Dallas City Hall moving forward with long-range plan to reduce trash

Dallas Morning News
Rudolph Bush

Dallas has long had a goal of becoming a “zero-waste” city, in which recycling and composting replace the burial of trash. After a rocky start, City Hall appears to have devised a plan to start on that path.

A City Council committee on Monday unanimously recommended a long-term master plan for waste that could require making recycling available not only for single-family homes but also for businesses and apartment complexes. It will go before the full council Wednesday.

The plan stopped short, however, of calling for a ban on products, including plastic bags and bottles, that add to waste streams. Kelly High, the city’s sanitation director, said the plan represents a compromise between environmental and business interests.

“Did everybody get exactly what they wanted? No, but there was full agreement there was substantial progress in meeting zero-waste goals,” High said.

Council member Sandy Greyson expressed concern that the city didn’t push harder on controlling plastic bags, plastic bottles and foam cups. The plan recommends that the city approach product bans through a separate ordinance. Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan said she has asked the city’s environmental office to study the proliferation of plastic bags in the city. The plan also calls for Dallas to perhaps support state action on bags and bottles.

“That’s not very proactive,” Greyson said.

The plan does make one major improvement over a prior plan — it actually included public input. A plan submitted last year made a show of reaching out to stakeholders through an “advisory committee.” But interviews with people appointed to the committee revealed that it was a shell that met just twice, with few committee members showing up either time.

Outreach has been wider and sustained since. And key stakeholders from business and environmental groups have agreed to meet quarterly.

The new plan also sets clearer timelines for major goals, the most important of which is getting apartments and businesses recycling regularly. This remains a source of controversy. Apartments and businesses have their trash collected by private companies, not by the city. Many offer no recycling at all. Doing so would be expensive and difficult, many apartment owners say.

The plan calls for the city to gradually move toward a “universal recycling ordinance,” one that would make recycling available for homes, businesses, apartments and condominiums. At this point, the city is recommending that businesses and apartments voluntarily recycle until 2019. Only then, if voluntary recycling isn’t at an acceptable level, would recycling become mandatory.

Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment said the voluntary period should run only through 2015. Still, he said, the current plan is better than the prior version.

Kathy Carlton of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas said apartment owners have formed a task force to study the issue. They will collect data on recycling and form plans for voluntary recycling programs.

Dallas Trash Plan Earns Praise and Concerns

dallaszerowastenbcNBC News D/FW
Ken Kalthoff

Environmentalists are praising a new Dallas trash plan to be considered by the City Council Wednesday but some people who’ve worked on it still have concerns. A City Council committee endorsed the plan Monday.

Click here to watch the story!

It includes a goal of “zero waste” in Dallas by expanding recycling goals to businesses and rental homes that are not included in current city recycling programs. Dallas only provides curbside recycling collection to single family homes and a few businesses now.

“Dallas is only the second city in all of Texas to pass a zero waste plan for the long term and that’s great, that’s huge. That shows real environmental leadership on city leaders,” said Zac Trahan with Texas Campaign for the Environment.

“The bad news is it isn’t nearly as strong as it should be,” Trahan said.

Recycling would be voluntary for rental homes and businesses until 2019 instead of 2021 as in previous versions of the plan. But even after 2019, expanded recycling could remain voluntary. Kathy Carlton with the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas said there are many complications for recycling at apartment complexes and it should always be voluntary. She said some complexes have no room to store recycled materials or place containers for residents.

“We are hoping to work with the city in a way that we can develop a program that will accommodate the needs of individual properties,” she said. Carlton said around 50 percent of Dallas residents live in rental homes that could be subject to the new rules.

“We try to avoid anything that’s a one size fits all type of mandatory program,” she said.

Eddie Lott with a Dallas company called Recycling Revolution said his firm provides services to all sorts of apartment complexes. His programs include large containers or blue bag recycling where residents sort materials and leave the bags for pick up.

“We have plenty of options,” Lott said. “We’re talking a couple of dollars a month per tenant to be able to offer recycling to the entire complex. It’s very affordable and it’s very doable.”

Excluded from the current Solid Waste Plan is a proposed Dallas ban on plastic grocery bags like some other cities around the country have adopted. Plastic grocery bag litter is common in Dallas and a ban was included in earlier versions of the Solid Waste Plan, but Dallas officials now intend to consider that issue separately as a possible environmental protection law.

“It’s better to have it separate from the solid waste management plan,” Trahan said.

Also excluded is a so called Flow Control plan that was to require all garbage generated in Dallas to be taken to the city’s McCommas Bluff Landfill where a high-tech waste to energy plant was proposed. Private haulers are allowed to take commercial garbage to landfills outside Dallas now and a judge granted the haulers an injunction to block Flow Control. The city is appealing the Flow Control injunction in court.

Utility Agrees to Reduce Coal Plant Emissions

AAS_FayetteCameron Langford
Courthouse News Service

A Texas public utility reached a settlement with environmentalists that requires it to reduce emissions from its coal-fired power plant.

The Lower Colorado River Authority is a nonprofit public utility created by the Texas Legislature in 1934.

“LCRA plays a variety of roles in Central Texas: delivering electricity, managing the water supply and environment of the lower Colorado River basin, providing public recreation areas, and supporting community and economic development,” according to its website.

The authority owns six dams and five power plants, including the Fayette Power Project, a coal-burning power plant in Fayette County near La Grange, Texas. In a March 2011 federal complaint, the Environmental Integrity Project, Texas Campaign for the Environment and Environment Texas claimed that the authority had violated the Clean Air Act at its Fayette County power plant.

The Texas Campaign for the Environment, or TCE, filed its first amended complaint against the authority a month later seeking injunctive relief, and assessment of civil penalties, against the power plant it accused of violating federal emission limits. By June, the city of Austin had intervened for the authority.

Eventually, U.S. District Judge Gray Miller dismissed three out of four claims that TCE had filed against the authority, but he ordered discovery on TCE’s claim that the authority was violating particulate matter emission limits at the plant. The parties reached a settlement Wednesday in the face of a June 2012 notice of intent by TCE to sue the authority over its plant’s emissions.

Among the provisions of the deal, the authority must reduce emissions of mercury at its plant and use only clean fuels, either distillate oil or natural gas, to start up the plant’s burners after a shutdown. It must also install a continuous emissions monitoring system for the plant, and conduct “particulate matter stack tests” on each of the plant’s three units, while providing the environmentalists with copies of the results.

The authority does not have to comply with the emissions limiting measures until Dec. 31, 2013. An application for the plant’s federal operating permit must incorporate all the settlement’s stipulations on, or before, Sept. 13.

For their part, the environmental groups agreed to release the authority from all claims in their lawsuit, and not to sue them again over the allegations. The settlement does however reserve the Environmental Integrity Project’s right to oppose parts of the plant’s operating permit not resolved in the settlement. Any party can move to terminate the agreement once the authority incorporates its provisions into the operating permit. Otherwise the deal will automatically terminate on Dec. 31, 2018.

The authority’s general manager Rebecca Motal recently gave an interview to the Fayette County Record about its operations. Citing an Austin American-Statesman story that said the Fayette County Power Plant produces as much carbon as all the cars in Austin combined, the Record’s editor Jeff Wick asked Motal if Fayette County residents should be concerned about air quality.

Motal responded: “No, and here’s why. That is one of the cleanest coal plants in the state. A few years ago, we, and the city of Austin spent over $400 million to put scrubbers on the units. That plant is already complaint with rules yet to be enacted. We are committed to do the best for the environment.”

Processing plant becomes focus in Dallas’ gas well debate

rawlingsrefineryDallas Morning News
Randy Lee Loftis

Anybody who’s seen a natural-gas well in production might have thought it looked unobtrusive. Once crews remove the tall drilling rig and related equipment, little remains except a stack of pipes sticking six feet above the ground, and no moving parts — the charmingly nicknamed “Christmas tree” wellhead.

But don’t think Christmas tree. Think more of an industrial installation bigger than a football field with towers three stories tall: four vertical tanks 25 feet across and hundreds of feet of interweaving pipes and valves. Think a trio of compressors as powerful as locomotive engines running 24/7, plus complicated systems with names like glycol contactor and amine reboiler.

Dallas will have dozens of those Christmas trees and one of those gas-processing plants if Trinity East Energy gets the official blessing for the city’s first drilling and production.

The City Plan Commission said no in December, but on Thursday it will continue a controversial reconsideration process that might take several more weeks. The City Council has the final say.

The processing plant would rise on one of Trinity East’s three proposed drilling sites, a privately owned parcel just east of Luna Road and south of Walnut Hill Lane. The other two sites, with wells only, would be on city-owned park land west of Luna Road.

For Dallas, this is a first-time reality check about natural gas. Gas burns cleaner than coal in power plants and has been cheap in the U.S. since shale production flooded the market in mid-2009. Even with prices low, the city’s share of gas income would put some money in the municipal pocket, as has happened in already-drilled cities west of Dallas.

However, natural gas isn’t just forced from the ground and sent to heat homes. First, it requires heavy industrial processing. Dehydrators must separate naturally occurring water and other liquids from the gas. An amine system strips out excess carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, which would corrode pipelines. An incinerator burns off those waste gases. Compressors push the treated gas through pipelines.

Those steps have to take place somewhere. The question of the hour: In Dallas?

Zac Trahan runs the Dallas-Fort Worth office of Texas Campaign for the Environment, a nonprofit advocacy group. He’s prominent in the fight against Trinity East’s plans.

“You don’t have to oppose drilling to oppose this,” Trahan said, standing on the site of Trinity East’s proposed gas-processing plant during a City Plan Commission fact-finding tour last week.

The setting isn’t pristine or picturesque. The parcel is scraped bare and muddy. A sprawling steel-fabrication plant sits just to the south. A locomotive pulls freight cars along a line to the east. Beyond the rail line, the tower of a concrete plant juts above the horizon.

Just past that, other towers are visible: the light poles from the city’s new youth soccer complex, under construction less than 1,000 feet east of the location for Trinity East’s biggest equipment. The furor over the possible construction of a gas-processing plant and compressor station so near a big complex for young athletes and their families has placed words against words.

Just a typical and unremarkable part of any gas production, Trinity East’s backers call it — a necessity, they say, understood from the beginning as vital to the enterprise.

A refinery, opponents call it most often, summoning images of the 1,000-acre tangles of pipes, steam and searing flares familiar along Texas’ coast.

When Plan Commission members arrived at the gas plant site, a colorful hand-drawn sign posted by opponents greeted them: “Welcome to the Rawlings Refinery.” The reference was to Mayor Mike Rawlings’ support of Trinity East’s plan.

Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council in Fort Worth, has helped carry the industry’s side in Dallas’ debate over drilling rules. He said he read one hyperbolic condemnation of the gas plant as a “gas chamber.”

“It’s a normal part of a natural-gas well in this area, the Barnett Shale,” Ireland said. “You’ve got a wellhead, dehydration, tanks for the condensate” and sometimes an amine-treating facility, as with Trinity East’s plan.

Sometimes there’s a compressor engine at the wellhead, he said, and sometimes the compressors are at a central spot to handle many wells, again an element of Trinity East’s proposal.

Opponents, however, note correctly that the city staff’s report from December, recommending approval of the plan, didn’t mention the gas-processing equipment.

“It’s a classic bait-and-switch,” said Jim Schermbeck, director of North Texas pollution fighters Downwinders at Risk and a leader of the opposition.

Dallas Cothrum, Trinity East’s planning consultant, said the site plan hadn’t changed since the company first filed it in 2011. After agreeing to a delay while the city discussed new drilling rules, Trinity East filed a new application in November. That triggered the current showdown.

The overarching issues that had dominated the debate — drilling in a floodplain and in park land — have largely been overshadowed in recent weeks by controversies over the gas-processing plant.

Such plants have cropped up in the Barnett Shale gas region to serve the 17,000 or so wells that companies have drilled. Some are small to mid-size, while one is huge: Devon Energy’s Bridgeport plant in Wise County. Devon calls it one of the nation’s biggest.

How much toxic and smog-causing air pollution the Trinity East equipment would emit isn’t known; the company has not applied for permits or for registration, a streamlined state process for facilities with emissions below prescribed limits.

Cothrum told the Plan Commission in December that the three compressor engines would emit about 75 tons of air pollution a year. There was no figure for the other equipment. The Dallas Morning News asked Trinity East, through its consultant, for a detailed explanation of the equipment it would use. The company did not respond.

Opponents took Trinity East’s 75 tons per year statement and concluded that emissions would be at least that much and perhaps as much as 600 tons a year, citing that figure as the most allowed by state rules.

The higher figure is not a maximum but just the most a plant can emit without filing a detailed permit application that includes public notice and comment.

In theory, there is no emissions cap, but an examination of state records by The News found that the Trinity East plant is highly unlikely to release nearly as much as 600 tons a year.

Out of 234 gas facilities in the Barnett Shale that filed mandatory reports with the state covering 2010, the latest year available, only 55 released more than 100 tons of pollution. No. 1 was Devon’s Bridgeport gas plant, at 1,847 tons. In land area alone, that plant is 166 times the size of the proposed Trinity East plant.

Even though other plants might dwarf it, at just 75 tons a year the Trinity East plant would be in the top one-quarter of the 83 industrial pollution sources in Dallas County. For sources inside Dallas, the new gas plant would debut as the city’s 10th-biggest emitter, behind five factories, two power plants, a landfill and a regional pipeline terminal.

AT A GLANCE: Drilling issues

Trinity East wants to drill in the 100-year floodplain.
Supporters say: Other cities allow it with no harm.
Opponents say: It violates Dallas rules and is poor policy.

Two of three proposed drilling sites are on city park land.
Supporters say: Care and restoration will prevent damage.
Opponents say: It breaks repeated city promises.

Gas plant
A processing plant would go on a third private site.
Supporters say: It’s routine and needed for production.
Opponents say: It’s a huge, dangerous industrial polluter.

Other disputes

CITY RULES: They allow no gas refining except dehydration (removing water from gas). The proposed gas plant would also have amine-based removal of waste gases.

Supporters say: Both are allowed as normal production.
Opponents say: The city must obey its own ordinance.

EMISSIONS: Toxic and smog-causing pollution comes from wells and gas plants.

Supporters say: State and U.S. rules will prevent problems.
Opponents say: They haven’t and won’t; the air is dirty now.

What’s next: Plan commission, council to weigh in

-The City Plan Commission is expected to open public hearings on Trinity East’s plans on Feb. 7 but is not expected to vote until later. Members will first go see a compressor station or drilling/hydraulic fracturing and will hear expert briefings.

-The commission’s recommendation will go to the City Council. If the commission recommends approval, a majority on the council (eight of 15 votes) would be needed to concur. If the recommendation is to deny, a supermajority of council members (12 of 15 votes) would be needed to override the recommendation and approve the plans.

SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research