Energy & Environment

Environment
4:52 pm
Fri September 2, 2011

Obama Delays Ozone Standards

The Obama Administration has delayed proposed ozone standard that were supposed to be issued today. Austin is on the brink of violation for its ozone leveled.
Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

Texas cities and counties will have more time to cut down on air pollution before new ozone standards come into effect in two years. President Obama pulled the plug on proposed ozone standards that were supposed to be announced today after multiple delays.

The decision could be considered a win for businesses that have argued that the federal government was going to revisit ozone standards in 2013 anyway. This is part of the statement the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality put out in response to the delay.

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Environment
3:34 pm
Thu September 1, 2011

"Risks of Outages" Under EPA Rule, Texas Report Warns

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

In a report released this morning, the Texas electric grid operator warned of "risks of outages for Texas power users" if a federal pollution rule takes effect as scheduled in January.

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Environment
3:39 pm
Wed August 31, 2011

Evacaution for Endangered Species Not Yet Necessary

Low water levels--like at McKinney Falls State Park earlier this summer--are causing problems for Central Texas endangered species. But any evacuation of the protected wildlife is still a ways off.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The ongoing drought has been hurting Central Texas endangered species. Threatened salamanders, beetles, fish and other animals may be evacuated from the San Marcos River and Comal Springs. But that wouldn't happen until at least next year, if it happens at all.

Bill Seawell is a biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Austin. He says the evacuations have happened before, in 1989 and again in 1996, and they're hoping they don't have to do it again.

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Environment
12:25 pm
Mon August 29, 2011

Texas listed in the top ten states effected by ground level ozone

A report by the Union of Concerned Scientists estimated that Texas will see higher concentrations of ground-level ozone by 2020, translating into a sharp rise in health care costs.
Photo by KUT News

Central Texas is under an Orange ozone alert, meaning the air is unhealthy to people who have breathing difficulties. It happens on the day a report is issued that claims the state could see more ozone action days in the future.

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Environment
3:36 pm
Thu August 25, 2011

Auditorium Shores Gets $1 Million Grant For Improvements

A $1 million grant from the state's park agency will pay for improvements to Auditorium Shores and the city's most popular trailhead.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News.

Better restrooms, an educational water feature, and maybe a few more parking spaces could come to Auditorium Shores in the future. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has awarded the City of Austin a $1 million urban park grant to make improvements to the Austin’s most popular trailhead.

Austin Parks and Recreation is updating the master plan for Auditorium Shores and Butler Park. The grant will be used to complete projects in this master plan. The City of Austin is matching the TPWD grant.

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heat
3:56 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

Austin Breaks Record For Number of Triple Digit Days

The temperatures in Austin around 4 p.m.
Image courtesy National Weather Service

The sweltering heat in Texas has taken Austin past an important milestone: We have set a new record for the number of days with triple digit temperatures in a single year.

At 2:00 this afternoon, thermometers at Camp Mabry registered 100 degrees, making it the 70th time this year that has happened. It breaks the previous record of 69 days set in 1925.

“This is just one way to measure the absolute severity of the summer,” Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose told KUT News. “We’ve had a lot of days at 99 as well, and they’ve felt every bit as hot.”

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Environment
12:05 pm
Wed August 24, 2011

As Eastern Travis County Grows, Ranch Owner Protects Land

Wildflowers in bloom on the Brockenbrough Ranch in southeast Travis County. The ranch's owners have filed a conservation easement, limiting how the land can be developed.
Photo by Hill Country Conservancy

Eastern Travis County may be on the cusp of a development boom, but a new 285-acre swath of land will be off-limits to developers. The Brockenbrough Ranch (pronounced BROE-ken-broe) has been placed under a protected conservation easement.

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Environment
10:36 am
Wed August 24, 2011

Earthquake Above 4.5 Unlikely in Central Texas

A tectonic map of Texas.
Image courtesy of University of Texas, Bureau of Economic Geology

After yesterday’s panic on the East Coast over a 5.8 earthquake, we wondered what the odds were of a similarly sized tremor hitting us.

Turns out, the odds are pretty slim. University of Texas seismologist Cliff Frohlich has studied earthquakes for 39 years. He says West Texas had earthquakes in 1931 and 1995 that were near a magnitude 6.0. The 1995 quake was even felt by some people in Austin.  Central Texas had its own 4.0 earthquake in 1902.

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Environment
3:57 pm
Mon August 22, 2011

Lawmaker Asks LCRA To Suspend Lake Releases

The high water mark under a bridge near a Lower Colorado River Authority pump house that transfers water from the Colorado River to irrigation canals that supply water to the rice fields around Bay City, Texas Friday, June, 10, 2011.
Photo by Michael Stravato/The Texas Tribune

Citing falling lake levels amid the driest nine-month period in state history, the chair of the Texas Senate's Natural Resources Committee is calling on the Lower Colorado River Authority to take emergency actions that would suspend the release of water from the Highland Lakes for interruptible customers downstream.

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Environment
11:50 am
Thu August 18, 2011

Companies Investigate Oil Sheen Off Gulf of Mexico

Photo by CaliforniaDFG at http://www.flickr.com/photos/californiadfg/4899552970/sizes/o/in/photostream/

The Associated Press is reporting the investigation into an oil sheen that was spotted off the Gulf of Mexico last week. Various oil companies, including BP, are trying to figure out where the sheen came from.

An oil sheen (not the same as a spill) happens when a thin layer of oil settles on top of the water shimmering in different colors and can come from leaks or spills.

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Environment
1:16 pm
Fri August 12, 2011

Drought Leads to a Rise In Animal Bites

Kelly Conrad Bender, an urban wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, shows off a Mexican Milk snake. Bender discussed the issues involving the drought and wild animal bites at the University Medical Center at Brakenridge.
Photo by Jessie Wang for KUT News

The number of venomous bites and stings has increased since last year as the drought sends snakes and other wild animals searching for food and water.

Kelly Conrad Bender, an urban wildlife biologist for Texas Parks and Wildlife, came to the University Medical Center Brakenridge to explain the changes in wildlife.

“Wildlife, these individual animals, has not experienced this kind of drought, but their species has. They are the result of thousands of years of adaptation to our climate and these droughts do happen occasionally, maybe once every 50 to 100 years. So the species, given appropriate habitat and given a good balanced stable habitat, they will survive and they’ll come out stronger,” Bender said.

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Energy
1:08 pm
Thu August 11, 2011

Group of Scientists Criticizes Federal Fracking Panel

Illustration courtesy of Texas Tribune

A Department of Energy subcommittee is recommending steps for restoring  public trust in the natural gas extraction process known as hyrdaulic fracturing or "fracking," an important part of the Obama Administration's energy policy.

Over the last few years, public concern over the process has grown with the release of documentaries like Gasland and reports of possible connections between fracking and contaminated ground water. You can watch the trailer to Gasland here to get a sense of the film's story arc and tone:

Yesterday, a group of 28 scientists representing 22 universities sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, "expressing concern over the lack of impartiality on the Natural Gas Subcommittee."  The group criticized what they called "advocacy based science" and pointed out that six of the seven members of the subcommittee "have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry."

The group called for greater impartiality and asked that "at a minimum" subcommittee chairman John Deutch, an MIT professor and former CIA director,  leave the subcommittee and be replaced by "a person with no financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry."

Environment
1:38 pm
Wed August 3, 2011

Austin Energy Installs Dozens of Electric Vehicle Charging Stations

An electric vehicle charging station in the City Hall parking garage, one of more than 100 stations Austin Energy installed at 53 locations across the city.
Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

You don’t see many plug-in vehicles on the roads these days. But Austin Energy expects one in ten cars in Central Texas to be electric by the year 2020.

That’s why it announced today more than 100 new charging stations at 53 locations across Austin.

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energy
8:58 am
Wed August 3, 2011

Natural Gas Extraction Creates A Boom For Sand

At the top of the bluffs, this backhoe shovels the sand that's been crushed and washed onto a conveyor belt that runs the sand through a drier before it's loaded into a rail car.
Kathleen Masterson for NPR

Originally published on Wed August 3, 2011 12:02 pm

The rise of fracking as a method for extracting natural gas from shale rock has triggered demand for a key ingredient in the process: silica sand. In parts of the upper Midwest, there's been a rush to mine this increasingly valuable product.

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Environment
11:46 am
Tue August 2, 2011

Austin Could Require Grocers To Charge for Plastic and Paper Bags

City council members discussed the proposal during a work session today at Austin City Hall.
Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

A plastic grocery bag ban proposed by elected city leaders last month could be changed to require a surcharge for both paper and plastic bags, such as five or ten cents. 

During a work session today, several city council members expressed concern that banning only plastic bags might not necessarily be any better for the environment.

“If we ban plastic, we force paper,” Council Member Mike Martinez said.

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weather
11:51 am
Mon August 1, 2011

This July Was The Hottest Month Ever in Austin

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Crack open an ice cold drink and give yourself a pat on the back: you just survived the hottest month in Austin history.

The average daily temperature for July 2011 was 89.7 degrees. The previous record for the hottest month was set in July 2009, when the average daily temperature was 89.5 degrees.

Don't expect it to get cooler anytime soon. The National Weather Service forecasts highs of 104 degrees or higher all week long.

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Environment
5:10 pm
Thu July 28, 2011

EPA’s Proposed Air Quality Rules Could Affect Texas Fracking

Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new air pollution rules for oil and gas production today. The regulations are the first national standards for emissions from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a controversial practice used to extract natural gas in the Barnet Shale and in South Texas, among other places.

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Environment
1:55 pm
Tue July 26, 2011

EPA Delays Issuing Ozone Rules Again

Vehicle emission is a large contributor to ground-level ozone. New, stricter standards were supposed to be issued by the EPA this summer.
Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

The EPA has once again delayed releasing stricter ground-level ozone standards. Those were supposed to be issued on July 29. This is the fourth time the EPA has delayed releasing exact standards.

The Bush Administration set the ozone standard at 75 parts per billion in 2008 even after EPA scientists had recommended a more stringent standard. The EPA has indicated that the new standard would fall between 60 to 70 parts per billion.

EPA press secretary Brendan Gilfillan issued this statement in announcing the delay.

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Environment
4:02 pm
Mon July 25, 2011

Drought Harming Austin Bats

Bats exit from underneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at dusk
Photo by alumroot http://www.flickr.com/photos/alumroot/

For many Austinites, watching a swarm of bats fly out from underneath the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge at sundown is a favorite summer pastime. But this year's drought is taking a toll on that tradition.

Forty plus days of 100 degree weather and no rain have the Mexican free-tailed bats of Central Texas a little stressed. The drought has made it harder for them to find food. Bats are exiting their roosts earlier in the evenings and coming back later in the morning.

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Environment
1:48 pm
Mon July 25, 2011

Mayor and City Council Members Propose Plastic Bag Ban

Photo by KUT News

Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Members Mike Martinez and Chris Riley  announced a proposal this morning to phase out free plastic bags at retail stores.

They criticized plastic bags for littering rivers and streams, harming wildlife and too often ending up in landfills.  Consumers who reuse the bags to carry their lunches to picking up after their pets disagree.  At a news conference this morning, Mayor Leffingwell acknowledged it’s going to take some convincing to get people to change their habits.

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