Texas Clean Air Matters

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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Fighting for the planet, one methane comment at a time

When a kid knocks at your door, you might expect a Girl Scout selling cookies or a Boy Scout selling popcorn. But recently, it was my 13 year-old neighbor, Pete Bates, asking me to sign a letter to fight methane pollution. I thought this was pretty neat, because while my day-to-day job is focused on reducing this pollution, it’s a pretty niche topic. That’s why I was so pleased to see Pete was interested in this topic and thought it was something worth getting engaged about.

These days, with the Trump administration’s constant attacks on our climate and clean air, it can be easy to be pessimistic. Hearing about Pete’s effort to make a difference gives me hope. I’m sure Pete and his generation will make the future bright, because they’ve already started.

Read More »

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How a multifaceted approach could strengthen Texas’ coastal resilience before the next Harvey

By: Shannon Cunniff, Director, Coastal Resilience, with contributions from Kate Zerrenner

Hurricane Harvey provided a stark reminder to Houston, Port Aransas, and other Texas communities of the power of storms and the consequences of living on a flood-prone coast.

When hurricanes hit, coastal counties experience rain, wind, waves, and storm surge. Nearly 30 percent of Texas’ population lives in Gulf Coast or adjacent inland counties, where hurricanes are the most destructive weather phenomena. With a changing climate, we can expect more extreme weather.

Fortunately, we can decrease our vulnerability, lower the risk of damaging floodwaters, and reduce the impacts associated with these disasters. Such actions, called hazard mitigation, require a multifaceted approach, and implementing the strategy will require multiple levels of responsibility: It will need to be executed by individuals and businesses, and supported with a high level of intra-government cooperation. And it will need to be sustained over time.

Other coastal areas including Louisiana are already implementing these multi-pronged coastal protection plans. Texas also has the opportunity to be a leader in coastal resilience. Read More »

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Shut down the shutdowns: What the frequency of excess emissions means for our health

Oil refineries and petrochemical plants released millions of pounds of harmful chemicals into the air in the days after Hurricane Harvey began charging toward Texas.

The primary reason for the extra pollution? The shutdowns and startups of dozens of industrial facilities in the storm’s path.

While these unauthorized releases are particularly striking during times of natural disasters like Harvey, they occur regularly during the routine operation of many industrial facilities, Indiana University researchers concluded in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Here are three takeaways from the study: Read More »

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Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on people’s health – Texas should be better prepared next time

Kate Zerrenner contributed to this post

The National Hurricane Center in January confirmed what many Texans already knew: Hurricane Harvey’s overwhelming rainfall – and the devastation it left behind – was unlike anything recorded in U.S. history.

Harvey’s rains easily surpassed previous landmark storms, with totals as high as 70 inches in some areas of southeastern Texas.

Yet the historic rainfall total is only part of the Harvey story – the storm also let loose a toxic stew of chemicals and other threats to people’s health. We still do not know the full extent of Harvey’s havoc on health, which will likely have ripple effects for years to come. Texas did not do enough to protect public health this time, but there are ways to minimize the harm before the next storm. Read More »

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Hurricane Harvey: Climate change, staggering costs, and people at the heart of it all

Texans are no stranger to the devastation of hurricanes. I still vividly remember, as a young child in Austin, being scared of Alicia in 1983 – and thankful that we lived at the top of the hill. Alicia caused nearly $2 billion in damages, a record at the time, and the category 3 storm was so destructive that its name was retired. But only a few years later, that record was broken in Texas by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 ($5 billion), Hurricane Rita in 2005 ($24 billion), and Hurricane Ike in 2008 ($35 billion).

In fact, of the top ten costliest hurricanes of all time in the U.S., nine have been since 2004, and half have been in the past five years. Houston alone has endured three 500-year floods in the past three years. Each of these storms was devastating in its own right, but Harvey brought destruction to a new level.

As a native Texan, this is not the normal I knew. And for those outside Texas, think of the magnitude: You could fit the cities of Boston, Chicago, Manhattan, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Washington, D.C. into the geographical area of Houston. So how does Hurricane Harvey fit into the new normal? Here are three things we know for certain. Read More »

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