Energy & Environment

Environment
10:50 am
Fri January 27, 2012

First Person: Ranching Through The Drought

The worst single-year drought in Texas history has caused more than $5 billion in agricultural losses. Doris Steubing is a cattle rancher in Maxwell, about 30 miles south of Austin. We sent freelance videographer Jeff Heimsath to her ranch to ask how she's getting by.

energy
10:20 am
Tue January 17, 2012

City Council Discusses Austin Energy Rates

The Austin City Council is holding a special-called work session this morning to tackle Austin Energy’s proposed rate increases.

Council got an earful from citizens opposed to the increase at their last meeting. Since then, Mayor Lee Leffingwell has said he too opposes the increase as drafted.

Read more
energy
3:50 pm
Thu January 12, 2012

Chamber of Commerce Keeps Keystone Pipeline Debate Flowing

Protesters and counter-protesters at an Austin hearing on the Keystone Pipeline, in September 2011.
Photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce took aim at the Obama administration this morning, with a call for the president to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would end at the Texas Gulf Coast.

Chamber president and CEO Thomas J. Donohue claimed in his annual “State of American Business” address that “This project has passed every environmental test. There is no legitimate reason—none at all—to subject it to further delay.”

But the National Resources Defense Council says the Chamber is waging a “disinformation campaign” on the pipeline’s behalf.

Read more
energy
4:28 pm
Fri January 6, 2012

Largest Solar Farm in Texas Now Helping To Power Your Home

The largest solar farm in Texas is now pumping power to homes across Austin. The $100 million facility was switched on last month and city officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony today.

The solar farm is located about 20 miles east of Austin in Webbervile. Its footprint covers 380 acres, which is about the size of Zilker Park. And it has 127,000 solar panels that slowly shift to follow the sun’s path.

The solar farm can generate up to 30 megawatts, enough electricity to power about 5,000 homes. The energy is being dispersed throughout Austin Energy’s grid. While the solar array can't provide power all the time, it could provide big benefits during the hot, sunny days of summer. 

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has warned that Texas could have a hard time meeting energy demand if the summer of 2012 is the summer of 2011, when the state was brought to the brink of rolling blackouts. And ERCOT chief Trip Doggett couldn’t say the Webberville solar farm would be able to solve those challenges.

Read more
Environment
5:22 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

Court Grants Air Pollution Rule Delay

Photo by KUT News

A federal appeals court in Washington, DC granted the State of Texas a stay today against new EPA air pollution regulations that take effect next year.

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule would require some coal plants in Texas to retrofit their equipment or to switch to a higher-grade coal fuel, in order to meet new sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emission rules.

The injunction sets the stage for an court hearing in April.

energy
12:19 pm
Fri December 23, 2011

BP Seeks To Improve Image With Ad Campaign on Gulf Cleanup

Now that BP is resuming oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the energy giant is looking to revive its image among those who remember the tragic Deepwater Horizon leak that spilled almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf in 2010.

BP won eleven tracts in the latest lease sale in the Gulf, which was the first since the well blowout that caused eleven deaths, Forbes.com reports.

Read more
Environment
4:38 pm
Wed December 21, 2011

Texas Greens Cheer New EPA Mercury Rules

Steam rises from the stacks at the Martin Lake Coal-Fired Power Plant in Tatum, TX March 30, 2011.
Photo by Tom Pennington

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule on Wednesday aimed at reducing the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. It is unlikely to improve Texas officials' low opinion of the agency.

"This is a victory for public health, especially the health of our children," said Lisa Jackson, the EPA's head, as she announced the rules at a children's medical center in Washington, D.C.

The rules will take full effect in 2016, Jackson said. "Before this rule, there were no national standards limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases," she said.

Read more
Environment
4:42 pm
Sat December 17, 2011

Austin Environmentalists Protest Keystone Pipeline Deal

Keystone pipeline sections in Illinois have already been constructed.
Photo by Keystone Pipeline System

Protestors gathered in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Austin this afternoon to denounce a deal struck in Congress that would extend a payroll tax cut by two months in exchange for a measure to speed up a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline. The transcontinental pipeline would transport oil from Alberta, Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.  

Read more
energy
4:44 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Just How Many Jobs Would The Keystone Pipeline Create?

Demonstrators march with a replica of a pipeline during a protest to demand a stop to the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline outside the White House last November.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Wed December 14, 2011 6:12 pm

One of the major sticking points between the House and the Senate as they face off over end-of-year legislation is the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The bill the House passed Tuesday contains a provision forcing President Obama to decide on the pipeline within 60 days.

Republicans say this project should move ahead quickly because it will create thousands of jobs. But just how many jobs would be created is a matter of contention.

Read more
energy
2:44 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Austin Energy Pitches Increases To Council

An Austin Energy worker conducts repairs on a power line. The public utility is proposing a 12.5 percent rate hike.
Photo by I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

Representatives from Austin Energy met with the City Council today to discuss a 12.5 percent rate and fee increase to be implemented in April of next year. Much of the discussion centered on how churches and schools will pay for the rate increase. 

Read more
energy
3:50 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Electric Grid Operator Warns Summer Blackout Threat Could Recur

In a report released Thursday, the state's electric grid operator indicated that next summer could see a repeat of the rolling blackout threats that plagued Texas past summer. The reason: rising demand for electricity and some power plants going offline.

"If we stay in the current cycle of hot and dry summers, we will be very tight on capacity next summer and have a repeat of this year's emergency procedures and conservation appeals," Trip Doggett, chief executive of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), said in a statement.

If crazy weather — like the deep freeze in February that caused large numbers of power plants to break down — hits again this winter, outages could also result then, the report said. But Doggett put the risk of this happening in the wintertime as "very low."

Read more
Environment
3:08 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Report: Some Area Swimming Holes Fail To Meet E. Coli Standards

A dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria shown under an electron microscope
Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hamilton Pool, Stillhouse Hollow, and Bull Creek near Loop 360 have all tested for levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria that exceeded both state and federal standards, according to an analysis of government data by Environment Texas. Some strains of E. coli can make adults sick and cause kidney failure among young children and the elderly.

The Environment Texas report released today – What Else is Swimming in Your Favorite Texas Swimming Hole? – used data from the City of Austin, the Lower Colorado River Authority and other official sources to draw these conclusions:

Read more
Environment
4:40 pm
Mon November 28, 2011

Don’t Touch The Bats

We’re not sure if there’s any timely reason for the University of Texas to warn people not to touch bats, but it’s probably a good reminder: 

Environmental Health and Safety and the Office of the Vice President for University Operations want to remind you that Austin has a significant bat population. Bats are considered a high-rabies risk species and like all wildlife, should never be touched.  

Read more
drought
1:21 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Travis County Burn Ban Temporarily Lifted

The warm embers of a campfire have been an unwelcome sight in Travis County, which has been under a burn ban since December 2010.
Photo by FLC http://www.flickr.com/photos/flc/

If you’ve been wanting to pitch a tent and light a campfire, or burn off some of the brush on your property, you've got about seven days to get ‘er done. Travis County Commissioners unanimously voted to lift the burn ban for a week on the advice of the county Fire Marshal Hershel Lee.

“I reviewed the forecast, took into account the recent rains, spoke with most of the local fire department fire chiefs, and taking all that information together, made the recommendation to the court to lift the burn ban for one week,” Lee told KUT News.

Read more
energy
3:11 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Eagle Ford Shale Lures Halliburton To San Antonio

Photo by Anne Lise Norheim, Halliburton http://www.flickr.com/photos/olfnorge/

Natural gas extraction on the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas has developed to the point that the oil field services company Halliburton has decided to build a $50 million operations base in San Antonio.

The Houston-based company announced yesterday that it is looking to hire 1,500 people to staff the center. Annual salaries will average $70,000, the Houston Chronicle reports.

When Halliburton reported its quarterly earnings last month, it announced record breaking profits at its North American operations: more than $1 billion. Much of that was on the back of the booming natural gas industry, which has taken off with technological advances in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – a practice that allows access to natural gas stored in shale rock 5,000 feet underground.

Read more
Opinion
3:47 pm
Wed November 16, 2011

Weekly Standard: Powering Down On Keystone

Windmill at work on Nov. 15, 2011 near Arles, France.
Gerard Julien AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed November 16, 2011 8:30 am

Adam J. White is an attorney and journalist living in Arlington, Virginia.

American energy policy is increasingly defined in terms of what is prohibited, not what is promoted. Coal, nuclear, and natural "shale" gas all have been hampered by the current administration. And the last three weeks have offered two more examples of how America's byzantine energy laws and policy deter innovation.

Read more
Environment
2:58 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

BP Loses Two Rulings on Spill Suits

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon April 21, 2010.
Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

A federal judge has dealt oil giant BP a pair of setbacks in its efforts to shield itself from billions of dollars in damage claims related to last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, a judge ruled that BP is not covered under insurance policies worth $750 million held by the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, Transocean Ltd.

Read more
Environment
12:07 pm
Tue November 15, 2011

Report: Investment in Recycling Will Create 1.5 Million Jobs

Photo by KUT News

According to a report published today – on America Recycles Day – a national investment in recycling would create more than 1.5 million jobs over the next twenty years. 

“More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S.,” compiled by the Tellus Institute for Blue Green Alliance, Teamsters, SEIU, NRDC, Recycling Works, and GAIA, says about 75% of the nation’s waste can and should be recycled and that environmental benefits like reduced pollution and energy savings will accompany bottom line growth.

Read more
Environment
12:09 pm
Mon November 14, 2011

Cooler Weather Doesn’t Mean Drought Relief

The cracked ground at Boquillas Canyon Trail at Big Bend National Park in October. Ninety percent of Texas is still in drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.
Photo by littlemoresunshine http://www.flickr.com/photos/littlemoresunshine/

When the temperatures drop and the skies become overcast, it might be easy to forget that we are still in the worst single-year drought in Texas history. But as the Lower Colorado River Authority points out, the cooler weather should not be mistaken for drought relief.

Lakes Travis and Buchanan, our region’s water supply reservoirs, are 37 percent full. Lake Travis is 41 feet below its monthly average. Lake Buchanan is 23 feet lower than its average, causing a piece of land normally underwater to become visible.

Not only is “Sometimes Island” in plain view, the Statesman reports, but for the first time since the 60’s, you don’t even need a boat to get to it.

Read more
Keystone xl
8:52 pm
Thu November 10, 2011

U.S. Puts Oil Pipeline Plan In Limbo Until After 2012 Vote

Originally published on Thu November 10, 2011 6:15 pm

A final decision on building a new oil pipeline to connect Alberta, Canada, to U.S. refineries near the Gulf of Mexico will not be made until after the 2012 presidential election, the State Department said Thursday.

TransCanada's proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline had come under pressure from environmentalists, as well as government officials in Nebraska. It would cost an estimated $7 billion to build.

Read more

Pages