinery can mean exposure to carcinogens, such as benzene, and heavy metals, such as lead. Sadly, there are five oil refineries located in Houston alone, with an additional three in both Port Arthur and Texas City.

Infants (and those still in the womb), babies, and young children are different; they are not little adults. They breathe faster; they live “close-to-the-ground”, and indulge quite often in “hand to mouth” behavior.

A look at lead exposure and children’s health

Lead toxicity in children has decreased in the US since lead was removed from gasoline and paint, but health experts recognize that even low-dose exposure to lead is harmful and irreversible. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention state: “there is simply no safe level of lead exposure for children.”

Children’s brains develop from the first month of conception continuing up to 7 or 8 years old. This long-term development of a child’s central nervous system and brain is sensitive, at all steps along the way, to contact with toxic substances, such as industrial chemicals or toxic substances, whether the exposure is from breathing, ingestion, or dermal (through the skin, while playing in the dirt). Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Oil| Tagged , | Comments closed

Studying Solar in Texas: Big Energy Savings Opportunities on Small Campuses

By: Andy Ferris, student of the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business

Andy Ferris and Dr. Jeff Wilson pictured here in Wilson’s home- as part of the Dumpster Project, a sustainable living experiment, Wilson is living in the dumpster for a full year.

Distributed generation solar has been a growing trend around the country. Home owners, large commercial entities and other facilities all have looked to their rooftops to cash in on a previously underutilized asset. My EDF Climate Corps fellowship at Huston Tillotson University focused on evaluating opportunities for solar power on a 23 acre, private, tax-exempt HBCU (Historically Black College or University) campus in Austin, TX. Huston-Tillotson has a target of 50 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2030 and hopes to become one of the most sustainable HBCUs in the country. My analysis calculated that completing the recommended solar installation would increase the portion of their energy from renewable sources to 14 percent; a level high enough to place them first in the country among private HBCUs.

Challenges Facing Small Organizations

With an abundance of sun and a highly competitive solar industry, making solar photovoltaic (PV) installations work in Texas should be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, a less-than encouraging regulatory environment can complicate solar installations for commercial scale projects. In Austin, a production based incentive has been rapidly reduced from $0.14/kWh to $0.09/kWh in just the last three months. This trend along with a policy that eliminates net-metering for installations over 20 kW capacity has made it challenging for small organizations looking to add PV panels to their facilities. Read More »

Posted in Renewable Energy, Solar, Utilities| Tagged , | Comments closed

Bridging the Gap and Building Solidarity at Regional Environmental Justice Training

By: Kelsey Monk, program coordinator, and Marcelo Norsworthy, research analyst

Source: Pat Sullivan  — AP Photo

Source: Pat Sullivan — AP Photo

Addressing environmental justice challenges is an ongoing learning process, and, like many environmental and public health concerns, there is no silver bullet. However, there are effective strategies and productive collaborations that can lead to success. As I learned from Vernice Miller-Travis, co-founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, “passion, matched with data, is a really powerful conversation to be having.” And EDF is definitely into data and powerful conversations, so last week, Marcelo Norsworthy and I participated in a three-day Environmental Justice Training Workshop.

The National Governor’s Association defines environmental justice (EJ) as protecting minority and low-income communities from bearing a disproportionate share of pollution, and this can have implications at the legal, regulatory, and policy levels. The workshop, co-sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 6 Office, the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Series, and the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, is part of a larger effort by EPA’s Region 6 Office of Environmental Justice and Tribal Affairs. The intent is to bring together grassroots organizations and partners, local officials, and government entities to build sustainable relationships and broaden decision-making skills. Essentially, EPA is utilizing a participatory and collaborative process to draft an environmental justice action plan that addresses region-wide priorities, such as air quality, chemical security, and Gulf Coast restoration. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, Houston, Natural gas| Tagged | Comments closed
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