Bag ban, local control made our town cleaner Darren HodgesDarren Hodges
Austin American-Statesman Op-Ed
Original story here

When the tea party rolled through West Texas, I signed on because I have a problem with big, faraway governments telling me what to do. I don’t live in a place like Fort Stockton because I want lots of rules, regulations and bureaucracy. Out here, we look out for our neighbors – but we believe in minding our own business.

One matter of business we had to attend to is this matter of litter from plastic bags. Our cactus, mesquite and barbed wire fence catch every bag that the West Texas wind can stir up, creating millions of plastic eyesores. Not only this, but these same bags mess with our livestock and clog our sewer system. We got sick of seeing them everywhere, and we did not need Washington, D.C., or Austin to tell us how to fix the problem. We just passed a local ordinance banning them from our town more than four years ago. Now, you cans see a huge difference between Fort Stockton and other West Texas cities when it comes to bag pollution.

Some people who call themselves conservatives are trying to tell Fort Stockton and other communities that we are not allowed to solve our own problems in our own ways. Gov. Greg Abbott thinks bag ordinances are making Texas more like California.

I don’t know when the new governor was last in Fort Stockton, but it is certainly not becoming like California. The idea of the politicians in Austin telling cities how to manage their business runs contrary to my values, and it runs contrary to our interests. Regardless of what you think about single-use bags or ordinances, the right of local city councils to make decisions for their communities ought to be sacred.

It seems more efficient for local governments to find the best way to deal with the impacts of bag pollution. The plastic litter looks ugly and drives away people – along with their money – which both support our local economy. Not only does it look ugly, but we have to spend money on cleaning it up from our lots and streets and sewers.

I know they are convenient and if you like them, you can keep them. Here in Fort Stockton, we got tired of them, so we banned them and we believe we have a God-given right to make decisions to protect our property and our people.

I’m a conservative because I believe in governing from a position of principle. The Republicans generally oppose the federal government meddling in our affairs. And we don’t want Austin – Republicans or Democrats – telling us what to do when we make up our minds about what is right for our community. That’s why I urge Greg Abbott to leave local governments alone when it comes to bag ordinances.

I know there are conservative and tea party friends that do not like bag bans one bit. They feel like this is a government imposition of its own. Here in Fort Stockton, we had a consensus on the need for this solution, and we worked with businesses on the ban. Even the manager of the local Wal-Mart helped us with the wording on our ordinance.

In communities where conservatives arrive at different answers, they ought to work hard to change their local governments and elect conservative officials to change things, not depend on politicians gathered in Austin to undo what we did in Fort Stockton. This is a stand on principle, and the principle is government of, by and for the people – not lobbyists who want the Legislature to be the City Council of Texas.

Hodges has served on the Fort Stockton School Board and has been on the Fort Stockton City Council since 2009. He also works as a petroleum land man and mental health counselor.

Doctors’ groups press EPA for much stricter federal ozone limit

ozonehearing_DMNDallas Morning News
Randy Lee Loftis

ARLINGTON — The top doctors’ organizations in Texas and Dallas County, along with other groups and individuals, pressed hard on Thursday for a much tougher federal limit on ozone, or smog. They told Environmental Protection Agency officials at an all-day hearing that Texas needs federal action on clean air because the state hasn’t acted.

A senior Texas official defended the state’s record and told the EPA that a proposed smog crackdown isn’t needed. Representatives of coal mining, natural gas, petroleum, manufacturing and chemicals echoed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s assessment.

However, Dr. Robert Haley of Dallas, an internist and epidemiologist, attacked their contention that health isn’t at stake in where the EPA sets a new standard for ozone.

Haley spoke for the Dallas County Medical Society and the Texas Medical Association, which he said “strongly endorse” toughening the federal ozone standard from its current 75 parts per billion down to 60 ppb. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has proposed a range of 65-70 ppb but is taking comments on the possibility of 60 ppb.

Dallas-Fort Worth’s average level for 2011-14 was 81 ppb.

Haley said a new study used a computer model to see what effect a 10-ppb reduction would have had in 2008 for 10 North Texas counties, including Dallas and Tarrant. Experts found that cleaner air would have meant 320 fewer hospitalizations, $10 million less in hospitalization costs, 77 fewer premature deaths and $617 million less in economic losses tied to those deaths.

“As physicians who care for those patients and see the asthma attacks, respiratory failure, hospitalizations and premature deaths, we believe that the citizens of these 10 counties are paying a high price for ozone pollution that could potentially be avoided,” Haley said.

David Brymer, the TCEQ’s air quality director, told EPA officials that the state agency found little or no evidence of health harm. The existing standard already protects the public and a tighter one would not prevent breathing problems or other ills, he said.

“We all share the common goal” of clean air, Brymer said.

Industries agreed with the TCEQ, which regulates their emissions. They also said a lower ozone limit would kill jobs.

Austin lawyer Christina Wisdom, speaking for the Texas Association of Manufacturers, said a stricter standard would not be in the nation’s best interest and would “decimate” Texas jobs just to make a “feel-good” change.

Texas Chemical Council President Hector Rivero, whose group represents chemical manufacturers, said science doesn’t support a tighter standard. He also repeated a frequent assertion of opponents — that changing the standard before all violator cities have met the current standard is “moving the goal line.”

But Frank O’Donnell, president of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Clean Air Watch, asked where someone with a breathing problem would go for diagnosis and treatment — “to a doctor or to an oil-company lobbyist?”

Environmentalists said only federal pressure has led to clean-air progress in Texas. “I have no doubt that it would be much worse” without it, said Christine Guldi of Dallas.

Susybelle Gosslee of the League of Women Voters of Dallas told the EPA that Texas hasn’t made an honest attempt to clean the air. Zac Trahan, D/FW program director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said the TCEQ’s disbelief in ozone’s health harm had led the state agency to adopt a goal of “close enough.”

And Jim Schermbeck, director of the North Texas clean-air group Downwinders at Risk, said the public was relying on the EPA instead of state officials.

“Only strong federal action can salvage the situation and give Texans safe, legal air to breathe,” he said.

Trahan: To rule out oil and gas activity as earthquake cause is not credible

frackquakeDallas Morning News Op-Ed
Zac Trahan, Texas Campaign for the Environment

I’m sitting at my desk in my office across from Lee Park in Dallas when the entire building begins to sway back and forth as if a real-life giant were shaking it to see what would fall down. Instant recognition: I had just experienced my first earthquake. Then a few hours later, at home relaxing on the couch, another earthquake rattles our apartment. Yikes.

That night I asked myself, how long will it be until someone attempts to officially declare that the quakes are completely unrelated to fracking?

The answer was nine days. At a Jan. 15 Irving City Council meeting, the Texas Railroad Commission’s Craig Pearson testified, “The evidence points to no involvement of oil and gas activities.” That same day, his Op-Ed in The Dallas Morning News self-assuredly proclaimed that, while we don’t know what’s behind these earthquakes, he knows that his industry isn’t to blame? Sorry, that simply isn’t credible.

Introductions may be appropriate. The Texas Railroad Commission is the state agency in charge of overseeing oil and gas operations in Texas, including fracking and related activities. The Railroad Commission currently functions as a “captured” agency, or one that is controlled by the industry it is supposed to regulate. Think “serve and protect.”

Consider this: The Texas Railroad Commission has always denied that oil and gas activities, including fracking and its associated wastewater injection wells, have ever caused earthquakes. That’s just the opposite of what actual scientists have been saying for over 50 years. Geologists have known since the 1960s that hazardous waste injection wells can and do cause earthquakes, and recent scientific research has shown that fracking itself can cause tremors as well. This is why the Southern Methodist University seismologists who attended the Irving meeting indicated that oil and gas activities are indeed one possible explanation of what’s behind our recent swarm of quakes.

The industry lapdog state agency has declared that gas drilling activities can’t possibly be behind this because there are no active fracking sites or wastewater injection wells nearby. But again, scientific research tells a more complicated story. As it turns out, scientists now say that both fracking and wastewater injection wells can cause seismic activity miles away from surface locations and years after original operations.

Let that sink in for a minute. All those fracking fluids that get injected underground at high volumes and pressures can migrate over time and cause future consequences, not just immediate effects. We don’t need a smoking-gun-style active injection well right in the middle of the earthquake epicenters to suspect that past oil and gas activities could be to blame.

Scientists have not claimed to know for certain that fracking activities are behind these current earthquakes. That being said, it’s unscientific, unrealistic, irresponsible, misleading and frankly ridiculous for state officials to say they somehow already know that oil and gas activities are not to blame.

For anyone interested in the truth as we move forward, I suggest that you ignore the Railroad Commission and instead pay close attention to the research being done at SMU and the U.S. Geological Survey with regard to human-induced earthquakes in North Texas. And you might want to get yourself some good insurance, just in case.

One more thing. A number of area cities, including Dallas and Fort Worth, have passed local ordinances to keep fracking wastewater injection wells outside of their city limits, in part to protect their residents from potential earthquakes.

Predictably, industry lobbyists are asking state legislators to pass new laws to override such ordinances and strip away our right to local control. Now is a good time to contact your state senator and state representative and explain that local control is not up for negotiation. If you don’t already know who represents you at the state Capitol, find out at Don’t get rattled. Get organized.

Zac Trahan is D/FW program director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Governor-elect Abbott wants to end local ban on plastic bags

Fox 7 News Austin
Elizabeth Saab
Original story here

Governor-elect Greg Abbott won’t be sworn in for another week and a half but already he’s proposing sweeping changes to the way local government passes laws. Some of them could take effect right here in Austin.

Thursday Governor-elect Abbott delivered what some people are calling his first major policy speech. In it he highlighted the need to preserve quote freedom and property lines even if that includes overturning laws passed here at the local level.

It’s a sign of the times, Texas is ushering in its first new governor in fourteen years and he’s drawing his first line in the sand that could pit local and state governments against each other.

“His concern was of Texas becoming like California through a piecemeal process of local over regulation,” said Vice President of Policy at Texas Public Policy Foundation Chuck Devore.

Abbott gave his speech to the foundation. He says by bringing it back to the state level taxpayers will get their power back.

“It’s about liberty. If you lose your liberty it matters not if you lose it to the federal government or the state government or to the local government liberty lost is liberty lost,” he said.

“The real Californication here is when we have statewide officials telling local governments how they should be treating their problems,” said Andrew Dobbs, the Central Texas Program Director for the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Dobbs says the campaign fought to get the plastic and paper bag ban passed in Austin two years ago. He says it’s had a huge impact on reducing litter in the city. While he admits it’s not a comprehensive approach, he says it’s an effective one.

The Texas Retailers Association had filed a suit against the bag ban but that’s been dropped.

“We supported Abbott when he was attorney general, when he issued an opinion that there’s an existing state statute which holds that local governments are prohibited from enacting these kinds of ordinances. We support that position and we are encouraged to hear Abbott speak out on that today,” said Ronnie Volkening, the President of the Texas Retailers Association.

Only time will tell if local government will still get to decide how they’ll handle it. That clock starts ticking next week when the legislature goes back into session.

Suit seeks EPA decision on oil field chemical disclosure

Houston Chronicle
Matthew Tresaugue

Environmentalists filed a lawsuit Wednesday to force federal regulators to decide whether they should require companies to disclose the toxic chemicals released during oil exploration and production. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, marks the latest attempt by environmentalists to make information public on pollution from oil and gas drilling amid a rush to sink more wells into Texas, North Dakota and other parts of the country.

Federal rules require chemical makers, power producers and oil refiners, among others, to disclose pollutants they release into the air, water and soil to an inventory run by the Environmental Protection Agency. But companies that extract oil and gas are generally exempt from the reporting rules.

Environmental groups petitioned the EPA in 2012 to add oil and gas activities to the decades-old federal inventory, but the agency has yet to act. The lawsuit, citing an unreasonable delay by regulators, asks the court to force the agency to make a decision, either accepting or rejecting the petition.

“This is the last major sector that has not been included in the inventory,” said the lead attorney in the suit, Adam Korn of the Environmental Integrity Project. “We’re just saying to the EPA, look again. The industry is different now.”

The EPA declined comment on the lawsuit.

The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main trade group, has told the agency that the reporting requirement would create an excessive administrative burden while providing negligible benefit. The rule would cover a small number of facilities, which are mostly found in rural and remote areas, that emit enough pollutants to cross the reporting threshold of 10,000 pounds for any one chemical, the group said.

The federal inventory began in 1986 after a gas leak at a Union Carbide plant killed thousands in Bhopal, India. The law requires a wide variety of industries to report their releases of toxic chemicals each year, but the requirement doesn’t cover oil and gas development. The EPA considered adding that sector in the 1990s but didn’t.

The environmental groups say the industry should be in the database because of the oil and gas production boom related to advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, a well completion process that involves pumping large amounts of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to release oil and natural gas locked in shale rock.

The Environmental Integrity Project last year said it found that nearly 400 compressor stations, processing facilities and other oil and gas sites had released enough chemicals into the air to exceed the reporting threshold for the federal inventory. The group’s analysis covered six states, including Texas.
Korn said the group provided the information to the EPA, but it didn’t act, prompting the lawsuit. Such delays have led to other suits, typically filed by environmental groups seeking to drive policy. The disputes often end with a legally binding agreement on a timetable.

Zac Trahan, statewide program director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, one of the nine plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the public has a right to know about the pollution from oil and gas extraction, just like other industries.

“If oil and gas drilling and extraction is as safe as industry lobbyists say it is,” he said, “they should be able to follow the same rules every other industry already does.”