Author Archives: Jim Marston

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
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