Energy & Environment

Environment
10:31 am
Mon November 7, 2011

The Texas Drought, One Year In

The Texas drought has lasted for a year, and climatologists don't expect it to end anytime soon.
Photo by I-Hwa Cheng for KUT News

The Texas drought has been in effect for about a year now, give or take a month depending on whom you ask.

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energy
9:35 am
Mon November 7, 2011

Nebraska May Play Key Role In Canada-to-Texas Pipeline Battle

TransCanada plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska's Sandhills region shown here in Mills, Neb. State legislators have introduced bills barring pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas like the Sandhills and the Ogallala aquifer.
Nati Harnik AP

Originally published on Mon November 7, 2011 2:38 pm

Thousands of demonstrators ringed the White House on Sunday afternoon, demanding that President Obama deny permission for a proposed pipeline to carry crude oil from the tar sands of Canada to refineries in Texas.

Business and labor groups support the Keystone XL project; many environmentalists oppose it. But deliberations in Nebraska may play a decisive role.

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Environment
9:34 am
Mon November 7, 2011

Secret 'Watch List' Reveals Failure To Curb Toxic Air

The Continental Carbon plant sits on the southern outskirts of Ponca City, Okla. Until August, the plant was on an internal EPA "watch list," for violating rules of the Clean Air Act.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Thu November 10, 2011 1:02 pm

Part 1 of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

The system Congress set up 21 years ago to clean up toxic air pollution still leaves many communities exposed to risky concentrations of benzene, formaldehyde, mercury and many other hazardous chemicals.

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Environment
2:06 pm
Thu November 3, 2011

Austin Congressman McCaul a Top Water User Despite Drought

The entrance to Michael McCaul's community, photographed in early November 2011.
Photo by Muliadi Soenaryo for the Texas Tribune

In Texas House and Senate hearings this week, state lawmakers heard repeatedly about the crisis created by the record-breaking drought — and the need for Texans to conserve water.

One elected official who has lagged on this front is U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin.

From October 2010 through September 2011 — a time period that corresponds almost exactly to the first 12 months of the drought — a property belonging to McCaul and his wife was the sixth-largest water user among all Austin residential customers, according to records obtained from Austin's water utility. The McCauls' water consumption, 1.4 million gallons over those 12 months, comes to about 15 times the consumption of the average Austin home over that time.

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Environment
2:29 pm
Mon October 31, 2011

Wild Donkeys Being Shot In Big Bend State Park

A photo of some burros in Arizona. Texas state parks officials have been shooting wild donkeys in Big Bend State Park to prevent them from damaging native species, angering the Wild Burro Protection League.
Photo by Alan English http://www.flickr.com/photos/alanenglish/

Wild donkeys, also known as burros, are wandering into Texas from Mexico. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department considers about 300 burros in Big Bend to be destructive intruders that hog food and water needed by the park's native species.  

Brent Leisure with Texas State Parks and Wildlife says they’re dealing with the problem by hunting the burros.

“We’re managing for indigenous native plant and animal communities, and that not being a part of it, we do know that the burros have a negative impact and effect on native wildlife and plants,” Leisure said.

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parks and recreation
1:33 pm
Fri October 28, 2011

Limestone Boulders Could Save The Banks Of Shoal Creek

The City of Austin is still in the early design stages of a project to fix the eroding banks along Shoal Creek. KUT took a tour of the creek erosion in Pease Park this week with one of the city’s civil engineers.

“Probably 30 or 40 years ago, they used a lot of concrete or rock filled wire baskets, which also break down over time,” Morgan Byars with the City of Austin's Watershed Protection Department said. “We’re trying to use more sustainable solutions that can last centuries.”

Check out the video above for an example of what he’s talking about.

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Environment
4:59 pm
Wed October 26, 2011

The Top 25 Water Users in Austin

 

A few years back, Lance Armstrong was caught. He apologized, admitted the error of his ways, and promised to do better in the future. His offense? Using too much water.

Armstrong had used 330,000 gallons of water in July 2008. He hadn’t even been home at his three acre, 14,475 square foot estate. “I’m a little shocked,” he told a newspaper at the time. “There’s no justification for that much water. I need to fix this.”

Well, it’s been several summers since then, this last one being notable for being the hottest and driest on record. And the city is in stage two watering restrictions because of the historic drought.  But it would appear Armstrong has not learned how to conserve. According to data from Austin Water Utility, he used around 1.3 million gallons of water in the last year, putting him among the top ten residential users of water in town.

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Environment
5:03 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Texas Voters Face Ballot Proposal on Water Quality

Photo by Gary Nored, Texas Parks and Wildlife

If Texans pass Proposition 8 on the ballot next month, they will authorize a possible way to keep the water clean in the dried-out state in exchange for a reduced property tax bill.

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Environment
2:16 pm
Tue October 25, 2011

Split Opinions On Austin's Bag Ban

www.flickr.com/photos/timparkinson/

Does Austin support or oppose a plastic bag ban or would it prefer some kind of alternative? You decide! Two groups have somewhat conflicting polls on the issue, so you can pick whichever one supports your argument, Choose Your Own Adventure-style.

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Environment
5:00 pm
Fri October 21, 2011

Holly Power Plant Deconstruction To Begin Saturday

Four years after it shut down, deconstruction is set to begin on the Holly Street Power Plant in East Austin. A “first-bolt removal ceremony” is planned for Saturday at 10 a.m. and will include city officials and neighbors.

Environmental justice groups such as People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER) fought for years to have the plant decommissioned, complaining of increased cancer rates in the surrounding residential neighborhood and a loss of hearing caused by the constant noise from the plant.

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Environment
1:54 pm
Thu October 20, 2011

New Federal Forecast Says Drought to Worsen Over Winter

Photo by AgriLife Today / Kay Ledbetter

While already-sodden northern regions of the United States can expect above-average rains this winter, the worst one-year drought in Texas history looks set to persist in the coming months, federal forecasters said today.

It is "most likely that severe drought will persist through the winter" in the Southern Plains, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of NOAA's Climate Predictions Center, speaking on a press call timed with the release of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Winter Outlook, which covers the months of December through February.

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Environment
10:16 am
Thu October 20, 2011

Earthquake In South Texas: Fracking Fluid at Fault?

An oil & gas drilling rig is drilling a well for Pioneer Natural Resources in the Eagle Ford Shale formation in DeWitt County. The epicenter of today's earthquake was in Karnes County.
Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck an area of South Texas today that is a center point for natural gas and oil production in the Eagle Ford Shale. The quake’s epicenter was here in the unincorporated community of Campbellton in Atascosa County near Karnes County. You can see numerous wells in the county in this map from the Texas Railroad Commission. (Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly placed the epicenter in Karnes County.)

A University of Texas seismologist says hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause earthquakes. But he says earthquakes have been associated with the disposal of fracking fluids.

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Environment
11:02 am
Wed October 19, 2011

Austin Mayor On Plastic Bag Ban: “It Can Be Done”

Photo by adav http://www.flickr.com/photos/adav/

The plastic grocery bag has few friends at Austin’s City Hall. Council voted in July to move forward with a plan that would ban single-use plastic bags at local stores, putting Austin in the company of cities like San Francisco, Portland, San Jose, Washington, DC and even Brownsville, Texas.

But the specifics of the plan are still being ironed out. Next Monday, city officials hope to hear from you on how it should be done. They’re holding a public input session from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Austin Energy building.

KUT’s Matt Largey talked about it with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

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Environment
12:14 pm
Tue October 18, 2011

Tonight: How Austin Will Protect Barton Springs Salamander

The Barton Springs Salamander
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

You like Barton Springs Pool? So does a small, endangered amphibian. But unlike you, the Barton Springs Salamander is legally protected by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. If the city wants to keep operating the pool, it needs to renew a permit with the federal government that explains how Austin will protect the slithery little creature.

The current permit was issued in 1998 and based on this Habitat Conservation Plan. That permit expires in October 2013. But the review process takes a long time, so the city wants to submit its application soon to stave off closing Barton Springs Pool, even temporarily.

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food
3:37 pm
Fri October 14, 2011

Drought Haunts Pumpkin Farmers

Photo by furyksx http://www.flickr.com/photos/furyksx/

Pumpkins are kind of like fruit cakes. They only sell for about six weeks out of the entire year. And it’s usually around the time specials like this one air on television.

But the great pumpkin might be harder to find these days, according to agricultural experts.

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Environment
11:51 am
Thu October 13, 2011

FEMA Ineligibility Letter Not Necessarily "No"

FEMA encourages survivors of Texas wildfires to make an appeal, if they're told they are ineligible for relief.
Photo by KUT News

FEMA is trying to get the word out to Texas wildfire victims that, if they get a letter saying they're ineligible for federal aid, it's may not be the final word.

Ericka Lopez is a FEMA Public Information Officer in Bastrop. She says people can submit a formal appeal within 60 days, if they believe the feds made error.

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Environment
1:33 pm
Wed October 12, 2011

Salvaging Timber in East Texas

Officials are considering timber salvage from some of the trees destroyed by fire in Bastrop State Park last month.
Photo by Mose Buchele for KUT News

More than one-third of timber damaged by wildfires in East Texas has been salvaged and resold by property owners. Separate wildfires across the eastern part of the state in June scorched over 30,000 acres. The salvaged timber will be repackaged and sold as building materials, paper, and fuel. The value of the resold goods is expected to exceed $100 million.

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Environment
11:30 am
Wed October 12, 2011

The Fate of Longhorn Cattle in Texas

Longhorn cattle in Texas.
Photo by KUT News.

Texas longhorn cattle descended from cattle brought in by Spanish explorers. Today some make their home at state parks and historic sites. But budget cuts and the drought could send state-owned longhorns off to market.

Talks are under way on the fate of nearly 400 longhorns living on state lands, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say. The herds may be removed or reduced this fall, a prospect that upsets longhorn enthusiasts.

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Water Rates
2:06 pm
Mon October 10, 2011

Pflugerville Water Users Facing Possible Rate Hike

The City of Pflugerville is holding a series of hearings on a proposed price hike in water rates.
JD Hancock/Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdhancock/

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held a public hearing regarding possible water utility bill increases.

Monarch proposed to raise water utility prices by 62.3% and wastewater rates by 33.6%. The changes would apply to Pflugerville residents who receive their water from Windermere Water Company. The company was recently purchased by Monarch. The Pflugerville City Council met in August and suspended the rate hikes for ninety days.

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Environment
12:04 pm
Mon October 10, 2011

Much-Needed Rain Provides Some Relief

Rainfall over the weekend was the heaviest Austin has seen since June.
Photo by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

This weekend's rain is helping to replenish the Highland Lakes - at least a little bit.  In the Austin area, most places got 1.5-2 inches of rain. Cedar Park and Leander got 2-2.5 inches. Further northwest in the Hill County 4-6 inches of rain fell. Lower Colorado River Authority Meteorologist Bob Rose says that was good for the Highland Lakes two water storage reservoirs.

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