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

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.

Chris Hunkeler via Flickr

The group that manages almost all of the Texas electric grid has decided it's a good idea to build out more transmission lines in West Texas. That in itself might not sound like a big deal, but the reason behind it is. KUT's Mose Buchele joins Morning Edition host Jennifer Stayton to explain.

Mose Buchele / KUT

The legacy of Austin’s polluting past still lives in its soil. Parcels of land, especially on the city’s East Side, carry contamination from businesses and industries that long ago closed up shop. For the last several years, the city has had federal help cleaning up some of the land for new uses.

But now that funding is under threat. The program that provides the grants would be slashed by 30 percent under the Trump administration's proposed budget.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

As greenhouse gasses heat the atmosphere, we can expect more severe floods and droughts. That could be trouble for critical infrastructure like bridges and roads in many cities, including here in Central Texas.

Filipa Rodrigues / KUT

After an explosion at a fertilizer plant killed 15 people in West, Texas, in 2013, the EPA created new safety protections for the storage of dangerous chemicals. Now, at the urging of the industry, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is delaying those rules until 2019.

Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

Fish can breathe under water. They’re great swimmers. But they’re not really known for their singing.

But they do sing – kind of. And now scientists on the Texas Gulf Coast are hoping that fact can help sustain their populations.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Gas prices could hit a 12-year low this summer. That’s as much as 40 cents lower than analysts thought they’d be in some parts of the country.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

American Chemical Society

Researchers mounted air pollution monitors on Google cars driving around to record images for the tech giant's Street View maps. The result, they say, is a new way to measure and track air quality.

Mose Buchele / KUT

Coal is one of the big reasons President  Trump has ended the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord. He says ending a pledge to reduce CO2 emissions could help reinvigorate the coal industry. So we decided to ask people in the one coal-producing area of Central Texas what they thought of the decision. 

Courtesy of Austin Energy

Austin Energy responded Friday to accusations raised by the Travis Audubon Society that it was knocking down Monk parakeet nests from energy poles during the birds' nesting season.

“When we do remove a nest, our crews will only be working on nests that are up in the energized space," Chief Operating Officer Elaina Ball told reporters gathered at the intersection of Pleasant Valley and Riverside Drive, where the parakeets have built a cluster of nests.

Andrew Harnik / AP

The U.S. will withdraw from the international climate agreement known as the Paris accord, President Trump announced Thursday. He said the U.S. will negotiate either re-entering the agreement or a work on a new deal that would put American workers first.

During his campaign, Trump vowed to "cancel" U.S. participation in the deal. World leaders and business figures had recently urged him to reconsider. Ultimately, the president decided to withdraw.

Courtesy of Christine Hawkes

Christine Hawkes says her work isn’t all that glamorous.

“Sometimes when people ask me what my job is, I say 'digging holes,'” she says. "You know? It’s a lot of what I do is just digging up soil.”

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez

Ask Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter what caught his attention in a recent release of census data for Texas cities, and he’ll tell you: Houston, in Harris County.

“In the past three or four years, prior to the [2015-16] set of estimates, Harris County was the most significant growing county in the country numerically,” he says.

The City of Austin was selected to receive two grants totaling $300,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help clean up brownfields, unused land that may be contaminated with hazardous chemicals.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Building a better battery is the holy grail for people who want better technology. Now researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, say they may have found that battery — or something close. But their claims have sparked controversy.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

It’s still a long time before the congressional midterm elections in November 2018. But a lot of candidates are already showing interest in running. And many of them are embracing an environmental message that, traditionally, has been kept on the sidelines.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas leads the country in wind energy production and, because of the way the state’s electric grid is set up, most of that power stays right here. But a plan that would allow the state to make money exporting wind and solar power is moving slowly. 

Qiling Wang for KUT

Judging from how hot it has been, this year could end up being Austin’s hottest ever. Heat impacts health, happiness and the environment. So the city is trying a simple approach to reducing it: planting trees.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Depending on what thermometer you’re looking at, this year’s average temperature has been between 5 and 7 degrees hotter than usual so far in Austin. That could set 2017 up to be one of Austin’s hottest years ever.  People who research climate change already know a lot about how warmer temperatures disrupt human activity. But hot days may have an impact on our mental health that we’re only just starting to understand.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Since Scott Pruitt has taken the reigns of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency has rolled back regulations, scrubbed information on global warming from its website and dismissed members of a key science advisory board. But that isn’t enough for some climate change skeptics and fossil fuel advocates, who would like to see the EPA rescind its entire rationale for battling global warming.

Jorge Sanhueza Lyon / KUT

More people in Texas drink from water systems that are in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act than any other state in the country,  according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

The City of Austin has unveiled a new blueprint for its zoning overhaul, known as CodeNEXT – a plan aims to manage growth and transportation challenges by rewriting Austin's land-use code.

But critics say, for a city that prides itself on its environmentalism, Austin has failed to take into account one important thing in CodeNEXT: the future impact of climate change.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. for KUT

The population boom in Central Texas has brought a lot of challenges to the region – some expected, some less so. One question you may not have considered is what happens to all the extra sewage water produced by the growing population. Now, a bill at the state Capitol hopes to answer that very question.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Austin is among a handful of U.S. cities that could see a rush of newcomers in the next century as rising sea levels force people out of coastal areas, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

The only peregrine falcon that lives year-round in Central Texas makes her home in a wooden box on the UT Tower. More than a month ago, the bird laid a clutch of eggs. But, as the weeks passed, it became unlikely that the eggs would hatch. So, the university agreed to remove the eggs for research. 

Flickr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services

In 2016, Texas was one of the fastest growing states in the country, adding almost a half-million people in a year’s time. With growth like that, securing future water supplies will become critical, so Sen. Ted Cruz filed a bill to loosen regulations around importing water from other states. The idea is to make it easier for Texas to buy water from its neighbors. But some worry it could lead to environmental destruction.

Courtesy of Chris DuCharme

If you walk by the UT Tower and you look up above the belfry, near the very top, you can just make out a small wooden box. In that box lives a lonely bird that might be the only peregrine falcon that’s a permanent resident in the area – but some hope she won’t stay lonely forever. 

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