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

Plastic bags
Image by KUT News

Austin city leaders have been talking about banning plastic bags at stores for a while, but signs for such an ordinance look strong this year. 

“We have a report that we’ve been working on, on the cost impact of plastic bags. That study has been presented to City Hall, we hope to have that in the hands of city council within a couple of weeks,” said Bob Gedert, the City of Austin’s Solid Waste Services director.

That report has not been released to the public yet.

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

Nationally, gas prices are hovering around $3 a gallon these days. It’s far off the record price of more than $4.10 in the summer of 2008. Remember those days? Well, what about $5 dollar, even $10 dollar a gallon for gas?

To understand the rest of this story, you need to get one concept: peak oil.

Holly Street Power Plant
Image by Caleb Bryant Miller for KUT News

CST Environmental, a company based in San Leandro, California, is suing the city because it wasn't awarded a bid to demolish a decommissioned power plant in East Austin, according to the Austin Business Journal.

Map of Zilker Park
Image courtesy City of Austin

Starting today, Austin Solid Waste Services pay-as-you-throw customers can leave their trees on the curb for pickup. If you tree is 6-feet or taller, it must be cut in half.

Everyone else can drop off their Christmas trees by the Polo Fields in Zilker Park from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the following days:

The Environmental Protection Agency has partly taken Texas' air permitting program. The EPA will issue greenhouse gas permits to facilities in Texas after today's announcement that states are now obligated to regulate greenhouse gases. Texas is the only state that has chosen not to comply with EPA mandates.

Crushed Cans
Thomas Hawk

Travis County Commissioners Court unanimously endorsed the so-called  "Texas Bottle Bill" today, a statewide proposal that would introduce redeemable deposits on bottles and cans in Texas.  

The proposal evoked fond memories of childhood among Commissioners. 

"As a kid, it dawned on me that if I would go out and collect empty bottles, and just take them home and collect the deposit, that would be a little business!" mused County judge Sam Biscoe.

"We all did that!" interjected Commissioner Ron Davis, as other commissioners present murmured in agreement.

Image courtesy Dido

Citing extremely dry conditions in Central Texas, Travis County Commissioners followed the lead of some neighboring counties today and issued a burn ban. The ban prohibits anyone from burning "any combustible material outside of an enclosure which serves to contain all flames and/or sparks."

Tyson Cole
Image courtesy Yi

An American environmentalist group urged consumers to boycott blue fin tuna this week. The Center for Biological Diversity said the species is critically endangered because of overfishing and the BP oil leak. But Austin restauranteur Tyson Cole says his restaurant tries to serve blue fin tuna that is harvested responsibly.

LCRA Sim Gideon
Photo by Matthew Rutledge at

In another round of disagreements, the Environmental Protection Agency is asking the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to take care of water permits that are expired and not in compliance.

The EPA sent a press release yesterday.

Image courtesy D'Arcy Norman

That horrible stench you smell near garbage dumps? There's energy in those fumes!

Until fairly recently, the technology used to capture methane-rich biogas and turn it into electricity was not taken seriously as an industrial energy source. That's changing. And now the City of Austin is seeing if it should get on board.

Lake Austin at 360 Bridge
Image courtesy atmtx

Annoying, non-native plants are growing out of control in Lake Austin, and the city is asking the Lower Colorado River Authority to drop lake levels next month to help fend them off. Lake Austin is a stretch of the Colorado River between the Mansfield and Tom Miller dams.

Recycling container
Image courtesy Allison Allison

The southwest Austin exurb of Wimberley, known for its active artistic community, is going to make it easier for people and businesses to reduce landfill waste.

In a news release issued this afternoon, the City of Wimberly said it's switching to a single stream recycling program, allowing both residents and businesses to throw all their recyclables into a single container without having to sort them first.  It's part of Wimberly's three-year contract extension with Texas Disposal Services.

Image courtesy kingdesmond1337

The City of Austin's Solid Waste Services Department says it's going to produce a new reality TV program called Dare to Go Zero. The show would air on City of Austin's government channel and is aimed at encouraging Austinites to throw less garbage into the landfill.  KUT News spoke with the City of Austin Solid Waste Services spokesperson Jennifer Herber about the project.

KUT News: What's this idea behind the reality show?

Image courtesy Texas Comptroller

If you were thinking of buying an energy efficient appliance for Christmas, stop! Wait until after December 20, and the state of Texas will literally give you money to buy it. But after some embarassing problems last spring, you won't be able to file for your rebate online.

Water Treatment Plant 4 Schedule
Graphic courtesy of the City of Austin.

Speaker after speaker spoke out for and against Water Treatment Plant 4 during this morning's Austin City Council meeting.  Council members are voting on about $300 million remaining in construction contracts for the plant.  (Take a closer look at the contracts on the council agenda here)

Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, repeated his plea to council members to vote against the project.  He thinks it’s a waste of money:

Waste Control Specialists facility
Image from Waste Control Specialists' Facebook page

A hearing in Midland, Texas tomorrow will move foward on adopting a process that could allow a low-level radioactive waste facility in West Texas to accept toxic waste from states other than just Texas and Vermont.

The hearing will be held by the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, an organization with representatives from Texas and Vermont. There are about ten such compacts across the US involving two or more states cooperating on radioactive waste disposal.

Devil's River Ranch
Photo courtesy of Laurence Parent.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners decided yesterday to delay considering the Devil's River land deal at their regularly meeting this week. Instead, TPWD staff has been asked to continue working on the project and to explore other ways the agency can aquire land for a new state park or preserve in the Devil's River area.

Commission chairman Peter Holt of San Antonio released this statement in a TPWD press release:

City of Kyle logo
Image courtesy of the City of Klye

Environmental experts are currently monitoring Plum Creek after 100,000 gallons of wastewater leaked from a plant in Kyle, a town 20 minutes south of Austin. Per a City of Kyle press release:

The 25th Annual Keep Austin Beautfiul Awards to be Given Today
Photo Courtesy of KAB

The 25th annual Keep Austin Beautiful awards will be handed out today at a luncheon at the Sheraton Austin. The awards are intended to “honor the efforts of businesses, individuals, and community groups, both large and small, that serve as inspirations for greater environmental stewardship.” The awards will acknowledge the contributions of eight different people and organizations, as well as a name a “best of the best” for the organization that has contributed most to the beautification of the city.

Devil's River State Natural Area
Photo courtesy of © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department / Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Texas Parks and Wildlife officials have postponed a vote this week that would have finalized a land deal along the Devil's River in Val Verde County near Del Rio.

The vote was postponed pending a public briefing planned for tomorrow at the Texas Parks and Wildlife commission's Conservation Committee.