Big Bend National Park Source: flikr/MarcusCalderon
The vistas at some of Texas’ natural treasures, like Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, aren’t the same as they used to be. Right now seven coal-fired power plants in Texas are emitting such large amounts of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other pollutants that they are obstructing visibility, causing what’s known as “regional haze.” That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently held a public hearing in Austin to take comments on its plan to restore visibility in these parks, as well as the Wichita Falls National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, since Texas’ dirty power plant emissions also affect our neighbor to the north. EPA is focusing its attention on Texas, in particular, after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) proposed an unreasonable plan to restore “natural visibility” in the parks by 2155 (140 years from now!). Frankly put, waiting until 2155 to restore natural visibility in our national parks is not an acceptable course of action from the TCEQ, as Texas is required to show “reasonable progress” toward a national goal of restoring visibility by 2064. Texas should step up as a leader to keep our state a great place to live by prioritizing public and environmental health, while building out our robust renewable energy sector and supporting clean technologies that don’t obstruct our health or views.
Fortunately, EPA proposes to ensure that Texas meets the regional haze requirements through an alternative plan that will provide improved visibility in these areas, as well as health benefits: Read More
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which manages 90 percent of Texas’ electric grid, has been busy. In the last two months of 2014, the agency released two very lengthy reports examining the future of a lower-polluting power grid in light of upcoming EPA clean air protections, in particular the Clean Power Plan. As the media described it, the reports did not provide the rosiest of outlooks for costs to Texans or electric reliability. But I think they are looking at the reports the wrong way.
The electric grid is changing. Innovative technologies – many of which are created right here in Texas – are lowering electricity bills and increasing energy independence. They are disrupting the way we produce and use electricity and they are changing the way ERCOT looks at grid reliability – albeit not in these two reports.
Cleantech entrepreneurs are at the helm of deciding Texas’ (and, let’s face it, America’s) energy future. And there are quite a few market opportunities outlined in the reports, if you look closely. Here are a few hidden in the report, plus other trends to keep an eye on: Read More
Hilary Sinnamon, clean air and transportation consultant, contributed to this post.
A key component of one of the most significant health protection measures adopted in the past several years will take effect in the New Year – and Texas is positioned to reap significant benefits.
Large ocean-going ships, like container vessels, tankers, and cruise ships are often called floating smokestacks because they have historically burned fuel hundreds to thousands of times dirtier than all other mobile sources, including cars, trucks, trains and construction equipment. That’s why the North American Emissions Control Area (ECA), approved by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2010, requires these vessels to reduce harmful emissions by switching to cleaner fuels when transiting within 200 nautical miles of U.S. and Canadian coastlines. This means healthier air for communities across Texas and the rest of the country, as these measures are estimated to reduce millions of pounds of harmful air pollutants and save tens of thousands of lives. Read More
The New York Times recently came out with an article that I could not ignore. It looked at how Attorneys General across the country have been supported by campaign donations from a “secretive energy alliance” that includes some of the nation’s top fossil fuel power companies. Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott received the most—a whopping $2.5 million, compared to the $577,000 for the next largest beneficiary of the polluters’ largess.
Abbott has been quoted as saying, “What I really do for fun is I go into the office, [and] I sue the Obama administration.” True to his word, Abbott has sued the federal government 30 times (27 since Obama took office), including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eight times, spending at least $2.58 million of taxpayers' money and more than 14,113 in state employee staff hours in the process—all with little success. But, of course, those $2.5 million in campaign funds had no effect on his actions. He's doing it for fun. Read More
Source: Armin Kübelbeck, Wikimedia Commons
Well, it didn’t take long before the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released, at the request of Texas’ very political Public Utilities Commission, another report about the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rules designed to protect public health.
This time ERCOT, which manages 90 percent of Texas’ electric grid, looked at the impact of seven EPA clean air safeguards on the electric grid, including the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the Regional Haze program (all of which go back before the Obama administration), the proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, and others. What was surprising to learn, though, is that after power companies in the state start complying with EPA’s other clean air protections, the proposed Clean Power Plan poses a minimal incremental impact to the power grid. We would only have to cut 200 megawatts of coal-fired generation, which equates to less than one coal-fired power plant. Read More
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled a proposal to update our national air quality standards for ground-level ozone, more commonly known as smog, from the current 75 parts per billion level to 65 to 70 parts per billion. Smog is a dangerous air pollutant linked to asthma attacks and other serious heart and lung diseases. That’s why EPA is also seeking comments on establishing a health standard of 60 parts per billion, a level that would provide the strongest public health protections for Americans according to scientific record. But despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of the health benefits of a more protective ozone standard, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), publicly opposes it.
Sixty to 70 parts per billion is the health-based range recommended by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, an independent panel of the nation’s leading scientists. The panel of scientists formed its recommendation based on an examination of bedrock scientific evidence and the requirement under the law to protect those most vulnerable.
In deconstructing TCEQ’s position on ozone, one can focus on a few key elements that stray from the mainstay of accepted public health principles: