Author Archives: Jim Marston

Fossil Fuel Industry's Tired Battle Against Clean Energy is Also a Losing One

Source: Alternative Energies

Source: Alternative Energies

The assault on successful renewable energy legislation continues, long after the facts have proven that state renewable policies deliver clean, affordable, and reliable energy solutions that the majority of Americans support. Apparently, the fossil fuel industry and its so-called “free market” allies didn’t get the memo.

There’s a great line in the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 2000 blockbuster Gladiator where a soldier says to his general, as they are about to slaughter an overmatched foe, “People should know when they’re conquered.” The general replies, “Would you? Would I?”

So I can’t really blame the fossil fuel industry for fighting old battles in an effort to undo approaches that have increased investment in renewable energy in states around the country, created thousands of jobs, and continue to lower energy costs with each passing day. Read More »

Posted in Environment, Legislation, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Solar, Wind | 2 Responses

Clean Air Standards Create Opportunities, Not Problems for Texas

Jim MarstonOn Thursday, November 7, the Environmental Protection Agency opened its doors across the country to solicit public comment on the Carbon Pollution Standards for existing coal-fired power plants.  The EPA seeks to implement common sense, realistic limits on the air pollution emitted from fossil fuel power plants, the single largest source of climate pollution in the United States.

To date, the coal industry has had free license to pollute carbon without limitation, leading directly and indirectly to harm human health and the environment.

These rules will bring a breath of fresh air to Texans and other Americans across the county.

Sadly in a few states, such as Texas, officials are acting to protect the owners of a few dirty coal plants and undermine the economic and health benefits that EPA will realize with the new measure.

Christi Craddick, member of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency charged with regulating mining, published an editorial in the Abilene Reporter-News stating the proposed EPA standards will cause “detrimental effects on U.S. competitiveness in world markets, halt America’s energy boom and manufacturing renaissance and cost the U.S. economy.”  Craddick cites no evidence to support her claims.  Read More »

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Coal, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural gas, Renewable Energy, Solar, Wind | Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Texas Congressman Denies Climate Change While Texans Seek More Action On Global Warming

Sunflower solar panels, Austin TX

Last week, San Antonio Congressman Lamar Smith took a break from Washington’s budget battles to weigh in on the latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In his Texas Weekly guest column, Congressman Smith cast doubt on the link between global warming and extreme weather and criticized efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), cherry-picking passages of the report to support his own arguments.

Let’s look at what the report really says. Based on mountains of evidence and an unprecedented scientific consensus from hundreds of the world’s best climate scientists, the IPCC finds that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and “human influence on the climate system is clear.” Furthermore, the report settles that human influence has very likely affected frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes and likely doubled the probability of heat waves. The report further predicts that extreme heat will only get worse from here, concluding it is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and duration in the future. Sounds like extreme weather to me.

When you contrast these findings with Texas’ recent streak of scorching summers, it’s easy to understand why a majority of Texans say they have personally experienced the effects of global warming. Extreme temperatures, since 2010, have helped plunge the state into a historic, multi-year drought, which is expected to be the new norm. Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and independent climate scientists, including Texas A&M’s atmospheric sciences department, have attributed Texas’ historic 2011 heat wave and drought primarily to climate change. Read More »

Posted in Climate Change, Drought, Extreme Weather, GHGs | Tagged , , | Comments closed

The West, Texas Tragedy Could And Should Have Been Prevented

I recently spoke at "A Conversation About the Environment," hosted by the Texas Tribune, with fellow speakers Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), Texas’ environmental protection agency; Laura Huffman, State Director of the Nature Conservancy of Texas; and Kate Galbraith, Texas Tribune’s leading energy reporter.  At the event, Kate kicked off the discussion with a quote from my colleague Elena Craft’s blog post regarding the West, Texas fertilizer explosion.  I made note of an important fact from Elena’s post that Texas leads the nation in total fatal industrial accidents, with over 400 deaths in 2011.  For comparison, California came in second (and has a population larger than Texas), with 260 total deaths.

Soon after, PolitiFact Texas reached out to me to inspect my claim.  While my statement that Texas leads the nation in industrial accidents is accurate, they questioned why I did not qualify the statistics of deaths caused by industrial accidents on a per-worker basis. One reason that I chose not to use a per-worker comparison is that even though the rates compare per 100,000 people, there can be a significant difference in variability in the rates between high population states like Texas and low population states like New Hampshire or West Virginia. That is because there is an order of magnitude difference in the workforce population between Texas and these smaller population states. One would need to characterize that variability over multiple years to determine whether variability had a significant impact on the rate. The point of my comment during the Texas Tribune event was to highlight the fact that far too many workers die unnecessarily in Texas every year in workplace accidents that can and should be prevented.

Furthermore, people are not statistics. Fifteen people lost their lives in the West tragedy, many of them first responders who entered the facility without having knowledge of the true risks or that they would lose their lives that day. Joseph Stalin infamously remarked that, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” The individuals that lost their lives in the West explosion deserve better than to be called a statistic.  People don't die or hold funerals on a per-worker basis.

The tragedy in West, Texas could and should have been prevented. Texas public officials have cut funding to key agencies responsible for ensuring strong public health and safety protections. And right now, several bills are working their way through the legislature to further weaken public health protections, even as tragedies like the explosion in West continue to occur. This is the reason that our team at Environmental Defense Fund is committed to advocating for strict oversight of environmental compliance in Texas.

Texas can and should be a safer place to work. One preventable death is one too many.

Posted in Legislation | Comments closed

CNN Gets It Wrong On San Antonio’s New Solar Project

San Antonio is soon to be the home of the largest public utility solar project in the United States. The 25-year plan will create five solar plants that produce a total of 400 megawatts of power, which is enough to power 130,000 typical U.S. households. OCI Enterprises and ERCAM Energy of Spain, a leader in the solar energy market, created a joint venture to complete the operation with CPS Energy, San Antonio’s energy utility company. Instead of receiving praise, however, the City of San Antonio, particularly its mayor, has received some harsh accusations regarding the project.

CNN aired a special that attacked Mayor Julian Castro for partnering with a foreign company, saying this decision would “send hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from [the] solar energy deal to South Korea.” The clip went on to criticize OCI Enterprises’ lack of experience in solar power and claimed the company quoted a higher price than several American companies.

Mayor Castro spoke openly about the project and confronted the accusations in several interviews the following Tuesday. He explained that San Antonio based the decision on price, experience, and jobs for San Antonians. "The firm that got this, OCI Solar, is moving its corporate headquarters to San Antonio," Castro said. "It does have a Korean parent company, but the company that we're actually dealing with is American OCI Solar."

“These are skilled and professional jobs,” said Frank Almaraz, vice president of corporate development and planning for CPS Energy. “We’re not uprooting companies and bringing them here. They’ll be doing job fairs here. It should be a real boost to employment here.”

The partnership will create 800 permanent jobs in San Antonio with an average salary of $47,000, which will result in an annual pay roll of $40 million. These are jobs that would be going to Wyoming if the city had chosen to use coal instead of solar.

In addition to creating jobs in San Antonio, OCI Enterprises’ decision to partner with ERCAM Energy will bring 12 years of solar energy experience to the table and make San Antonio a leader in renewable energy.

This new project will reduce the amount of power used from coal plants, which means that San Antonians will be less at risk for respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases.

So what about pricing? CNN’s Tim Rowlands claims that OCI’s bid was actually a higher cent per kilowatt hour than competitors. The reality is that calculating the true costs of a project of this caliber is never easy. The cost of land for the solar farm and the manufacturing site’s location are also critical factors. Also, CPS Energy does not publicly disclose pricing, so it is unclear where CNN obtained the numbers for this segment.  CPS CEO Doyle Beneby has only revealed that the price is “very, very competitive.”

CNN needs to review their facts. San Antonio’s priorities are in the right place: cleaner air and more jobs for San Antonio.

Posted in San Antonio, Solar | 2 Responses, comments now closed

Loose Use Of Facts Undermines Credibility Of White’s OpEd

An erroneous and misleading opinion piece by Kathleen Hartnett White with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, ran in Sunday's The Austin American-Statesman. In the article, White misrepresents several important details from a 4-year old EDF report that was prepared by Dr. Al Armendariz, a former Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The report catalogued emissions from oil and gas production in the Barnett Shale area. Her purported facts about the study findings are just plain wrong.

First, she claims that the report concluded that ozone precursor emissions from Barnett Shale production are twice as large as all mobile source emissions in the area. In fact, the report concluded that peak Barnett Shale emissions, while significant, were roughly comparable to emissions from cars and trucks (see press release accompanying the report).

White then claims that Dr. Armendariz’s study considered methane to be an ozone precursor, contrary to what is clearly stated in the report at p. 8. While it is true that methane does form ozone, albeit slowly, the report states "[m]ethane and ethane are specifically excluded from the definition of VOC” (volatile organic compounds). Thus, the report excluded methane from the comparison to mobile emissions of ozone precursors.

It is unclear if the author even read Dr. Armendariz's work, which was not computer modeling, as she claims. Rather, it was an emissions “inventory,” a catalog of the air pollutant emissions from oil/gas sources in the Barnett Shale area, constructed using established engineering practices and industry-backed data sources. The core pieces of information for the inventory were oil/gas production data that are available for every county in Texas from databases at the Texas Railroad Commission. Dr. Armendariz’s resulting emissions estimates were in reasonable agreement with estimates issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality later in 2009 (10-20% difference).

You can’t make a strong case when you get facts wrong. And, it is irresponsible for White to make her case by manipulating science, while cynically blaming government bodies of committing the same sin.

It’s time we all get the facts right and use science to expose truths, not veil our own agenda. For our part, EDF is working with leading academic researchers and industry leaders to conduct scientifically rigorous measurements of emissions from natural gas production. Leaks that occur during production (as well as distribution and use) stand to significantly undermine the potential of natural gas as a lower carbon energy source.

Posted in Air Pollution, Barnett Shale, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural gas, Ozone, TCEQ | Tagged , | Comments closed

Why We Must Extend The Production Tax Credit For Wind Energy

Prior to the August recess, the U.S. Senate Finance Committee passed a 55-item tax extender package known as the Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012.  The bill is now up for consideration in the House Ways and Means Committee. Included in this package is a one-year extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy. The PTC is sound economic, energy and environmental policy, and our congressional leaders would do well to support the package and the PTC extension when it comes up for a final vote.

Texas’ current success in wind energy development has been assisted by the PTC. The PTC provides a 2.2 percent tax credit per kilowatt hour of energy generated to private wind investors if their wind farms are developed, constructed and are producing. This program has increased private investment and development of wind energy, and has lead to an expansion of jobs throughout our country, but particularly in rural Texas.

With Texas being the national leader in wind installations and a manufacturing hub for the wind industry, wind farms have appeared throughout our state, and related jobs are in high demand. The wind industry provides quality and high-paying jobs, gives our state an economic boost and provides environmental benefits. Texas is the first state to reach 10,000 megawatts of wind energy installations, which power the equivalent of 2.7 million homes. The wind industry also provides land lease payments to local landowners in Texas to the tune of $31 million annually.  

Nationally, the wind energy industry supports 75,000 direct and indirect jobs, more than 400 manufacturing facilities, and is responsible for 35 percent of all new energy generation since 2007 – more than coal or nuclear energy combined.

The PTC and the tax extender package are not guaranteed to pass either the House or Senate. As uncertainty in this industry continues, developments and projects in Texas and around the country are at risk if Congress does not act quickly. EDF is asking Congress to support a tax credit that continues to help the wind energy industry grow into self-sufficiency.

Please contact your member of Congress today and ask for their support of the Production Tax Credit and the Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act.

Posted in Wind | 1 Response, comments now closed

Is Senator Inhofe really looking out for Oklahoma?

(Credit: New York Times)

This blog post takes a detour from Texas issues and covers a regional issue in our neighbor state, Oklahoma.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the disconnect between Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and the threat of rising temperatures to his own constituents. Last year, Oklahoma endured the hottest summer ever recorded in U.S. history. According to the National Climatic Data Center, Oklahoma's average temperature last summer was 86.9 degrees.

The previous record for the hottest summer was set in the midst of the Dust Bowl, again in Oklahoma. The Dust Bowl literally blew Oklahoma’s farmers off their land, along with their topsoil. No one wants a repeat of that.

What’s alarming is that the previous record of 85.2 degrees, set in Oklahoma in 1934, was almost two degrees cooler than summer 2011!

A permanent rise of two degrees, according to climate experts, is enough to turn America’s heartland into desert. From Montana to Texas, a sustained increase of two degrees would turn the wheat and corn fields of the West and Midwest to dust. In Oklahoma alone, more than 77,000 family farms provide wheat, cotton, meat, poultry, dairy products and jobs that will all go away if the summer heat of 2011 proves to be the norm rather than the anomaly.

Meanwhile, Senator Inhofe continues his attempts to undermine EPA standards that will help reduce rising greenhouse gas emissions. Senator Inhofe has a history of attacking climate change, science, and clean air standards.

But last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a unanimous opinion affirming EPA’s protective carbon pollution standards issued under the Clean Air Act. The court thoroughly rebuked those, like Inhofe, who attack science. The court confirmed EPA’s analysis that global warming is caused by humans and is a public health threat, saying “[t]his is how science works. EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

Natural gas prices are very low. One thing that may cause prices to rise is increased demand for gas to replace dirty coal. Inexplicably, Senator Inhofe and royalty owners support out of state coal businesses to the detriment of Oklahoma natural gas companies. Rather than encourage jobs in his state, the Senator chooses to protect coal jobs in West Virginia and Wyoming. As Oklahomans suffer from record heat, watch their energy bills rise and see their crops die, they should thank Senator Inhofe for refusing to do anything to improve the outlook for future summers in the Sooner State.

Posted in Air Pollution, Climate Change, Coal, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, Natural gas | 3 Responses, comments now closed

ERCOT’s Three-card Monte Trick For Grid Reliability

(Credit: Arnie Levin)

First we have enough generating capacity, but next year is the problem; now that next year is upon us it’s really the next few years that are the issue. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of Texas, foresees potential electricity shortages. Clearly the risk is real, but when?  This year? Two years from now? Reports swirl by, some only weeks apart, showing different numbers and contradicting previous reports. Are we seeing a bureaucratic version of Three-card Monte?

During last summer’s drought, demand peaked on August 3, using more than 68,000 megawatts. ERCOT’s stated goal is to maintain a 13.75% reserve margin in generating capacity. Their latest report shows the state’s electrical grid will fail to meet the target reserve margin as soon as 2014, two years from now.  A report in early May actually shows that this summer ERCOT will fail to meet that target as well, although it isn’t stated explicitly.

Meanwhile EPA is meeting with ERCOT and the nation’s other grid operators to develop an implementation timeline for the new Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) air toxics rule, which should begin this fall. Utilities have three years to implement the new rules…unless the three-year timeline threatens grid reliability. Then utilities can get a fourth year…unless grid reliability is still threatened. Then utilities have a full five years to comply.

Concerns about grid reliability are very real, but they are due to power companies deciding to hold off on constructing new power plants while prices are so low.  Unfortunately some state leaders and utilities have seized on these ERCOT reports, and are shifting their conclusions in an attempt to delay rules that have been in the works for years, and in some cases decades.  The new EPA standards will dramatically cut mercury, heavy metals, acid gas and other emissions from power plants. The public health benefits to our state will be enormous, especially for Texas children who breathe air tainted by power plant emissions. The cost of unwarranted delay is a price Texas should not have to pay.

Posted in Air Pollution, Drought, Environmental Protection Agency, MACT Rule | Comments closed

Judge Follows Law And Overturns Air Permit for Dirty Power Plant in Corpus Christi

(Source: Corpus Christi Caller)

State District Judge Stephen Yelonsky recently ruled that Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) failed to follow the law when it issued an air permit to Las Brisas Energy Center for a 1320 MW power plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. Judge Yelonsky found that the permitting was “flawed”, “misleading” and “wrong” and that it violated the Clean Air Act air toxics standards for particulates, sulfur and hazardous air pollutants (HAP). The Las Brisas power plant would run on petroleum coke, a dirty solid byproduct of oil refineries that contains heavy metals and other hazardous impurities. Judge Yelonsky also pointed out that TCEQ failed to require Las Brisas to account for the storage of petroleum coke fuel before combustion.

Quintana Capital Group has provided much of the $3.2 Billion in funding for the project. Quintana is not only is trying to build this dirty plant, but it is also leading efforts to roll back health laws that protect our children.

Electricity providers, like Las Brisas, should understand that cheap electricity is not cheap. We pay for the dirty power in sick kids and medical bills.  This power plant would be located in downtown Corpus Christi—within a mile of local schools, churches, and neighborhoods.  The fact that Las Brisas tried to avoid complying with the law through legal technicalities shows an extraordinary degree of disregard for the most basic standards of health, safety, and community in Corpus Christi. 

Here are the plant’s annual emissions according to their own TCEQ and EPA applications:

  • Approximately  13 million tons of CO2 equivalent
  • 68 tons of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)
  • 3,823 tons NOx
  • 8,154 tons CO
  • 283 tons VOCs
  • 3004 tons PM
  • 2901 tons PM10
  • 10,480 tons SO2
  • 1996 tons H2SO4141 tons ammonia
  • 47 tons HCl

The electricity we need to power our homes and businesses should not come at cost of breathing clean air. This is a trade-off we do not have to make.  We applaud the courage of State District Judge Stephen Yelonsky to apply and follow the law fairly, and call on TCEQ to fulfill its mandate, and protect Texas’ environment for our children and grandchildren.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Coal, TCEQ, Texas Permitting | Comments closed
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