Bird Strike Threat – TCE, Pilots, and Landowners Challenge Garbage Expansion by Austin Airport

(Austin) — Today, Texas Campaign for the Environment’s lawyer and several TCE members successfully gained standing to contest a permit to expand a problem landfill located just 3,200 feet from the end of Austin Bergstrom International Airport’s (ABIA’s) main runway — and directly below the flight path. On the basis that expanding the dump could lead to negative impacts on nearby residents and air traffic, two administrative law judges at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) granted TCE and its members party status in an administrative law process known as a “contested case hearing.” The decision today allows TCE as well as other individuals and groups with standing to challenge TCEQ’s initial approval of the expansion. These contested cases can lead to substantive changes or, albeit rare in Texas, an outright rejection of a pollution permit. 

Jeffrey Jacoby, Deputy Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment applauded the decision, “We are proud of our members and several other individuals and organizations who stood up to fight this ill-conceived landfill expansion plan today. Even though it’s against the rules, the evidence is clear this dump is accepting waste that rots, which of course attracts birds. And birds and planes are a dangerous combination.” 

Extensive video evidence shows this dump, known as the Travis County Landfill (TCL), is operating in a manner that attracts birds, a major hazard to air traffic. 

The company that runs the landfill says it does not accept any waste that rots, aka “putrescibles,” which is prohibited by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations for trash facilities near airports. However, it’s clear that birds frequent the site—including large birds such as buzzards and hawks, which pose a particularly dangerous hazard for planes due to their large size and weight. ABIA is required to track bird strikes and has reported over 2,000 bird strikes to the FAA. 

Austin-based pilot and TCE member Adham El-Effendi testified at today’s SOAH hearing:  “Expansion of the landfill would only worsen this problem.  I’m here to testify that birds present one of the most concerning outside risks to pilots and passengers. I’ve had near misses with birds on multiple occasions, the most recent being in late February  of this year. I believe the expansion of the landfill particularly in its expansion upward to the bottom of what the FAA calls the “imaginary surface” of the approach path into Runway 35 left – building a landfill right up to the FAA’s limit for terrain to constitute a safe approach to the airport, to me, constitutes a hazard to all flying in and out of the airport.” 

Several homes and businesses are located near the landfill and ABIA’s flight path.

Chris Massey, who attended the online hearing, is a homeowner and member of TCE who lives close to the landfill. 

In addition to the pilots’ primary concerns with air traffic safety, Mr. Massey expressed concerns relating to:

  • Disposal of putrescible (rotting) waste;
  • Odor;
  • Attraction of hazardous wildlife including but not limited to birds;
  • Traffic in the community;

As a TCE member, Massey also gained standing in the SOAH hearing today. He said, “We live less than a mile from this dump and have concerns that expanding it will only make things worse,” said Chris Massey. “I just felt like I needed to get involved. I’ll always come to bat for environmental conservation.” The State Office of Administrative Hearings will set a schedule for its future proceedings. Once the judges make their decision at the conclusion of testimony and filings, SOAH will make a recommendation to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding whether or not SOAH advises that TCEQ give the permit. This process will take several months. 

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TCE and For the Greater Good Scale Up NO DESAL City Charter Amendment Petition

(Corpus Christi, TX)  A coalition of eight Corpus Christi groups today announced a weekly drive-by public petition drive on Saturdays at Oleander Point from 11am to 2pm — an addition to the groups’ ongoing mailing of over 25,000 petitions (available for download at https://SaveCCBay.org) The coalition expects enough signatures to require the City of Corpus Christi to hold an election to allow Corpus Christi residents to vote on a Charter Amendment restricting the City from building desalination plants.


“Corpus Christi City Council and the Mayor have repeatedly dismissed the community’s concerns about desalination, so the community is fighting back by circulating a petition to let the people of Corpus Christi vote on whether or not we should pursue desal,” said Brittany Garcia, Lead Coastal Bend Organizer for Texas Campaign for the Environment. “We say ‘Let the People Vote!’”

Together, the plants would discharge 131 million gallons of brine concentrate every day into Corpus Christi Bay. The resulting imbalance would jeopardize the sensitive nursery for fish, shrimp, and other creatures dependent upon a mix of fresh water.

“Corpus Christi residents and our City Council need to be aware of the ominous, potentially negative impacts from these proposed desalination plants on Corpus Christi Bay’s ecosystem, the tourism economy, community health, our residential and commercial utility bills, and our education systems,” said Dr. Isabel Araiza, co-founder of the coordinating group For the Greater Good. “This is a democracy. Costly expenditures – especially those that would put the City environment, our communities and businesses at risk and that also ignore essential human needs during this time of crisis – these decisions should be made by our City residents.”

A coalition of diverse, united Corpus Christi organizational representatives gathered for the announcement of the further ramping up of the city-wide petition drive. They include:

Dr. Isabel Araiza, For the Greater Good
Dr. Jerry Sansing, Corpus Christi Taxpayers Association
Eddie Canales, South Texas Human Rights Center
Brittany Garcia, Texas Campaign for the Environment
Love Sanchez, Indigenous Peoples of the Coastal Bend
Dr. Jim Klein, Sierra Club Coastal Bend Group
Joy Miller, Clean Economy Coalition
Errol Summerlin, Coastal Alliance to Protect our Environment

Exorbitant, Unnecessary Expenditure in Current Crises of Human Needs
The city is pursuing a $222.5 million dollar loan with a plan to begin construction on the first of the proposed desalination projects.The estimated cost  in 2018 dollars for the City’s desalination projects combined was nearly $1.3 billion which would be paid for by public bond funding, in other words, taxpayer dollars.

“The Corpus Christi Taxpayers Association urges people to protect their wallets and sign the SaveCCBay.org petition because these desalination plants will be yet another expensive city boondoggle,”  said Jerry Sansing. “We need to vote before saddling ourselves with this enormous needless debt. If you care about our city and want to have your say, go to the website or go to Oleander Point on Saturday to sign the petition, or sign it if you get it in the mail.”

Eddie Canales with the South Texas Human Rights Center added, The South Texas Human Rights Center supports and endorses the Save our Bay For the Greater Good charter amendment campaign because it is a human right for the Corpus Christi community to have a healthy bay and pollution-free Corpus Christi. Environmental degradation and corporate favors for the oil, gas, and chemical industries by our public officials cannot continue. The petition effort will hold them accountable and the voters should decide with voice and vote.”

“We don’t need to spend that kind of money for speculative heavy industrial projects when the financial community is walking away from big projects right now,” said Joy Miller with the Clean Economy Coalition. “We can create a lot of good, clean, long-lasting and safe jobs and help a lot of people with that kind of money without putting our whole region at risk of environmental ruin from saline waste killing the bays.”

No Need for Expensive Projects
The City Council, Mayor Joe McComb, and the Port of Corpus Christi claim the desalination projects are to insure an adequate water supply. However, the city’s 2019 water conservation report indicates that with a water conservation plan, the city can meet projected demands in population and business growth for the next 20 years with the current water supply by adjusting water consumption rates for residents and local commercial businesses.

“Corpus Christi can meet our water needs without desalination. Don’t believe the city if they tell you otherwise. There are cheaper, more sustainable ways to serve our community’s water demands including in times of drought. Even the city’s own documents prove we don’t need these desalination plants,” said Jim Klein with the Coastal Bend Sierra Club.

The Way to Stop It
As an indigenous native womxn, I am concerned about the desalination plants because of my connection to the water and how these facilities will destroy the bay,” said Love Sanchez with Indigenous People of the Coastal Bend. “I think the community should know what is happening and should have a say in this plan.The people of Corpus Christi, Texas have the opportunity to stop the environmental and financial instability that will happen if these desalination plants are built. The way to stop it is by signing the charter amendment petition established by For the Greater Good. Together as a community we can stop these desalination plants by signing at Saveccbay.org today. Ye’ka.”

[Ye’ka is Karankawa for “Go with love.”]


For more information, contact:

Brittany Garcia, 361.660.9401, brittany@texasenvironment.org
Isabel Araiza, 361.779.3927, Isabel.araiza.ortiz@gmail.com

Read more at https://saveccbay.org/ and
Follow on https://www.facebook.com/savethebayforthegreatergood/


TCE and Partners take Legal Action against Industrial Flaring

Allies Send EPA a Notice of Intent to Sue over Agency’s Failure to Update Inadequate 34-Year-Old Standards

Texas Campaign for the Environment and a coalition of ten environmental organizations today sent the Trump Administration EPA a notice of intent to sue the agency over its failure to reduce toxic air pollution from the flares on petrochemical plants, gas processing facilities, and other industrial sites.

Across the country, thousands of industrial flares burn excess waste gases and release smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carcinogenic benzene, and other pollutants that threaten the health of people living nearby, often minorities and communities with moderate incomes.

EPA has not updated the air pollution control standards for industrial flares in 34 years, even though the federal Clean Air Act requires that agency review them at least once every eight years to make sure they adequately protect the public and incorporate improvements in technology, according to the notice.

“At this time when people are more vulnerable to pneumonia from COVID-19 when they are exposed to air pollution, it is unconscionable that the Trump EPA has not done its job and updated these weak and antiquated standards,” said Adam Kron, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council, said: “The outdated technology EPA is allowing polluters to use to reduce emissions is endangering our communities. Thirty-four years of inaction is unacceptable; EPA needs to do its job and update its regulations.”

The organizations that sent the notice – the first required step in a federal lawsuit – are EIP, Clean Air Council, Air Alliance Houston, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Earthworks, Environment America, Environment Texas, Hoosier Environmental Council, PennEnvironment, and Texas Campaign for the Environment.

Industrial facilities, like chemical manufacturers and natural gas processing plants, use flares as pollution control devices to burn and destroy dangerous organic compounds like benzene in waste gases. However, the flares are only effective as pollution control devices if they are operated correctly.

For example, operators inject steam into flares to keep them from smoking (which releases soot or fine particle pollution). But they often add far more steam than is needed.  EPA and industry studies have shown that flares that are over-steamed do not burn well, releasing large amounts of benzene and other toxic or smog-forming compounds that should have been destroyed during the combustion process.

The types of industrial flares that are the subject of the today’s notice do not include flares on drilling sites or oil refineries. The general industrial flares being targeted for the improvements in the notice include those on chemical factories, solid waste landfills, gasoline terminals, and natural gas processing plants.

More than three decades after EPA established requirements for these general industrial flares in 1986, these standards no longer reflect the “best system of emission reduction,” according to the notice filed by the 10 environmental organizations.

For example, the current standards’ minimum heating value requirements are not based on where the flare is actually burning (the “combustion zone”) and therefore miss if an operator is injecting too much steam or air into the flare, dramatically lowering its efficiency.  Additionally, the current standards let operators average their measurements over long, three-hour periods rather than a shorter time, allowing for spikes that depart from proper operation.  In fact, EPA has estimated that improperly operated flares may release five times or more the pollution as a properly operated flare.

Recently, EPA conducted a rule making that not only pointed out the shortcomings of the current flare standards but also set out specific revisions that could correct these problems. In March 2020, EPA finalized revisions to National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) standards for ethylene production facilities that included revised flare standards similar to what the groups have requested here.  For just the approximately 100 flares covered by the rule, EPA estimated that revised flare standards have the potential to reduce excess emissions by approximately 1,430 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and 13,020 tons per year of VOCs. On a per-flare basis, that’s about 14 tons per year of hazardous pollutants and 130 tons per year of VOCs.

Quotes from Environmental Organizations:

Environment Texas: “In our Clean Air Act lawsuit against ExxonMobil, an expert on industrial flares testified at trial that illegal flaring emissions from the company’s Baytown petrochemical complex were probably three to four times higher than the amounts ExxonMobil reported — and that testimony went completely unrebutted,” said Luke Metzger, Executive Director of Environment Texas.  “These hidden impacts on surrounding communities are significant, as the reported violations alone already totaled 10 million pounds of harmful chemicals.”

In Texas, three of the top five largest unpermitted pollution releases from industrial flares in 2019 happened at the Exxon Mobil Chemical Baytown Olefins Plant east of Houston, which released 48 tons of air pollution from February 28 to March 12, 2019; 75 tons of air pollution from June 28 to July 13, 2019; and another 67 tons from August 1 to August 18, 2019, according to records of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Environment Texas sued Exxon Mobil over the plant’s air pollution.

PennEnvironment: “While many people may look back fondly and love the 80s, we’d all agree that technology and the things we know about air pollution have dramatically improved over the past three decades,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur. “Health based standards from the 80s are in no way acceptable for protecting public health, our communities and our environment today.”

Chesapeake Climate Action Network: “For too long, fossil fuel companies have been allowed to emit dangerous levels of pollution at industrial facilities that are all too often located in minority communities,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “Virtually unchecked industrial flaring at these facilities harms the climate, health, and justice, and the EPA must fix its illegally outdated rules as soon as possible.”

Hoosier Environmental Council:  “With a ranking of 43rd in air quality, 40th in health outcomes, and 13th in COVID-19 deaths per capita, there is a great urgency in Indiana to strengthen air quality protections to reduce harm to an already vulnerable population,” said Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. “We urge the EPA to revise the badly out-of-date flare standards; revisions would improve air quality in at least five of six regions of Indiana.”

Texas Campaign for the Environment:  “Industrial flares light up the skies with toxic pollution near the homes, schools and workplaces of many Texans,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “People rightly fear for the health of their families and neighbors, particularly overburdened communities of color,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment.

For a copy of the notice, click here.

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

Clean Air Council is a member-supported environmental organization dedicated to protecting and defending everyone’s right to a healthy environment.

Environment Texas is a non-profit advocate for clean air, clean water, and open space.

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) is the first grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

PennEnvironment is a statewide, citizen-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group working for clean air, clean water, tackling climate change and preserving Pennsylvania’s incredible outdoor places.

Texas Campaign for the Environment is a grassroots organization that empowers Texans to fight pollution through sustained grassroots organizing campaigns that shift corporate and governmental policy.

Environment America is a national network of 29 state environmental groups that work for clean air, clean water, clean energy, wildlife and open spaces, and a livable climate.

Air Alliance Houston is a non-profit advocacy organization working to reduce the public health impacts of air pollution and advance environmental justice.

The Hoosier Environmental is Indiana’s largest environmental public policy organization, working to address environmental justice, protect land and water, and advance a sustainable economy.

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TCE and Allies from across State present Texas Railroad Commission Candidates Forum

Texas Campaign for the Environment, our partners and community advocates from across the state presented the Texas Railroad Commission Candidates Forum on May 27th. 

View the Facebook Live recording or the Zoom recording of the event. 

Railroad Commission Candidates Chrysta Castañeda and Roberto Alonzo attended the Forum. Candidate Jim Wright was invited but did not attend. Both candidates who attended now face a Democratic Primary Runoff Election on July 14 and the general election will be on November 3, 2020.  

Alberta Phillips, Journalist and former Editorial Board member of the Austin  American-Statesman moderated the Forum with Virginia Palacios, Principal with VP Environmental of Laredo providing opening remarks. 

Candidates Castañeda and Alonzo answered questions from Panelists:

* Ranjana Bhandari (Arlington), Founder/Board Chair of Liveable Arlington on enforcement and drilling near schools
* Crystal Moran (El Paso), Frontera Water Protection Alliance on public health impacts of flaring & venting waste
* Gene Collins ( Odessa), Texas NAACP on earthquakes, methane, and air pollution in the Permian Basin
* Amanda McKeel (Austin, TX), Society of Native Nations on indigenous peoples’ rights
* Juan Parras (Houston), Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services  on ensuring environmental protection after EPA rule rollbacks
* Dave Cortez (Austin), Sierra Club on conflicts of interest and ethics of campaign contributions
* Tricia Cortez (Laredo), Rio Grande International Study Center on Gulf Coast petrochemical build-out, quadrupling of plastics production and the balance of industry and the environment.

Donna Hoffman with TCE provided technical direction; Robin Schneider TCE Executive Director kept time; while Emma Pabst with Environment Texas and Corey Troiani with TCE moderated Q&A.

Pipeline activist and singer-songwriter Purly Gates with Clean Energy Now Texas (CENT) from Wimberley closed the Forum with her songs “Talkin’ Pipeline” and “The Fox is Guarding the Henhouse”. 

The Texas Railroad Commission is one of the most important environmental agencies in Texas. Now is the time to make sure the agency is accountable to the people, not big polluters. Ignoring their own mission, the Commission routinely allows toxic waste, air and water pollution, and the corporate abuse of eminent domain to affect people across the state. Incumbent commissioners regularly receive campaign contributions from the same companies the RRC oversees, and they rarely declare conflicts of interest when making punitive decisions over companies from which they stand to benefit. It’s important these Candidates are aware and are prepared to act in the best interests of communities’ health and conservation of natural resources.

For more information about how you can get involved in monitoring and providing feedback to the Texas Railroad Commission about activities in your area, email Robin [AT] texasenvironment.org.

 

 

 


TCE and Over 700 Neighbors, Businesses, Elected Officials Oppose NE Austin Garbage Expansion

Austin, TX — Texas Campaign for the Environment joined Northeast Austin Landfill Neighbors United–a newly formed non-profit citizens group comprised of residents and businesses in a rapidly growing neighborhood near 290 and Springdale – as well as Travis County and State Representative Celia Israel in filing a motion today to overturn a May 7th decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to approve a registration for a massive garbage operation in northeast Austin.

“It’s abundantly clear this proposal is inappropriate for this neighborhood and simply not right for Austin,” said Texas State Representative Celia Israel. “By approving this registration, TCEQ has failed our community by once again aligning with a powerful corporation. That’s why I’m united with neighbors in challenging this decision.”

Waste Management, the company behind the proposal to build a trash transfer station, has a history of problems at its existing landfill, the Austin Community Recycling and Disposal Facility, including the largest fine ever received by a garbage dump in the history of Texas. The transfer station would be allowed to process nearly one millions tons of trash each year, could store overnight up to 2,500 tons in trailers covered with tarps and bring over 1,100 heavy truck trips per day through the neighborhood. 

TCEQ approved the registration despite the preponderance of opposition to the transfer station by:

  • Elected officials — State Representatives Celia Israel, who resides in the community, and Representative Sheryl Cole, Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion and Commissioner Brigid Shea, City Councilmember Natasha Harper Madison;
  • Local businesses;
  • Over 700 individual neighbors and their supporters/petitioners.

The TCEQ arrived at its decision despite the fact that Travis County passed a “siting ordinance” last September, which prohibits new trash operations at the site.

In addition to issues with odor, vermin, and traffic, environmental advocates cite risks presented by the proposal due to the fact that 21,000 barrels of toxic waste are buried just a few hundred yards from the site of the transfer station.

“Because the State of Texas continues to side with big polluters, hundreds of neighbors and our local elected officials are standing strong in opposition to Waste Management’s plans to keep dumping on this community for generations,” said Jeffrey Jacoby, Deputy Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Frankly, it’s madness to believe allowing this irresponsible company to break ground so close to these toxic waste drums is anything but a terrible idea.”

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TCE and Environmental Coalition Condemns Texas Railroad Commission Decisions

 

Environmental Coalition Condemns Texas Railroad Commission’s Decision to Allow Rogue Flaring and Venting at Drilling Sites and to Relax Environmental Protections

Austin, TX- Yesterday, a coalition of Texas environmental groups sent an open letter to the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) urging them to take action to regulate gas flaring and venting that far exceeds state allowed limits. The letter also pressed the RRC to prevent waste by restricting production at oil and gas drilling sites across the state where the flaring and venting are the worst, in the Permian Basin in West Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale in the Coastal Bend.

Today the Texas Railroad Commission:

  • Refused to hear from environmental advocates on the Agenda items of concern;
  • Allowed 7 gas flaring and venting waivers over public health-based standards and climate change warnings and failed to disallow future flaring and venting; and,
  • Waived fees and environmental rules.

“Today’s Railroad Commission hearing shows why it’s time for new leadership at the RRC,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director with Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Instead of certainty they created chaos that will lead to job losses and cascading bankruptcies. Instead of protecting the people of Texas, they waived rules on waste clean-up, well-plugging, and oil and gas storage. Texans will all pay in water contamination and other environmental damage. They took these actions without any public comments or real discussion even though members of the public were signed up to speak. We need new leadership that’s not beholden to the industry.”

Failure to Take Public Input
On April 21, the RRC formed a narrow industry-led task force to study the issues on today’s Agenda. However, the Commissioners would not allow resident and environmental stakeholders to speak who bring additional Texans’ concerns and information – neither in the Task Force nor at today’s hearing.

“As commissioners, you hold our common good in your decision-making hands,” said Isabel Araiza, Ph.D., Founding Member, For the Greater Good – Corpus Christi. “Today, you revealed your blatant disregard for the greater good. You voted for private greed over community need. As we face increased climate crises and declines in our public health, we will remember how, with your votes, you chose to exacerbate those problems.”

Health & Climate Impacts
Communities living next to the oil and gas industry sites, especially in the Permian Basin which is documented to have the most methane pollution in the nation, suffer higher rates of chronic conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and heart disease. Residents of Balmorhea in the Permian Basin, Sue and Jim Franklin describe the health impacts to them from gas venting. Higher rates of pollution are also linked to increased vulnerability to viruses like COVID-19.

“Flaring both wastes future Texans’ resources and it accelerates us towards climate catastrophe,” said Sharon Wilson with Earthworks. Wilson works with the Franklins and other people on the front lines of oil and gas drilling in Texas. “Whether you believe oil and gas will fuel us forever, or climate change means we have to ditch fossil fuels in our lifetime, every flare is a failure of the Railroad Commission to manage Texas’s oil & gas.”

Free Pass to Pollute
In addition to the decision to not regulate flaring, the Commission went even further by waiving pollution fees and relaxing environmental rules.

“By granting these permits to pollute, by waiving pollution fees and relaxing the environmental regulations, the Commissioners are giving Big Oil a green light to burn up our resources, our health and the future of our children,” said Emma Pabst, Global Warming Solutions Advocate with Environment Texas. “The Railroad Commission needs to pull the brake on dangerous flaring and stop this runaway train from destroying our state.”

Specifically, the Commission approved three resolutions that temporarily weaken regulations, enforcement and lower revenues to the State of Texas. The resolutions passed today by the Texas Railroad Commission will:

  • create exceptions to Statewide Rule 78, eliminating fees and surcharges on five different types of permits over the next year, which could mean millions of lost revenues to the State of Texas that are used to hire inspectors, permit writers and even to plug wells;
  • create exceptions to Statewide Rule 8, which gives industry an additional year to clean up dirty oil and gas pits, to Statewide Rule 14, which allows industry up to two years to plug inactive wells, allows some exceptions to the Commission’s casing rules (Statewide Rule 13),and  gives further discretion on enforcement that could lower administrative fines for lawbreakers (Statewide Rule 107);
  • create a new temporary policy on Statewide Rule 95, by for the first time ever allowing oil operators to store crude oil underground in formations that are not an underground salt formation.

“Despite continued requests for action to lower pollution, the Commission decided to favor industry again and allow companies to routinely burn hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollution into the atmosphere, poisoning our air and cooking our climate,” noted Cyrus Reed, interim Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This is a devastating decision for our climate, community health, and economy.”

NOTE:  Texas Campaign for the Environment, Sierra Club, and other environmental organizations will hold a Railroad Commission Candidates’ Forum online on the evening of Wednesday, May 27th. Details to be announced. For more information, contact: donna AT texasenvironment DOT org or phone 512-299-5776.

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TCE and Allies Urge TX Railroad Commission to Stop Gas Venting and Flaring

Environmental Groups Ask the Texas Railroad Commission to
Stop Harmful Gas Flaring and Venting in Oil Field Sites Across Texas

Key Stakeholders Object to Industry Heavy Composition
of Railroad Commission’s “Blue Ribbon Task Force”

(Austin) The Texas Railroad Commission prepares to make a decision on Tuesday, February 5 in the debate regarding restriction of production at oil drilling sites across the state where operators practice gas flaring and venting. In advance of the hearing, environmental groups signed and delivered an open letter to the Railroad Commission.

Read the text of the letter with the list of signatories siting concerns about:

  • Waste of natural resources;
  • Public health harm and risk; and,
  • Climate change impacts.

“The pollution emitted by gas flaring and the less visible but even more harmful practice of venting is making Texans across the state chronically ill and even more vulnerable to life-threatening diseases such as in the current COVID crisis,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of the Texas Campaign for the Environment. “With the massive glut in the market, there is absolutely no need for the drilling and it is unconscionable to continue putting Texans’ health at risk by continuing to give flaring waivers and pushing climate change disaster. The environmental community is united in asking the Railroad Commission to follow historic precedent and put an end to gas flaring and venting in Texas now.”

On April 21, the Commission established a Blue-Ribbon Task Force made of oil and gas companies and their lobby organizations. The Commission failed to announce non-industry stakeholders as part of the Task Force, for example, the signatories of today’s open letter, among them Schneider’s group Texas Campaign for the Environment, other statewide environmental organizations such as Sierra Club and Environment Texas, and regional groups such as Big Bend Conservation Alliance and Save RGV (Rio Grande Valley), among others.

“The Railroad Commission has an opportunity to protect the environment, dark skies, and health of the residents of West Texas by stopping the harmful and wasteful practice of flaring,” said James Newsom, Executive Director of Big Bend Conservation Alliance.  “Flaring has greatly impacted the environment, dark skies, and health of West Texas residents – we have suffered enough. The Railroad Commission can fix the mess they created by pressing the reset button on flaring.”

The letter brought out the particular impacts that Permian Basin waste, flaring and venting has on climate change emissions.

“Permian Basin gas waste is more than the annual consumption of natural gas by each of the following countries: Denmark, Greece, Hong  Kong,  Switzerland, and many more. Imagine pissing away the natural gas consumed by an entire small country!” said Bill Berg, Associate Director of Save RGV (Rio Grande Valley). “The result of that waste and methane emissions is the acceleration of climate change to climate catastrophe.  And it is being done by the State of Texas, where the Railroad Commission has so far been responsible for approving this disaster. If this were a science fiction movie the Commission could be a co-conspirator with the Evil Empire, approving damaging an atmosphere so that the population would be so distracted by dealing with floods and forest fires and pandemics that they could not defend their planet against invasion. This is not science fiction, do not help make it a reality. Do the right thing, Railroad Commission.”

The groups’ open letter asks the Railroad Commissioners to “…take strong action this week and, in the future, to limit production, especially focused on the bad practice of flaring and to establish a process for changing your policy and rules related to flaring, venting and gas capture over limits. We also urge you to reject all flaring waivers on this week’s agenda.”

For More Information Contact:  Robin Schneider, 512-299-1640, robin AT texasenvironment DOT org, or
Donna Hoffman, 512-299-5776, donna AT texasenvironment DOT org

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OPEN LETTER TO TEXAS RAILROAD COMMISSIONERS

May 4, 2020

Dear Chairman Christian and Commissioners Craddick and Sitton,

The first 15 words of the mission of the Texas Railroad Commission are: “Our mission is to serve Texas by our stewardship of natural resources and the environment…” Historically, the greatest success to this end was the Texas Railroad Commission’s elimination of flaring in the 20th century. Today, this critical part of the agency’s mission is unrecognizable.

Thousands of people listened to the April 14 hearing about limiting production. Excessive flaring came up time and again speaker after speaker, on all sides of this pro-rationing issue, by industry and other interested parties. Texas residents in more than 1000 comments urged the Railroad Commission to address this pollution. One oil and gas industry insider said that “flaring is the biggest black eye on our industry.”

Yet, last week, the Commission rubber-stamped more flaring permits and seven more are on your agenda on May 5th. The option to do the right thing comes before you at your May 5th hearing. We encourage you to reaffirm Texas’ earlier historical precedent by taking strong action this week to limit production, especially focused on the bad practice of flaring over limits. We also urge you to reject the flaring waivers that are on the agenda.

The only measure you have announced to address flaring so far is a Blue-Ribbon Committee. Not one environmental organization was included in this Committee to develop approaches to flaring. That speaks volumes about how serious this agency is about examining the full range of concerns and solutions.

Commissioners, your predecessors stopped this wasteful practice. History is repeating itself in West Texas. Do not fail to use your power wisely. Please follow their example and fulfill your responsibility to protect our natural resources. By doing so, you can protect the health and lives of many Texans.

Climate change, caused in large part by fossil fuel emissions[i], is wreaking havoc and causing tragedies for Texans as extreme weather events increase in frequency. Science shows that the planet’s warming is an undeniable contributor to extreme weather including ultra-strong hurricanes, tornados, rain bombs, floods. In addition, we experience drought and fires from extreme evaporation during increased and growing numbers of over 100-degree days. Many areas of Texas are looking at possible 100-degree days in the first week of May – a full month earlier than usual.

The science demonstrates that West Texas is playing an outsized role in disrupting the climate. New research from satellite data has found that the Permian emits methane at twice the rate of any other oil and gas fields in the nation.[ii]

The losses from climate change impacts in other parts of the country and the world are incalculable – from the 2019 floods of the Mississippi to fires in California, the Amazon, and Australia. It is now impossible to ignore and we must take steps for our own resiliency in Texas.

In addition to climate impacts, flaring results in toxic air pollution including formaldehyde, benzene, and pollutants that contribute to increased smog, which worsens heart and lung diseases and other health conditions. These pre-existing conditions make people more vulnerable to early death, including from pandemics like Covid-19.

Finally, the direct economic impacts are clear, flaring waste costs our state in lost revenue now and in the future.

We respectfully ask the Railroad Commission to uphold its mission and conserve our state’s resources in the ground rather than allowing drillers to generate waste through flaring and venting. The costs for our climate, our health and the state’s financial resources are too high to continue on our current wasteful and reckless path.

Again, we ask you, Commissioners, take strong action this week and in the future to limit production, especially focused on the bad practice of flaring and to establish a process for changing your policy and rules related to flaring, venting and gas capture over limits. We also urge you to reject all flaring waivers on this week’s agenda.

Isabel Araiza, Ph.D., Founding Member, For the Greater Good – Corpus Christi
Ranjana Bhandari, Chair, Liveable Arlington
Gene Collins, Environmental Justice Chair, National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (NAACP), Texas
Tricia Cortez, Executive Director, Rio Grande International Study Center
David Foster, State Director, Clean Water Action
Juan Macias, Tribal Chair, Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas
Luke Metzger, Executive Director, Environment Texas
James Newsom
, Executive Director, Big Bend Conservation Alliance
Frankie Orona, Executive Director, Society of Native Nations
Virginia Palacios, Climate and Clean Air Program Consultant, Green Latinos
Juan Parras, Founder & Executive Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services
Cyrus Reed, Interim Director, The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club
Robin Schneider, Executive Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment
Adrian Shelley, Texas Office Director, Public Citizen
Sharon Wilson, Senior Field Advocate and Thermographer, Earthworks
Bill Berg, Associate Director, Save RGV (Rio Grande Valley)

 

[i] Curbing anthropogenic methane emissions, including those from the oil/gas sector, is considered an effective strategy to slow the rate of near-term climate warming. D. Shindell, J. C. I. Kuylenstierna, E. Vignati, R. van Dingenen, M. Amann, Z. Klimont, S. C. Anenberg, N. Muller, G. Janssens-Maenhout, F. Raes, J. Schwartz, G. Faluvegi, L. Pozzoli, K. Kupiainen, L. Höglund-Isaksson, L. Emberson, D. Streets, V. Ramanathan, K. Hicks, N. T. K. Oanh, G. Milly, M. Williams, V. Demkine, D. Fowler, Simultaneously mitigating near-term climate change and improving human health and food security. Science 335, 183–189 (2012).

[ii] Based on satellite measurements from May 2018 to March 2019, Permian methane emissions from oil and natural gas production are estimated to be 2.7 ± 0.5 Tg a−1, representing the largest methane flux ever reported from a U.S. oil/gas-producing region and are more than two times higher than bottom-up inventory-based estimates. Yuzhong Zhang, Ritesh Gautam,, Sudhanshu Pandey, Mark Omara, Joannes D. Maasakkers, Pankaj Sadavarte, David Lyon, Hannah Nesser, Melissa P. Sulprizio, Daniel J. Varon, Ruixiong Zhang, Sander Houweling, Daniel Zavala-Araiza, Ramon A. Alvarez, Alba Lorente, Steven P. Hamburg, Ilse Aben and Daniel J. Jacob, “Quantifying methane emissions from the largest oil-producing basin in the United States from space”, Science Advances  22 Apr 2020: Vol. 6, no. 17, eaaz5120 DOI: 10.1126/ sciadv.aaz5120, https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/17/eaaz5120

 


Open Letter to the Texas Railroad Commission – Stop Flaring and Venting

May 4, 2020

Dear Chairman Christian and Commissioners Craddick and Sitton,

The first 15 words of the mission of the Texas Railroad Commission are: “Our mission is to serve Texas by our stewardship of natural resources and the environment…” Historically, the greatest success to this end was the Texas Railroad Commission’s elimination of flaring in the 20th century. Today, this critical part of the agency’s mission is unrecognizable.

Thousands of people listened to the April 14 hearing about limiting production. Excessive flaring came up time and again, speaker after speaker, on all sides of this pro-rationing issue, by industry and other interested parties. Texas residents in more than 1,000 comments urged the Railroad Commission to address this pollution. One oil and gas industry insider said that “flaring is the biggest black eye on our industry.”

Yet, last week, the Commission rubber-stamped more flaring permits and seven more are on your agenda on May 5th. The option to do the right thing comes before you at your May 5th hearing. We encourage you to reaffirm Texas’ earlier historical precedent by taking strong action this week to limit production, especially focused on the bad practice of flaring over limits. We also urge you to reject the flaring waivers that are on the agenda.

The only measure you have announced to address flaring so far is a Blue-Ribbon Committee. Not one environmental organization was included in this Committee to develop approaches to flaring. That speaks volumes about how serious this agency is about examining the full range of concerns and solutions.

Commissioners, your predecessors stopped this wasteful practice. History is repeating itself in West Texas. Do not fail to use your power wisely. Please follow their example and fulfill your responsibility to protect our natural resources. By doing so, you can protect the health and lives of many Texans.

Climate change, caused in large part by fossil fuel emissions[i], is wreaking havoc and causing tragedies for Texans as extreme weather events increase in frequency. Science shows that the planet’s warming is an undeniable contributor to extreme weather including ultra-strong hurricanes, tornados, rain bombs, floods. In addition, we experience drought and fires from extreme evaporation during increased and growing numbers of over 100-degree days. Many areas of Texas are looking at possible 100-degree days in the first week of May – a full month earlier than usual.

The science demonstrates that West Texas is playing an outsized role in disrupting the climate. New research from satellite data has found that the Permian emits methane at twice the rate of any other oil and gas fields in the nation.[ii]

The losses from climate change impacts in other parts of the country and the world are incalculable – from the 2019 floods of the Mississippi to fires in California, the Amazon, and Australia. It is now impossible to ignore and we must take steps for our own resiliency in Texas.

In addition to climate impacts, flaring results in toxic air pollution including formaldehyde, benzene, and pollutants that contribute to increased smog, which worsens heart and lung diseases and other health conditions. These pre-existing conditions make people more vulnerable to early death, including from pandemics like Covid-19.

Finally, the direct economic impacts are clear, flaring waste costs our state in lost revenue now and in the future.

We respectfully ask the Railroad Commission to uphold its mission and conserve our state’s resources in the ground rather than allowing drillers to generate waste through flaring and venting. The costs for our climate, our health and the state’s financial resources are too high to continue on our current wasteful and reckless path.

Again, we ask you, Commissioners, take strong action this week and in the future to limit production, especially focused on the bad practice of flaring and to establish a process for changing your policy and rules related to flaring, venting and gas capture over limits. We also urge you to reject all flaring waivers on this week’s agenda.

Isabel Araiza, Ph.D., Founding Member, For the Greater Good – Corpus Christi
Ranjana Bhandari, Chair, Liveable Arlington
Gene Collins, Environmental Justice Chair, National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People (NAACP), Texas
Tricia Cortez, Executive Director, Rio Grande International Study Center
David Foster, State Director, Clean Water Action
Juan Macias, Tribal Chair, Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas
Luke Metzger, Executive Director, Environment Texas
James Newsom, Executive Director, Big Bend Conservation Alliance

Frankie Orona, Executive Director, Society of Native Nations
Virginia Palacios, Climate and Clean Air Program Consultant, Green Latinos
Juan Parras, Founder & Executive Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services
Cyrus Reed, Interim Director, The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club
Robin Schneider, Executive Director, Texas Campaign for the Environment
Adrian Shelley, Texas Office Director, Public Citizen
Sharon Wilson, Senior Field Advocate and Thermographer, Earthworks
Bill Berg, Associate Director, Save RGV (Rio Grande Valley)

 

[i] Curbing anthropogenic methane emissions, including those from the oil/gas sector, is considered an effective strategy to slow the rate of near-term climate warming. D. Shindell, J. C. I. Kuylenstierna, E. Vignati, R. van Dingenen, M. Amann, Z. Klimont, S. C. Anenberg, N. Muller, G. Janssens-Maenhout, F. Raes, J. Schwartz, G. Faluvegi, L. Pozzoli, K. Kupiainen, L. Höglund-Isaksson, L. Emberson, D. Streets, V. Ramanathan, K. Hicks, N. T. K. Oanh, G. Milly, M. Williams, V. Demkine, D. Fowler, Simultaneously mitigating near-term climate change and improving human health and food security. Science 335, 183–189 (2012).

[ii] Based on satellite measurements from May 2018 to March 2019, Permian methane emissions from oil and natural gas production are estimated to be 2.7 ± 0.5 Tg a−1, representing the largest methane flux ever reported from a U.S. oil/gas-producing region and are more than two times higher than bottom-up inventory-based estimates. Yuzhong Zhang, Ritesh Gautam,, Sudhanshu Pandey, Mark Omara, Joannes D. Maasakkers, Pankaj Sadavarte, David Lyon, Hannah Nesser, Melissa P. Sulprizio, Daniel J. Varon, Ruixiong Zhang, Sander Houweling, Daniel Zavala-Araiza, Ramon A. Alvarez, Alba Lorente, Steven P. Hamburg, Ilse Aben and Daniel J. Jacob, “Quantifying methane emissions from the largest oil-producing basin in the United States from space”, Science Advances  22 Apr 2020: Vol. 6, no. 17, eaaz5120 DOI: 10.1126/ sciadv.aaz5120, https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/17/eaaz5120

 


Environmentalists across Texas ask State and Petrochem, Stop Jeopardizing Vulnerable People

On Eve of Historic Earth Day 2020, Texas Petrochemical Industry and State Agencies Refuse to Stand Down from Pollution Policies

Environmentalists – from East to West Texas,  Urban and Rural – call on State Agencies and the Petrochemical Industry, Stop Toxic Emissions and Waste, Stop Jeopardizing Vulnerable Populations during COVID, Climate, & Economic Crises

(AUSTIN)  On the Eve of Earth Day 2020, the Texas petrochemical industry and the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) are allowing the oil and gas industry to release even more harmful toxic emissions and waste. In many locations across Texas, the industry is increasing toxic emissions at this time and further jeopardizing vulnerable communities facing the triple threats of the COVID pandemic, climate change, and economic crises.

“We can no longer continue down the tragic path that has led us to global health, economic, and climate crises,” said Robin Schneider, Texas Campaign for the Environment Executive Director. “Texas industry and business experts and financial investors, our elected officials and state agencies need to focus on prioritizing essential needs of workers and poor people, and people of color who are being impacted disproportionately. We need to maximize Texas’ powerful clean energy resources to transition to a more equitable, more resilient, and healthier clean economy now. That includes jobs building out distributed solar rooftops across the state, more wind energy, and geothermal power for a cleaner grid, jobs installing more energy efficiency measures in homes and buildings, jobs producing and maintaining electric cars and a more complete network of charging stations at existing gas stations, and the transition to all-electric homes.”

West Texas
This morning, as my Odessa, Texas community experienced another frack quake resulting from years of unregulated injection of harmful chemicals by industry into wells to extract oil from the ground, we were once again reminded of the gross failures of the Texas Railroad Commission to protect workers and communities from the many hazards associated with the fossil fuel industry, “ said Gene Collins, Environmental Justice Chair, Texas NAACP. “The COVID-19 pandemic has shed additional light on how my African American community as well as other vulnerable communities, have had their health compromised from the system of environmental injustice the Texas Railroad Commission should be protecting us from. We need members of the Texas Railroad Commission to work for the entire community and not just to appease industry.”

Gulf Coast & Statewide
“The medical profession has a code of Ethics:  ‘Do no Harm.’ This Code of Ethics should lead and guide all of our actions;  whether you’re in the circle of health care providers or in the gas and oil industry,” said Juan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services or t.e.j.a.s.  “Fenceline communities should not bear the burden of excess contaminants due to the industries’ unregulated right to pollute. We are victims of a system that cares very little for human health and safety if we allow unregulated pollutants to continue at an accelerated pace.  Environmental justice for all should be enforced and those accountable for violating established rules and regulations should be held accountable.”

East Texas
“The Railroad Commission and this industry are harming communities like mine. We feel railroaded by this industry. We are deeply impacted by pipelines and compressor stations that pollute our air and water,” said Kathy Redman of Resilient Nacogdoches. “The new compressor station two miles away shakes my windows and closer neighbors can’t sleep with all the noise and lights that shine at night. Why isn’t the Railroad Commission doing something to protect the health and well-being of rural Texans?”

North Texas
Last week, Dallas residents were alarmed at their vulnerability when a gas line burst flames through several openings created in the street’s asphalt threatening a potentially more devastating explosion at an Exxon station next to the gas fire.

The Railroad Commission (RRC) this week has so far failed to take action to restrict production during an unprecedented major glut in the oil and gas market.  

Environmental groups last week called on the current RRC Commissioners and candidates in the November election for those seats to:

  1. Restrict production at the most polluting sites; 
  2. Stop dangerous gas flaring in oilfield shale plays across the state; 
  3. Proactively manage the decline of the oil and gas economy and the just transition to a clean economy in Texas.

Stop Oil and Gas Pollution and Transition to a Clean Economy

 

This week, Texas Campaign for the Environment supporters and allies sent over 3,000 comments to the Texas Railroad Commissioners and Candidates for those seats in the November election. The Railroad Commission is the state agency responsible for oversight of oil and gas companies in Texas. We asked them to restrict and reduce reliance on oil and gas; prioritize production cuts for producers and fields with the worst records of excessive flaring; and, manage the decline of oil and gas production and the transition to a clean economy for Texas.

If you haven’t taken action yet, you still can! The Railroad Commission relaxed the deadline. Click here to send your comments to the Railroad Commissioners and Candidates.

Thank you for taking this important action.

Now take the next step!  Send a Letter to the Editor…

Once you’ve sent your comments, please take the next step – Send a Letter to the Editor at your local newspaper or favorite online news source.  Feel free to copy, paste, and sign one of the sample Letters to the Editor below. However, your own personal story from your own knowledge, experience, and concerns will resonate the most strongly.  But… be brief!  Letters to the Editor are typically only 150-250 words maximum.

Send an email and/or use the media’s online submission form.

Submit your Letter to the  Editor to:

Austin American Statesman Send email to views@statesman.com, click here for our Letters Guidelines and FAQ.

Dallas Morning News Copy and Paste in their form https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/2018/12/02/submit-a-letter-to-the-editor/

Denton Record-Chronicle Use form https://dentonrc.com/site/forms/online_services/letter_editor/

El Paso Times Use form https://static.elpasotimes.com/lettertoeditor/

Houston Chronicle Email viewpoints@chron.com or use their form https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/submit/ 

San Antonio Express-News Send email to letters@express-news.net

Waco Tribune-Herald Send email letters@wacotrib.com or use their form https://www.wacotrib.com/opinion/letters_to_editor/submit/

Please let us know if you send your Letter to the Editor or comments to outlets not on our list above. That’s great, too. Email donna AT texasenvironment DOT org so we can know and continue to communicate with that news source.

Thank you!  We deeply appreciate your concern, courage, and action steps to help build this movement to transition to a clean economy in Texas!

Sample Letters to the  Editor

Copy and paste into your email or personalize if you wish.

SAMPLE 1

I am deeply concerned about health and climate threats from toxic oil and gas production in Texas. Medical experts link chronic illnesses such as asthma and heart disease to air pollution – including extensive pollution from oil and gas.  Recent research shows evidence that exposure to air pollution and the resulting pre-existing health conditions are linked to more deaths from Coronavirus.

With the drop in oil prices and the big glut in the market, we don’t need more production at this time. I support protecting Texans’ health by restricting harmful and wasteful practices in the oil and gas industry.

Name

Address

SAMPLE 2

I write to urge the Texas Railroad Commission to vote for mandatory cuts in oil production.  We live in extraordinary times and urgent action is needed to protect Texans from the environmental effects of climate change and the economic collapse in oil prices due to oversupply and drop in demand due to the Covid pandemic.  

Independent oil industry representatives want cuts to level the playing field with the large multinational oil and gas companies who can afford to store overages during the recession. Storage is nearing capacity and overproducing is a wasteful process. The current practice of flaring off excess gas is especially harmful to human health and the environment.  

Name
Address

SAMPLE 3

In the wake of the collapse of oil prices, I support prioritizing production cuts for oil companies with the worst records of excessive flaring at drilling sites. This is a waste of resources and harmful to our climate. This over-production leads to waste and more pollution from burning it off.  It doesn’t make sense to continue to produce more when we are reaching storage capacity and no one is driving right now.

I want to see a plan to downsize the production of oil and gas throughout the next decade and manage the just transition to a cleaner economy for Texas.

Name
Address

SAMPLE 4

Gas flaring causes air pollution that is harmful to Texans. Medical experts like the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association have documented clear evidence that industrial air pollution such as from oil and gas production contributes to chronic health conditions that many of our families and friends suffer from here in Texas. 

I want Texans to be protected from pollution from gas flaring by reducing production by the companies with the worst records of flaring in our state.

Name
Address

Again, Thank you so much for taking action by communicating publicly about this important issue. Your voice makes a difference!

Background Information

Texas has been riding the bucking bronco of the oil and gas industry’s boom and bust cycles for a century now.  Sometimes it seems like it pays off, but it doesn’t for the workers who fall off without jobs when every cycle’s big ride ends. And it doesn’t pay off in good health for either workers or people who live next to polluting petroleum refineries or oil and gas pipelines.

The costs are too high for all of us who together are now experiencing the disasters of climate change — extreme weather, wildfires, flooding, drought, species die-off, and increasing illness.  The price is too high for the planet’s ecosystems.

It’s time, Texas, for a managed and just transition from fossil fuels to a healthier clean economy.  That transition is gaining momentum as the oil industry declines and we consider what is essential – or not – in the current Covid health crisis.  We must plan and implement economic activities that are best for people and the planet.

We’re ready to bus out of the oil and gas boom-and-bust and make the transition to a cleaner and healthier economy in Texas.