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All the Enviro News Fit to be Tied

by Published on

I’m catching up on the news after being away for a while. Here are some items that caught my eye in no particular order:

Environmental groups say Las Brisas Energy Center, a massive petcoke-fired power plant proposed for Corpus Christi, has suffered a major setback. The permit for the plant – one of 11 such coal or petcoke projects in Texas underway – is being challenged by opponents, including members of a grassroos coalitionm, in administrative hearings. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, an agency highly supportive of coal plants, asked for the permit to be sent back because of deficiencies in the way air pollution was modeled and potential impacts from the handling of petcoke in the Corpus harbor. For my part, I don’t see this as a major blow to either Las Brisas or the Texas coal rush. It looks like a relatively minor zag in the highly-technical contested permit process. More important, the three Perry appointees that run the TCEQ will get the final up or down vote on Las Brisas, regardless of the outcome of the administrative hearing. It will be a cold day in hell when the commissioners block a coal plant. It’s good to see Texas climate scientists on the op-ed pages. A few days ago the Houston Chronicle ran a piece by five Texas-based climate experts who collectively make a convincing case (though that’s not too hard) for a statewide “climate consortium” to study and prepare for the impacts of global warming. At present, the state of Texas is spending most of its energy ignoring the problem. Former TCEQ commissioner Larry Soward – a “dear friend” of Rick Perry’s who happens to be totally sane on environmental issues – is working with Texas green groups on strategies to reform TCEQ as that agency moves through the sunset process, a top-to-bottom review that state agencies undergo once every twelve years. A new study finds a strong link between school absences and increases in air pollution. I’m shocked. Democratic lawmakers  are incredulous after a TCEQ study found no harmful levels of benzene and other toxins linked to natural gas activity within the Fort Worth city limits. Something stinks about the agency’s approach: Critics have pointed out that the three-day air emissions survey was done on cold days when benzene tends to be less active. The Associated Press puts DISH, Texas on the national map with a story about the town’s freak-out over natural gas-related pollution. The article make an important point: Allthough DISH is now perhaps Ground Zero for objections to the dark side of natural gas drilling, it wasn’t too many years ago that people there were excited about the get-rich possibilities of the gas boom. Only later, when it was too late, did they discover that the “gold rush” wasn’t good for their health. Maybe that’s what Neil Young was talking about in “After the Gold Rush.”

Forrest Wilder, a native of Wimberley, Texas, is associate editor of the Observer. Forrest specializes in environmental reporting and runs the “Forrest for the Trees” blog. Forrest has appeared on Democracy Now!, The Rachel Maddow Show and numerous NPR stations. His work has been mentioned by The New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, Time magazine and many other state and national publications. Other than filing voluminous open records requests, Forrest enjoys fishing, kayaking, gardening and beer-league softball. He holds a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin.