Author Archives: Jim Marston

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

Coal Power Front Group PACE Blasts EPA

Recently, the Houston Chronicle published an op-ed by Lance Brown titled "Time for the EPA to stop putting politics before facts." Readers should beware the author is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy (PACE), a 501(c)(4) organization that parades itself as an environmentally-minded organization, but is really a front agency for Alabama Power Company, Southern Company and coal companies.

On its website, PACE states that it’s part of Working People for Fair Energy (WPFE), which is another front group with close ties to industry to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from reducing children’s exposure to toxic coal ash.

PACE would like us to believe that clean air is far too expensive and that the EPA is preventing any new wells from being drilled. In reality, Texas is issuing more permits than ever. In 2011, Texas issued 22,480 drilling permits, compared to 18,029 in 2010 and 12,012 in 2009.

PACE claims the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) is an example of EPA’s attempts “to crucify energy producers in our state.” The truth is that the CSAPR will improve air quality and public health, increase protection for sensitive ecosystems and improve visibility in state parks. Up to 1,704 lives will be saved in Texas and the state’s total health benefits will be up to $14 billion annually. Many companies across the country, including Houston-based Dynegy, support the rule and are already in compliance.

PACE has a constitutional right to trot out the discredited argument that we must choose between health and our jobs. But they should at least be honest about who they represent.

Posted in Air Pollution, Coal, Environmental Protection Agency| 2 Responses, comments now closed

If It Is So Clean, Why Is White Stallion Trying To Rollback Clean Air Rules?

(Credit: www.houstontomorrow.org)

White Stallion Energy wants to build a 1,320 MW power plant in Bay City, Texas and claims that its plant will not harm human health. Recently, White Stallion filed a challenge against the EPA to rollback the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rules that protect people from toxic air pollution. Why would this power plant fight against these rules? Because this plant plans to emit toxins into the air that harm public health. White Stallion cannot meet these health protections in the MATS rule, so they are fighting against the rules.

The MATS rule places the first-ever federal limits on mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants in the United States. These standards provide vital health protections for millions of Texans, especially infants and children, from the largest sources of toxic air pollution. When implemented, these standards will annually prevent up to 11,000 deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, over 500,000 missed work days due to illness and over 3 million unhealthy air days. These protections are valued at $37 billion to $90 billion each year they are carried out.

Coal- and oil-fired power plants are the nation’s single largest manmade source of major toxic air contaminants, responsible for half of all mercury pollution, 77 percent of acid gases, and 62 percent of arsenic emissions. Mercury exposure can cause brain damage in infants and can affect children’s ability to walk, talk, read and learn.  Experts estimate that hundreds of thousands of babies are born each year with potentially unsafe levels of mercury in their blood.

White Stallion’s COO, Randy Bird, claims that “the new source levels [for mercury] are beyond detectable limits”. This is simply untrue. Many coal-fired plants are already achieving the mercury standards in the proposed rule and are in-fact exceeding the standards by a significant margin. Additionally, many states have made progress on reducing mercury emissions from the power sector and have set standards for existing coal-fired units significantly more protective than EPA’s proposed standard.

On a positive note, motions to intervene in support of the rule were filed by a group of states and cities and a group of public health and environmental organizations including EDF.

The states and cities supporting this motion include Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, District of Columbia and New York City.

The organizations supporting this motion include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Environmental Defense Fund, Izaak Walton League of America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, and the Waterkeeper Alliance.

If you have been following our updates, you know that White Stallion has weaved a web of lies and played a shell game with its site plans in an effort to obtain air, water and wetlands permits. The real challenge for White Stallion to move forward isn’t the EPA or the new air toxics rules; it is the low price of home-grown, Texas-produced natural gas.  This latest petition only further shows that White Stallion is a bad idea for the Lone Star State. It’s time for White Stallion to see the light and stop fighting against clean air protections for Texans.

Posted in Air Pollution, Coal, Environmental Protection Agency| Comments closed

Why The Latest Report From The Texas Public Policy Foundation Has No Foundation

Recently, the Texas Public Policy Foundation released a report titled: EPA’s Approaching Regulatory Avalanche:  “A Regulatory Spree Unprecedented in U.S. History”

(Source: www.parkercountyblog.com

Not only is the title of the report inflammatory and divisive, but the recommendations of the report suggest that Congress should gut the core foundations of primary clean air and clean water protections. Why?  According to Ms. White, “…the new rules have marginal, if indeed measurable at all, health benefits. Nor are they supported by credible science.”  Interestingly, Ms. White issues such statements in a report that fails to reference one single peer-reviewed piece of scientific evidence to support her claims that EPA rules do not have any health benefits.

It’s not surprising that Ms. White calls for an attack on protections legislated through the Clean Air Act (CAA). Texas facilities have proven to be some of the worst emitters in the entire country. While she was a commissioner at the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, Ms. White consistently tried to override clean air and water protections by rubberstamping permits for facilities across the state and failing to provide proper enforcement for high profile violators such as ASARCO and Flint Hills Refinery.

While we could spend weeks picking apart Ms White’s misleading statements that riddle the report, we thought a more constructive way to respond to the misinformation provided is to highlight a few specific examples of the egregious claims and then tell the truth:

TPPF Claim #1:

EPA is picking on poor little ol’ Texas by placing an effective Federal Implementation Plan on Texas.

The truth is that Texas is an outlier among all the states.  Texas alone decided not to modify its permitting program to comply with the law.   

On, December 1, 2010, EPA released the State Implementation Plan (SIP) Call Rule for greenhouse gas emissions that flowed from the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. In the SIP call, EPA found that Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permitting regulations in 13 states did not meet CAA requirements because their programs did not cover greenhouse gas emissions as regulated by the Supreme Court. EPA asked those states to change their laws and submit those changes as a part of a revised SIP for review and approval, and gave the states one year to change their laws.  Twelve states cooperated; Texas alone refused to cooperate with EPA’s efforts to apply greenhouse gas requirements in the PSD program.

In order to allow industry in Texas to be able to obtain legal permits, EPA was forced to issue a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP) and to take on the responsibility of issuing the PSD permits for stationary power plants, large factories and other industrial facilities.

EPA had no other choice – since Texas, and Texas alone, refused to take responsibility for granting these permits.

TPPF Claim #2:

Protecting clean air and water through the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will lead to Armageddon with rolling blackouts and job losses.

  • Independent analyses confirm that industry can comply with MATS while maintaining the reliability of the electric system.
  • EPA’s analysis found adequate reserve margins for generation will be maintained and regional grid reliability will not be compromised.
  • EPA’s analysis has been confirmed by independent assessments of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the Department of Energy, and the Congressional Research Service.
  • An Associated Press survey found that power companies expect to retire about 8 percent of generation to comply with the air toxics and CSAPR. The average age of the affected coal plants is 51 years and their profitability has been devastated in recent years by the low price of natural gas.
  • The adaptable compliance framework put forward by EPA provides a conservative, protective backstop to ensure that any local reliability concerns or specific compliance challenges can be addressed.

TPPF Claim #3:

Protecting clean air and water will cost too much. Plus, Texas has already solved our air quality problems.

We beg to differ. Bizarrely, Ms. White discredits one of her main arguments in the report, which is that these rules cost too much. The report states that “since 1970, aggregate emissions of the six criteria pollutants regulated under the CAA have decreased 53 percent. This environmental achievement occurred while the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased over 200 percent.”

If clean air and water are such devastating job killers, how does Ms. White reconcile the fact that Texas has been one of the fastest growing, most profitable states in the nation while air quality has improved?  Interestingly, Ms. White makes no mention of the fact that last year’s drought, almost certainly related to climate change, cost the state billions of dollars in loss.

It appears that Ms. White is blowing a bunch of smoke to try to confuse and scare Texans.

Posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, TCEQ, TPPF| Comments closed

EPA (finally) releases toxics limits on power plants

(credit: www.eoearth.org)

 What a great holiday gift for America's kids. And other people who breathe and eat.

On Wednesday, with sign-off from President Obama, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the first federal regulations limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, acid gases, dioxins and other toxics that America's coal- and oil-fired power plants can release into our air. Of course, this is a big deal only if you think neurological damage, cancer, heart disease, birth defects, asthma attacks and premature deaths are big deals. At EDF, we do, and in a joint statement with a half-dozen other national environmental groups, we pointed out the new protections will prevent 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks among children — and save 11,000 lives. Every single year.

It wasn't easy. Environmentalists, evangelicals, moms and health professionals have been pushing to address this toxic threat for 21 years, and the electric power industry has pushed just as hard the other way — and with a lot more money behind them. The new regulations are a major step forward for the public's health and the health of the environment. Not surprisingly, some power companies are squealing like stuck pigs. But to their credit, fully three-quarters of the nation's largest coal-fired generators support the new rules and say they should be able to comply with them. In fact, the CEO and President of PSEG told the Wall Street Journal that the new regulations "provide a clear path for responsible coal generation."

And to those who insist on pitting the environment against the economy, we offer this: Fitting older power plants with new pollution control technology will produce an estimated 46,000 new short-term construction jobs and 8,000 new permanent jobs at power plants.

It was a long time coming, but Wednesday was a very good day.

Posted in Air Pollution, Environment, Environmental Protection Agency| Comments closed

Once Again, Texas Cries Wolf Over the Issuing of Permits

Just last year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) Chairman Bryan Shaw accused EPA's finding on the illegality of Texas’ flexible permitting process as an example of federal overreach that would kill jobs more than it helps the environment. However, in July 2011, the EPA reported that all ‘flexible permit’ companies in Texas agreed to apply for approved air permits and not one job was lost.  Now, we hear another similar tale. When the EPA attempted to enforce the Clean Air Act and regulate Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, Texas filed several lawsuits against the EPA and Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote a letter where he called on Obama “to end job-killing regulations and rescind the EPA rules that Texas has challenged.”

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first Texas GHG permit for the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant in Llano County, Texas. LCRA is modernizing and expanding its plant by replacing its 37 year old unit with a new more efficient and reliable natural gas powered unit.

Credit- www.horseshoe-bay-tx.gov

LCRA is the first company in Texas to complete the GHG permit process and obtained a final permit in about 8 months. Without the EPA stepping in, this process wouldn’t have happened and the facility wouldn’t be able to operate, given that Texas flat out refused to issue GHG permits. Therefore, by stepping in on permits related only to greenhouse gas emissions, EPA provided authority for certain large Texas emitters of greenhouse gases to obtain permits that are legally required by the Clean Air Act.  EPA had offered to allow Texas to administer the program, but Texas refused.   For a state that barks loudly about state’s rights, it is shocking that Texas is unwilling to issue these permits.

What was TCEQ’s response to the LCRA permit? Andy Saenz, a spokesman for TCEQ said, "we see no need for — or any environmental benefit from — EPA's greenhouse gas permit.” Not one word about job killing or it being impossible to get greenhouse gas permits.

It’s important to note that Texas, the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and industrial pollution in the nation, is the only state that refused to work with EPA to ensure that large greenhouse gas emitters could get the permits the law requires.  

“We appreciated EPA’s work on our project,” said LCRA General Manager Becky Motal. “We believe that replacing our aging Thomas C. Ferguson Power Plant with this new combined-cycle natural gas plant benefits everyone. The region will benefit from the latest environmental controls and our customers will benefit from our ability to better manage costs with a plant that will use about 35 to 40 percent less fuel than traditional gas-fired plants.”

The EPA is currently reviewing ten additional GHG permit applications for Texas companies.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Environmental Protection Agency, GHGs, TCEQ, Texas Permitting| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Environmental Costs Of Our Inaction Have Arrived. Is This Really What We Want?

1.2 million acres have burned, tens of thousands were left homeless, hundreds dead due to freak tornadoes and the Southwest is running out of water while the Mississippi breaches its banks. What is to blame?

Why are weather forecasts (that were once at least somewhat accurate) now hopeless?  These questions may not have easy answers, but the issues surrounding them deserve our nation’s full attention.  One explanation is that climate change is affecting extreme weather events.

(Credit- www.publicradio.org)

Climate Communication, a non-profit science and outreach project made up of scientists across the globe, says:

All weather events are now influenced by climate change because all weather now develops in a different environment than before. While natural variability continues to play a key role in extreme weather, climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits, making certain types of extreme weather more frequent and more intense. The kinds of extreme weather events that would be expected to occur more often in a warming world are indeed increasing.

 “Extreme events are a manifestation of climate change,” according to Thomas Karl, Director of the U.S. Climatic Data Center and lead author of a 2008 report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, which showed that extreme weather events linked to climate change are happening right now in the United States. 

Karl added this in a March 2010 broadcast for EarthSky, “We may be fine for many years, and all of a sudden, one particular season, one particular year, the extremes are far worse than we’ve ever seen before.”

Over the last 50 years, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that the number of natural disasters in the U.S. has more than QUADRUPLED. And, according to the insurance giant MunichRe, since 1980, the total economic losses attributed to natural disasters has more than TRIPLED.

(Credit- Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Here in the Lone Star state, researchers from Texas A&M University said, “The months-long Texas drought is sapping the record books bone dry and is racking up dire statistics that have never been reached since reliable record-keeping was started 116 years ago.” This is exactly the kind of abrupt change Karl predicted.

Joplin, Tuscaloosa, the Wallow Fire, the flooding Mississippi, droughts and wildfires across Texas: these events have caused us all pause in the past year.

Earlier this year, we asked our supporters to share stories of the extreme weather they have experienced in 2011; more than 2,200 individuals sent in stories that include a variety of extremes – from heat, to blizzards, to floods, to drought. These stories inspired our 2011 Extreme Weather Video and our Postcards from the Edge. We also created the “Yes, I’m Worried” petition to share with our leaders in Washington who are unwilling or unable to take the climate crisis seriously.

We saw what happened with DDT.  Many ignored the concerns for years, said there must be other explanations.  As they did, people got sick, bird populations dwindled and the problem grew larger.  Debate is good, questions are good, but actively ignoring sound science and the inescapable power of nature is irresponsible.

 We need your help.  Please sign up here to join the movement to support bold action to stop run-away global warming.

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