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

Nathan Bernier / KUT

Many Central Texas school districts have announced delayed openings this morning, as temperatures dip below freezing and ice has been reported on some roadways in the Austin area.

A house is flooded in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

About 2% of U.S. homes are at risk of being flooded by the end of the century, thanks to rising sea levels. And the reason for rising sea levels, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is climate change. But flood risk is not translating into lower property values in some areas along the coast.

Salvador Castro for KUT News

The city of Austin is signaling it intends to sue Kinder Morgan, the company behind the proposed Permian Highway Pipeline — a 430-mile natural gas line that has provoked major opposition in the Texas Hill Country. In filing its Notice of Intent to sue, Austin joins opposition already being mounted by San Marcos, Kyle, the Barton Springs Aquifer Conservation District and a property-owner group called the TREAD Coalition

Julia Reihs/KUT

Low levels of toxic blue-green algae are still present in Lady Bird Lake. According to the Watershed Protection Department, which takes samples from the lake biweekly, there needs to be consistently cool temperatures and increased water flow before any major changes happen. 

Cars drive down East Seventh Street as the sun sets.
Julia Reihs / KUT

Austin is among 30 cities worldwide where emissions have peaked, according to a new analysis from a coalition of cities dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The dunes sagebrush lizard
Center for Biological Diversity

Environmental groups are suing the Trump administration to secure federal protections for a reptile that makes its home among the shinnery oak sand dunes in West Texas and Southeast New Mexico.

A piece of an old pipeline that ran through the Hill Country in the early 1900s.
Julia Reihs / KUT

Charles Chaney Jr. has Utopia on his mind. The Texas City resident is a month away from retirement, and Utopia is the name of the scenic Hill Country town where his family has lived for generations. He had planned to build a house on land he owns there near his brother and sister.

Now, he’s not so sure.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Mention the year 2011 to any Austinite who lived here then, and expect to get an earful. It was the hottest year recorded in Austin's history – so hot and so dry that living through it has become a kind of shared trauma for many.

How Did Lake Travis' Sometimes Islands Get Their Name?

Sep 26, 2019
The Sometimes Islands in Lake Travis
Reshma Kirpalani / KUT

Every summer, more than 200,000 people visit Lake Travis to boat, swim and get some sun. But longtime Austin resident Robert Baumgardner is more interested in the geography of the lake than recreation. Specifically, he's interested in the Sometimes Islands.

LASA teacher David Walker looks out over the North Slope in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Karl Romanowicz

The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth. Twice as fast.

That’s not easy to grasp when you’re thousands of miles away. But over the summer, one Austin high school teacher went to see it firsthand.

A man with his dog sitting at the intersection of Airport and I-35.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

There was a time when it seemed like summer could have gone differently: A wet spring and relatively mild June had us thinking maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad.

Boy, that didn’t last long. 

Parkside students Levi King, Savvy Horne-Lalande and Gabriel Guerrero hold signs demanding action on climate change.
Julia Reihs / KUT

Austin students rallied at the state Capitol today to raise awareness of the climate crisis as part of an international youth climate strike. Organizers said they expect millions of people to take part in rallies around the world, ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit in December.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Almost 60 horses have been released from a two-week quarantine in Bastrop County after an outbreak of vesicular stomatitis virus, or VSV, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission.

Judge Blocks Plan To Drain Four Central Texas Lakes

Sep 12, 2019
The dam at Lake McQueeny, near Seguin, is one of four remaining in the Guadalupe River Valley in Central Texas that are at risk of failure.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / Texas Tribune

A judge has temporarily blocked a water agency's plans to drain four lakes along the Guadalupe River where officials say there's a threat to public safety because of aging dams that could fail.

Judge Stephen Ables issued his order Wednesday as a court battle proceeds between the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority and property owners with homes along the lakes east of San Antonio.

Harris County Fire Marshal's Office via AP

Nearly two-thirds of the plastics-producing plants in the Houston area have violated air pollution limits over the past five years, according to an analysis of public records from the Austin- and Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project.

A flooded home in Houston
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

If you’re looking to buy a house in Texas, the homeowner is now required to tell you if it has ever flooded. Likewise, if you own a home that’s flooded, be prepared to disclose that under expanded state regulations that took effect this month.

A community meeting on the Kinder Morgan pipeline
Salvador Castro for KUT

A law went into effect in Texas this week that increases penalties for demonstrators who interfere with oil and gas pipelines and other pieces of "critical infrastructure."

Folks kayak and paddleboard on Lady Bird Lake
Julia Reihs / KUT

The City of Austin says toxic blue-green algae will likely stay in Lady Bird Lake until the weather cools off this fall. So far, it’s been blamed for the deaths of at least five dogs that swam in the lake, and Austin is not the only place dealing with the dangerous bacteria this summer.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

In Washington, D.C., on Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans for a major rollback of rules aimed at reducing methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure. In Texas, environmentalists and even some in the industry are arguing in favor of keeping the rules.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Toxic bacteria continue to pose a threat in Lady Bird Lake, according to recent city water testing. Austin's Watershed Protection Department says it's still finding toxic blooms of algae at Red Bud Isle, Barton Creek and downstream from Barton Springs Pool – and that it likely won't go away until mid-October.

Are Shared E-Scooters Good For The Planet? Only If They Replace Car Trips

Aug 25, 2019
Scooters
Emree Weaver for KUT

Shared dockless electric scooters, or e-scooters, transport riders over short distances in cities. Ride share companies promote them as an environmentally friendly choice that reduces dependence on cars.

To properly assess these claims, it’s important to consider all relevant environmental factors, including the materials and energy required to manufacture scooters, the impacts of collecting them daily for charging and redistributing, and the electricity that charges their batteries.

Quinlin Talyor, lifeguard
Michael Minasi for KUT

The triple-digit heatwave hitting Austin is becoming one for the record books. On Wednesday, it became the fifth longest ever recorded in the city's history, and more hot days are expected.  

Waller Creek near Sixth Street.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

What do you call the parks and greenspace along Waller Creek from the state Capitol to Lady Bird Lake? The Waller Creek Trail? The Waller Creek Greenbelt? The city and nonprofit that are redeveloping the area have a new idea. Now, they're calling it the “Waterloo Greenway.”

Rooftop air conditioning units
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Update at 5:11 p.m.: ERCOT says operations have returned to normal, but it is still encouraging conservation. 

Our original post follows: 

For the second time in a week, Texas' electric grid-operator has asked folks to conserve energy as it faces record demand during the current heatwave.

Hot cars
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Update at 5:26 p.m.: ERCOT announces the need for conservation has ended.

The original post follows:

Texas' electric grid-operator put out a call for conservation today as it faces record demand amid soaring temperatures.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced Monday that reproducing populations of zebra mussels have been found in Lake Lyndon B. Johnson and Lake Pflugerville – bringing the total number of statewide lakes infested with the invasive species to 17.

Martin do Nascimento / KUT

Texas is suing Exxon Mobil for alleged environmental violations following a fire that broke out last week at one of the company's Houston-area plants.

A dog jumps into Lady Bird Lake
KUT

Updated on Aug. 7 at 3:58 p.m.: Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano said Wednesday that Red Bud Isle would be closed to the public until further notice.

"The algae is especially prevalent near Red Bud Isle," he said, "with up to 40 percent of the water surface in that area covered."

Harris County and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality are suing Exxon Mobil for allegedly violating the Texas Clean Air Act and Texas Water Code, during a fire that broke out at the company’s oil refinery in Baytown on Wednesday.

A wind farm on the Texas Gulf Coast
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

For the first time ever, wind has surpassed coal as an energy source in Texas. 

Data released this month by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas shows wind created 22 percent of the electricity used in the first half of the year, edging out coal by 1 percentage point.

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