TransCanada is Trying to Buy a Little Texas Love, Since D.C. Keeps Avoiding Keystone Issue

Categories: Environment

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Photo by Teddy Kwok
Maybe money can buy love.
The people at TransCanada are by no means stupid. While the fate of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is still in regulatory limbo, the southern end is up and running. It's also still unpopular but TransCanada is stepping up and doing what all oil and pipeline companies should do -- providing a little cash lubricant.

Yep, right now if you've got a nonprofit organization that is in need of a little funding, you can step up and apply for a grant from TransCanada. The company is running the grants through the East Texas Communities Foundation, doling out up to $5,000 per grant to nonprofits in 18 counties, including Harris. Nonprofits interested in applying for a grant have until May 15."TransCanada likes to support the areas where their actual employees live, not just the places where they have pipelines," East Texas Communities Foundation Program Director Mary Lynn Smith says.

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West, Texas Explosion: One Year Later, Nothing Has Changed

Categories: Environment

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Photo by Shane Torgerson
An overhead view of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant.
In the wake of the West, Texas, fertilizer plant explosion, it's probably not surprising to learn that the disaster -- which killed at least 14, injured hundreds and gave the little North Texas town the look of a postapocalyptic war zone -- could have been avoided. That's what the U.S. Chemical Safety Board report, released Tuesday, has found.

"The fire and explosion at West Fertilizer was preventable," Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso stated. "It should never have occurred. It resulted from the failure of a company to take the necessary steps to avert a preventable fire and explosion and from the inability of federal, state and local regulatory agencies to identify a serious hazard and correct it."

The CSB is a non-regulatory federal agency charged with only one agency superpower -- the right to investigate incidents like the fertilizer plant explosion. Still, CSB investigators had a hard time actually doing that last year. The Justice Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had a larger team and took control of the explosion site along with the Texas State Fire Marshal's Office. The CSB investigators were kept out of the site for more than a month, but they still managed to investigate. What they found was less than encouraging.

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How Close Is Your Child's School to a Dangerous Chemical Facility?

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Tesla.foreffectivegov.org
It's hard enough worrying about your school-age child getting a good lunch; now you have to worry about how close his or her school is to a plant that handles dangerous chemicals.

Reportedly, just under 100 schools in the area are within a mile of one of these facilities. In the map above, the orange dots are chemical facilities that report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Risk Management Program. The blue flags are the schools our kids go to.

Nationwide, 4.6 million children are within a mile of one of these facilities, which works out to around one in ten kids at risk from a chemical spill or plant explosion, according to the analysis by the Center for Effective Government.


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Texas Might Avoid Blackouts and Brownouts This Summer

Categories: Environment

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So, you know, if a blackout happens, it's not impossible that this could happen. Maybe.
Game of Thrones people like to talk about how "winter is coming" but around here, we all know summer is what you have to be worried about. It's the time when air conditioning is essential, and also the time when a blackout or brownout may see you AC-less. The rolling blackouts and brownouts have been an issue for a while now, but luckily the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (aka ERCOT), Texas' power grid operator, is working on a solution.

ERCOT presented a report to its board of directors this week with an interesting idea -- if electric companies in Texas pay people to not use their power at peak electricity hours, there will totally be more power and fewer blackouts.

Demand response is used by utilities to reward people who use less electricity during times of peak, or high, energy demand. In effect, demand response relies on people, not power plants, to meet the demand for energy, according to a release issued by the Environmental Defense Fund this week. And on January 6th when the Polar Vortex hit Texas, it did just that.

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Community Hoping a Botanical Garden Is the Answer to Revitalize Houston's East End

Categories: Environment

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Houstontx.gov
A historic green space in peril.
There's been a lot of heavy discussion over plans to build a botanic garden on the East End, with a likely home being the Gus Wortham Golf Course. It all came to a head at a public forum hosted by the city late last month when passions collided over where to place the multi-million garden space.

Community members and business leaders have followed up on that meeting and showed up to the previous two city council public comment sessions to express support for a botanical garden. While opponents of transforming the historic golf course have been muted, this afternoon, one community member got his say.

Spence Gaskin shared notes about that original meeting with SwampLot.com. It was a meeting where he said the community was caught off-guard by the plans to forgo any work to rehab or revamp Gus Wortham Golf Course. Originally, it discussed that the course could possibly be halved, while adding a botanical garden to one end. Now, it seems the push is for resources to go into a brand new botanical space costing around $45 million. There's also a chance the garden could end up Glenbrook Park.

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Galveston Oil Spill Animal Body Count Continues

Categories: Environment

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Photo by the U.S. Coast Guard
Lisa Tippmann, a wildlife rehabilitation expert, cleaned an oiled duck picked up in the wake of the Galveston spill.

As we've unfortunately learned many times before, a bunch of oil dumped into bodies of water doesn't tend to work out well for the birds and other animals that live in the area.

We learned it with Exxon Valdez and it hit much closer to home with the British Petroleum oil spill in 2010. Now the chickens have really come home to roost. Hundreds of oiled birds -- some dead and some likely to die -- have been spotted in the past few days. There were dire predictions after a collision in the Houston Ship Channel on March 22 spilled up to 168,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil into Texas waters, and now the predictions are coming true. More than 300 oiled birds have been found, most of them dead, since the spill, according to the Texas Tribune, and it's expected there are more oiled birds out there.

The spill happened right as migration season was beginning, guaranteeing a wide variety of birds would be exposed to the oil, in addition to the year-round birds who hang around the Texas shores. In the days since the spill, oiled birds have been found in environmentally sensitive areas including the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary (an area where a variety of species of birds spends time), Mustand Island, South Padre National Seashore (where the Kemp's ridley turtles come to lay their eggs) and Matagorda Island. Most of the oil washed out toward the Gulf instead of moving inland, but this has been devastating for the shore birds.


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Galveston Oil Spill Has Put Texas Oysters and Seafood Off the Menu

Categories: Environment

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Photo by David Monniaux

The Galveston oil spill was bad enough when it was leaving oiled birds and all kinds of environmental and economic damage in its wake. Now it's even hitting the Texas seafood.

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued an advisory on eating shellfish and other seafood from Galveston Bay on Thursday. Specifically:

Because of the presence of oil in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico it is recommended that people not consume fish, shrimp or crabs from areas where oil is present. Persons should discard fish, shrimp or crabs that have oil on them or have a hydrocarbon taste or smell.

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Lesser Prairie Chicken Listed as 'Threatened', Cornyn's Not Thrilled

Categories: Environment

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Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
A little ole lesser prairie chicken, folks.
Why did the lesser prairie chicken cross the road? To get the hell out of Texas where a whole lot of people are not thrilled with the fact that the chicken, a Texas native, has been taken under the protective wing of the federal government and placed on the threatened species list by the folks over at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The lesser prairie chicken is a member of the grouse family and distinguished from its relative, the greater prairie chicken, by being a bit smaller. That's pretty much the only difference. The lesser prairie chicken is found in five states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle. There's been talk of putting the bird on the threatened list for a while now since its natural habitat -- comprised of sandhills and prairies and places like the Llano Estacado -- is vulnerable to destruction. Today U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally pulled the trigger, so to speak, and put the bird on the list:

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Body Odors Don't Matter in Teens' Water Fundraiser

Categories: Environment

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Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development
Helping out the water cause in Africa.
Money, it's the root of all evil, but for a bunch of teenagers raising awareness for the water crisis in Kenya, it'll help them give the gift of H2O to 201 people.

Working with the Austin non-profit Well Aware, about 10 girls have gone on a shower strike from March 22 through March 29. What we really think is cool about this is that it's bringing attention to Africa and the global issue of access to clean water, which is impacting Kenya in a major way.

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Oil Slick Is Still on the Move

Categories: Environment

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U.S. Coast Guard
The oil slick has travel plans.
Although commerce is pretty much back to normal with limited use of the Houston Ship Channel for fishing and recreation, the U.S. Coast Guard reports that the oil slick that was cramping Galveston Bay's style isn't gone yet.

It's currently traveling south along the Texas coast. Right now, environmentalists are worried about the impact the slick will have when it washes up on the shores of Matagorda Bay.

"An area of floating oil approximately fifteen miles off Matagorda Island is expected to be pushing shoreward by the weather over the next 24 to 48 hours. Today's response actions are focused on placing protective boom along the sensitive areas along the coast of Matagorda Island, including Sundown Island," the coast guard reports.

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