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climate change

From Harvey to drought

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

The Texas Panhandle has become ground zero in a drought that has crept into much of the state just five months after Hurricane Harvey — including areas that suffered massive flooding during the storm.

More than 40 percent of Texas is now in a moderate to severe drought, according to the latest data from the U.S. Drought Monitor. That’s compared to 4 percent on Aug. 29, a few days after Harvey slammed into the South Texas coast.

And dry conditions are expected to worsen over the coming months.

“As soon as Hurricane Harvey cleared Texas, then we almost immediately started going into the next drought,” said Mark Wentzel, a hydrologist for the Texas Water Development Board.

August was the wettest year in the state in 124 years, but every month since then — aside from December — has been considerably dry, he said.

Part of Beaumont, which saw nearly 50 inches of rain when Harvey stalled over southeast Texas as a tropical storm, is now in a moderate drought. And all of the city is considered “abnormally dry,” according to the drought monitor.

Drought conditions are particularly bad in North Texas and especially in the Panhandle, where all 26 of the region’s counties are in a severe to extreme drought and most have burn bans in effect. The outdoor fire restrictions don’t stop there, though: They’re in effect in more than one-third of Texas’ 254 counties, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Two bits of good news here. One is that Harris County is completely out of the drought zone, and two is that the longer-range forecast is for more normal rainfall beginning in May. One hopes that means a non-blistering summer. Be that as it may, this is what normal looks like now, one extreme to another. Maybe we should take climate change just a wee bit more seriously, you know, to try and cope better with this? Just a thought.

The climate change effect on storms like Harvey

More likely and more extreme is the tl;dr version of this.

The research presented Wednesday began soon after Harvey dumped feet of rain on the Houston area. World Weather Attribution — an international effort to analyze the potential influence of climate change on extreme weather events — decided to look at how greenhouse gases might have contributed to that extreme rainfall.

Studies have consistently shown that greenhouse gas-induced warming should increase the amount of rain that falls during a tropical cyclone, according to the paper.

“In general, the maximum moisture content of air increases with 6% to 8.5% per degree warming,” the paper states. “If relative humidity stays the same, which is the norm near oceans, the actual amount of water vapour in the air increases by the same amount.”

To examine this idea, scientists used multiple climate models to analyze the amount of rain that fell over a three day period (Aug. 26-28) in Baytown, compared to other three-day rain events dating back to 1880.

For the purposes of the paper, they focused on extreme rainfall as the main cause of the flooding and did not take into account the impact of other factors such as Galveston Bay’s sea level rise or the effect of Houston’s urban development on flood plains.

Those models showed that global warming over the past century has increased the severity of three-day rain events on the Gulf Coast, according to the paper.

The intensity of rainfall increased 15 percent during that time, the paper states, while the likelihood that this much rain would fall was increased three fold.

The paper itself is here. We’ve seen other research in recent weeks with similar conclusions, so this should come as no surprise. If you don’t believe the world is changing after what happened this summer, I honestly don’t know what might convince you. The Trib has more.

Thunderstorms are going to get worse

Just FYI.

Summer thunderstorms in North America will likely be larger, wetter and more frequent in a warmer world, dumping 80 percent more rain in some areas and worsening flooding, a new study says.

Future storms will also be wilder, soaking entire cities and huge portions of states, according to a federally-funded study released Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The U.S. in recent years has experienced prolonged drenchings that have doused Nashville in 2010, West Virginia and Louisiana in 2016 and Houston this year. The disasters cost about $20 billion a year in damage.

By the end of century if emissions aren’t curbed, these gully washers will be much worse because they will get bigger, said Andreas Prein, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, who led the study.

Prein and colleagues used high-resolution computer simulations to see how global warming will likely change the large thunderstorms that are already daily summer events in North America. Previous studies projected more frequent and wetter storms, but this is the first research to show they likely will be more widespread, covering an entire city instead of just half of it, Prein said.

“We see increases that are beyond our expectations … far beyond our expectations,” Prein said. “It looks everything that can go wrong does go wrong concerning flooding.”

Awesome, huh? We can build more reservoirs and update our development codes and all those other things, but if we’re not taking every action we can to curb climate change, we’re just spinning our wheels. Maybe elect more people who take that threat seriously? Just a thought.

The 100-year-storm isn’t what it used to be

They’re bigger.

More than three months after Hurricane Harvey battered southeast Texas with unprecedented and costly flooding, an analysis of rainfall trends across Texas suggests the standards used to develop floodplain regulations, map flood zones and design flood control projects routinely underestimate the severity of the Houston area’s downpours.

That analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, which looked at rainfall data stretching back decades, up to and including Harvey, shows the amount of rain that defines a “100-year storm” – one that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year – has risen by 3 to 5 inches in Harris County since the last estimates were put in place in 2002.

Instead of expecting 12 to 14 inches in a day during a 100-year storm, the data shows the county should expect 15 to 18 inches.

A higher rainfall estimate for a 100-year storm means developers would need to design subdivisions and strip malls to compensate for higher runoff, and more existing residential and business properties would be included in new floodplain maps that drive insurance costs and development regulations.

“We design our infrastructure and our society and homes to be resilient to a certain level of risk,” said John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas state climatologist and professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University. “Having updated, more accurate numbers means that we’re better able to do that, and the risk we’re undertaking matches the risk we’re designing for.”

[…]

The preliminary data released last week includes estimates across Texas. A broad swath of Texas, stretching from Beaumont and Port Arthur, across Austin and the middle of the state, and all the way to Del Rio, indicates rainfall greater than that modeled during the 1961 study. In some parts of west Texas, the data shows the amount of rainfall indicating a 100-year storm should actually be lower than current standards.

St. Laurent said the increase in the 100-year storm severity for the Houston area could be attributed in part to the several severe storms the region had experienced since 2002. NOAA included data from Harvey in its analysis.

“The additional decade or two of data have some significantly high rainfall events that definitely contribute to higher precipitation estimates,” he said.

Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, said any time officials have more data with which to work, estimates change, particularly when including events like the Tax Day flood and Harvey. The new estimates, he added, also reflect a changing climate.

“You wouldn’t want to look at an individual location and say that all of the change there is due to climate change,” Nielsen-Gammon said. “But if you look at the state as a whole, it seems that the increases have outnumbered the decreases, at least in the current draft. So, that’s some combination of longer-term natural variability and climate change that’s doing that.”

I don’t have much to add to this. As a region, we seem to be internalizing the notion that we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done, with regard to development and flood mitigation. That’s good and necessary and long overdue. The much bigger question is whether we are internalizing the fact that climate change is a big part of the reason why we can’t keep doing what we’ve always done, and that means we can’t keep polluting and emitting carbon as before. That’s a question for more than just the region, or for the state. I think – I hope – our region is up to our part of the task. Whether our state and our country are remains to be seen, but the track record of the powers that are now in charge is not encouraging. That needs to be part of the discussion, not just in the 2018 campaign but in every campaign after 2018 as well.

More Harveys

Thanks, climate change.

The extreme rains that inundated the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey were made more likely by climate change, a new study suggests, adding that such extreme flooding events will only become more frequent as the globe continues to warm.

“I guess what I was hoping to achieve was a little bit of a public service,” said MIT hurricane expert Kerry Emanuel, who published the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday. “There are folks down in Texas who are having to rebuild infrastructure, and I think they need to have some idea of what kind of event they’re building for.”

In the wake of Harvey, many researchers pointed out that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor and that, as a result, a warmer planet should see more extreme rains. But Emanuel’s study goes beyond this general statement to support the idea that the specific risk of such an extreme rain event is already rising because of how humans have changed the planet.

Via climate modeling, Emanuel generated 3,700 computerized storms for each of three separate models that situated the storms in the climates of the years from 1980 to 2016. All of the storms were in the vicinity of Houston or other Texas areas. He examined how often, in his models, there would be about 20 inches of rain in one of these events.

Harvey produced closer to 33 inches over Houston. But in the tests under the 1980 to 2016 conditions, getting 20 inches of rain was rare in the extreme.

“By the standards of the average climate during 1981-2000, Harvey’s rainfall in Houston was ‘biblical’ in the sense that it likely occurred around once since the Old Testament was written,” wrote Emanuel, adding that in the much larger area of Texas, such rains did occur once every 100 years.

Then Emanuel performed a similar analysis, this time in the projected climates of the years 2080 to 2100, assuming the climate changes in some of the more severe ways scientists suggest it could.

The odds, accordingly, shifted toward a much greater likelihood of such events by 2100. Harvey’s rains in Houston became a once-in-100-years event (rather than a once-in-2,000-years event), and for Texas as a whole, the odds increased from once in 100 years to once every 5½.

This also meant, Emanuel calculated, that Harvey was probably more likely in 2017 than in the era from 1981 to 2000. In 2017, Harvey would be a once-in-325-years event. For Texas as a whole, in 2017 it would be a once-in-16-years event.

You can see the study here. This is the first study of its kind, so more research is needed to better understand what this means, but this is the world we live in. We can take steps to try to mitigate the damage, or we can live with the consequences. The MIT press release is here, and Ars Technica, the Atlantic, and the Associated Press have more.

Lamar Smith to retire

Good riddance.

Rep. Lamar Smith

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio said Tuesday he is retiring from Congress.

“For several reasons, this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else,” he wrote in an email obtained by the Tribune. “… With over a year remaining in my term, there is still much to do. There is legislation to enact, dozens of hearings to hold and hundreds of votes to cast.”

Smith, a San Antonio native, received his undergraduate degree from Yale and attended law school at Southern Methodist University. He was elected to Congress in 1987 and represents a district that spans Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. He is the current chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Like U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the House Financial Services chairman who announced his retirement on Tuesday, Smith faced a term-limit in that role.

[…]

Speculation immediately began among Texas GOP insiders about who could succeed Smith in his seat. Names included state Reps. Jason Isaac and Lyle Larson, and Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.

State Sen. Donna Campbell’s name was also put in play. A spokesman for Campbell said she “will carefully and prayerfully consider what is best for her and the district.”

Austin-based communications consultant Jenifer Sarver, a Republican, confirmed that she’s “taking a serious look” at running for the seat.

The question on many insider’s minds is whether retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus would consider a run, but sources close to him said Thursday he is not interested.

Smith’s 21st Congressional District runs from South Austin along the west side of I-35 into San Antonio and extends westward into the Hill Country. The district was drawn to be a safe Republican seat, but there is a competitive Democratic primary this year with viable fundraising candidates. One of the Democratic challengers, veteran Joe Kopser, raised more funds than Smith in the last quarter.

Democrats have argued for weeks that if more Republicans retire, they have a better shot at those open-seat races.

Is this one of those races? It’s too soon to tell, Democratic sources around the Capitol told the Tribune.

This district would be incredibly difficult to dislodge, but perhaps not as hard as a lift as a conservative East Texas bastion such as Hensarling’s seat. Democrats will prioritize dozens of other seat before they spend on this one, situated in the expensive Austin and San Antonio markets.

The early read from Democrats in Washington: It would have to be an absolutely toxic environment for the GOP next year for this seat to flip.

Let’s be clear: Lamar Smith is terrible. Not just for his longstanding enmity towards the environment, which the story covered, but also for his equally longstanding hostility towards immigration. Of the names mentioned as potential Republican candidates to replace him, only Donna Campbell is clearly worse. That said, it is hard to beat an incumbent, and his departure ought to make the path a tad bit easier for someone like Joseph Kopser. CD21 was red in 2016, but not as red as it has been. Trump carried it 51.9 to 42.1, while Mike Keasler on the CCA won it 56.7 to 38.1. In 2012, it was 59.8 to 37.9 for Mitt Romney and 58.6 to 36.6 for Sharon Keller. Whether that’s enough to draw national attention is another question, but adding Smith’s name to the pile of leavers does help further the “abandon ship” narrative. I only wish he had done so sooner. ThinkProgress, which goes deeper on Smith’s extreme pro-pollution record, has more.

Another national publication looks at CD07

Mother Jones, come on down.

Rep. John Culberson

In addition to [Laura] Moser, the top competitors for the March primary are first-time candidates with stories that fit the political moment in different ways. Lizzie Fletcher, a well-connected lawyer at a large downtown firm, got her start in politics as a teenager during the 1992 Republican National Convention, when she volunteered to stand outside abortion clinics blocking Operation Rescue types from chaining themselves to the entrance. Alex Triantaphyllis, who at 33 is the youngest of the bunch, co-founded a mentoring nonprofit for refugees in Houston after spending time at Goldman Sachs and Harvard Law School. Jason Westin, an oncologist and researcher at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, told me he first thought about running a week after the election, after watching his daughter’s soccer game. She had taken a hard fall and Westin told her to “get back up and get back in the game”—but sitting on the couch later that day, scrolling through Facebook, he decided he was a hypocrite. He decided to enter the race with encouragement from 314 Action, a new political outfit that encourages candidates with scientific backgrounds to run for office. The primary is not until March, but in a sign of the enthusiasm in the district, Culberson’s would-be Democratic challengers have already held two candidate forums.

The 7th District starts just west of downtown Houston, in the upscale enclave of West University Place near Rice University, and stretches west and north through parts of the city and into the suburbs, in the shape of a wrench that has snapped at the handle. It had not given any indication of turning blue before last year. But a large number of voters cast ballots for both Hillary Clinton and Culberson. Moser and Fletcher see that as a sign that Republican women, in particular, are ready to jump ship for the right candidate. In the Texas Legislature, West University Place is represented by Republican Sarah Davis, whose district Clinton carried by 15 points, making it the bluest red seat in the state. Davis is an outlier in another way: She’s the lone pro-choice Republican in the state Legislature and was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes in 2016. “To the outside world it looks like a huge swing,” Fletcher says of the November results, “but I think that a more moderate kind of centrist hue is in keeping with the district, so I’m not surprised that people voted for Hillary.”

But whether they’re Sarah Davis Democrats or Hillary Clinton Republicans at heart, those crossover voters still make up just a small percentage of the overall population. Houston is the most diverse metro area in the United States, and a majority of the district is non-white—a fact that’s not reflected in the Democratic candidate field. To win, Democrats will need to lock in their 2016 gains while also broadening their electorate substantially from what it usually is in a midterm election. That means making real inroads with black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters in the district, many of whom may be new to the area since the last round of redistricting. “[The] big thing in the district is getting Hispanic voters out, and nobody knows how to do that,” Moser acknowledges, summing up the problems of Texas Democrats. “If we knew how, we wouldn’t have Ted Cruz.”

[…]

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by a local Indivisible chapter, Westin, the oncologist, warned voters against repeating the mistakes of Georgia. “One of the take-home messages was that a giant pot of money is not alone enough to win,” he said. Westin’s message for Democrats was to go big or go home. While he believes the seven candidates are broadly on the same page in their economic vision and in their opposition to Trump, he urged the party to rally around something bold that it could offer the public if it took back power—in his case, single-payer health care. “We’re behind Luxembourg, we’re behind Malta, we’re behind Cypress and Brunei and Slovenia in terms of our quality of health care,” Westin says. “That is astounding.” Who better to make the case for Medicare-for-all, he believes, than someone in the trenches at one of the world’s most prestigious clinics?

Moser, who likewise backs single-payer, may be even more outspoken about the need to change course. She argues that the Obama years should be a teachable moment for progressives. They let centrists and moderates like former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus call the shots for a once-in-a-generation congressional majority, she says, and all they got was a lousy tea party landslide. “I don’t know if we would still have been swept in 2010—probably, because that’s the way it goes—but at least we could have accomplished some stuff in the meantime that we could claim now more forcefully and more proudly,” she says. A missed opportunity from those years she’d like to revisit is a second stimulus bill to rebuild infrastructure in places like Houston, where floods get worse and worse because of a climate Culberson denies is changing.

In Moser’s view, Democrats lose swing districts not because they’re too liberal but because they’re afraid to show it. When DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, a congressman from New Mexico, told The Hill in August that the party would support pro-life Democratic candidates next November on a case-by-case basis (continuing a long-standing policy backed by Nancy Pelosi), Moser penned another article for Vogue condemning the position. “As a first-time Congressional candidate, I’ve been warned not to criticize Ben Ray Luján,” she wrote, but she couldn’t help it. Red states like Texas were not a justification for moderation; they were evidence of its failure. “I have one idea of how to get more Democratic women to polling stations: Stand up for them.”

Fletcher and Triantaphyllis have been more cautious in constructing their platforms. They’d like to keep Obamacare and fix what ails it, but they have, for now, stopped short of the single-player proposal endorsed by most of the House Democratic caucus. “I don’t think anyone has a silver bullet at this point,” Triantaphyllis says. Both emphasize “market-based” or “market-centered” economic policies and the need to win Republican voters with proposals on issues that cut across partisan lines, such as transportation. Houston commutes are notorious, and Culberson, Fletcher notes, has repeatedly blocked funding for new transit options.

Still, the field reflects a general leftward shift in the party over the last decade. All the major candidates oppose the Muslim ban, proposals to defund Planned Parenthood, and Trump’s immigration crackdown. Even in America’s fossil-fuel mecca, every candidate has argued in favor of a renewed commitment to fighting climate change. It is notable that Democratic candidates believe victory lies in loudly opposing the Republican president while defending Barack Obama in a historically Republican part of Texas. But Moser still worries her rivals will fall for the same old trap.

“I just think in this district people say, ‘Oh, but it’s kind of a conservative district,’ [and try] to really be safe and moderate, and I find that the opposite is true,” Moser says. “We just don’t have people showing up to vote. We don’t even know how many Democrats we have in this district because they don’t vote.”

Pretty good article overall. I often get frustrated by stories like this written by reporters with no clue about local or Texas politics, but this one was well done. This one only mentions the four top fundraisers – it came out before Debra Kerner suspended her campaign, so it states there are seven total contenders – with Moser getting the bulk of the attention. It’s one of the first articles I’ve read to give some insight into what these four are saying on the trail. They’re similar enough on the issues that I suspect a lot of the decisions the primary voters make will come down to personality and other intangibles. Don’t ask me who I think is most likely to make it to the runoff, I have no idea.

As for the claims about what will get people out to vote next November, this is an off-year and it’s all about turnout. CD07 is a high turnout district relative to Harris County and the state as a whole, but it fluctuates just like everywhere else. Here’s what the turnout levels look like over the past cycles:


Year    CD07   Harris   Texas
=============================
2002  37.37%   35.01%  36.24%
2004  66.87%   58.03%  56.57%
2006  40.65%   31.59%  33.64%
2008  70.61%   62.81%  59.50%
2010  49.42%   41.67%  37.53%
2012  67.72%   61.99%  58.58%
2014  39.05%   33.65%  33.70%
2016  67.04%   61.33%  59.39%

These figures are from the County Clerk website and not the redistricting one, so the pre-2012 figures are for the old version of CD07. High in relative terms for the off years, but still plenty of room to attract Presidential-year voters. Note by the way that there are about 40,000 more registered voters in CD07 in 2016 compared to 2012; there were 20,000 more votes cast in 2016, but the larger number of voters meant that turnout as a percentage of RVs was down a touch. Job #1 here and everywhere else is to find the Presidential year Democrats and convince them to come out in 2018; job #2 is to keep registering new voters. The candidate who can best do those things is the one I hope makes it on the ballot.

Texas’ climate change future

Gonna be awesome.

The Texas economy could face some of the costliest consequences of climate change as temperatures continue to increase over the next several decades, according to a new study.

In the study published last week in the journal Science, researchers found that the economic burden of climate change will hit states along the Gulf Coast – including Texas – harder than the colder, northern states that will profit from warmer weather.

[…]

The study estimates that the U.S. economy will lose about 0.7 percent of GDP per year by 2080 for each degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures.

Texas, however, will likely see a loss of 3.4 to 9.5 percent per year beginning in 2080. And Harris County could face median damages worth up to 6 percent of GDP a year beginning in 2080. Some counties in Texas could fare much worse, facing damages up to 20 percent of GDP – ranking them among the worst hit counties in the nation.

Much of the costs for Texas come from higher heat-related deaths, said James Rising, a postdoctoral fellow at University of California at Berkeley who coauthored the study. By the end of the century, mortality rates in the state likely will increase by between 16 to 45 death for every 100,000 people due to the extreme heat. For perspective, Texas currently experiences about 13 motor vehicle deaths for every 100,000.

Researchers also were able to measure the economic impact climate change would have along the coast, with Texas ranking among the five states impacted most. With rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes, the study analyzed the potential cost of damage faced by Gulf Coast properties.

The study, which comes from researchers at the Climate Impact Lab, relies on “business-as-usual” emissions estimates, mapping the effects of climate change if nothing is done globally to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 21st century.

You can see the study here. As you can see from the map, the entire South really takes the brunt of it, which given how widespread climate denialism is in that part of the country seems like a particularly brutal form of poetic justice. Too bad the people who are the biggest part of the problem will be long dead before the worst of the effects take place. But hey, no worries, it’s just our kids and grandkids. The Atlantic and the Press have more.

Mayors (still) against climate change

Someone’s gotta do it.

On Thursday, President Donald Trump officially announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, citing the deal’s failure “to serve American interests.”

Hours later, governors, mayors, and environmental groups all had a different message: We’ll take it from here.

“Donald Trump has absolutely chosen the wrong course,” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said on a press call following Trump’s announcement. “California’s economy and America’s economy is boosted by following the Paris agreement.”

In the wake of the Trump administration’s sudden withdrawal from the international stage, local leaders — especially, though not limited to, those in progressive areas of the country — are recommitting to their work on climate policy. Brown, for instance, will reportedly discuss merging California’s existing carbon market — a cap and trade program started in 2012 — with China when he travels to Asia later this week. Canada has also reportedly been reaching out to U.S. governors to try and coordinate work on climate change.

Brown also joined with Govs. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) to create the United States Climate Alliance, a coalition that will include states committed to meeting emission reduction targets previously submitted to the Paris climate agreement regardless of what action the federal government takes. Together, California, Washington, and New York represent one-fifth of the United States’ GDP — creating an economy larger than most countries that are party to the Paris agreement. The states also account for at least 10 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

“I am proud to stand with other governors as we make sure that the inaction in D.C. is met by an equal force of action from the states,” Inslee said in a press statement announcing the creation of the alliance on Thursday. “Today’s announcement by the president leaves the full responsibility of climate action on states and cities throughout our nation. While the president’s actions are a shameful rebuke to the work needed to protect our planet for our children and grandchildren, states have been and will continue to step up.”

U.S. mayors also voiced their criticism of Trump’s decision, vowing to recommit to local efforts to curb climate change. Cities are responsible for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, meaning that even small changes in city-wide policies — retrofitting street lamps with LED bulbs, for instance, or deploying electric vehicles for city-owned cars — can make a big dent in the country’s overall emissions.

“Austin will not stop fighting climate change,” Steve Adler, mayor of Austin, Texas, said in a press statement following Trump’s announcement. “Worldwide, cities will lead in achieving climate treaty goals because so much of what’s required happens at the local level. Regardless of what happens around us, we’re still Austin, Texas.”

Houston is in on this as well; you can see his press statement here. This is nothing new for Houston – in fact, if you go to the Climate Mayors homepage, you’ll see that former Mayor Parker was one of the founders. (I noted it at the time.) It’s good to see, and it’s yet another reminder of the importance of local elections, as I have a much harder time imagining the runnerup in the 2015 Mayor’s race being out front on this.

California is the new Texas

Or will be, as far as litigating against the federal government goes.

Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra

Gov. Jerry Brown has tabbed Rep. Xavier Becerra to serve as California’s interim attorney general, selecting the Los Angeles Democrat to fill a vacancy opened by the imminent departure of outgoing Attorney General Kamala Harris to the U.S. Senate.

Assuming he wins confirmation by the Legislature – a strong possibility, given the 12-term Democrat’s role as a mainstay of Democratic and Los Angeles politics – Becerra would serve as California’s top law enforcement official through 2018, with an opportunity to serve for another eight years if he runs for the office. He would be California’s first Latino attorney general.

The election of Donald Trump as president has alarmed California Democrats and thrown into question the state’s liberal stances on issues like climate change and immigration. Brown’s choice of a liberal stalwart like Becerra reaffirmed the state’s future role as a pocket of resistance.

“Xavier has been an outstanding public servant – in the State Legislature, the U.S. Congress and as a deputy attorney general,” Brown said in an emailed statement. “I’m confident he will be a champion for all Californians and help our state aggressively combat climate change.”

Referring to himself as “the son of immigrants” who is motivated to “fight for working families like the one I grew up in,” Becerra said in a statement that he had accepted Brown’s offer and summarized his liberal bona fides.

“I have been part of some of the greatest debates confronting our nation, from opposing the Iraq War, to fighting to help Americans recover from the Great Recession, to launching the bipartisan immigration talks and helping write our nation’s health security law,” Becerra said, adding that “California right now is ahead of the country when it comes to clean energy, common sense treatment of immigrants, real health security and so much more.”

[…]

In a conference call with reporters, Becerra said he would be “vigorous in defense of what we’ve done” to expand clean energy, protect parts of the federal health care law that Republicans seek to dismantle and preserve efforts toward “criminal justice reform” that seek to protect “young men of color.”

“We have policies in place that probably won’t pass at the federal level for another five, 10, 15 years,” Becerra said. “If you want to take on a forward-leaning state that is prepared to defend its rights and interests, then come at us.”

And in the face of Trump’s vow to deport millions of immigrants with criminal records, Becerra appeared to back California’s efforts to prevent removal of unauthorized immigrants who pose no threat to public safety.

“No one who goes to a grocery store to shop should believe the state of California is going to do anything to keep them from going home to see their kids if they’re just being regular, hardworking individuals,” Becerra said. “You’re talking to the son of immigrants, and I’m going to do everything I can to give that child of immigrant parents every chance I had.”

Hire some good litigators, that’s my advice. I’ve said before, I don’t care for having district court judges provide another veto on the federal government. It just doesn’t strike me as a good way to run a government. That said, if this is how the game is played these days, I see no reason to unilaterally disarm. I look forward to the howls of protest from the likes of Ted Cruz when state or even local action overrules a federal mandate. I can’t wait to hear what the principle is for that. Daily Kos has more.

Climate change will not be kind to Houston

It could be even worse, if that’s any consolation, but it will be bad as things are going now.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5105566

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5105566

Houston’s brutally hot summers, persistent humidity, floods and hurricanes never have been much of a selling point. It’s been something to endure.

In 50 years, scientists predict Houston’s climate will look a lot like what it does today, but amplified – more hot days, more downpours, more hurricanes, and more sea-level rise.

The frequency and ferocity of those events is the subject of scientific debate. But make no mistake: Climate change will alter Houston over the next century.

“I think the last year gave us a pretty good insight into the next decade,” said Gavin Dillingham, a Houston Advanced Research Center scientist working with the city to develop a sustainability plan. “There’s going to be significantly more flooding, summers that last longer, more vector-borne diseases. Zika could be just the beginning.”

The federal government’s most recent national climate assessment paints a rather grim portrait of Texas by 2100: a increase in the number of days over 100 degrees and more drought, particularly for West and North Texas.

Likewise, oceans are expected to continue to warm, adding fuel to potential hurricanes that come into the Gulf of Mexico.

Presumably, Houston will have some kind of hurricane protection system in place in 50 years, but that seems far from certain given the current pace of the “coastal spine” project. To better protect the Houston-Galveston area, the concept involves combining barriers and gates to lessen the effects of storm surge. For example, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Greater New Orleans Barrier was built to protect the city from storm surge.

Either way, climate science now suggests there will be less of the coast to protect in the future due to sea level rise. By 2100, estimates range for sea levels to increase on the Texas coast anywhere from a foot and half to 6 feet. At five feet, roughly 68 percent of Galveston would be underwater.

[…]

So just how hot will Houston get in the future?

The good news is Houston always will enjoy breezes from the Gulf of Mexico. The bad news is Houston is Houston.

“It will be warmer,” said state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon when asked what Houston might be like in 50 years. “One thing you’ll see is warmer minimum temperatures in the winter time. It won’t be as cold as it is now.”

So one day you might only need those sweaters you like to wear in the winter for when it’s overly air-conditioned. Sure is a good thing climate change is all a hoax, isn’t it?

We’re going to get more big rain storms

Better get used to it.

The weather is getting worse, says one expert.

Torrential rains fall in the Houston area more often than they used to, according to an unpublished analysis from state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

Heavy precipitation of any particular magnitude are twice as likely to fall in the Bayou City today as they were in the early 20th Century. Downpours that struck every two years back then come every year on average now. Deluges that used to drop each 100, 500 or 1000 years should fall more frequently as well.

Nielsen-Gammon, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University who was appointed state climatologist by Gov. George W. Bush in 2000, reviewed data from rainfall gauges across the state, some with records dating to the late 19th Century. For Harris County, he drew from 17 gauges.

“We’ve confirmed that there’s an overall increase in extreme rainfall in Texas over the past century,” he said. “Specifically for Houston the increase has been particularly large.”

[…]

An independent analysis of local rainfall data from the National Weather Service also confirmed the state climatologist’s findings. Of the 100 rainiest days in Houston since 1890, as measured at multiple gauge sites, the wettest of the wet are skewed dramatically towards the last four decades.

You can see the charts and graphs and stuff at the story link. If you’re saying to yourself “weren’t we worried just a few years ago that we’d dry out and turns to dust from lack of rain?”, the answer is yes, and the reason is because we’re getting fewer rain events with more rain in them. Fewer rainstorms, in other words, but more of the storms we do get are big, and they’re more likely to come in groups rather than be spread out more or less evenly over time. Isn’t that awesome? But don’t worry, climate change is still a myth propagated by liberals, so we don’t have anything to worry about and we surely don’t have to change any of our habits in any way.

New methane rules finalized

Gentlemen, start your lawyers.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday issued its final rule for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

The rule limits methane emissions from new oil and gas infrastructure and requires operators to submit to semi-annual or quarterly monitoring, depending on the type of operation. In addition, the agency took another step toward drafting a rule that would apply to existing oil and gas operations.

“They will help keep the nation on track to help the us cut emissions from the oil and gas sector,” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said on a call with reporters Thursday. The new rule will reduce emissions by 11 million tons per year of CO2 equivalent by 2025, she said.

The Obama administration has a goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. Natural gas is 80 percent methane, while oil extraction processes also often release methane trapped underground. In 2012, 30 percent of the country’s methane emissions came from oil and gas operations.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, trapping heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year span, so leaking methane can be a huge problem. While natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, leaks in the system can eliminate the climate benefits. Scientists have found that in the United States, methane leaks and venting have nullified any emissions benefit from transitioning the electricity sector from coal- to natural gas-fired power plants. In fact, the EPA recently found that the problem of escaping methane is even worse than initially feared. The United States currently gets a third of its electricity from natural gas, up from 24 percent in 2010.

[…]

There are, though, two key changes from the initial draft rule the EPA published last year that environmentalists welcomed. Under the new rule, natural gas compressors will be subject to quarterly monitoring — twice as often as under the proposal. In addition, low-production wells will be included in the rule. In its fact sheet, the agency credited the changes to the more than 9,000 public comments it received after the draft rule was published.

See here and here for some background. We all know what comes next, and we know it’s not over till the Supreme Court says it is. So sit back, pop open a cold one, and wait for the legal action to begin. Daily Kos and the Trib have more.

Find those leaks

I don’t care how.

A pair of state and federal government inspectors spent two weeks traveling around northern Colorado’s oil and gas fields in early 2012, filming with an infrared camera.

Air pollution was rising in the region, and attention was turning to the rapid increase in drilling activity. The inspectors focused on Houston-based Noble Energy, one of the state’s largest drillers with about 7,000 wells in the suburbs and countryside north of Denver.

With the naked eye, there was nothing to see at the nearly hundred sites they visited. But when observed through the infrared camera, again and again they saw plumes of gas radiating from the top of storage tanks near the wells.

“The infrared camera does not quantify emissions, but you can say that’s a small leak versus a big leak. And these were big leaks,” said one of the inspectors, Cindy Beeler, an energy adviser at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s offices in Colorado. “When we showed our findings to Noble, they were surprised.”

As the Obama administration accelerates its campaign to blunt the effects of climate change, federal regulators are turning to infrared technology to seek out emissions leaks in the country’s oil and gas fields. With state agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and environmental groups embracing the technology, drillers are increasingly finding themselves staring down the lenses of infrared cameras.

Beyond government inspections, many companies are worried they soon will be required to do their own infrared scans and make what they fear will be unnecessary repairs across the country’s more than 1 million oil and gas wells. Industry lobbyists are already challenging the devices’ effectiveness.

“Part of our concern is that it really locks us in to this technology at a point in time the understanding of these fugitive emissions is really in its childhood,” said Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “The presumptive starting point for the EPA is requiring infrared.”

[…]

For decades, companies and government inspectors relied on hand-held sensors to tell them if gas was leaking. But without a means to see the emissions, one was left to guess where to hold the sensor on a drilling site that can run the size of a football field – “like trying to pin the tail on the donkey,” Beeler jokes.

Then in 2011, the EPA decided to try infrared technology, which uses variations in temperature and other environmental measures to form images – capturing everything from a mouse on the ground to escaping gas.

At the time, the primary mission was reducing the release of volatile organic compounds, a key contributor to smog, which has long been linked to asthma and lung disease in humans. But federal attention is now turning to methane, which makes up about 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and has an impact on global warming 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

The oil and gas industry is pressuring the EPA to look away from infrared at other cheaper technologies, like methane sensors, that would automatically detect leaks as they occur but are still in development. In a memo to EPA in December, the IPAA raised several issues about the infrared devices, including concerns about whether smaller companies could handle the cost – $100,000 each – and whether they were reliable.

“The results of the camera, the ‘pictures,’ are difficult to interpret and subject to misinterpretation, e.g., what appears to be a leak could simply be a heat plume,” the memo stated.

EPA officials countered that infrared is one of a variety of tools for gathering evidence in emissions cases that often was supported by data from the companies themselves.

“Infrared allows us to see hydrocarbons,” said Apple Chapman, associate director of EPA’s air enforcement division. “It’s a faster screening tool and a faster investigative tool.”

I don’t care what technology gets used, as long as something gets used that can reliably detect these leaks. I doubt I have to explain why some kind of voluntary compliance program is worthless. If the industry has a viable alternative to infrared that they don’t mind being required to use, then fine. If not, then infrared it is. Whatever gets the job done.

New EPA rules for methane coming

You know what will follow.

Building on already pending rules to cut methane leaks from both new oil and gas wells and those on federal lands, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now plans to bring to the oil sector the tough emissions standards it previously applied to automobiles and power plants.

The change would bring federal pollution rules in line with President Barack Obama’s earlier stated promise to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas drilling at least 40 percent by 2025, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

“Based on this growing body of science, it’s become clear it’s come time for EPA to take additional action,” she said in a news conference Thursday. “We’ll start this work immediately, and we intend to work quickly.”

The EPA said it was only just beginning to put a rule together and would be reaching out to oil and gas companies next month to request emissions data, to get a better handle on the scale of the problem and the costs of fixing it.

But based on the methane rules, already pending, hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells across Texas and the country are likely to be required to invest in technology like infrared cameras and methane sensors to seek out and repair natural gas leaks in their pipelines and storage tanks.

[…]

A recent study commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund puts the cost of reaching Obama’s goal at 1 cent per Mcf of natural gas – less than 1 percent at current prices – when factoring in current lost revenues from escaping natural gas.

But in a conference call with reporters Thursday, Kyle Isakower, vice president of regulatory and economic policy at the American Petroleum Institute, said costs were likely to be far higher.

He said the industry would need to see the final rule before deciding whether to take legal action, as states and coal producers have done over Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

“We’re keeping all our options on the table,” Isakower said. “The administration is catering to environmental extremists at the expense of American consumers.”

Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before. While the many, many lawsuits filed over Obama’s environmental regulations have in some cases delayed implementation for awhile, in the end the EPA and everyone who likes clean air and water has generally prevailed, as the Supreme Court has upheld the EPA’s authority to set and enforce these rules. I see no reason why this time should be different. Think Progress has more.

Storm protection is expensive

But then so would be getting hit by a truly bad storm.

Building a storm surge protection system along the Texas Gulf Coast could cost between $7.9 billion and $11 billion, and likely would not be completed for about two decades, according to a new study.

The report by the Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District, which includes six counties along the upper Texas coast, comes after years of urging by academics to take action to prevent a massive storm surge like the one spawned by Hurricane Ike.

The study analyzed the costs and benefits of a range of major infrastructure projects – from systems of levees to a giant gate in the Houston Ship Channel.

Robert Eckels, the district president, said even with the highest cost estimate of $11 billion, paying for surge protection is still far cheaper than the aftermath of Ike, which caused more than $30 billion in damage when it hit in 2008.

“Just the damage from Ike is more than double even what the most expensive alternatives are,” Eckels said.

But the study is likely to reignite a debate over how to best balance protecting the coast with the potential harm to the environment posed by artificial barriers.

[…]

The most expensive proposal, with a construction cost of $5.8 billion, involves building a 55-mile storm surge protection system that includes a massive navigation gate across the Houston Ship Channel. The alternative, at $3.5 billion, involves a series of separate systems that would not provide direct protection to the upper reaches of the ship channel.

We’ve been talking about this for years now, and while there’s no consensus on what the best course of remediation is, there’s definitely a consensus that a worst-case storm is a real if small possibility, and its effects would be devastating. Take a look at the Hell and High Water interactive slideshow put together by the Trib and ProPublica if you want to freak out a little. Of course, the first problem that has to be solved for this is how to pay for whatever we decide to do. I personally think that a combination of federal and state funds should be the source, but we can quibble over who pays how much for what. But first, we need to agree to Do Something. The rest can work itself out once we take that step. Swamplot has more.

Dealing with climate change whether you believe in it or not

Writer Taylor Hill visits West Texas to talk about drought, wind energy, and the topic that dare not speak its name, also known as climate change.

Actions, though, do speak louder than words. AzTx Cattle and other ranching and farming operations across West Texas are changing a century-old way of life to adapt to the new reality of climate change, even if, in their unwillingness to talk about global warming, they see their actions as a pragmatic response to a new business reality. So a state that once spawned oil billionaires like T. Boone Pickens now mints wind barons like, yes, T. Boone Pickens, and rock-ribbed conservative cities are ditching dirty coal for wind and solar energy. Texas may be home to some of the nation’s most vociferous climate skeptics—hello, Ted Cruz—but Texans are already fighting climate change, even if they won’t admit it. Survival, it turns out, trumps denial.

“If people are making smart choices for different reasons, that’s OK,” says Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, and an evangelical Christian. “What matters is not why we do it; what matters is what we’re doing.”

[…]

AzTx Cattle once operated feedlots scattered across the parched landscapes of Arizona and Texas. Bob Josserand cites the continued consolidation of the cattle feeding industry as the reason the company has closed all of its feedlots except for one in Hereford. Today, John Josserand focuses mainly on the company’s open-range cattle ranches in East Texas and New Mexico.

But even at the Hereford feedlot, things have changed.

On a walk around the 50,000-cattle lot, John reluctantly leads the way to the feedlot’s latest herd of Holstein cows—a smaller breed that requires less food and therefore less water. For a man who associates high-quality cattle with the all-black coat, perky ears, and stocky build of Angus, the Holstein, with its splotchy black-and-white hide and floppy ears, is not his favorite cow. It doesn’t produce the prized steaks associated with Black Angus or other iconic Texas cattle. If Holsteins are not used as dairy cows, they’re typically sold as low-quality ground beef—they’re kind of the catfish of the cow world.

“They’re making up a larger and larger percentage of what we’re seeing here,” John says.

For Bob, the changes in the business—from downsizing to breed changing—are a logical response to current conditions. “We’ve seen years and years of wasting water, and it’s catching up with us,” he says. “The decisions that were made 40 years ago are coming back home.”

Bruce McCarl, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University, views the Josserands’ decision to move away from feedlots as the type of adaptation needed to cope with climate change.

“We see farmers and ranchers adapting to climate change in our studies, even if they don’t call it climate change,” he says. Some of the more obvious changes include switching to drip irrigation systems and substituting corn and other water-intensive crops for drought-tolerating grains such as sorghum.

It’s a good read, though if you’re anything like me you’ll probably find yourself grinding your teeth a few times. People can believe whatever crazy things they want about climate change, and they can vote for politicians who nurture those crazy beliefs, but when their own eyes and their own bottom lines tell them they have to adapt or die, they adapt. And the actions they take ultimately help fight against climate change, even if their words and beliefs are still obstacles.

2015 Texas Lyceum poll

Issues first, election stuff to come. From the press release:

The 2015 Texas Lyceum Poll Finds: 

  • Immigration remains the most important issue facing the state and Texans support lawmakers’ increased spending on border security.
  • Texans’ views on  gay marriage are changing. Forty nine percent of Texans support gay marriage – up from 29 percent in 2009.
  • Experience with  race-based discriminationshifts greatly depending on the racial or ethnic background of the person polled.
  • Footballrules in Texas. Despite national poll numbers revealing 40 percent of Americans would discourage their children from playing youth football72 percent of Texans would encourage children to play football.
  • A growing number of Texans, 46 percent, support legalizing the use of marijuana (up by 13 percent since 2011) and among those who oppose legalization, 57 percent support decriminalization.
  • Texans are not overly concerned about climate change, but a majority (67 percent) would support new regulations on private companies.

 

2015 Texas Lyceum Poll Infographic

AUSTIN — An independent statewide poll conducted earlier this month (Sept. 8-21) by the Texas Lyceum, the state’s premier non-partisan, nonprofit statewide leadership group, suggests that Texans believe immigration is the state’s number one issue, continue to love their football, have moderated their opinion on the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage over the years, and support some regulation to reduce global warming.

“As the Texas Lyceum celebrates its 35th anniversary, we are proud to conduct this public service offering the media, policymakers, scholars and the general public an annual snapshot of Texans’ views on key issues,” said 2015 Texas Lyceum President Jane Cummins. “This year the Texas Lyceum held meetings focused on the Texas economy and the war on drugs, among other topics, and next year we will address the big business of football in Texas, showing our programs are on point with what Texans are talking about.”

Border Security / Immigration

Border security and/or immigration has remained one of the top three issues for Texans since the inception of the Lyceum Poll. This year the Lyceum Poll gauged Texans’ thoughts on two related policies – one state and the other federal. At the state level, a majority of Texans (62 percent) favor state lawmakers’ approval to spend $800 million on border security operations over the next two years.

Turning to federal policy, 65 percent of Texans approve of the federal government’s decision to halt deportations of undocumented immigrant youth who attend college or serve in the military while providing them with a work permit. Only 20 percent queried believe this policy did “a lot” to encourage illegal immigration.

Gay Marriage

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision over the summer that legalized marriage for gay and lesbian couples in all 50 states, more Texans favor allowing same sex marriage than say they oppose it. Our survey shows 49 percent of Texans favor gay marriage, up from 33 percent when asked a similar question in 2011. However, 40 percent are opposed to allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to marry legally.

Racial Discrimination

In light of recent national and Texas race-related controversies, the Lyceum Poll asked respondents two related questions: First, was there ever “a specific instance in which you felt discriminated against by the police because of your racial or ethnic background?” Second, was there ever, “a specific instance in which you felt discriminated against by an employer or a potential employer because of your racial or ethnic background?” Reviewing the total sample with regard to police discrimination, only 17 percent of Texans believed they were discriminated against by police because of their racial or ethnic background. However, on closer inspection, these numbers shift significantly according to the race or ethnicity of the respondent. Four percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics and 45 percent of black respondents said they had felt discriminated against by the police. This pattern held with regard to Texans’ attitudes about employer discrimination as well. Only 11 percent of whites indicated they had been discriminated against by an employer, while 27 percent of Hispanics and 42 percent of black Texans felt they had experienced a form of workplace discrimination.

Football Reigns

Despite growing national concern that children who suffer repeated head injuries from tackle football can sustain long-term brain damage, Texans would not discourage their children from playing the contact sport. In fact, 72 percent of those polled said they would encourage children to play football while only 21 percent would discourage it. These numbers contrast with a national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken last year showing that 40 percent of Americans would steer their children away from playing football due to concerns over concussions.

Legalizing / Decriminalizing Marijuana

As more states either decriminalize or legalize marijuana – with Texas lawmakers passing limited medical marijuana use this past legislative session – a majority of Texans don’t support legalization outright. The survey shows 50 percent of Texans are opposed to legalization, while 46 percent of Texas adults said that they would support legalizing the use of marijuana. However, the numbers are breaking in favor of legalization as support has gone up by 13 points when compared with a question asked in the 2011 Lyceum Poll. Meanwhile, among those who oppose legalization, 57 percent said they would support decriminalization. Specifically, this group agrees on “reducing the maximum punishment for possessing small amounts of marijuana to a citation and a fine.”

Climate Change

Global warming is not a top concern for Texans. When asked if they personally worry about climate change, 50 percent say “only a little” or “not at all.” But when asked “would you support or oppose Congress passing new legislation that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming,” 67 percent of Texans said they would support such regulation.

Daron Shaw, Ph.D., Professor at The University of Texas at Austin and a Texas Lyceum alumnus, oversaw the poll, which was conducted September 8-21, 2015, and queried 1,000 adult Texans. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. Dr. Shaw and Texas Lyceum Research Director Joshua Blank, used the latest statistically-advisable polling techniques: live interviewers contacted respondents both by landline as well as cell phones (40 percent) and administered the survey in the respondent’s language of choice (English or Spanish).

The executive summary is here. A couple of points of interest:

On immigration: “The second policy that we queried asked respondents to evaluate the policy by which the Department of Justice stops the deportation of any undocumented immigrant youth who attends college or serves in the military and provides them with a legal work permit that is renewable. Despite the perception that Texans have particularly harsh attitudes on illegal immigration, 65% of Texas adults said that they supported this policy with only 28% expressing opposition. Majorities of Democrats (81%), Republicans (54%), and independents (62%) expressed support, as did majorities of Anglos (58%), blacks (63%), and Hispanics (75%).

On same sex marriage: “Majorities of Democrats (69%), Hispanics (53%), and Texans 18 to 29 years old (65%) and 30 to 44 years old (52%) said that they favored allowing gay marriage; pluralities of independents (46%) and Anglos (47%) also said that they favored allowing gay marriage. A majority of Republicans (58%) and a plurality of black respondents (45%) said that they oppose allowing gay marriage.” I would add that only the 65-and-over crowd was truly opposed (34% in favor to 53% against). The 45-64 group was barely in opposition, 43% yes and 44% no.

On marijuana: “A majority of Democrats support legalization (54% support; 42% oppose) while a majority of Republicans oppose legalization (37% support; 61% oppose). Fifty percent of whites support legalization while 51% of blacks and 56% of Hispanics stand in opposition. Eighteen to 29 year olds are the only age group in which a majority supports legalization (66%). Interestingly, when it comes to Democrats and Republicans in opposition to legalization, both groups favor decriminalization (60% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans). Majorities of whites (59%), blacks (52%), and Hispanics (56%) initially opposed to legalization are supportive of decriminalization, as are all age groups.”

On climate change: “Not surprisingly, given the partisan dimensions of this issue, 84% of Democrats said that they would support [new legislation that would regulate energy output from private companies in an attempt to reduce global warming] (60% said that they would strongly support them), while 45% of Republicans said that they would support such regulations, with 48% saying that they would be opposed. These results still display a rather surprising willingness among Texas Republicans to consider regulation to combat global climate change.”

On the Affordable Care Act: “Like in past polling, Democrats held a much more positive attitude toward the ACA than did Republicans. While 63% of the former hold a positive view of the ACA (up from 58% in 2014), 76% of the latter hold a negative opinion (down slightly from 80%). Whites continue to hold negative opinions towards the healthcare law with only 26% expressing a favorable opinion, while a majority of blacks hold a positive view (65%). Hispanics were evenly divided in their opinions of the ACA, with 42% holding a favorable opinion and 39% holding an unfavorable opinion.”

Basically, outside of that last issue, the survey respondents were a lot less in agreement with the Republicans that dominate state government than they were with Democrats. Needless to say, that discrepancy is a function of who actually votes, and increasingly when they vote; Republican primary voters are far more extreme than Republican non-primary voters. The question is when election results will more closely reflect this. Perhaps the higher turnout of a contested Presidential primary will draw some more moderate Republicans to the polls in March; that won’t have any statewide effect but it might make the Lege a pinch saner. Beyond that, all I know is that it won’t happen in its own.

The Lyceum will be releasing election poll data today. I’ll link to it later, and will have a separate post tomorrow.

Regulating methane emissions

Get all your gas and fart jokes ready, because they’re just going to be inevitable.

The Obama administration’s plan to slash methane emissions will raise costs for the oil and gas industry, forcing energy companies to invest in new pumps, compressors and equipment to prevent leaks of the potent greenhouse gas.

Although the draft regulations advanced by the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday chiefly target new oil and gas wells, processing equipment and storage facilities, the four-pronged proposal lays the groundwork for the government to eventually go after methane leaking from existing infrastructure.

Oil and gas companies already reeling from low commodity prices warn the planned rules will throttle domestic energy development and aren’t needed in light of the industry’s voluntary work to plug leaks of methane, the primary component of natural gas.

“The oil and gas industry is leading the charge in reducing methane,” said American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard. “The last thing we need is more duplicative and costly regulation that could increase the cost of energy for Americans.”

The proposed regulations, set to be final next year, will add to President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy and give the administration a concrete action to talk up at international climate negotiations in Paris this December. They also mark another step in the president’s gradual move away from natural gas, a fuel he previously championed as a cleaner alternative to coal.

But the EPA’s draft rules alone won’t fulfill a White House pledge to pare oil and gas industry methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The proposed regulations along with a 2012 rule targeting new natural gas wells are expected to reduce the sector’s methane emissions by just 20 to 30 percent.

Janet McCabe, the acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, stressed that the proposal is only one step toward the 2025 benchmark. “As we move forward, additional opportunities will be identified to get to that goal,” she said.

[…]

Industry officials argue they already have a financial incentive to capture leaking natural gas and bring it to market, though the additional costs of some of those changes, such as updated compressors, valves and controllers, may exceed the potential recovery, making them a harder sell amid today’s low oil prices.

Although methane represents only about 9 percent of human-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, the substance is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the atmosphere.

The industry proudly points to an 11 percent decline in methane emissions from natural gas systems since 2005, but some observers expect numbers to start climbing as a result of the oil drilling boom. Recent research suggests many leaks go undetected, so actual emissions could be much higher.

A study in Environmental Science and Technology on Tuesday suggests gathering equipment and processing facilities are leaking natural gas at rates eight times higher than EPA estimates.

Methane emissions also threaten to undo some of the climate change benefits of generating more electricity from natural gas and new EPA rules curbing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.

I’m sure the energy industry is doing what it can to prevent leaks and capture the emissions that come from the leaks that do happen on active wells, but that’s not the main problem.

And there’s another methane-leaking elephant in the room: existing and abandoned oil wells. Most of the regulations target new and modified wells, but the U.S. has somewhere on the order of 3 million abandoned wells, many of which are probably leaking methane. Many existing active wells are leaking, too. A 2014 Environmental Defense Fund study noted that by 2018, upwards of 90 percent of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector could come from wells built before 2012.

Who’s going to be responsible for those? And what does it mean for Texas?

Just as Texas leads the country in overall greenhouse gas emissions, it’s also a particularly large source for this potent warming gas. That’s in part because two major methane-emitting activities — agriculture and oil and gas drilling — are huge here. The state pumps about a third of the country’s oil and a quarter of its natural gas.

Oil and gas industry representatives have pointed to EPA data showing total greenhouse gas emissions in the country have dropped amid a drilling surge to suggest that fracking yields climate benefits — as cleaner burning natural gas replaces coal-fired power.

But measuring nation-wide methane emissions isn’t easy. Several recent peer-reviewed studies suggest that the federal government is vastly underestimating methane emissions, particularly in heavily drilled parts of the country.

In July, a series of studies centered on North Texas, for instance, found that the gas-rich Barnett Shale was leaking 50 percent more of the gas than previously thought. Human error and faulty equipment accounted for most of the emissions, the studies found, with most coming from a small percentage of sites.

Opponents of the rules say emissions still appear to be falling over time, claiming that Obama is unfairly targeting an industry that’s only responsible for a portion of the methane pollution. The agriculture sector — through cow farts and burps, for instance — emits lots of methane too. The EPA has adopted a voluntary program aimed to address that problem.

I mentioned the fart jokes, right? Cows are better organized than you might think. I’m thinking those “voluntary” regs may need to become more enforceable.

One other thing:

According to the EPA, 29 percent of U.S. methane emissions come from the oil and gas sector. Next is the agriculture sector at 26 percent: livestock emits methane through normal digestive processes. Landfills come in third place with 18 percent of the pie.

Another reason why I want to see landfills get closed, not opened. If that means treating recycling as a utility and subsidizing it as needed, I’m okay with that. Beyond all this, it’s just a matter of getting the rules finalized, then going through the inevitable litigation, because that’s what we do. Consider that another reason why the power of appointing federal judges is a big deal in the Presidential race.

Who’s afraid of a little climate change?

We should be in Texas, but we’re not.

Texas probably will see a sharp increase in heat-related deaths and coastal storm-related losses in the coming decades if nothing is done to mitigate a changing climate, according to a new study commissioned by a bipartisan group of prominent policymakers and company executives aiming to spawn concern – and action – in the business community over the much-debated warming trend.

The study is the third region-specific analysis by the so-called Risky Business Project, an eclectic coalition led by former banker and U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr., former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and billionaire hedge fund manager-turned-environmentalist Tom Steyer. The men co-chair a bipartisan 20-member governing committee made up mostly of former presidential Cabinet members – including President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state – who agree that climate change is occurring and that it will have negative economic consequences, but have consciously avoided the debate over whether human activity is causing it — or how to respond.

The first step in their mission? Highlighting the potentially devastating economic impact of climate change in the not-too-distant future. And, of course, not everyone is buying it.

Published Tuesday, “Come Heat and High Water: Climate Risk in the Southeastern U.S.” found that Texas will be one of the states most negatively impacted by climate change by mid-century absent any changes.

Among the findings of the study, Texas will probably see by the 2050s:

  • The number of extremely hot days per year – with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees – more than double, from an average of 43 to 106.
  • About 4,500 additional heat-related deaths per year with nearly half that increase coming in the next five to 15 years. (For comparison’s sake, the study points out there were about 3,400 total automotive fatalities in Texas in 2013.)
  • A sea level rise of up to 2 feet in Galveston.
  • A $650-million-per-year increase in storm-related losses along the coast, bringing the state’s total annual damages to more than $3.9 billion.
  • A marked decrease in both worker productivity and crop yields.

The idea is that if the group can convince business leaders that climate change is a true risk, they will in turn pressure policymakers to do something to address it, said committee member Henry Cisneros, a former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We’ve seen that happen time and time again” with other divisive topics, Cisneros said, adding, “The implications for the productivity of the workforce are immense.”

[…]

That does not mean the business community will accept the findings of the study, however. And that reluctance appears largely rooted in the parts of the climate change debate the Risky Business Project has avoided amid a lack of clear-cut consensus among its leadership.

Claiming you can accurately model climate change over the short or long term is “arrogant” and “unrealistic,” said Stephen Minick, the head lobbyist for the Texas Association of Business.

While the powerful group believes climate change is occurring and businesses should account for it, Minick said that whether it is being caused by human activity — namely greenhouse gas emissions — is far from proven, along with the extremity and accuracy of the study’s predictions.

“We absolutely acknowledge the fact that the climate is changing and that sea levels are changing, partly because of climate, partly because of other reasons, and they always have and they always will,” he said.

“We have a long, long way to go in terms of our scientific knowledge … before we can make valid assumptions along those lines,” Minick added, asserting that accurate predictions are difficult in large part because big changes take place “over millenia.”

I believe that response can be summed up as follows:

shrug_emoji

You can see why this is unlikely to be taken seriously here. Hey, most of the people who don’t want to do anything about this will be dead long before 2050 anyway, so let the kids worry about it, amirite? The Observer and Hair Balls have more.

Texas sues the EPA again (and again, and again, and…)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday filed a lawsuit over the agency’s rejection of parts of a Texas clean air program, launching the state’s second battle against EPA regulations in less than two weeks.

Texas has sued the agency 21 times since President Obama took office in 2009.

This challenge centers on how Texas handles pollution that spews from industrial plants during facility startups, shutdowns and equipment malfunctions.

Historically, regulators exempt pollution from those events from overall limits, letting plants to emit more than their federal permits allow. But environmental groups have protested this policy, claiming it has let plants discharge millions of extra pounds of dangerous air pollutants each year.

A federal appeals court in April 2014 found some of the environmental groups’ points valid, prompting the EPA in May to require Texas and 35 other states to revisit how they deal with such events.

The new state plans are due in November 2016.

But Paxton said that because the EPA had approved Texas’ plans in 2010, before the environmental challenge, the agency’s latest directive amounted to “an abrupt and unwarranted about-face.”

Whatever. I guess Paxton has to get all those lawsuits in quickly, before defending his own butt becomes his main job in life. As the story notes, Texas was one of several states to file suit over the EPA’s Clean Water Plan, and there will be another suit coming next month when the EPA’s Clean Power Plan rules get released. Too bad all this litigation isn’t an economic catalyst, we could use a little help on that front.

ERCOT acknowledges that meeting EPA clean air requirements won’t be that big a deal

From Texas Clean Air Matters:

ERCOT

Well, it didn’t take long before the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released, at the request of Texas’ very political Public Utilities Commission, another report about the impacts of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rules designed to protect public health.

This time ERCOT, which manages 90 percent of Texas’ electric grid, looked at the impact of seven EPA clean air safeguards on the electric grid, including the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the Regional Haze program (all of which go back before the Obama administration), the proposed Clean Power Plan, which would set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants, and others. What was surprising to learn, though, is that after power companies in the state start complying with EPA’s other clean air protections, the proposed Clean Power Plan poses a minimal incremental impact to the power grid. We would only have to cut 200 megawatts of coal-fired generation, which equates to less than one coal-fired power plant.

For as much doom-and-gloom we heard last month in ERCOT’s report about the Clean Power Plan, they certainly seem to be singing a different tune this go-around. The new report shows that Texas can go a long way toward complying with the Clean Power Plan by meeting other clean air safeguards, for which Texas power companies have had years to prepare.

Very soon power companies in Texas will install control technologies to reduce multiple – not just one – pollutants, thereby making compliance with EPA’s subsequent regulations easier and more cost-effective. In the end, Texas will only need to take a minimal amount of additional aging coal plants offline by 2029.

Plus, other energy resources, like energy efficiency, rooftop solar, and demand response (which pays people to conserve energy when the electric grid is stressed) are gaining ground every day in Texas. They have proven to be vital resources on the power grid that help reduce electricity costs for Texas homes and businesses.

Energy efficiency, in particular, provides significant reductions in power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone-forming pollutants, and has a four-to-one payback on investment. This is the type of performance worth investing in.

See here for the background, and click over to read the rest. In addition to what the EDF says above, complying with the new regulations would also save a ton of water, which is a pretty big deal in and of itself. So let’s have less whining – and fewer lawsuits – and get on with the compliance. It’s a win all around.

EPA climate change plan would save water

Well, what do you know?

ERCOT

As state regulators fret about how President Obama’s effort to combat climate change would affect the Texas power grid, a new study says the rules would be simpler to adopt than those regulators suggest – and that it would save the state billions of gallons of water annually.

In an analysis released Wednesday, CNA Corporation, a nonprofit research group based in Arlington, Va., said the federal proposal – which requires states to shift from coal power to cut carbon emissions – would slash water use in the Texas power sector by 21 percent. That would save the drought-ridden state more than 28 billion gallons of water each year.

“It’s a surprising finding,” Paul Faeth, the report’s author, said in a statement. “People don’t often associate water conservation with [carbon] cuts, but for Texas, they work together.”

[…]

CNA Corporation’s analysis comes two days after the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, said the proposal would threaten reliability and raise energy costs by as much as 20 percent by 2020 – not including the cost of new power lines needed to keep the grid running.

The CNA report, which relied on a model ERCOT has used in the past, said shifting away from water-guzzling coal power plants and boosting energy efficiency would ease Texas’ water woes.

Compared to Texas’ grid operator, CNA painted a rosier picture of price and reliability effects. With big investments in natural gas and wind power, Texas is already on pace to meet 70 percent of its target by 2029, according to the study. Improving energy efficiency could move the state the rest of the way.

The federal proposal would increase the per-megawatt cost of electricity by 5 percent by 2029, but cut total system costs by 2 percent, the group said.

“We find that the state will be able to meet the final and interim targets with modest incremental effort,” the study said.

See here for the background. The CNA report page is here, the press release is here, the executive summary is here, and the full report is here. It’s not clear to me if CNA was invited by someone to review the EPA plan as it affects Texas or if they did it on their own, but this is a strong argument for going along with what the EPA recommends rather than filing another frivolous lawsuit. The considerable water savings is enough by itself to make this worthwhile.

SBOE adopts history textbook changes it hasn’t read

Awesome.

After adopting hundreds of pages in last minute updates and corrections, the Texas State Board of Education approved new social studies textbooks Friday.

All but the five Democrats on the 15-member board voted to accept products from all publishers except Worldview Software, which they rejected because of concerns over factual accuracy.

“When I think of the other publishers, they were on it. They were on the errors. I did not see that here,” Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican, said of Worldview.

In total, they approved 86 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas public schools for the next decade. School districts do not have to buy products from the list vetted by the state education board, but many do because it offers a ready guarantee that materials cover state curriculum standards.

The TFN Insider liveblog from Friday’s clown show explains just what this means.

Publishers have been submitting changes to their textbooks since the public hearing on Tuesday. The last batch of changes — listed on more than 800 pages from publisher WorldView Software — was posted on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website mid-afternoon on Thursday. Who has reviewed these and other revisions from publishers? The truth is that there is no official process for doing so. It’s hard to believe that SBOE members had time to do it. They were in meetings Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday, for example, they debated important issues such as whether teachers should be thrown in jail if they use instructional materials tied to Common Core standards. (Seriously.) So SBOE members today are being asked to vote on textbooks that they, TEA staff and most Texans haven’t had time to read and scholars haven’t had an opportunity to vet. But millions of public school students will use these textbooks over the next decade.

Better be sure to read your kids’ textbooks along with them for the next ten years. Or better yet, tell your local school board – if they have sane representation – to buy their own textbooks and avoid the SBOE’s shenanigans. TFN’s press release is here, and Newsdesk has more.

It’s OK if energy costs go up for now

That’s my reaction to this.

ERCOT

As Texas regulators weigh a response to President Obama’s proposal to combat climate change, the operator of the state’s main electric grid says the plan would raise energy costs and threaten reliability – particularly in the next few years.

In an analysis released Monday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) said the plan — which requires states to shift from coal-power to cut carbon emissions — would significantly increase power prices in the next few years. But those extra costs would fall in the next decades as Texans reaped long-term savings from investments in solar power and energy efficiency. 

Under the federal proposal, Texas would need to slash carbon emissions from its power plants by as much as 195 billion pounds of carbon dioxide in the next 18 years, according to a Texas Tribune analysis. That 43 percent reduction is among the larger percentage of cuts required among states.

The EPA suggests that Texas could meet its goal though a combination of actions: making coal plants more efficient, switching to cleaner-burning natural gas, adding more renewable resources and bolstering energy efficiency. Texas would have until 2016 to submit a plan to meet its carbon target.

The ERCOT analysis comes as Texas regulators prepare to file formal comments to the EPA ahead of the Dec. 1 public comment deadline.

[…]

“Given what we see today, the risk of rotating outages increases,” Warren Lasher, director of system planning at ERCOT, said Monday in a media call.

The changes would hit coal-dependent communities around Dallas and Houston particularly hard, Lasher said. Those areas would quickly need new power lines to connect with new power sources. That could prove costly. For instance, officials project a major transmission project for the Houston area to total $590 million.

“All of those costs could ultimately be born by consumers in the power bills,” Lasher said.

And I’m okay with that. The costs would be borne in the short run and would likely lead to lower costs as more renewable sources came online and became part of the statewide grid. As the Rivard Report reminds us, there’s a lot of that happening already. The pollution reduction benefit from the EPA’s directive would be substantial as well. If ERCOT is trying to scare me, it’s not working. I’m sure the EPA would be willing to be flexible with Texas on the schedule if Texas negotiates in good faith and demonstrates a real commitment to meeting the stated goals. Or Texas can sue and lose and get no help in getting this implemented as smoothly as possible. Seems like a pretty easy choice to me. Texas Clean Air Matters has more.

SBOE defers new textbook decision

They’re funny even when they’re not trying to be.

After an afternoon spent wrangling over the proper definition of jihad and the influence of Moses on the Founding Fathers, it was Common Core that ultimately derailed the State Board of Education’s initial vote on giving a stamp of approval to new social studies textbooks Tuesday.

An initiative spawned by the National Governor’s Association to set uniform academic standards across U.S. public schools, Common Core has become a frequent punching bag for conservative activists who believe it injects liberal bias into the classroom.

Its specter first emerged Tuesday when one of the more than 20 witnesses testifying at the meeting alerted board members that supplementary materials on the website of Cengage Learning, publisher of a sixth grade social studies textbook, mention the national standards.

“I don’t know how this book even got past anybody,” said Tincy Miller, a Dallas Republican. “I’m not voting for anything that says common core, I can assure you of that.”

Until the last hour of the meeting, it appeared the 15-member board would grant preliminary approval for instructional materials from all publishers except Cengage. Then, some board members balked at that, worried that with changes from publishers still coming in, they would be voting on content without a chance to review it.

With four Republicans abstaining and all five Democrats voting against approval, the motion for preliminary approval failed — leaving only a final vote Friday.

The board is considering 96 products for eight different social studies courses that will be used in Texas classrooms next fall, the culmination of a public review that began this summer.

Throughout the approval process, publishers have faced criticism from groups across the political spectrum for perceived flaws in how books handle topics like climate change, Islam, and the role Christianity played in the American Revolution. The process itself, which allows publishers to make changes in response to public input up until the day of the final vote, has also raised concern.

“Some of it’s some personality, it’s some process. But this process is jacked up when we make decisions at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night for 5 million kids.” said Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican, after the vote. “We’re getting stuff still coming in and being asked to vote on it.”

You can say that again. The Chron story on the SBOE meeting and its lack of approval is here. Naturally, following the sustained grassroots movement that led to a victory for common sense on climate change, Tuesday’s hearing was partly hijacked by a group of wingnuts called the Truth in Texas Textbooks Coalition that submitted – in late October – a 469-page report detailing 1500 “errors” in textbooks. I’m sure the Board gave it the attention it deserved. Anyway, they’ll try again today. I’m not even sure what I’m rooting for at this point. Newsdesk, K12 Zone, Unfair Park, and TFN Insider, whose liveblog of the hearing will be the most comprehensive thing you read about it, has more.

It’s textbook approval time again

You know what that means, because we can’t do this sort of thing without controversy and a generous side order of knuckleheadedness.

Bowing to public pressure, the world’s largest textbook publisher has revised misleading language on global warming in a proposed Texas reader. But another major imprint has yet to do the same, worrying scientists and educators just a week before new textbooks are approved in the state.

Proposed wording in Pearson Education’s English textbook for Texas fifth-graders described climate change as a concern of “some scientists.” It then went on to say: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.”

That wording rankled several leading scientific organizations, which point out that 97 percent of qualified scientists say that humans are overwhelmingly to blame for climate change.

The American Geophysical Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Center for Science Education raised complaints with the Texas State Board of Education, urging that the language be changed.

“For these textbooks to present climate change as a ‘debate,’ or to suggest that there is scientific uncertainty around the drivers of climate change, is to misrepresent our scientific understanding and do a disservice to our children,” AGU Executive Director Christine McEntee wrote in a recent letter to the board’s leadership.

In response, Pearson submitted a revised text to the Texas education board on Wednesday — less than a week before the agency votes to approve textbooks to be used at the start of the 2015 academic year.

The new language discusses climate change far less equivocally.

“Burning fuels like gasoline releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, which occurs both naturally and through human activities, is called a greenhouse gas, because it traps heat,” it says. “As the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases increase, the Earth warms. Scientists warn that climate change, caused by this warming, will pose challenges to society. These include rising sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns.”

[…]

Another industry heavyweight — McGraw-Hill — is sticking with language that scientists and some educators find objectionable. The sixth-grade geography text asks students to compare texts from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won a Nobel Prize in 2007, with one from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that has misrepresented climate science and attacked the reputations of climate researchers.

“It’s certainly encouraging that most of the publishers are making changes and revising their materials on climate change,” Quinn told VICE News. “It would be unfortunate if McGraw-Hill is the lone holdout at the end of all this.”

In the end, McGraw Hill came to their senses. There’s still room for improvement overall, but this was a nice result. Today is the day that the SBOE meets to approve (or not) new textbooks, and there are other bones of contention to be dealt with as they debate. As that Chron story notes, a 2011 law allows school districts to buy their own textbooks and not the SBOE-sanctioned ones if they want to. Local action is an option if you think it’s necessary. TFN, Newsdesk, Grist, and the National Journal have more.

Mayors against climate change

From the Think Globally, Act Locally department.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker briefly took center stage Monday in the campaign against climate change by pledging to make America’s energy capital a laboratory for experimentation and action.

Frustrated with the congressional response to global warming, Parker and the mayors of Los Angeles and Philadelphia vowed to set more aggressive targets for reducing their cities’ heat-trapping pollution while challenging others to do the same.

“Mayors are uniquely compelled and equipped to lead on the fight to stem climate change, as well as to adapt to it and prepare for the impacts of global warming,” Parker said after the mayors unveiled their agenda in New York, where world leaders were gathering for a United Nations summit meeting on climate change.

The mayors, all Democrats, stepped forward as the Obama administration faces Republican opposition to its efforts to tackle climate change, notably new rules that would slash emissions from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.

[…]

As part of the plan, Parker said Houston would lower emissions 80 percent by 2050 from 2005 levels. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made the same pledge Friday, two days before more than 300,000 people marched through the city in what was possibly the largest climate-related rally ever held.

Houston already has made significant cuts by reducing energy use in its public buildings, adding hybrid and electric-powered vehicles to its fleet and replacing 165,000 streetlights with more efficient light emitting diodes, or LEDs – a project city officials call the largest of its kind nationwide.

Houston also is the nation’s leading municipal purchaser of renewable energy, with 50 percent of its power coming from wind and solar sources. And it’s likely that the city will buy even more before Parker’s term ends in 2016, said Laura Spanjian, the city’s sustainability director.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. I couldn’t find a website for the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agenda, but a Google News search shows they’ve been busy. Some of the Houston initiatves, like the ones for LED streetlights and electric cars, are things we have discussed here before. Some of them are things the city can do on its own – and remember, anything that saves energy also saves money, meaning it’s a painless way to cut costs – and some of them are things the city helps provide to enable its residents to use less energy, like improving the bike infrastructure. There’s no one silver bullet here, just a lot of big and small ideas that will add up to a lot in the long run.

Next in “What’s wrong with our textbooks”: Climate change

From the inbox:

An examination of how proposed social studies textbooks for Texas public schools address climate change reveals distortions and bias that misrepresent the broad scientific consensus on the phenomenon.

Climate education specialists at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) examined the proposed textbooks, which publishers submitted for consideration by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in April. NCSE identified a number of errors as well as an exercise that absurdly equates a political advocacy group with a leading international science organization.

“The scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and who is responsible has been over for years, and the science textbooks Texas adopted last year make that clear,” explained Dr. Minda Berbeco, a programs and policy director at NCSE. “Climate change will be a key issue that future citizens of Texas will need to understand and confront, and they deserve social studies textbooks that reinforce good science and prepare them for the challenges ahead.”

NCSE’s analysis is available at http://ncse.com/files/Texas-social-studies-report-2014.pdf.

The distortions and bias in the proposed social studies textbook are troubling, said Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund.

“In too many cases we’re seeing publishers shade and even distort facts to avoid angering politicians who vote on whether their textbooks get approved,” Miller said. “Texas kids deserve textbooks that are based on sound scholarship, not political biases.”

NCSE’s examination of the proposed textbooks noted a number of problematic passages dealing with the science of climate change. Among the problems:

  • McGraw-Hill’s Grade 6 textbook for world cultures and geography equates factually inaccurate arguments from the Heartland Institute, a group funded by Big Tobacco and polluters to attack inconvenient scientific evidence, with information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). IPCC is a highly regarded international science organization that won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
  • A Pearson elementary school textbook tells students: “Scientists disagree about what is causing climate change.” In fact, the vast majority – 97 percent – of actively publishing climatologists and climate science papers agree that humans bear the main responsibility.
  • WorldView Software’s high school economics textbook includes an inaccurate and confusing section that misleadingly links tropical deforestation to the ozone hole.

These distortions of science raise concerns like those expressed in last year’s science textbook adoption, when more than 50 scientific and educational societies signed a letter to the Texas SBOE stating: “climate change should not be undermined in textbooks, whether by minimizing, misrepresenting, or misleadingly singling [it] out as controversial or in need of greater scrutiny than other topics are given.” That statement is available at: http://ncse.com/files/pub/evolution/states/2013_TX_SBOE_from_NCSE.pdf

NCSE and the TFN Education Fund are calling on publishers to revise the problematic passages to ensure that political bias doesn’t undermine the education of Texas students. On Tuesday the SBOE will hold its first public hearing on the new textbooks. The board will vote in November.

Last week the TFN Education Fund released a series of reports from scholars who have detailed other serious concerns about the proposed textbooks. An executive summary and those reports are available at www.tfn.org/history.

Here’s TFN Insider and the NCSE on the matter. Given the way the SBOE has handled subjects like social studies and evolution in Texas’ textbooks in the past, this hardly counts as a surprise. There’s a petition to sign if you want to add your name to the effort.

Something else to consider here. When I did a Google news search on Texas climate change textbooks, I got a number of results from various national news sites – Politico, Huffington Post, National Journal (be sure to read their quote from SBOE member and part of the problem David Bradley), Ars Technica, io9, among others – but only two from the major Texas dailies, in the Chron’s Texas Politics blog and the Statesman. (The alt-weeklies did themselves proud, as the SA Current, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls also had posts about this.) Maybe I didn’t type in the right combination of search terms to find more Texas coverage on this, but still. We need to do better than that.

Anyway. This is all happening as the SBOE meets to hear testimony about the new social studies textbooks. You can imagine the capacity for unintentional comedy therein, but you don’t have to imagine it because TFN Insider is there liveblogging the madness. Look and see what’s going on and what sorts of things your kid might be taught someday soon. The Trib, which is also covering the hearings, has more.

Two environmental stories

Some good news, and some bad news. The bad news: We have an oyster shortage.

Add an oyster shortage in Texas Gulf Coast to the problems exacerbated by the state’s years-long drought.

But Texas’ dry spell isn’t the only reason the slimy delicacies are harder to come by lately. What was once an abundant supply of oysters in bays from Port Aransas up past Galveston has taken a succession of hits, including sediment dumps from Hurricane Ike in 2008, continually increasing water temperatures – as well as hyper-salinity due to drought and thirsty inland cities with fast-growing populations.

Heightened saltiness encourages the spread of parasites and disease.

“Drought plus a growing population equals no water entering the bays,” said Bryan Legare, a natural resource specialist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “The reservoirs aren’t releasing as much water as they need to for environmental concerns.”

[…]

Legare, meanwhile, has been working to re-create habitats for oysters by pouring tons of river rock into viable locations such as Sabine Lake and the East Bay. With spat, or juveniles, already settling in, there’re hopes for market-size oysters two years from now.

For now, Legare’s take on the state of the Texas oyster habitat is that it’s “a combination of change – and not good.”

Nor is the situation much better for the Gulf’s other oyster- producing states.

“Overall, the Gulf Coast’s just been hit with a number of negative events that seem to have cumulatively depressed production,” said Chris Nelson, vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries in Bon Secour, Ala.

The events have included floods, droughts, hurricanes and precautionary harvesting bans in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill.

In one case, the flood was man-made, caused by the state of Louisiana’s release of Mississippi River water in attempt to push the oil away from sensitive coastal areas. The gush of river water may have saved marshlands, but it flushed out oyster beds. To make matters worse, reefs were further depleted by a naturally occurring flood in 2011.

On the other side of the Gulf in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay, the problem has been continuing drought.

Nelson said there hasn’t been a good harvest since 2007, before Ike barreled in. “The impact of all these different problems, challenges along the Gulf Coast have led to an historical low point in the production of oysters,” he said.

Unfortunately, the problem isn’t just limited to the Gulf of Mexico. But don’t worry, climate change is still just a fairy tale invented by Al Gore. I’m sure this will all work itself out.

For the good news, the pine trees of East Texas are doing a lot better now.

From Texas 327, the two-lane highway that cuts a straight east-west line though Hardin County, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees.

There are sweetgum and Texas hickory, loblolly pine and bluejack oak in the blur of green. But just beyond the dense thicket is one of the state’s last stands of longleaf pine, a towering tree that dominated these sandy flatlands before the area was heavily logged a century ago.

This remnant of a once common landscape is the centerpiece of the 5,600-acre Sandyland Sanctuary, a Nature Conservancy-managed property some 100 miles northeast of Houston. It’s also part of a new push to preserve and restore a key piece of the Southeast’s environmental heritage.

Across the eight-state region, timber companies, conservation groups and government officials are working to revert millions of acres to longleaf-pine forests and keep them free from development. It’s no small task because most of the land is privately owned, but there seems to be real interest in bringing back the native hardwood throughout its historic range.

That’s because the open piney woods are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems outside of the tropics. The red-cockaded woodpecker, bobwhite quail and eastern wild turkey – as well as nearly 900 plant species found nowhere else – live among the majestic trees.

[…]

Estimates vary, but many experts figure the Southeast has lost up to 97 percent of its longleaf-pine forest. The all-time low of 2.8 million acres came in the 1990s.

Since then, the amount of longleaf-pine forest has increased to an estimated 3.4 million acres, mostly because of a federally funded effort to restore the woodlands. Several states, including Texas, have set a goal of 8 million acres over the next 15 years.

At least half of the new acreage will come from 16 targeted areas, known as significant landscapes. In Texas, the restoration work mostly will be done in and around the Sabine and Angelina National Forests and the Big Thicket National Preserve.

“The good news is that it’s already hit rock bottom and it’s rebounding,” said David Bezanson, who leads the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to protect Texas land through the purchase of easements. Under such deals, timber companies hold onto ownership but agree to some restrictions on how the property is used.

It’ll never be as it was, but it’s better than it used to be and it’s headed in the right direction. That counts as a win.

What do the Mayors want?

Action on climate change.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, a bipartisan group that represents the leaders of 1,400 cities, each of which is home to at least 30,000 people, has called on the Obama administration and Congress to “enact an Emergency Climate Protection law that provides a framework and funding for the implementation … of a comprehensive national plan” to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

If members of Congress understood the urgency of climate change as well as the nation’s mayors do, we might not be in as much of a screwed-up climate situation as we are in today.

The resolution, which was approved by delegates during four days of meetings in Dallas, expresses strong support for the EPA’s draft rules on power-plant pollution. It also calls on Congress to hurry up and extend renewable energy tax credits.

Another resolution approved by the group endorses the establishment of Obama’s proposed $1 billion climate-adaptation fund.

“[R]esiliency efforts, especially those regarding water and wastewater, not only save lives and taxpayer dollars but also play a key role in preparing cities for the challenges they face from these events,” the adaptation-related resolution stated. “[C]ities currently face several barriers to properly planning and implementing resiliency efforts, including funding and financing challenges, insufficient permitting and regulatory flexibility, a shortage of data and modeling information, and a lack of communication and partnership among communities.”

[…]

Another resolution approved on Monday “encourages” the group’s members to “prioritize natural infrastructure,” such as parks, marshes, and estuaries, to help protect freshwater supplies, defend the nation’s coastlines, and protect air quality amid worsening floods, droughts, storms, and wildfires.

Laura Tam, the sustainable development policy director at San Francisco-based urban affairs think tank SPUR, described that resolution as a “statement that de-polarizes climate adaptation.” After all, Tam told Grist, “Who can argue with the premise of encouraging cities to protect waters, coasts, plant trees and improve air quality?”

A higher federal minimum wage.

Mike Rawlings oversaw many minimum-wage workers as top executive at Pizza Hut.

Now, as the mayor of Dallas, he’s trying to determine what a living wage is for city residents and city contract workers.

The minimum wage debate has taken center stage as leaders of cities big and small across the country look for ways to help fix growing income inequality.

“The biggest problem in America … is income disparity, and we see it in Dallas,” Rawlings said. He and other mayors have suffered state and federal budget cuts, watched residents’ household incomes decline or flatten and seen many new jobs concentrated in low-paying fields.

As a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour languishes in Congress, cities and states are taking matters into their own hands, creating a patchwork of minimum-wage rates across the country.

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Dallas on Monday, a majority of mayors voted to adopt a resolution to raise the federal minimum wage, sending a message to congressional leaders about how serious the issue is.

Voting has not concluded, and Rawlings said that he was going to vote for the resolution.

“It’s healthier for our economy, neighborhoods and businesses to have a living wage,” he said. “The economy has been stagnant because the lower end doesn’t have disposable income to spend.”

Marriage equality.

[Monday], June 23, at its annual conference in Dallas, the U.S. Conference of Mayors overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on federal courts, including the Supreme Court, to expeditiously bring an end to marriage discrimination against gay couples nationwide.

Dozens of mayors, including many from states that still restrict marriage to different-sex couples, including Arizona, Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, and Georgia, were among those who led passage of the resolution.

The resolution, which passed by voice vote, states: “The United States Conference of Mayors reaffirms its support of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples and urges the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to speedily bring national resolution by ruling in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide.”

The text of that resolution is here. When would the Mayors like these things? Now would be nice.

Texas will do just fine under the new EPA clean air regulations

Unless it wants to fail, of course, which is always an option under the likes of Rick Perry and Greg Abbott.

Greg Abbott approves of this picture

Texas could lead the way into a less carbon-intensive future under the Obama administration’s plans to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Or the state could have trouble keeping the lights on.

The competing views underscore the exquisite complexity of the rules scheduled to be unveiled Monday. The proposed regulation represents the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda – one that could lead to the shuttering of hundreds of coal plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution.

Already Texas officials are lining up against the plan, with 29 members of the state’s congressional delegation – Republicans and Democrats – voicing concern in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency. They say the rules could drive up electricity bills, threaten reliability and lead to job losses in a state that pumps far more carbon dioxide into the air than any other.

But environmentalists note that Texas already is shifting closer to Obama’s goals. Last year, 63 percent of the state’s electricity came from sources other than coal.

“We will hear a lot of complaining about the rule, but we have a lot of options in Texas that other states do not have,” said Al Armendariz, a former EPA official who now leads the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign in Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.

Oh, there’s plenty of complaining, all right. The hot air generated by Rick Perry and Ted Cruz alone might be enough to offset whatever gains the Obama administration hopes to make via these new regulations. Just remember, when you hear the usual assortments of gasbags start to bloviate about this, we’ve heard it all before, and they’ve been wrong every single time. Consider this, for example:

Let’s flash back to an article from the Van Nuys Valley News, dated Sept. 10, 1970 — when the Clean Air Act was young and eager and taking aim at unchecked, noxious emissions from U.S. cars. “Ford Motor Co. said yesterday in Dearborn, Mich.,” the item begins, “that some of the proposed changes in the Federal Clean Air Act could cut off automobile production in just five years, lead to huge price increases for cars even if production were not stopped, do ‘irreparable damage’ to the American economy — and still lead to only small improvements in the quality of the air.”

Sound familiar? Are you driving a car nearly half a century later? Yes, those controls had a cost — and so too will future efficiency mandates that the Obama administration has put in place — but in the long view, the view that matters, life will go on and be cleaner for it. Not so sure? Consider that between 1970 and 2011, aggregate emissions of common air pollutants dropped by 68 percent, even as U.S. gross domestic product grew by 212 percent and vehicle miles traveled increased by 167 percent. The number of private sector jobs increased by 88 percent during that same period.

So yeah, pay them no attention. And remember as well, they’re vastly out of step with public opinion:

* Among Americans overall, 69 percent say global warming is a serious problem, versus 29 percent who say it isn’t. Among Americans in the states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012, those numbers are 67-31. Among Americans in states carried by Barack Obama, they are 70-28.

*Americans overall say by 70-21 that the federal government should limit the release of greenhouse gases from existing plants to reduce global warming. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 68-24. In 2012 blue states, they are 72-20.

* Americans overall say by 70-22 that the federal government should require states to limit greenhouse gases. In 2012 red states, those numbers are 65-23. In 2012 blue states, they are 73-21. Even in red states, then, support for the feds stomping on states’ rights (on this issue at least) is running high.

* Americans overall say by 63-33 that the government should regulate greenhouses even if it increases their monthly energy bill by $20 per month. In the 2012 red states, those numbers are 60-35. In 2012 blue states, they are 64-32.

On every one of the above questions, in red states, large percentages of independents and moderates favor action. And more broadly, as you can see, those just aren’t meaningful differences between red and blue states on these questions. This applies even in nearly two dozen coal states [emphasis added].

Who wants to bet the Trib will come out with a poll showing the opposite in Texas? I can see it coming from here. Unfair Park and the Rivard Report have more.

It’s like the drought never really went away

If it ever did go away it didn’t go far, because here it is again.

Even as light rain moved through the region Thursday, Houston officially slipped back into a moderate drought.

Although most areas only recorded a few hundredths of an inch of rain, it nevertheless was the first measurable precipitation much of the city has received in more than three weeks.

The rain-free second half of April capped a very dry spring, pushing nearly all of the region back into a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought is more severe to the west of the metro area.

[…]

Houston has only received a little more than 7 inches of rain this year, which is less than half the city’s normal total of 15 inches through early May.

However forecasters believe the city is unlikely to suffer a repeat of the catastrophically dry summer of 2011, which killed millions of trees in the area and forced widespread water rationing.

“If it was not for the current strong El Niño signal coming along over the Tropical Pacific, I indeed would be very concerned that another 2011 type drought could occur over the metro area due to the very dry soil west of the area,” [ImpactWeather forecaster Fred] Schmude said. “Fortunately, the upcoming El Niño is starting to shuffle the flow pattern around a bit more which should allow for more rain producing systems as we move into the late spring and summer months.”

Any time 2011 is being invoked as a comparison, even in a “not as bad as” way, it’s not a good thing. The fact remains that much of the state has been in a multi-year drought, while our state leaders remain in denial about the underlying factors. It’s a scary place to be.

SCOTUS will hear another EPA lawsuit appeal

Gird your loins.

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear Texas’ challenge of federal regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants and factories, the court announced Tuesday. But it declined to hear the state’s appeals of two other decisions, effectively upholding rules that limit such emissions from vehicles and maintaining the Environmental Protection Agency’s assertion that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare.

Federal judges had previously knocked down efforts by Texas and several other states, along with powerful industry coalitions, to challenge the EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Should the Supreme Court justices determine otherwise after hearing oral arguments next year, there could be severe implications for rules limiting emissions from big power plants and other facilities. The EPA recently proposed rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, prompting critics to accuse the agency of trying to destroy the coal industry and economy while drawing praise from environmental advocates.

At issue is whether the EPA can use the Clean Air Act, which gives it the authority to regulate emissions of toxic air pollutants and to limit emissions of greenhouse gases as well. In 2007, the court had ruled in the landmark case Massachusetts v. EPA that the EPA could do so for motor vehicles, which has led to stringent fuel-efficiency requirements for cars.

But Texas, joined by Mississippi and industry coalitions including the American Petroleum Institute, is arguing that the Clean Air Act was never meant to apply to anything other than air pollutants, because greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane “[do] not deteriorate the quality of the air that people breathe.” Attorneys representing the groups added that “carbon dioxide is virtually everywhere and in everything,” and called the EPA’s proposed regulations of greenhouse gases “absurd.”

Of the nine petitions the group of states and industry leaders had filed to the Supreme Court regarding its challenge of climate change rules, the justices agreed to hear six, but only want to consider one question: “Whether EPA permissibly determined that its regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles triggered permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources that emit greenhouse gases.”

I’ve kind of lost track of which lawsuit is which since there have been so many, but this was the most recent appeals court ruling, which went against Texas. SCOTUS has also agreed to hear an appeal of the CSAPR ruling, which went against the Obama administration. The consensus seems to be that this is a fairly narrow issue for SCOTUS to rule on and that the EPA should be on solid footing, but you never know. See Wonkblog, SCOTUSBlog, TPM, and the NRDC blog for more in depth analysis of this.