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

Mose Buchele for KUT News.

It's that time of year again. 

April 1 to October 31 is ozone season in Central Texas.  These are the months when we expect the highest amounts of ground level ozone in the air. Last year, the Austin area came dangerously close to falling out of attainment of the federal clean air standard of 74 parts of ozone per-billion.  With the Environmental Protection Agency set to announce even stricter standards, it could be even harder for the region to stay in attainment this year.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The city's public utility, Austin Energy, will issue its first rebate check tomorrow for a homeowner who installed an electric vehicle charging station. The rebates are worth up to $1,500. A "Level 2" charging station can be installed for about $2,400.

Photo by Justin Fain at Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/fainspawn/3993122523/

Austin's skyline will be noticeably darker from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm as the city participates in Earth Hour, an annual event held across the globe to raise awareness about energy conservation and climate change. 

Mayor Lee Leffingwell held a press conference yesterday to announce the list of buildings that will be going dark tonight (security lights excluded):

NRG announced this week it will slow an expansion to add two units to the South Texas Project nuclear power plant in Matagorda County. NRG is waiting to see how federal regulators at the Nuclear Regulator Commission react to the nuclear crisis in Japan.

Photo courtesy of the Rainforest Action Network on Flickr.

The EPA announced yesterday new national standards for mercury emissions and other air pollutants. Within three to four years, coal plants be required to install new technology to cut back the amount of mercury released into the air from smoke stacks.

Photo courtesy of the NRG Energy.

CPS Energy of San Antonio announced today that negotiations over buying power from the South Texas Project [STP] expansion have been put on hold.

NRG Energy is in the process of adding two more units to the South Texas Project nuclear facility in Matagorda Bay.  CPS Energy, NRG and the Japanese company Tokyo Electric Power Co. would be the owners of the expansion, but Tokyo Electric's participation is now in question after a massive tsunami  damaged one of its nuclear plants in Japan.

Image by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Computer recycling in Texas almost doubled in 2010 compared the year prior, according to the state's environmental regulator. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says 24.3 million pounds of old hard drives, motherboards and various other computer parts were diverted away from landfills last year.

Image by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Correction: The National Geographic report cited in this story erroneously listed Austin as the having the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the United States.  In fact, Austin has the fifth highest rate of the 19 cities listed. We regret the error. You can view the complete study here.

Image courtesy cote http://www.flickr.com/photos/cote/

If you were asked which Central Texas city was offers the best recycling service, what would your answer be? If you answered Austin, then you could be wrong.

As of February 1st, San Marcos residents living in multifamily units will become the first in Central Texas  to receive a single-stream recycling service. Single-stream recycling allows residents to mix recyclable paper, aluminum cans, glass and plastic in one 90-gallon bin.  Each apartment unit in San Marcos will be billed an extra $5.53 a month for the weekly service.

Image by Nasha Lee for KUT News

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality approved an air permit for the $3 billion Las Brisas petroleum coke-fired power plant in Corpus Christi against the recommendations of two state administrative law judges and the Environmental Protection Agency. (Read the story from KUT.)

Jonathan Warner/Flickr

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied Texas a ruling Wednesday that would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from taking over the permitting process for the state's larger greenhouse gas emitters, like coal plants and oil refiners.

The ruling lifts a temporary stay that was granted to Texas on December 30, one week after the EPA announced the new greenhouse gas regulations.

camp fire
Image courtesy Dido http://www.flickr.com/photos/iyadtb/

Williamson County enacted a 30 day burn ban on the first Tuesday in December. That would have expired this week, but dry conditions prompted county commissioners to extend the ban for 60 days.

Here's an explanation of what you can and cannot do:

Image courtesy City of Austin Watershed Protection Department

Lake Austin is getting lower.  The Lower Colorado River Authority is drawing down the lake's level so that City of Austin crews can do battle with hydrilla, an invasive water plant that clogs the lake. 

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.

Traffic
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 www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/

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.

campfire
Image courtesy Dido http://www.flickr.com/photos/iyadtb/

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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/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 Flickr.com: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rutlo/3925707584/

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.

landfill
Image courtesy D'Arcy Norman http://www.flickr.com/photos/dnorman/

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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/allisonallison/

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 http://www.flickr.com/photos/kingdesmond/

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:

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