Last legislative session, a concerted attack on citizens’ rights to contest environmental permits was launched by the Texas Chemical Council and others ran up against opposition from citizens, property rights advocates, environmental groups, and local government representatives. During an invited-only interim hearing this month, those same interests told the House Committee on Environmental Regulation that Texas’ unique Contested Case Hearing (CCH) process was worth preserving, and in fact, could be strengthened.
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Last week, a special committee of the Texas House of Representatives began to address the emerging issue of possible links between seismic activity and hydraulic fracturing. The Special Seismic Activity Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy Resources was formed to hear concerns coming from a group of citizens living in the Azle and Reno communities northwest of Fort Worth who have been beset by a series of earthquakes they believe are linked to the numerous oil and gas wells in and around their community.
In the ongoing tussle between states like Texas that have taken an-anti EPA position, and the Obama Administration and the EPA, the EPA won the latest round, as the US Supreme Court reversed the US Court of Appeals and found that EPA was within its rights to issue a Cross-State Air Polllution Rule (CSPAR) that required “upwind” states to control soot and ozone-forming pollutants that impacted down-wind states. Under the EPA’s rule promulgated in 2012, Texas’s largest and dirtiest coal plants would have been forced to make major reduction in their pollutants which impact nearby states like Arkansas and Oklahoma. Several states, including Texas’s Governor Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbot, immediately intervened and won a victory at the US Court of Appeals. With this week’s ruling, that victory was short-lived.
While there are a lot of what ifs, the recent Supreme Court decision to uphold the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollutant Rule (CSAPR) at first glance could impact future generation and operating reserves in ERCOT, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. In fact, back in 2011, in response to a request from the Texas Public Utility Commission, a preliminary analysis from ERCOT found that anywhere from 1,200 MWs to 6,000 MWs of Texas fossil fuel generation might be subject to closure or mothballing because of the impacts of the rules, putting Texas electric reliability at risk, especially at times of high demand or extreme temperatures. While the ERCOT preliminary analysis was admittedly rushed, and made some big assumptions, it did suggest the timing of implementation of those 2011 proposed rules was going to be challenging for Texas at certain times of year.
Tesla, the electric car manufacturer led by Silicon Valley billionaire, Elon Musk, is considering four locations for what would become the world’s largest battery factory, producing 30 gigawatt hours of energy per year. Among the prospective hosts for the gigafactory are Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. The factory is projected to provide $5 billion in direct investment and create approximately 6,500 jobs to the lucky community chosen to host the site.
Last week marked one year since a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas killed 15 and injured nearly 180 people, causing an estimated $100 million in damages to local homes, schools and businesses. The accident was an example of a preventable, industrial incident, according to comments filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Lone Star of the Sierra Club.
This week, the Austin City Council officially named 7 of the 9 members of the Austin Generation and Resource Planning Task Force, while the Electric Utility Commission named their member, solar advocate and local attorney Clay Butler. Remaining to be named is a member of the Resource Management Commission, which is expected to meet on April 15th to choose their member. Word on the street is the first meeting of the new Task Force will be April 16th. Task force is expected to make final recommendations on Austin Energy’s Generaton Plan through 2024 in June. Sierra Club will be on the committee through our Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed, who served on the original task force in 2010. The Task Force will look at future of solar, wind, energy efficiency, gas and coal in Austin’s generation portfolio.
Environmental and social justice advocates around the state were stunned following the results of the March 4th primary when State Representative Lon Burnam lost to his opponent by just 111 votes. Rep. Burnam, a 16-year veteran of the Texas House, has been a stalwart supporter of the environmental movement throughout his tenure in politics.
- Dallas City Council passes plastic and paper bag ban: Beginning January 1, 2015, grocery stores and retailers will start charging customers five cents for every paper and plastic bag they use.
- Central Texas' State Parks May Open to Public: For years the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has kept four state parks closed due to budgetary constraints.
Yesterday, the Austin City Council approved a resolution to direct Austin Energy to negotiate a deal to procure up to 150 MWs of solar power from West Texas through a Power Purchase Agreement with SunEdison. Austin Energy will return next week to City Council with a more detailed contract for final approval.