Texas Clean Air Matters

Texans urge Gov. Abbott to act on storm-related air pollution before the next Harvey

With the start of this year’s hurricane season, Environmental Defense Fund and our partners in the Houston-based One Breath Partnership delivered a letter signed by more than 3,000 Texans and 20 organizations to Gov. Greg Abbott, urging him to act now to protect people from harmful air pollution before the next storm.

The letter to Gov. Abbott comes after Hurricane Harvey unleashed a second storm of air pollution. By industry’s own estimates, the Houston region’s network of oil refineries and petrochemical plants released more than 2 million pounds of harmful chemicals into the air during and after the storm – the equivalent of six months’ worth of unauthorized air pollution in just a few days.

Many industrial plants in Harvey’s path released extra pollutants into the air when they shut down in preparation for the storm and when they resumed operations. For example, Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown reported releasing roughly 750,000 pounds of excess emissions, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds.

Harvey damaged other facilities, allowing hazardous gases to escape. EDF and Houston officials, for example, detected alarmingly high levels of benzene in Manchester, a neighborhood adjacent to a storm-damaged Valero Energy refinery. In Crosby, explosions at a flooded chemical plant triggered an evacuation of nearby residents and sent emergency workers to hospitals. Yet, for all the attention the Arkema episode received, industry reports showed that there were 10 larger releases of air pollution because of storm damage, an EDF analysis found.

“TCEQ was unprepared to track Harvey’s air pollution in real time,” said Elena Craft, senior health scientist at EDF. “Although TCEQ has dozens of stationary monitors across Houston, many of them were turned off during the storm. That is why mobile, on-the-ground monitoring is so crucial. We need to be sure that the agency is there when it is needed, doing its job to protect the people from exposure to different environmental threats.” Read More »

Also posted in Air Pollution, Environmental Justice, Extreme Weather, Houston, Legislation, TCEQ / Comments are closed

Houston's smog won't go away without EPA's help

Manchester County refineries. Houston, Texas.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently gave Houston three years to meet health-based limits for ground-level ozone, or smog. While it is a good goal, the six-county region cannot achieve it without the agency taking aggressive steps to reduce air pollution.

Unfortunately, we are not seeing EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt take those steps. He is moving in the other direction, promoting policies that will increase smog-forming pollution in Houston and beyond.

Here are three realities about Houston’s stubborn smog problem:

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Also posted in Air Pollution, Clean Air Act, Houston, Ozone / Read 1 Response

How this 300-year-old city is leading on U.S. solar, energy-water, and climate action

By Kate Zerrenner, Jaclyn Rambarran

On May 5, 2018, the city of San Antonio will officially be 300 years old! On that day in 1718, the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (a Spanish fort) was founded. The city’s tricentennial celebration will culminate in a weeklong celebration of history, art, and culture the first week of May.

San Antonio is a unique place that should be honored in Texas and beyond. In addition to its strong Hispanic heritage, the city boasts a large military population, straddles the border between eastern, western, and southern U.S., and claims to be the birthplace of breakfast tacos.

This growing city also has a powerful role to play in the future of Texas and the United States in terms of climate change and air quality, as evidenced by its initiatives around renewable energy, the energy-water nexus, and climate action. With all this in mind, let’s take a moment to celebrate not just San Antonio’s momentous birthday, but also its impressive efforts to ensure the sustainability of the city going forward. Read More »

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Historic buildings or energy efficiency? Texas gets both, with innovative financing.

When it comes to the history and DNA of a city, new buildings have nothing on century-old ones. Yet the reverse can be said in regard to water and energy efficiency. Older buildings reflect the culture and history of a community, but typically are highly inefficient.

Such was the case with the Butler Brothers Building in Dallas, a previously-abandoned 1910 structure that was often referred to as an eyesore. So when the real estate developer Alterra International decided to turn the building into a mixed-use complex with apartments, hotel rooms, and retail space, a lot of work was needed to improve its water and energy efficiency – work that required up-front capital investments.

Through the Texas PACE Authority’s “PACE in a Box” model, Alterra International was able to secure $23.9 million in PACE financing for upgrades that will slash carbon pollution, cutting energy use by about 40 percent and annual water use by almost 700,000 gallons.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a financing model that helps local governments and the private sector back energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades for homes and businesses. Texas is the only state that includes water in its PACE programs and could serve as a model for other water-strapped states. Read More »

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Trump has put Harvey relief funds at risk

By Jeremy Symons, Associate Vice President, Climate Political Affairs

Rain continues to fall on Houston and surrounding areas at tragic levels. When the rains stop and the flood waters begin to recede — I hope that is very soon — the cost to rebuild will be massive. Pressure on Congress to act quickly will be intense. President Trump, however, has already put relief funds at risk.

Only ten days prior to Hurricane Harvey’s landfall, Trump issued a reckless executive order that affects all federal agencies and contractors involved in Harvey’s relief effort. As part of his agenda of imposing climate denial throughout his administration, Trump rescinded a policy directing federal agencies to consider worsening future flood conditions when planning federally funded projects. The “Federal Flood Risk Management Standard” was aimed at improving America’s preparedness and resilience against flooding, and ensuring taxpayer funds are used wisely, by using the best information and building federally-funded infrastructure to withstand floods, as well as preserving natural floodplains that can minimize the threat to surrounding communities. Read More »

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Research competition invites students to solve real-world energy problems

Reviewing residential electricity data in Pecan Street's Pike Powers Lab.

By Maddie Venn, clean energy communications intern

Recently, it seems like everyone is competing to become the next big thing in the energy sector. Whether it’s electric vehicles, smart grid technology, or energy storage, innovation continues to pop up left and right as we work to build a smarter, cleaner electric grid.

If innovation and technology spark your competitive drive, here’s your opportunity to dive in and join a community of engaged researchers working to solve some of our most pressing energy concerns. Pecan Street is hosting its second student research competition, inviting the best and the brightest to use the organization’s extensive collection of energy-use data to help solve real-world problems.

Open to all full-time graduate and undergraduate students and with prizes totaling $10,000, the competition aims to connect Pecan Street’s well-established dataset with the innovation of young minds. As the grid gets smarter, data can help people play a more active role in how their electricity is made, moved, and used. Competitions like Pecan Street’s will get us there faster. Read More »

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