Environment

Flickr/Beth Cortez-Neavel (CC BY-NC 4.0)

From Texas Standard:

The Obama administration announced what it calls the Clean Power Plan — an ambitious plan to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. From an international perspective, the plan could give the United States more weight in future discussions on curbing so-called greenhouse gases. But there’s some politics here as well: The move is seen by many analysts as legacy-building, and there’s no doubt Texas is in the crosshairs.

Travis Bubenik of Marfa Public Radio has been following this for Inside Energy. Bubenik sat down with The Texas Standard to discuss President Obama's new Clean Power Plan.

Laura Rice/Texas Standard

About 60 percent of the water we use in Texas comes from aquifers – natural underground reservoirs that often aren’t easily replenished. In Hays County, aquifers have raised a critical question: Who has the right to draw from the Trinity Aquifer, how much they can draw – and can anyone stop them?

A private company based out of Houston – Electro Purification (EP) – plans to pump groundwater from around the city of Wimberley and pipe it to other thirsty communities. EP has contracts to pipe more than 5 million gallons of water a day from this part of the Trinity Aquifer through the year 2036.

Louis Vest via Texas Tribune

GALENA PARK — In this city east of Houston, petrochemical facilities are a common part of the landscape and a major engine for the local economy.

But they can also be heavy emitters of what the Environmental Protection Agency labels “toxic air pollutants,” such as benzene, which have been linked to health problems like cancer, reproductive problems and birth defects. And at times, the facilities can emit huge amounts of pollution that normally wouldn't be allowed, but are exempt from rules because they happen only when facilities are starting up, shutting down or malfunctioning. 

flickr.com/seabamirum

It’s not yet autumn but fall webworms are showing up on trees across Central Texas.

The caterpillars form webbing on leaves – and spend much of their lives eating those leaves.

"Typically people notice they have fall webworms when they start to see the webbing actually starting to cover the tips of the branches and, if they look closely at those webs or they break open those webs, they'll actually see the caterpillars inside," Wizzie Brown says.

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.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

While fracking for oil along the Texas border has become a big business for petrol companies, a new entity seeks to tap into the lucrative market – drug smugglers.  

As infrastructure and activity increases to meet the demand of the booming industry, drug smugglers are starting to take advantage of the new roads and increased traffic, much of which is located on private ranch lands.  

“Because there are so many different companies, and so many different trucks going through that area, it provides a sort of way to blend in if you will,” National Journal writer Ben Geman tells The Texas Standard's David Brown. “Essentially what’s happening is you’ve got smugglers who are stashing marijuana, or other drugs, in trucks that are either 'cloned' to look like one of the industry trucks, or some type of truck that seems to fit right in driving around on these ranch lands.”

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:

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.

Texas' Biggest Power Company Files For Bankruptcy

Apr 29, 2014

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.

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."

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.

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.

Terrence Henry, KUT News

From StateImpact Texas: 

Back in the 1970s and '80s, it probably looked like something out of Dazed and Confused. Teenagers pulling up in T-Birds, wind in their hair, to hang out in the parking lot of a Taco Bell. The sun would set in the Hill Country to the west, sending a glow through the branches of an old Live Oak tree. Today the Taco Bell and the teenagers are long gone, but the tree remains, affectionately known as the "Taco Bell Tree."

It's also now at an intersection best known for being a traffic nightmare – the Y at Oak Hill –  where two highways intersect and a third road feeds into the jumble. In order to improve that intersection, the state embarked on a temporary plan to expand it that would help for the next five years, while something longer term is put into place. The plan included cutting down the Taco Bell Tree, which has been here long before drive-thrus (or even combustion engines). All right, all right, all right.

As the Coast Guard prepares to open the Houston Ship Channel after an oil spill over the weekend, environmentalists were trying assess the damage to a sensitive ecological system.

The Associated Press reports the Coast Guard is hoping to reopen "one of the nation's busiest seaports Monday."

The AP adds:

Muliadi Soenaryo via Texas Tribune

As proponents continue to tout the benefits of banning plastic bags, the debate over whether Texas cities like Austin actually have the ability to enact such ordinances has made its way to the attorney general's office.

In a letter [PDF] seeking an opinion from Attorney General Greg Abbott, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, questioned whether the city bans are in compliance with the state’s health and safety laws.

“At least nine cities in Texas have enacted bans on plastic bags and adopted fees on replacement bags in recent years,” the letter stated. “This appears to be in contravention of state law.”

Jeff Wilson

An Austin professor has survived the first night in his year-long plan to live in a dumpster.

Dr. Jeff Wilson – aka “Professor Dumpster” – is an environmental science professor at Huston-Tillotson University. He’s also the face of The Dumpster Project, an educational experiment that aims to transform a 33-square-foot trash dumpster into a fully sustainable space.

"There was no mint on the pillow," he says, "and it wasn't exactly the W, but I did stay warm."

flickr.com/shannonpatrick17

The controversial Keystone XL Pipeline is taking over national headlines again. 

Last week, the State Department released an environmental review of the pipeline, finding tar sands extraction would have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions. 

As KUT's StateImpact Texas reports, "tar sands oil will be extracted regardless of whether or not the pipeline is built."

KUT's Mose Buchele talked with The Takeaway this morning about the impact that the largest oil producer in the world is having in Texas.

A large section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline went into official operation Wednesday, in a move that supporters say will help ease the flow of oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast region. The Obama administration has yet to rule on the project's northern portion.

flickr.com/visualpanic

Think of fall’s turning leaves, and Texas may not be the first state to come to mind. But Austinites have seen their fair share of autumnal red and gold this year – thanks in large part to recent rains.

Jerry Brand, a molecular bioscience professor at the University of Texas, says the color changes in the leaves are due to a specific molecule called a carotenoid.  

“These color molecules called carotenoids can come in several different colors depending on the plant, depending on the light intensity they’ve been exposed to, and other environmental factors,” Brand says.

flickr.com/vanwest/

Most computer users are familiar with sleep mode. But the Round Rock Independent School District has found the value in shutting their computers down completely.

The school district is expected to save an estimated $251,000 annually by using a program that automatically shuts computers down after 6 p.m. Over 30,000 desktops and laptops are automatically shut down, drastically cutting energy costs.

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