Texas environmentalists call for change in Walgreen’s products

NewsFix CW 39
Original story here


HOUSTON – Folks upset with Walgreen’s about chemicals in its products are protesting at the corner of sad and toxic.

Not exactly, but in Houston protesters with the Texas Campaign for the Environment called for safer chemical policies outside the Walgreen’s at the corner of Westheimer and Weslayan.

“Independent chemical testing has shown that Walgreen’s products like school supplies and dog toys contain lead, and arsenic, formaldehyde, chemicals that we really shouldn’t be bringing into our homes with our children and pets,” said Melanie Scruggs.

Some dressed in hazmat suits and facemasks chanting their demands.

“These chemicals have got to go! Hey, hey, ho, ho! These chemicals have got to go,” they shouted from the sidewalk.

Walgreen’s does have a line of products called Ology, which is said to be free of harmful chemicals, and says they’re working with vendors to ensure the quality and safety of the products they offer for sale.

You know how the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Abbott Signs Bill to Speed Permits, Limit Protests

valeroTexas Tribune
Jim Malewitz

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed legislation aiming to quicken regulators’ pace of cranking out permits for major industrial projects by limiting public scrutiny — another victory for a wide range of industries and a blow to consumer and environmental advocates.

Senate Bill 709, which will now become law Sept. 1, is intended to scale back contested-case hearings, a process that allows the public to challenge industrial applications for permits at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), such as those allowing wastewater discharges or air pollution emissions.

Led by state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, and state Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, supporters argued that Texas’ current slow-moving bureaucracy was driving would-be employers into Louisiana and other neighboring states, and that the legislation – signed on Saturday – would give them more certainty here.

“We’re losing a lot of jobs to surrounding states,” Fraser said in April. “This is clearly for economic development.”

But critics are worried that limiting the process would stifle what little voice everyday Texans have when manufacturers, chemical plants, landfills and other high-polluting businesses set up shop in their communities.

“The polluter lobbyists said they want Texas to have regulations weaker than Louisiana’s, and we’ll end up with Louisiana’s problems: cancer, birth defects, developmental disorders in children, and the collapse of agriculture and commercial fishing,” Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said Sunday in a statement.

Contested-case hearings resemble trials in which companies and their critics present evidence and testimony in front of an administrative law judge in hopes of swaying regulators, who have the final say in granting, denying or modifying a permit application. For particularly complicated industrial projects, the process can yield information that the short-staffed TCEQ did not foresee.

Protesters rarely persuade regulators or a company to withdraw a permit application, but veterans of the process say they often win concessions that shrink a plant or landfill’s effects on the community.

Though less than 1 percent of TCEQ permit applications involve such hearings, industry groups say the process takes too long – sometimes years – and breeds uncertainty that prompts businesses to move elsewhere.

The law, which takes effect Sept. 1, overhauls the hearings process in a variety of ways. It gives the TCEQ sole discretion to determine who is an “affected person” who could ask for a hearing; sets an 180-day time limit for the proceedings (with potential exceptions); narrows the issues the public could argue; and arguably shifts the burden of proof from the company to the public.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has called the changes problematic, and opponents argued that the new rules could prompt the agency to assert its control over the permits Texas currently doles out. As it has in other states over the past four decades, the EPA has given Texas the authority to permit and enforce a variety of air, waste, water and mining programs after lengthy and complex negotiations.

“EPA is concerned that as currently drafted, [the legislation] could be read to impact the applicability of federal requirements to federal permitting programs being implemented by the TCEQ,” David Gray, director of external affairs for the EPA’s Dallas-based regional office, recently wrote to state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, who had asked for input.

Fraser and Morrison have said that they aren’t worried about an EPA review.

New requirements for ingredient that triggered West explosion headed to Gov. Abbott

west-hb-942Dallas Morning News
Marissa Barnett

AUSTIN—The Senate gave final approval Thursday to new regulations for ammonium nitrate. The changes are in response to a 2013 explosion at a fertilizer plant in West that killed 15 people. Now it’s left to Gov. Greg Abbott to approve the legislation in order for it to become law.

“What we’ve done in the bill were the right steps to swing the pendulum to the middle,” Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, said describing the balance between protecting health and safety and keeping minimal regulation.

In the short debate, Birdwell emphasized that the changes would not be burdensome to business.

In the aftermath of West, authorities and health and safety experts identified myriad ways a lax and disjointed regulatory system contributed to the explosion. The legislation aims to address some of those issues. But it doesn’t require sprinkler systems or other chemical safety measures recommended after West.

Under the approved changes, the state and local fire marshals would have the authority to inspect facilities that store ammonium nitrate, a common ingredient in fertilizer, and issue citations for violations in code. It would also require that the chemical be stored separate from combustible materials.

Operators would submit “Tier II reports,” forms about chemicals stored or used at their facilities, to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, instead of the Department of State Health Services. Facilities would still also be required to submit a copy to local fire departments, but the bill also would require that fire departments be given copies by the state.

Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, said she was grateful the new regulations were approved. But the “same lawmakers have gutted other basic protections this year on a variety of other dangerous operations,” she said.

Other legislation approved this session would make it more difficult for Texans to object when chemical plants get permits to build near homes and schools.

“We need lawmakers that are not just motivated to protect their reputations when high profile dangers are shown on TV. We need a commitment to common sense laws which protect human health, public safety, and the environment for all communities in Texas,” Schneider said.

While lawmakers proposed a handful of other bills this session responding to the West blast, the measure approved by the Senate Thursday is the only legislation to make it through the Legislature. Other proposals, including one that would require facilities that store ammonium nitrate to maintain liability insurance stalled in committee. Currently, state law does not require such companies to have insurance.

The West Fertilizer Co. carried $1 million in liability insurance, but the cost of damaged property there has reached up to $240 million, according to testimony from the consumer-protection group Texas Watch.

Dallas’ bag fee is working — let it continue


Dallas Morning News Op-Ed
Zac Trahan, Texas Campaign for the Environment
Molly Rooke, Dallas Sierra Club

Love it or hate it, Dallas’ single-use bag ordinance is working.

The evidence is in: The 5-cent fee on disposable shopping bags has vastly reduced the sheer number of bags Dallas retailers and consumers are churning through. There’s been a massive decrease — probably in the tens of millions of single-use bags — in just the first few months of 2015. So let’s pat ourselves on the back a little, Dallas!

Rather than innovate and change to more reusable products, plastic bag manufacturers have responded by filing a lawsuit against the city. They’re clinging to the notion that Texans will always consume billions of single-use bags each year. But the trend shows otherwise, and it should continue. If manufacturers succeed in stopping the bag fee, the Dallas City Council should respond by phasing out single-use bags altogether to keep this progress going.

Let’s start with the hard numbers. Dallas retailers indicated through their fee remittance payments that they distributed roughly 11 million single-use bags at a nickel each during the first three months of 2015. Not all retailers are following the rules, so that may be an underestimate.

However, the expected number of bags used in Dallas during the quarter, based on a national estimate that the average American uses 335 disposable bags each year, would have been about 90 million bags. The ordinance is having an undeniable impact.

Thanks to a recent Dallas Morning News poll, we also know that almost 60 percent of Dallas residents now say they’re bringing their own bags to the store. Anyone can go into any major retailer in Dallas today and see the difference: So many more people have reusable bags. In some stores, reusable bags are the norm and single-use bags are the exception. It was the opposite before the ordinance. And at smaller stores, many people just carry their snacks or soda or other items in their hands.

This new ordinance is already making a visible difference. We’re seeing fewer single-use bags litter our neighborhoods. We’re finding less plastic bag pollution in our waterways. A friend who regularly canoes the Trinity River recently told us, “It’s like someone turned off the spigot.”

As strong proponents for a cleaner, greener city, we think it’s great that Dallas has chosen to be a leader on this issue. That’s having an impact too: The Balch Springs City Council is now considering a single-use bag ordinance as well. Laredo just put its bag ordinance into effect April 30. Port Aransas will put its into effect in January. The list of Texas cities taking action is steadily growing, and that’s what has the bag manufacturers scared.

Rules on disposable shopping bags have initially created some controversy everywhere they’ve been implemented. That’s understandable because it affects our daily lives. Luckily, it’s not that complicated. Just bring your own bags to the grocery store. If you forget and you want to use disposable bags in Dallas, you’ll pay a nominal fee that will serve as a reminder for next time while giving the city some money to educate residents and clean up litter in our communities.

A recent study from the Journal of Environmental Psychology suggests that the simple act of taking a split second to think about paying for single-use bags can deactivate our “autopilot” mode for just long enough to remind us about the connections between our everyday actions and long-term environmental sustainability.

Dallas is ahead of the curve on this particular litter and pollution problem. Rather than struggle against this positive change, we should think about what we can do next. For instance, the city should pass an ordinance so that all apartments and businesses offer recycling programs for their residents and tenants. That’s where most of our waste is coming from.

So how about it, Dallas? We’ve taken a step toward a cleaner environment. Let’s keep going.

Zac Trahan is the statewide program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. Molly Rooke is a member of the Dallas Sierra Club.

Battery recycling bill on table in Texas

batteryrecycleE-Scrap News
Jared Paben

The Texas Legislature’s serious consideration of a law mandating take-back and recycling for all household batteries sends a signal to other states considering the same, an advocate for the bill says.

“If conservative Republicans in Texas are advocating for battery recycling, legislatures all across the country have the green light to do this,” Robin Schneider, executive director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment, told E-Scrap News. “Even if the legislation doesn’t pass the first time around, it provides impetus and some leverage for other legislatures to also get on board with this issue.”

HB 3153 would require the battery industry create a free statewide takeback and recycling program for single-use and rechargeable batteries. Battery makers that refuse to participate would be prohibited from selling batteries in the state.

Manufacturers — or stewardship organizations working on their behalf — would submit plans to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which would approve or require plan modifications. The plans would include participating manufacturers, collection locations, goals, plans for recycling and public outreach activities.

At a May 5 hearing, the House of Representatives Committee on Environmental Regulation decided to hold off approving the bill. The decision came after the author, Rep. Rodney Anderson, a Republican representing Irving/Grand Prairie, asked that it be studied in more depth because only one other state, Vermont, has established a similar program.

Some think the bill goes too far, while others think it fails to go far enough, Anderson told the committee.

“It’s really trying to create a framework for an agreed-upon bill between industry, between the battery manufacturers,” Anderson said.

If it isn’t considered this year, the bill could be approved during the next legislative session, which would take place in 2017.

Schneider said the bill would be the first in the country to cover both single-use and rechargeable batteries.

Industry-funded nonprofit organization Call2Recycle organizes the nationwide collection and recycling of rechargeable batteries. Call2Recycle CEO and President Carl Smith testified at the hearing in favor of mandatory participation, noting that his organization pays to collect and recycle a substantial number of batteries from nonparticipating manufacturers.

In 2007, a GOP representative in the Texas House of Representatives carried a bill to establish extended-producer responsibility for computers, and another Republican authored a similar bill for televisions in 2011. Both were signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Perry.

“What we continue to show in Texas is that producer takeback recycling is not a partisan issue and there’s strong support from conservative Republicans for this policy,” Schneider said.

Schneider: Stop denials on ‘frackquakes’; preserve local ordinances

azleearthquakeAustin American-Statesman Op-Ed
Robin Schneider, Texas Campaign for the Environment

Scientists have finally begun to confirm what many Texans have long suspected: The oil and gas drilling technology known as “fracking” and the disposal of fracking wastes likely has caused earthquakes across Oklahoma and North Texas. This is hardly a surprise, as Oklahoma has now become the nation’s top state for earthquakes — blowing past California — despite having close to zero quakes on record before fracking boomed there in recent years.

What should be a surprise — but sadly isn’t — is how Texas politicians and regulators have tried to deny these basic facts. They are not only ignoring evidence that industry is literally ripping the ground from beneath our feet, they are doing everything in their power to strip away even the minimal protections we’ve enjoyed to this point. It’s time for Texans to stop them.

If you read the superb April 24 story from the American-Statesman’s Asher Price, you saw that Republican state Rep. Myra Crownover of Denton — home of some of the most aggressive drilling in urban areas — said she would only be convinced by peer-reviewed science, which is an appropriate standard. Unfortunately for Crownover, the most recent evidence comes from the U.S. Geological Survey and researchers at Southern Methodist University (hardly an institution known for its hostility to big oil — Dick Cheney once sat on its Board of Trustees) and was peer-reviewed in the academic journal Nature Communications.

So by her own standards was Crownover convinced? Of course not. She could only bring herself to say that the information is “fascinating.” A Lawrence Wright book is “fascinating.” The fact that Crownover’s own constituents are seeing their homes damaged and possibly even their lives threatened by “frackquakes” is not fascinating — it’s a cause for alarm.

Crownover has received more than $42,000 from oil and gas interests in recent years, according to Texans for Public Justice. Even more in the bag of industry is the very agency charged with regulating oil and gas, the Texas Railroad Commission. Even while Oklahoma acknowledges that earthquakes and fracking are likely related, Railroad Commission officials are doing next to nothing to respond to the new information.

On the contrary, lawmakers are moving quickly to strip some of the only protections Texans have right now. The Texas House passed House Bill 40 on April 20 with the support of a majority of both parties. HB 40 would strip local governments of their ability to protect residents not just from fracking, but from virtually any aspect of the oil and gas industry. Hundreds of local protections are threatened with repeal, including ordinances that keep frack waste injection wells outside of population centers. These communities will face expensive lawsuits from the very industry that is causing earthquakes, air pollution, enormous water consumption and dangerous accidents.

Texas needs these protections, and it is imperative that Texans speak out not only about these risks, but also about politicians rejecting science for the sake of short-sighted industries.

There is one final, important point that needs to be made here. In Price’s Statesman article there was an important sentence in parentheses — “(There is no fracking in the Austin area).” One important word needs to be added to this sentence: “yet.”

While there will likely not be any drilling in the city of Austin, the Eagle Ford Shale that extends into Bastrop County will be ripe for drilling if and when the price of natural gas goes up. For all of the associated industries and their pollution — compressor stations, pipelines, frack sand depots, disposal of the frack water and so on — there is nothing to say that those activities won’t make it into Travis County, Hays County or other nearby areas. If HB 40 or its companion legislation Senate Bill 1165 pass, there will be nothing local governments can do about it. Frackquakes or other pollution could be coming our way too.

We all know that everything is bigger in Texas, but does that have to include our denial? Residents in North Texas have come to realize the risks of fracking and have taken action to protect their health, families and property. Central Texans need to stand up too while we still can. We need our politicians to be more than “fascinated” by the latest facts. We need them to be moved to action. Your voice can help make that happen.

Robin Schneider is executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.