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

Kathleen Harnett White
Screenshot Texas Public Policy Foundation/YouTube

Kathleen Hartnett White is facing scrutiny from U.S. senators today as part of her nomination to lead President Trump’s Council on Environmental Quality. Hartnett White was Texas' top regulator for six years. Her nomination to the White House post has proved controversial, even in an administration that is no stranger to controversy.

Mengwen Cao / KUT

One of the many things Donald Trump promised during his campaign was that he would boost the country’s coal industry. Soon after he won the presidency, though, it became clear to some experts that the future of coal in the U.S. was dim; that natural gas, wind and solar were pushing it out of the market.

The coal industry found an ally in Trump’s pick to helm the Department of Energy: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Mose Buchele / KUT

The debate over rewriting Austin’s land use code has inflamed passions. People argue over how the plan, called CodeNEXT, will affect affordability, quality of life – the very character of Austin. Now, the proposal is exposing a division in Central Texas' tight-knit environmental community.


Courtesy of UT Bureau of Economic Geology

A major earthquake-monitoring network is up and running across Texas.

Thanks to an interactive website hosted by TexNet, you can now see where quakes are happening and learn about them in real time. The tool could be useful for the growing number of people who’ve felt earthquakes here.

Robert W. Hart / The Texas Tribune

Energy company Luminant says it’s shutting down three of its coal-fired power plants in Texas by early next year. The sudden closure of so many plants is unprecedented. That's not the only thing unexpected about the closures, though.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

The weather was good for the funeral. The sunset painted the Port Aransas sky in pinks, yellows and blues. The breeze off the Gulf cut the humidity. The crowd of 60 or so on the beach was dressed eclectically. Some wore t-shirts and swimsuits, others traditional black. They were all there to mourn Tony Amos. They would do it in a way that, probably, no man had been mourned before.

Mose Buchele / KUT

A hiring freeze for most state jobs hurt Texas’ ability to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, the state employees union says.

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the hiring freeze earlier this year to save money. At Texas Health and Human Services, that meant 600 vacancies for “eligibly workers” went unfilled, union President Judy Lugo said.

Updated at 5:30 a.m. ET

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Maria is an extremely dangerous storm. It was a Category 5 storm when it hit the island of Dominica. Later it was downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane. But a short time ago, forecasters says Maria had regained the strength of a Category 5 hurricane.

Updated at 3:15 a.m. ET Tuesday

Austin Price for KUT

Paid parking spots along Congress Avenue were transformed into pop-up parks Friday during a daylong event known as Park(ing) Day. First held in 2005, the worldwide event invites designers, architects and artists to do more with less, by constructing installations to promote the need for parks in developed urban cores.

Austin Price for KUT

When it comes to Hurricane Harvey, Austin got off easy compared to other cities. The storm proved challenging for the city’s electric grid, however: About 79,000 customers lost power, and the city's electric utility is still tallying the cost.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

While we’re still a long way from understanding the full environmental impact of Hurricane Harvey, the damage has been done, and experts say Harvey has highlighted inconsistencies in Texas’ ability to contain hazardous materials in the face of future storms.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Standing on the bank of Onion Creek at McKinney Falls State Park, De Ding watches his wife and two kids splash in the water.

“I’ve seen enough water,” he chuckles. But, it's better than the water he was dealing with Houston, he says.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

After Hurricane Harvey, some state officials are insisting there is no shortage of gasoline in Texas. 

The record rains and flooding limited the state's oil refining capacity, which has led to long lines at gas stations across Texas. But while drivers worry of a possible gas shortage in the near future, Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton said the problem is really just a matter of logistics and demand.

Facebook Live screenshot

Austin Mayor Steve Adler is calling on Austinites to help fellow Texans taking shelter here by making 6,000 "welcome kits" for the Austin Disaster Relief Network.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

On Sunday morning Jessica Hulsey woke up in her home in Houston’s East End. She went to her front door to see how high the water had risen – but it wasn’t the water that surprised her.  

Mose Buchele / KUT

Tropical Storm Harvey has brought the mighty Texas oil refining industry to its knees, at least temporarily, and Texas drivers are just starting to feel the pain.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Sitting in front of the temporary shelter in Smithville on Sunday, evacuees watched rain patter across the parking lot and speculated about which roads had been closed and reopened. Some of them had been through floods before.

‘This ain’t my first flood, but this is my worse flood. I’ll tell you what,” chuckled Floyd Henderson, one of 76 evacuees saying at the Smithville Recreation Center on Sunday. 

Claire McInerny / KUT

Thousands of Texans fled their homes this weekend as Hurricane Harvey made landfall on the Texas coast Friday. Harvey has since been downgraded to a tropical storm, but coastal residents are still holed up, waiting for the storm to subside and for authorities to give them the go-ahead to return home.

Rachel Burns left her home in Palacios on Friday and checked into a hotel in Yoakum, about 80 miles north of Harvey's landfall, with her 90-year-old mother. 

Final update  Friday, 9:11 p.m.
Find future updates here.

President Donald Trump has signed a declaration of disaster for the state of Texas, allowing federal money to flow to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management

UPDATE 8:17 a.m., Aug. 21: The Texas A&M Fire Service reports the fire is now 95 percent contained.

UPDATE 6:10 p.m.: The fire is now 90 percent contained, Texas A&M Fire Service reports. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

It’s estimated that 1 million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. A few years ago, National Parks decided to try and make a small dent in that number by banning water bottle sales on parkland. Now, the Trump administration has reversed that policy.

Eddie Seal / Texas Tribune

The science on whether there's a link between oil and gas activity and a surge in earthquakes in Texas isn't clear-cut, says the new seismologist for the agency that regulates the industry here.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

A few years ago, self-driving cars seemed like something out of The Jetsons. Now, they’re here (at least in prototype). Their proliferation promises easier commutes and fewer accidents. But, that’s just the start.

Autonomous cars could forever change how cities like Austin look – and how they operate – in some major ways.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

When transcripts of President Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders about refugee policy leaked to the press last week, one line got a lot of attention. It was a reference to “local milk people,” presumably dairy farmers, whom the president thought refugees wouldn’t work for.

As it turns out, though, some “milk people” worry it's Trump's immigration policies that may be bad for business.

It has become a rite of summer. Every year, a "dead zone" appears in the Gulf of Mexico. It's an area where water doesn't have enough oxygen for fish to survive. And every year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissions scientists to venture out into the Gulf to measure it.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Texas-based oil giant Exxon Mobil has faced high-profile lawsuits from states and environmental groups over allegations that it covered up what it knew about global warming for decades. But one lawsuit has flown under the radar.

Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Texas Tribune

There’s almost enough pipeline transporting crude oil and other chemicals buried under Texas to reach the moon and back. Last week, one small section of that infrastructure in Bastrop County was damaged by a maintenance crew. The result was a spill of more than 50,000 gallons of crude oil.

Photo illustration by Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Scrolling through Twitter is not for everyone, but if it's the kind of thing you’re into you’re likely to come across many tweets that make no sense. A few weeks ago one of them said this: “Curve Crunch: WTI flips to contango. Backwardation banished!”

What could this mean?

Courtesy of Mike Bergin

Solar power is one of the fastest growing energy sources in the world. Whether from massive utility-scale solar farms or residential rooftop panels, you can expect to see more solar in the future.

But scientists have identified something that can really hurt the performance of those panels: air pollution.

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