ExxonMobil’s Gulf Coast Growth Ventures project gets TCEQ approval

Corpus Christi Caller Times
By Tim Acosta & John C. Moritz
Original article here

Photo: John C. Moritz

AUSTIN — Construction on a San Patricio County plastics manufacturing plant that would bring 600 permanent jobs and up to 6,000 more in construction could begin within weeks after state regulators approved the project Wednesday.

Paul Guilfoyle, the venture executive for the ExxonMobil offshoot Gulf Coast Growth Ventures, said plans are on track for the “ethane cracker” plant to begin operations in 2022. Guilfoyle made the comment after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality unanimously approved the permit application after an hour-long hearing in Austin.

“We’ve spent a lot of time with the community — the schools, colleges, etc.,” Guilfoyle said.

The comment was in response to about a dozen protesters who attended the TCEQ hearing and staged a sign-waving demonstration before and after warning that the plant on 13 acres near Gregory would pose an air-quality threat to the Gulf Coast.

They warned of toxic emissions coming from the plant and had hoped the TCEQ would have required more air-quality monitoring at the facility’s fence line. Even though the commission declined to follow the recommendation, Chairman Jon Niermann urged the plant operators and the community to be “good neighbors to each other.”

Dewey Magee, whose home is about a half-mile from the site, called the suggestion laughable.

“How am I supposed to be good neighbors with all they pulled?” said Magee, who made the trip to Austin to witness the hearing.

He said he worries about the plant’s effects on his grandchildren and complained that work had begun on the site well before the permit was approved.

Guilfoyle called the protesters a “vocal minority” and said the project would comply with all environmental regulations. He said the permanent jobs would pay an average of $100,000 a year. And about 250 workers are already hired and undergoing training, he added.

The construction activity is only “site prep,” he added, which was allowed to commence prior to the permits being approved. Actual construction of the plant, though, could not begin until those permits were in place.

Both Gulf Coast Growth Ventures and attorneys for environmental groups the Sierra Club and the Texas Campaign for the Environment were able to address the commission prior to a vote being taken. The groups asked that the TCEQ require GCGV to incorporate fence line monitoring, as well as release information that was kept confidential during the permit application process.

TCEQ commissioners denied those requests, and also granted a request from GCGV to allow the permit to immediately take effect so they could begin construction as soon as possible. The decision on that accelerated timeline does not prohibit the environmental groups from filing a motion for rehearing, though.

The commission made the permit effective as soon as it is formally signed, but Niermann said the opponents still have the option to seek a “rehearing,” so any construction would come at Gulf Coast Growth Ventures’ own risk.

“We would still carefully and seriously consider any requests for rehearing,” Niermann said, referring to the commission’s decision on Wednesday. “I would also note that the applicant, if they elect to commence construction during this time period, would do that at their own peril.”

“Speaking just to the process, and not to the merits at this point, we very well may grant a request for rehearing,” he added.

Ilan Levin, a lawyer representing the Sierra Club and the Texas Campaign for the Environment, said he plans to seek a rehearing. Guilfoyle, meanwhile, said Gulf Coast Growth Ventures plans to proceed with the project that’s been more than two years in the making.

“We’re willing to accept the risk,” he said.

The multi-billion dollar plant to manufacture what Guilfoyle called “a family of plastic” consumer products from petroleum drilled in West Texas’ Permian Basin would be located near Gregory and is a joint venture between ExxonMobil and Saudi Basic Industries Corp.

Port of Corpus Christi CEO Sean Strawbridge celebrated the announcement He said the project would go a long way to restoring the hundreds of jobs lost several years ago when Sherwin Alumina went under and ceased operations.

The GCGV project is the latest multi-billion dollar investment to get the go-ahead in the Coastal Bend, with Cheniere Energy’s LNG facility, Corpus Christi Liquefaction, beginning operations in November and Voelstapine’s iron processing facility starting up in 2016.

Steel Dynamics is considering Sinton as the site for a $1.8 billion flat roll steel mill, but has not made a decision yet, as it is still looking at locations in Texas and Louisiana.

“We fully anticipated the approval of this permit application and we’re excited for the continued progress that the Gulf Coast Growth Ventures project is making,” Strawbridge said. “It’s very rare to lose 600 jobs like we lost with Sherwin Alumina, only to have them come back in just a few short years and more so — better paying jobs — in a safer, cleaner environment that we saw with Gulf Coast Growth Ventures.”

“This community should be proud of these investments here and we’re just excited for the future of the Coastal Bend,” he added.

Texas legislature passes two waste permitting laws

Waste Dive
By Anna Hrushka
Original article here

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Dive Brief:

  • Two bills (HB 1331 and HB 1435) related to solid waste permitting were passed by the Texas state legislature this session. Each bill has been signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott and will take effect September 1.
  • HB 1331 raises the application fee for a municipal solid waste permit from $150 to $2,000. SB 1976, which would have increased the application fee to $5,000 plus the cost for public notice, didn’t receive a second hearing this session.
  • HB 1435 will require the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to visit any facilities that will be used to “store, process, or dispose of municipal solid waste” and verify application information before required permits are “issued, amended, extended, or renewed.”

Dive Insight:

Texas is known for being less restrictive than some states when it comes to solid waste permitting — especially for landfills — so the passage of these seemingly minor laws is notable. Legislative records indicate both bills drew support from Waste Management, Republic Services and the Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE). SWANA’s Lone Star Chapter also supported HB 1435. The NWRA confirmed to Waste Dive it did not take a position on either bill.

TCE backed more than a dozen bills aimed at reforming the state’s waste system, but these were the only two that passed this year. Other notable bills that didn’t make it to the governor’s desk include HB 4568, which would have required businesses to use floodplain information from local authorities when making decisions about where to site landfills, and SB 987, which would have restricted the construction of landfills on certain aquifers.

“There’s a lot of bipartisan support for doing something, but unfortunately, most of those bills didn’t even get a hearing,” Andrew Dobbs, a TCE program director, told Waste Dive. “I think it’s because there’s a lot going on there, and some of these committees were slow-playing a lot of things. So that was kind of disappointing.”

Still, Dobbs said TCE is pleased HB 1331 will raise the permit application fee and hopes to see it increased again to cover the “hours and hours of agency time” often required to process submissions, which can be thousands of pages long. He also believes HB 1435 will help avert more potential issues at waste sites. “We’ve had instances in the past of applicants being misleading or lying on applications and dangerous proposals coming close to getting approved,” said Dobbs.

Looking ahead, Dobbs said the bipartisan attention these issues generated during the session is likely to lead to a reopening of permitting and enforcement of solid waste rules. More resistance could be expected if higher stakes proposals are introduced, but it’s also possible the industry may find common cause in bringing more regularity to the process.

“A large number of waste permits become knock-down, drag-out fights, and we believe that’s because the system is so lax that there’s a race to the bottom to get the cheapest, easiest landfill applications out there,” said Dobbs. “If we can tighten these things up, we can make sure bad proposals are never made in the first place. And whenever applications are put forward, everybody can be confident they’re going to move forward in a timely and predictable manner.”

Lawmakers passed Hurricane Harvey aid, but ignored its cause, environmental advocates say

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
By Tessa Weinberg
Original article here

As lawmakers talked this session about the damage and destruction their communities suffered when Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017, environmental advocates said two words were missing from the conversation: climate change.

Lawmakers sent aid to communities recovering from Hurricane Harvey this past session, including passing legislation that would put $1.7 billion toward repairs and flood control projects. But some environmental advocates and climate scientists think more needs to be done to study climate change’s impact and reduce emissions that contribute to extreme weather events.

“We’re not doing the ounce of prevention that’s worth a pound of cure,” said Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, a non-profit that aims to reduce pollution.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report completed in November that drew on more than 300 experts and 13 federal agencies, found that floods, heat waves, forest fires, and ocean acidification are projected to increase.

Over the last 100 years, sea levels have risen between 5 and 17 inches along the Texas coastline, according to the report.

“Climate change is real, it’s already here, and it’s only growing more intense,” said Daniel Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University. “Especially in a state where our temperatures are already so high, adding a few more degrees really severely intensifies our heat waves. And so there’s a lot of risks that we face.”

An August Texas General Land Office report that outlined recommendations and lessons learned from Hurricane Harvey downplayed the effects climate change has on Texas’ hurricanes.

“Some scientists argue these storms are a function of climate change, when in fact vulnerability of the state to hurricanes predates the effects of climate change,” the report read. “The simple fact is the geographic location of Texas makes it vulnerable to hurricanes which form in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.”

A report in November from the Governor’s Commission to Rebuild Texas, which Gov. Greg Abbott created shortly after Hurricane Harvey, produced a long list of recommendations to “future-proof” the state, based on the assumption that Texas will face future disasters. The phrase “climate change” appears once in the nearly 200-page report — in the name of a scientific paper cited in a footnote.

Preparing for future disasters is a necessary step, said Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. But without accounting for climate change’s impact, it’s not a complete response, he said.

“It’s great to have a plan to recover after your house burns down, and have insurance and everything,” he said. “But it would be good to keep it from burning down in the first place.

“We’re going to have to adapt to climate change. There’s no world in which that’s not the case. And so it’s good to see them putting money toward that. Without climate studies, though… it’s hard to believe that money will be spent wisely.”

A handful of lawmakers were hoping to do that. They authored bills that would have studied the effects of climate change in Texas. But none reached one of the first steps of the legislative process: a committee hearing.

Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, saw his district pummeled by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. His district office was hit, and the devastation constituents faced left him chilled, he said. At least 68 people were killed in the storm and even more died as an indirect result.

“Some things can be replaced, but lives certainly can’t,” Reynolds said.

To deny that human activities have an effect on Texas’ natural disasters is negligent and irresponsible, Reynolds said, which is why he filed HB 1980. The bill would have established the “Climate Change Impact Assessment Council,” to study climate change’s impact “on the health, safety, and welfare of the residents of this state.”

While the bill was referred to a committee, it never received a hearing.

Reynolds said he plans to ask Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, the chairman of the House Environmental Regulation Committee, to hold hearings on climate change in the interim now that the session is over.

Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, plans to do the same in the House Committee on International Relations and Economic Development, which he chairs, his chief of staff wrote in an email. Anchia’s bills related to the study of climate were also never heard in committee this past session.

“It only made sense for the Environmental Regulation Committee — even if we didn’t get the bill passed — to at least have a public hearing, so that we can have open dialogue about it,” Reynolds said.

And Texas voters have signaled that they want to see lawmakers taking action on the issue.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll published in March found that 48% of registered voters in Texas said the U.S. government should be doing “a great deal” or “a lot” about climate change, 26% said it should be doing “a moderate amount” or “a little,” and 21% said the government should be doing nothing.

Broken down by party, 83% of Democrats surveyed said “a great deal” or “a lot” should be done, compared to 18% of Republicans and 43% of independents.

But in a Republican-controlled legislature, Reynolds said lawmakers “take their marching orders from the top.”

In December, Abbott deflected when asked whether he believes man-made global warming is contributing to Texas’ natural disasters.

“I’m not a scientist. Impossible for me to answer that question,” Abbott said to reporters at the time, according to The Associated Press.

But other Texas lawmakers have begun to take a more concrete stance on the issue, with Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn telling reporters earlier this month that “there is a growing consensus the days of ignoring this issue are over,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

Abbott’s office could not be immediately reached for comment on whether his stance on global warming has changed.

Abbott’s answer in December prompted a group of climate scientists and experts from across the state to send a letter, offering to brief him on climate science.

“He sure didn’t reach out to me,” said Cohan, who signed the January letter. “The offer stands.”