Energy & Environment

West Plant Explosion
8:12 am
Wed April 23, 2014

Investigation: Disaster at West Fertilizer Plant Was 'Preventable'

A chemical trailer sits among the remains of the burning fertilizer plant in April 2013.
Reuters /Mike Stone /Landov

From StateImpact Texas:

A year after a deadly explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, a federal agency is releasing a report saying the disaster was preventable.

The Chemical Safety Board, which investigates chemical accidents and issues recommendations to ensure public safety, is presenting its preliminary findings tonight in the town of West, Texas, where the fire and subsequent explosion last year took 15 lives, injured hundreds, and destroyed homes and schools.

Read more
Just Clucking Around
12:43 pm
Sun April 20, 2014

PHOTOS: Austin's Funky Chicken Coop Tour

Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

The sixth annual Funky Chicken Coop Tour was held in Austin on Saturday.

Residents gathered to collect maps to 14 chicken coops, made ready by owners (and their chickens) for visitors. Coop tourists traveled by bike or car to visit chicken coops in residential backyards, a community garden, a farm and at schools and community organizations.

Read more
Energy & Environment
3:54 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

Keystone XL Pipeline Review Extended By State Department

A TransCanada Keystone Pipeline pump station operates outside Steele City, Neb. The State Department is extending the review period for the pipeline, given ongoing litigation in Nebraska over the project.
Lane Hickenbottom Reuters /Landov

Originally published on Sat April 19, 2014 7:58 am

  • Tamara Keith's Report For 'All Things Considered'
This post was updated at 6 p.m. ET.

The State Department is giving federal agencies more time to review the Keystone XL Pipeline project. The additional time was given "based on the uncertainty created" by an ongoing legal battle in Nebraska, according to a State Department statement.

Read more
West Plant Explosion
12:44 pm
Thu April 17, 2014

What's Been Done to Prevent Another West?

Memorials near the site of the explosion in the town of West, Texas
Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

WBUR's "Here and Now" aired this story today. See more here.

From StateImpact Texas: 

WEST, TX - Trucks and bulldozers are still working here, the site of an explosion a year ago today. A deadly blast tore through this small community, killing fifteen and injuring hundreds. Homes and schools were destroyed, with the damage estimated to be over a hundred million dollars. 

There's a lone charred tree that still stands at the location of the blast, but other than that, the site is mostly empty. Crosses and memorials that read "West Strong" and "West is the Best" line the road.

The explosion at the West fertilizer plant was one of the worst industrial disasters in Texas history. So what's Texas doing to prevent it from happening again?

"Well, technically, nothing has been done," says state Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), chair of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. Pickett says since West happened near the end of the legislative session, he didn't want to rush in any "knee-jerk" rules or regulations.

Read more
Energy & Environment
1:41 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Cleanup Continues After Oil Spill Near Houston Ship Channel

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 3:47 pm

This post was updated at 4:47 p.m. ET.

The cleanup of an oil spill near the Houston Ship Channel is continuing today, and authorities say they have opened one of the country's biggest ports in a limited capacity this afternoon.

Read more
Energy & Environment
12:53 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Why It's So Damn Hard to Move the Taco Bell Tree

Michael Fossum with the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation stands in front of the heritage Live Oak known as the "Taco Bell Tree." Fossum and his group fought to save the tree from being cut down for a traffic project.
Terrence Henry, KUT News

From StateImpact Texas: 

Back in the 1970s and '80s, it probably looked like something out of Dazed and Confused. Teenagers pulling up in T-Birds, wind in their hair, to hang out in the parking lot of a Taco Bell. The sun would set in the Hill Country to the west, sending a glow through the branches of an old Live Oak tree. Today the Taco Bell and the teenagers are long gone, but the tree remains, affectionately known as the "Taco Bell Tree."

It's also now at an intersection best known for being a traffic nightmare – the Y at Oak Hill –  where two highways intersect and a third road feeds into the jumble. In order to improve that intersection, the state embarked on a temporary plan to expand it that would help for the next five years, while something longer term is put into place. The plan included cutting down the Taco Bell Tree, which has been here long before drive-thrus (or even combustion engines). All right, all right, all right.

Read more
Energy & Environment
12:04 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Take an Austin Composting Class, Get a Cheap Compost System

Flickr user normanack, http://flic.kr/ps/rSAsY

The City of Austin wants to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by encouraging residents to compost

Free composting classes are being offered online and throughout Austin. Since the program’s inception in 2010, more than 6,000 Austinites have taken a composting class.

"The City of Austin does not require residents to compost or recycle, but we do encourage people to reduce waste as much as possible," says waste diversion senior planner Sylba Everett. "The smaller the [trash] cart the less you pay on your utility bill. So by encouraging people to recycle and compost as much as possible, they could choose a smaller cart and hopefully save on their bill."

Read more
Energy & Environment
2:19 pm
Mon March 24, 2014

After Oil Spill, Coast Guard Prepares To Open Houston Ship Channel

A barge loaded with marine fuel oil sits partially submerged in the Houston Ship Channel on Saturday.
PO3 Manda Emery ASSOCIATED PRESS

Originally published on Mon March 24, 2014 2:16 pm

As the Coast Guard prepares to open the Houston Ship Channel after an oil spill over the weekend, environmentalists were trying assess the damage to a sensitive ecological system.

The Associated Press reports the Coast Guard is hoping to reopen "one of the nation's busiest seaports Monday."

The AP adds:

Read more
Energy & Environment
11:45 am
Tue March 11, 2014

AG's Office Poised to Weigh In on Plastic Bag Bans

State Rep. Dan Flynn has questioned Attorney General Greg Abbott about whether plastic bag bans like Austin's are in compliance with state’s health and safety laws.
Muliadi Soenaryo via Texas Tribune

As proponents continue to tout the benefits of banning plastic bags, the debate over whether Texas cities like Austin actually have the ability to enact such ordinances has made its way to the attorney general's office.

In a letter [PDF] seeking an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, questioned whether the city bans are in compliance with the state’s health and safety laws.

“At least nine cities in Texas have enacted bans on plastic bags and adopted fees on replacement bags in recent years,” the letter stated. “This appears to be in contravention of state law.”

Read more
Energy & Environment
4:29 am
Fri March 7, 2014

Seeking Energy Independence, Europe Faces Heated Fracking Debate

Many countries in the European Union are drawn to the benefits of fracking: cheap energy and energy independence. But many Europeans, including these protesters standing outside EU headquarters in Brussels, object to the practice on environmental grounds.
Virginia Mayo AP

Originally published on Fri March 7, 2014 10:39 am

While watching the turmoil in Ukraine unfold, you may feel as though it has little to do with the United States, but the conflict is stirring a contentious debate in Europe over a topic familiar to many Americans: fracking.

Much of the continent depends on Russian natural gas that flows through pipelines in Ukraine. European countries are asking themselves whether to follow the U.S. example and drill for shale gas.

Read more
Energy & Environment
8:43 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Why You Should Pay Attention to the Race for Railroad Commission

Charles Matthews served on the Railroad Commission of Texas from 1995 to 2005, including time as Chairman.
Credit Mose Buchele

From StateImpact Texas:   

In an often-quoted scene from the 2007 movie "There Will Be Blood," sociopathic oilman Daniel Plainview meets his rival for the last time. If oil fields are like milkshakes, he says, it pays to have a straw that reaches all the way across the room “and starts to drink your milkshake.”

“I. Drink. Your. Milkshake,” Plainview screams maniacally, “I DRINK IT UP!!!!”

This year, Texans will have the chance to vote for  a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas. But the commission has a lot more to do with milkshakes than railroads. It regulates oil and gas in Texas.

Read more
Energy & Environment
12:14 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Prescribed Burn Could Have Austin-Area Residents Seeing Smoke

Austin Water Utility conducts a prescribed burn to restore native grasses. One such burn is scheduled today.
Facebook.com/AustinWater

Austin area residents may see some smoke today as the result of a prescribed burn.

Officials warn that smoke may be visible west of Buda and south of FM 1826 from mid-morning until sunset. Citizens are urged to keep the prescribed burn in mind and exercise caution when contacting emergency services about any smoke.

Read more
StateImpact Texas
9:34 am
Tue February 18, 2014

Exploring the Science Behind Manmade Quakes in Texas

This water tower in Timpson wasn't build to withstand earthquakes. "After 4.0 [on the Richter scale], we get pretty nervous," says Timpson's Mayor Debra Smith. "We have buildings up in town that over a hundred years old."
Terrence Henry/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas: 

The North Texas towns of Reno and Azle have seen over thirty earthquakes since November, sometimes more than one a day. It’s been unsettling for residents like Barbara Brown.

“Damage to my home, sinkholes on my property. Nerves! And a lot of angst,” she said. “Because you just don’t know when they’re going to happen again.”

Read more
Energy & Environment
10:37 am
Thu February 13, 2014

Could 2014 Be A Drought Buster For Texas?

An empty rain gauge is strapped to a fence post on the edge of a pasture this summer near Canadian, Texas.
Scott Olsen, Getty Images

From StateImpact Texas: 

In Spanish, El Niño means “the boy child.” But if El Niño predictions for late 2014 prove correct, winter rainfall in Texas could be anything but little.  The deceptively-named weather pattern generally brings rain. Lots of it.

El Niño occurs when warm water buried below the surface of the Pacific rises up and spreads along the equator towards America. It often causes storms that devastate parts of Latin America, Indonesia and Australia, but it could also bring relief to drought-stricken Texas.

Read more
Energy & Environment
10:25 am
Wed February 12, 2014

Is Texas Ready to Get Kinky About Hemp?

"There's nothing in this world more serious than a comedian when he's telling the truth," Kinky Friedman says.
Mike Lee, KUT

From StateImpact Texas:

He's run for office three times and lost. But here he is again, the novelist and troubadour that made a name for himself by turning country clichés into satiric social commentary, running for office. Richard "Kinky" Friedman (he got the nickname for his hair) is running as a Democrat for Agriculture Commissioner, and he has a plan to make Texas "greener." He wants to make hemp and marijuana legal in Texas.

“I’m not a dope smoker, okay?” he says with a point of his trademark unlit cigar. “Except with Willie [Nelson]. More as a Texas etiquette kind of thing.” First, his argument for hemp, which is in the same family as marijuana but in its industrial form doesn’t have the medicinal or recreational uses of marijuana. Friedman argues that if cotton farmers in Texas were allowed to grow hemp instead, the trade-offs would be attractive.

Read more

Pages