Energy & Environment

StateImpact Texas
11:35 am
Tue June 24, 2014

Feds Target Oil and Gas Industry for Underpaying Workers

Exhibit from lawsuit: A worker's time sheet showing 90 hours in eight consecutive days.
Credit Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

In states with the most oil and gas drilling, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Labor has won back pay for over 4,000 energy industry workers in just the past year.

It totaled $6.7 million dollars, accounting for a third of all such settlements by all types of industries nationwide.

“We were hearing that workers were being misclassified as independent contractors, that they were being paid straight-time for their hours over 40 in a workweek. And we were hearing this consistently throughout the Southwest Region,” said Cynthia Watson, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Regional Administrator in Dallas.

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StateImpact Texas
1:22 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

As Highland Lakes Near Record Low, Will They Ever Fill Again?

The public boat ramp at Cypress Creek Park on Lake Travis has been out of use since the water receded past its end in 2011. Since then, the entire lagoon on which the park is situated has dried.
Dylan Baddour/StateImpact Texas

From StateImpact Texas:

The combined storage of the Highland Lakes is expected to approach its record low – 30 percent full – by the end of this summer. After that, forecasters say, the El Niño weather pattern could bring some relief. But how much rain would it take to get them full again?

The total volume of water in the Highland Lakes, the main reservoir for a million people in and around Austin, fell to its lowest level since 1952 (during Texas’ multi-year drought of record) in September 2013. Water flowing into the Highland Lakes hit record lows – just ten percent the annual average — in 2011, Texas’ driest year on record.

Historically, low levels like the ones we’re seeing now have been corrected by massive rain events.

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Weather
6:47 am
Tue June 3, 2014

Study: Americans Less Fearful Of Storms Named After Women

In 1992, Hurricane Andrew destroyed more than 25,000 homes in Florida. But its death toll was far less than "female" storms such as Audrey, Camille and Katrina.
Lynn Sladky AP

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 4:59 pm

A study published Monday suggests Americans are less afraid of hurricanes with female names.

This is a real study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — not The Onion.

Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State looked at deaths caused by hurricanes between 1950 — when storms were first named — and 2012.

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Greenhouse Gas Regulations
11:18 am
Mon June 2, 2014

New Carbon Rules Could Have Big Impact on Texas

A coal power plant in Fayette, Texas.
Credit Andy Uhler/KUT News

Big changes could be coming for Texas power plants. The Obama administration is announcing new rules today aimed at cutting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants – the chief culprit behind global warming.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel power plants in the U.S. by 30 percent (from their 2005 levels) by 2030. That “is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year,” according to the EPA. In Texas, that drop will need to be even higher: the state’s carbon emissions from the power sector will need to fall 39 percent by 2030 under the proposal.

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Weather
7:31 am
Tue May 20, 2014

Oklahoma's Latino Community Prepares For The Next Tornado

Gloria and Francisco Sanchez stand in front of their new ranch house, still under construction a year after a tornado destroyed their last home in Moore, Okla.
Hansi Lo Wang NPR

Originally published on Tue May 20, 2014 10:43 am

A devastating EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore, Okla., a year ago Tuesday. Just 11 days later, another twister ravaged the Oklahoma City metro area.

Nine of the 23 people who died as a result of the second storm were members of the local Latino community. Their deaths have sparked efforts to better prepare Hispanic families for storms.

On a windy afternoon in Oklahoma City, American Red Cross volunteer Ivelisse Cruz hands out stickers to families at the Children's Day Festival.

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Energy & Environment
1:26 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Whoa! Watch A Spectacular Supercell Take Form In Wyoming

A supercell storm in Clareton, Wyo.
Basehunters Chasing via Twitter

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 4:37 pm

Sometimes some of the most destructive forces in nature can be stunningly beautiful.

On Sunday, storm chasers caught a supercell thunderstorm taking shape in Wyoming. It is absolutely spectacular — the stuff of science-fiction movies:

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Energy & Environment
4:32 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

Austin Energy OKs Deal For Texas' Single Biggest Solar Farm

Austin Energy has signed a deal with Reliant Energy to build the largest single solar facility in Texas by 2016.
flickr.com/demmbatz

Austin Energy will soon be getting more of its power from the sun.

The city-owned electric utility has signed a deal, announced today, with a San Francisco-based firm to build the single largest solar facility in Texas by 2016. Under a 20-year power purchase agreement, Recurrent Energy will build a 150-megawatt solar farm in West Texas.

Austin Energy spokesperson Carlos Cordova says the deal will help the public utility and the Austin City Council to achieve two goals – "to have 200 megawatts of all of our energy derived from solar power, and 35 percent of all of our energy be derived by renewable energy."

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Energy & Environment
6:05 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

When Colleges Ditch Coal Investments, It's Barely A Drop In The Bucket

Some universities have stopped investing in coal companies, but many others don't see the point. An aerial view of the Coal Hollow Mine in Utah in 2012.
Ethan Miller Getty Images

Originally published on Tue June 10, 2014 8:59 am

If the students at Stanford University believe they sent the coal industry a strong message this week, they should think again. The school's decision to eliminate coal from its portfolio did not send shock waves through the industry. In fact, representatives say it will have no financial impact on the industry at all. Nor will it curb the growing demand around the world for coal-generated electricity.

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Energy & Environment
12:38 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

New Report Finds Climate Change Already Having Broad Impact

People survey the damage on Scenic Highway in Pensacola, Fla., after part of it collapsed following heavy rains and flash flooding on April 30.
Marianna Massey Getty Images

Originally published on Tue May 6, 2014 10:22 am

A new U.S. government report released Tuesday finds that climate change is already having a broad impact on both weather and the economy.

NPR's Elizabeth Shogren tells our Newscast unit the third National Climate Assessment is the most comprehensive look at climate change that the government has ever produced. It was put together by more than 300 experts "guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee."

She filed this report for our Newscast unit:

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Drought and Livestock
10:40 am
Fri May 2, 2014

What Texas Ranchers Can Teach California About the Drought

Ranchers gather inside the Hills Prairie Auction House in Bastrop, Texas. Drought-hardened Texas ranchers have advice to offer their California counterparts.
Karen Zamora for KUT News

How bad is the California drought? Bad enough Texas cattle ranchers can offer some  advice.

California has never seen so little rain over a 12-month period. But in Texas – the nation’s top cattle producing state – drought conditions are nothing new. Due to Texas' ongoing drought, ranchers in Texas lost 15 percent of their cattle from 2011 to 2013 – approximately two million animals.

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Weather
8:31 am
Wed April 30, 2014

After Tornadoes, States Now Brace For Flooding

A severe thunderstorm wall cloud is seen over the area of Canton, Miss., on Tuesday. At least 35 people in six states have been killed by tornadoes unleashed by a ferocious storm system this week.
Gene Blevins Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 1:18 pm

The weather system that spawned tornadoes that killed at least 35 people this week throughout the South and Midwest is dumping heavy rain, triggering fears of major flooding.

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Energy & Environment
2:48 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Texas' Biggest Power Company Files For Bankruptcy

The sun shines through the clouds behind an electrical power line in Dallas.
Tony Gutierrez AP

Originally published on Tue April 29, 2014 3:21 pm

As they say: Everything is bigger in Texas.

Today, the state's biggest power company filed for one of the biggest Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings in corporate history.

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Weather
5:16 am
Tue April 29, 2014

Another Round Of Tornadoes Rakes Through The South

A map from the Storm Prediction Center shows the risk of severe weather.
NOAA

Originally published on Tue April 29, 2014 8:28 am

A day after a line of severe storms spawned tornadoes blamed for the death of at least 15 people in Arkansas and Oklahoma, the South was raked again.

This time, Mississippi and Alabama were hard hit.

CNN reports:

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Energy & Environment
8:31 am
Mon April 28, 2014

Killer Tornadoes Rip Through Arkansas, Oklahoma

Travel trailers and motor homes were piled on top of each other at Mayflower RV in Mayflower, Ark., on Sunday after tornadoes carved through the central and southern U.S.
Danny Johnston AP

Originally published on Mon April 28, 2014 12:55 pm

This post was updated at 1:53 p.m. ET

Emergency officials were searching Monday for survivors after tornadoes tore through parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma overnight, killing at least 14 people and leveling entire neighborhoods.

"We don't have a count on injuries or missing. We're trying to get a handle on the missing part," Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said at a news conference Monday. "Just looking at the damage, this may be one of the strongest we have seen."

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Texas Tech Climatologist Katharine Hayhoe
10:58 am
Fri April 25, 2014

The Texas Scientist Reconciling Climate Change & Evangelical Christianity

Ashley Rodgers, Texas Tech University

Time Magazine just released its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. This year the list includes Texas Tech climate scientist and evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe.

For Time, actor Don Cheadle wrote "There’s something fascinating about a smart person who defies stereotype. That’s what makes my friend Katharine Hayhoe – a Texas Tech climatologist and an evangelical Christian – so interesting."

The Texas Standard's David Brown recently spoke with Hayhoe about science, her faith, and making TIME's list.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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