Energy & Environment

Water, energy, conservation, sustainability, WTP4, pollution, oil and gas, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), recycling, and other environmental issues related to Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson

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.

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.

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.

Photo by 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.

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.

The 2012 presidential election could be close, with President Obama needing support from every segment of his political base to win re-election.

So the president's move (made through the State Department) to delay his controversial decision on the Keystone XL pipeline until beyond Election Day 2012 isn't really a shocker. The White House, for the record, denies that politics played a role in the decision.

Photo courtesy of the City of Austin by Mark Sanders.

A city biologist told the Austin City Council yesterday that the Jollyville Plateau Salamander has the potential to delay construction on the city's Water Treatment Plant Four.

At its work session Tuesday, city staff briefed the Council on what the construction and planning team of WTP4 is doing to lessen environmental impacts caused by the Jollyville transmission main and the four access shaft sites.

Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Voters have approved the controversial container ban in New Braunfels. Nearly 9,000 people – 27 percent of registered voters – cast ballots in Tuesday’s election.

Of those, 58 percent voted in favor of the ban on disposable containers on the Comal River and the Guadalupe River in the city limits.

Support The Ban PAC spokeswoman Kathleen Krueger is pleased with the outcome.

“I’m proud of New Braunfels,” Krueger said. “I’m not surprised that this is how the vote went, because I’ve lived in this community for 30 years. I know that we cherish our rivers and I’m proud that we have protected them for the next generation.”

Map created by NPR, CPI, and StateImpact

Today, NPR, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and StateImpact launched a new series investigating air pollution and regulation across the country. The series is entitled, "Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities." StateImpact has more on the project on its website.

Photo by Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

An earthquake hit outside of Oklahoma City on Saturday night. The magnitude 5.6 quake was the strongest in Oklahoma history. The US Geological Survey has released an initial report on the quake, but has not yet given an official cause.

Photo by KUT News

This Wednesday, don't be alarmed if you turn on your radio or TV and hear an Emergency Alert System test. The test will be run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Photo by Alan English

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.