Monthly Archives: February 2013

Ozone Season Is Coming…

How To Better Protect Yourself From Smog In 2013

Even though temps haven’t yet risen to triple digits, the official ozone season starts this week for much of Texas (March 1 for DFW, Houston, April 1 for Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi), and based on the number of exceedances from last year, much work remains to be done.

Why? Ozone exceedances threaten lives. A recently released study reminds us of how critical clean air is to our health, especially for those who are most vulnerable to the harmful impacts of pollution. Rice University published a study this month in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, reporting a correlation between ozone exposure and heart attacks in the Houston area.

"It's long been thought there was an association between air pollution and cardiac arrest, and this study brings statistical support to that suspicion," said Texas Heart Institute President Dr. James Willerson in the Houston Chronicle.

Remember that ground level ozone – also known as smog – has been linked to premature mortality; increased hospital admissions, and emergency room visits for respiratory issues among children and adults with pre-existing respiratory disease such as asthma; as well as possible long-term lung damage. Children and the elderly with existing respiratory conditions are most at risk from smog.

EDF is working with university researchers to more fully understand how ozone and other types of air pollution contribute to disease. Early indicators point to low birth weights, for example, in babies with mothers exposed to high levels of particulate matter pollution. Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Ozone| 1 Response, comments now closed

Houston Air Quality Advocate Poised To Share Talents In New National Role

Dr. Tejada poses with the plaques he received from the City of Houston and the Texas Legislature.

This week, Houston honored a long time environmental advocate, Dr. Matthew Tejada, who will be leaving the Houston non-profit Air Alliance Houston for a new post at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as director of the Office of Environmental Justice. At a celebration this week hosted by Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn, Dr. Tejada was awarded with plaques from both the City of Houston (declaring February 18 as “Matthew Tejada Day”) and from the Texas state legislature, recognizing Dr. Tejada’s efforts in improving air quality in the Houston region.

The new post should come as no surprise to those who know him well. For the last five years, Dr. Tejada has been a documented champion of air quality, helping especially to address the air pollution concerns of low-income and minority communities in Houston and across Texas. In his new role, he will continue work he started in Texas, expanding the mission nationally from his base in Washington D.C.

Dr. Tejada told Environmental Health News that living and working with air quality issues in Houston has provided a good foundation for his new role: “Whether it's big national ambient air quality standards or toxics or health, the Gulf Coast—particularly the Texas and Louisiana Gulf areas—is really the crucible of a lot of these issues. We have the largest challenges, the most diverse challenges, the largest number of people that are suffering negative health impacts for the longest period of time, going back to the beginning of the 20th century.”

Air Alliance Houston Board President Bob Levy also believes Dr. Tejada is well-suited for the role ahead. “Matthew was a young, unknown quantity when Air Alliance (then known as GHASP) hired him as Executive Director over five years ago,” Levy said. “We soon discovered that he is very bright, quickly masters complex issues, and communicates effectively, both in written and oral communications.

“He has proven himself to be an outstanding leader who is liked and admired by co-workers, colleagues, acquaintances and even adversaries. During his tenure, Air Alliance Houston has roughly doubled its capabilities, vastly increased its impact, and now has a strong reputation as a leader in air quality advocacy statewide, even nationally.” Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Houston, Ozone, TCEQ| 2 Responses, comments now closed

El Paso Electric Inks Solar Deal That Is Cheaper Than Coal

This commentary was originally posted on EDF's Energy Exchange blog.

On the heels of our blog post last week, showing how competitive wind and solar power have become in recent years, is news of possibly the cheapest solar deal yet in the U.S. (that we know of publicly, at least). Even more interesting is the fact that the deal was made between Texas-based El Paso Electric and First Solar, an Arizona-based solar manufacturer. While it’s a little sad that a Texas-based company has to go to New Mexico to build solar, it’s at least heartening that they could partner with a U.S. company to get the project done. First Solar has been one of the leading solar manufacturers for several years, and last year their suite of projects made them the #2 solar panel supplier in the world (up from #4.)

Marty Howell, the City of El Paso’s Director of Economic Development and Sustainability, said that “El Paso Electric’s recent solar contract with First Solar is another example of our great partnership with El Paso Electric and how El Pasoans are working together to make our community more sustainable.”

This new 50 megawatt (MW) project in New Mexico comes in at 5.79¢/kilowatt hour (kWh), which is almost half the cost of a new “advanced” coal power plant (12-14¢/kWh), according to the Energy Information Administration. It is helpful to note that the deal did benefit from subsidies, as detailed in an article by Renewable Energy World, including the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) – which provides renewable energy projects with a tax credit equal to roughly 30 percent of a project’s costs. If we were to remove that credit and the benefit of local incentives, the project would come in right around the cost of a new advanced coal plant, even if the coal plant lacks carbon capture and storage technology.

Time will tell whether this deal is an exception or the new rule, but growing signs of price parity for solar power, and the continued growth of competitive wind energy, consistently point to a critical shift in our energy infrastructure. With continued declines expected in both wind and solar prices, this First Solar project seems more likely to become the norm than not. The only question is whether utilities and regulators are ready for such rapid growth in wind and solar power.

In New Mexico, they certainly seem to be ready. However, in many other states, including El Paso Electric’s home state of Texas, that’s still an open question.

Posted in Coal, Solar| Comments closed

Beyond The Headlines– Port Stakeholders Discuss Environmental Performance At Foreign Trade Conference

This week, I participated in a panel at the Georgia Foreign Trade Conference titled: “Beyond the Headlines – How the industry implements environmental improvements.” The panel represented some of the biggest powerhouses in the port industry talking about environmental performance and sustainability, including:

  • James Jack, Executive Director, Coalition for Responsible Transportation (CRT)
  • Dean Tracy, Director of Import Transportation, Lowe’s
  • Curtis Foltz, Executive Director, Georgia Ports Authority
  • Tony Chiarello, President and CEO, TOTE, Inc.
  • Rick Gabrielson, Senior Director, International Transportation, Target Corporation

Peter Tirschwell, Senior Vice President of Strategy, UBM Global Trade, Journal of Commerce, moderated the discussion.

Each of the speakers shared some new and exciting initiatives going on within their organizations. Some of the highlights included:

  • Information on the two new LNG containerships recently purchased by Tony’s company, TOTE. Scheduled to be operational on short hauls in US waters in 2014, the over 700 foot long containerships are expected to be the largest ships of any type in the world to be primarily powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG). This new technology was developed as part of an effort for short sea shippers to comply with the new fuel standards that have been adopted as part of the emission control area (ECA).
  • New environmental efforts underway at the Georgia Ports Authority include the first electric rubber tired gantry crane

    Georgia Foreign Trade Conference

  • Corporate sustainability initiatives underway at Lowe’s
  • Corporate sustainability initiatives underway at Target
  • The Coalition for Responsible Transportation, an industry association committed to supporting sustainability efforts at ports

I’d like to thank Georgia Ports Authority for the invitation to participate in this year’s conference, and for their leadership in incorporating environmental sustainability as part of their overall strategic plan. Recognizing and highlighting powerful players focused on sustainability and best practices in the industry is just plain good business.

Posted in Ports, Transportation| Comments closed
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