Robin Schneider Awarded Hal Suter Environmental Alliance Award

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club awards its first-ever Hal Suter Environmental Alliance Award to TCE Executive Director Robin Schneider.

The public is invited to attend the Award ceremony online Saturday, October 3 at 6 PM.

Named for Hal Suter, a recently departed and much loved activist leader, this new award is given to the person who has helped further environmental goals through collaboration. It commemorates Henry “Hal” Suter, who was a champion for alliances to fight harm to his beloved state, its beaches, and its clean air and water. Hal was a master at bringing people together to find common interests and form effective coalitions.

Robin Schneider shares the art and science of bringing people and organizations together for impactful environmental change.

Many people know Robin for her leadership of TCE. Her activism actually began in high school. At 17, Robin canvassed for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), raising funds door-to-door to assist pro-ERA candidates. During college, she led a campaign that stopped a plan to drill for oil on the UCLA campus. While at UCLA, she also led a delegation of 18 college students to Florida in 1982 to campaign for the ERA. Robin was selected for a legislative fellowship in 1983 and worked on environmental policy issues that year. She then gained campaign experience leading a voter registration campaign that signed up more than 17,000 voters in less than four months. Robin spent the next eight years working for a women’s rights group and developing winning strategies for lobbying and electoral campaigns. 

Robin joined Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) in 1997. Under Robin’s direction, TCE took a leading role in the campaign to close the Grandfather Loophole in the Texas Clean Air Act, for which she was dubbed the “Best Advocate for Breathers” by The Austin Chronicle.

TCE played a key role in successfully pressuring Dell, Apple, Samsung, and other TV companies to take back their obsolete products and support producer take-back policies. In 2004, TCE won a second “Best of Austin” award (in conjunction with Dell) for “The Best New Partnership” from The Austin Chronicle. Robin was named a “Green Giant” by Austin Monthly in April 2007. 

Under Robin’s direction, TCE works with landfill neighbors to impact local trash and recycling issues and statewide legislation. In addition, she was an early advocate for Zero Waste policies and helped shepherd the adoption of Austin’s Zero Waste goal and plans. 

Robin plays a key leadership role alongside Sierra Club staff and its allies in the work to address the climate change crisis by stopping coal-fired power plants and transitioning off fossil fuels.  She brings TCE’s door-to-door canvassing power to those fights and also joins in key lawsuits, media campaigns, and legislative training and lobbying efforts. Robin collaborates in the leadership of Texas regional alliances — the Alliance for a Clean Texas, the Permian Gulf Coast Coalition and national alliances, Break Free From Plastics, Stop the Money Pipeline, and Insure Our Future.  While simultaneously pivoting and protecting TCE’s door-to-door canvassers during the current pandemic by embracing new organizing technologies, Robin has further increased TCE’s focus on reducing global warming and plastics pollution in Texas. Robin and TCE are currently supporting powerful new outreach and organizing in the battle of the Coastal Bend against a major industrial build-out in the Corpus Christi area. Hal Suter was involved in this campaign. TCE is also supporting staff and volunteer efforts in North Texas, Central Texas, the Greater Houston Area, and now the Permian Basin.   

Join us in congratulating Robin Schneider.


TCE and Allies Move Conoco-Phillips to Stop Flaring at 41 Sites

ConocoPhillips Drops Request for Oil and Gas Flaring in West Texas After Challenge from Clean Air Groups

41 Flares at Oil and Gas Sites Released 1,262 Tons of Sulfur Dioxide Air Pollution near Odessa

Austin, Texas – Following a challenge from four clean air advocacy groups, ConocoPhillips yesterday dropped a request for extensions on flaring permits at 41 oil and gas sites in West Texas that released more than 1,300 tons of dangerous air pollutants last year.

The company’s 41 flares are located in Ector and Andrews counties near Odessa and burned 1.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2018-2019, releasing more than 1,262 tons of sulfur dioxide, which can damage the lungs, as well as 99 tons of nitrogen oxides and other pollutants, according to state records.

Local residents of the Permian Basin region worked with the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club, Environment Texas and Texas Campaign for the Environment to file an objection to the state permits in May because the flares damage air quality and threaten public health.

A hearing before the Texas Railroad Commission, which reviews permits for flaring at oil and gas sites, had been scheduled for September 28. But yesterday ConocoPhillips sent the state agency a letter announcing that it was withdrawing its applications for the 41 flares because of “operational changes” that make them unnecessary.

“People should care about this issue, because these flares emit toxic air pollution that is hurting public health, and the Texas Railroad Commission has been granting permits for flaring with no real standards or oversight for years,” said Colin Cox, Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.

Cyrus Reed, interim director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said: “While we are pleased that under pressure Conoco-Phillips is doing the right thing and withdrawing their request to expand their massive ongoing air pollution through flaring, it again demonstrates that the regulator is not doing its job. It shouldn’t take local citizens and organizations to state the obvious: it’s time for the Texas Railroad Commission to do more than require expanded reporting and actually set a course to eliminate the routine flaring and venting of air pollution.”

“Today’s decision shows us that industry knows how to reduce these harmful flaring activities. We need to hold them and the Texas Railroad Commission to a higher standard and stop allowing operators to forfeit our precious resources and put our health at risk,” said Corey Troiani, Senior Director with Texas Campaign for the Environment.

“Flaring pollutes our air, warms our climate, and puts our health at risk. Giant balls of fire in the sky should not be a part of business as usual,” said Emma Pabst, Global Warming Solutions Advocate with the Environment Texas Research and Policy Center.

The number of flaring permits issued by the Texas Railroad Commission jumped to 6,972 in 2019, up from 5,488 in 2018, 3,708 in 2017, and 306 in 2010, according to the agency’s website.  The volume of flaring and venting at oil and gas sites in Texas has also multiplied, rising to 194 billion cubic feet in 2019, up from 74 billion cubic feet in 2017 and 5 billion cubic feet in 2010, according to state data.

Nationally, flaring and venting of natural gas has also increased, with 468 billion square feet flared and vented in 2018 – which was quadruple the amount two decades earlier, and the most since 1970, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Drilling companies often burn natural gas (methane and other gases) because they don’t have a pipeline nearby available as they drill for oil and produce the gases as a byproduct.  The recent economic downturn, caused in part by Covid-19, has driven many oil and gas companies to curb production and close wells.

It’s not clear what drove ConocoPhillips to drop its application for the flaring permits in Ector and Andrews counties. But the company wrote to the Texas Railroad Commission: “ConocoPhillips has instituted operational changes that have significantly reduced the need for flaring at the facilities.…As a result, the two-year flaring authority sought in these cases is no longer needed.”

Neta Rhyne, a lung cancer survivor and resident of West Texas who is concerned about the air pollution from flaring, said: “I’m happy to learn ConocoPhillips is instituting operational changes that will significantly reduce the need for flaring.  This is absolute proof that the fossil fuel industry can reduce harmful flaring activities that are polluting the air we breathe.  I’m looking forward to the day I can enjoy going to Odessa and Midland to visit my grandsons without being a prisoner indoors.”

The Environmental Integrity Project is an 18-year-old nonprofit organization, based in Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to enforcing environmental laws and strengthening policy to protect public health and the environment.

For a copy of ConocoPhillips letter, click here.

For a copy of the list of wells, click here.

For a copy of the environmental group’s objection to the permits, click here.

Media contacts: Donna Hoffman, Texas Campaign for the Environment, (512) 299-5776 and Tom Pelton, Environmental Integrity Project, (443) 510-2574

Opinion: Stop Fossil Fuel Industry from running US Climate Policy

Stop the revolving door — Americans don’t support fossil fuel industry leaders running climate policy

Shown together in this October 4, 2016 photo, former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is now advising former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign. Photo: Carolyn Kaster, STF / Associated Press

By Robin Schneider Sep. 10, 2020

There are many ways in which Americans are united.

Across party lines Americans reject the so-called revolving door. People in government and industry move back and forth working for companies when they are out of government and supposedly overseeing them when they are in government. Since the industry employers invariably pay more, which master do they serve while they are in government?

There was widespread support when President Barack Obama signed his first executive order the afternoon of his inauguration. It prohibited putting lobbyists in government agencies overseeing the industries they had lobbied for. While the policy was not perfect, Texas Campaign for the Environment and other groups used that executive order to successfully campaign against appointing a lobbyist who worked for major polluters to head our EPA Regional Office. Some critics, including Houston Chronicle columnist Chris Tomlinson, have called this view “fringe,” but it has broad support.

A recent poll by Data for Progress found that voters do not want fossil fuel industry lobbyists or representatives serving in the executive branch. That view is shared by 61 percent of Democrats and a plurality of Independents and Republicans, 45 and 39 percent respectively. People know the foxes should not guard the henhouse.

While President Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C., our government agencies are run by executives from the industries they are supposed to regulate. The results are clear — attacks on environmental laws, more pollution and a worsening climate crisis. That is exactly why we are demanding that Joe Biden stop this if he is elected.

Heather Zichal was a chief climate adviser in the Obama administration but was a paid corporate board member of Cheniere Energy, a major exporter of fracked gas. Their Corpus Christi-area export terminal burns off gas with large flares that light up the night skies. It is a major greenhouse house emitter.

Former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is now a board member of Southern Company, a corporation that runs five gas utilities. These two gas company board members are informal advisers to Biden. They should not be brought back into government.

We definitely do need experts who understand the energy industry in government but they must be ones who can lead us forward into a renewable energy future and not ones who are compromised with leadership roles in the fossil fuel industry, which has put short-term profits above the long-term interests of workers and the environment.

Fossil fuel companies, especially in Texas, have been having financial problems for quite a while. It turns out that fracked wells do not produce for as long as investors were promised. In April, Scott Sheffield, known as the “Mother Fracker,” said at a state hearing on oil and gas, “Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste.”

Unfortunately, the fossil fuel companies have used the current health and economic crisis to get billions of dollars of subsidies. This must stop. The workers who are whip-sawed by these boom-and-bust cycles need steady, good jobs in a clean energy economy. These rank and file workers can help shape their next careers.

For decades the fossil fuel executives have negligently deceived the public about climate change and delayed action on it. If Biden wins and fossil fuel executives fill government positions, the subsidies might not end. The critical actions needed to transition our economy to good, clean jobs may not be taken. We need swift, decisive movement toward a more circular economy that stops wasting resources and people’s health and lives. People with allegiances to the fossil fuel industry could put the brakes on these initiatives to stop climate change.

Luckily, the fossil fuel industry is just one sector of the energy economy. Leaders in the renewable energy sectors — wind, solar, geothermal, efficiency and battery storage — are by definition also some of the world’s foremost energy experts. These experts and industry leaders are the most qualified to lead a clean energy transition. Decades of greed, pollution and misinformation have shown us that fossil fuel companies are the least qualified to do that.

The United States was once an environmental leader. Ground-breaking environmental laws were supported by members of both parties. But we have been a laggard of late. It’s past time to stop the revolving door that has given the fossil fuel industry dangerous influence over the future of our country and turn towards the energy sources that will provide the jobs of the future and a livable, healthy planet.

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