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Environmental Justice Texas

Environmental Justice Texas

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Published by Ben Shaw
Analysis and opinion piece that will also be posed on the Justice Party of Texas Website at http://texas.justicepartyusa.net/
Analysis and opinion piece that will also be posed on the Justice Party of Texas Website at http://texas.justicepartyusa.net/

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Published by: Ben Shaw on Feb 21, 2012
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02/21/2012

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Will Texas be a Toxic Dumping Ground or Paradise? It’s Our Choice!

Our public policy makers stand in a position of public trust – not just for the present but as stewards for those who come along in the future. Rocky Anderson, Justice Party Candidate for President, spoken on February 19, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently called out Texas and its power companies as the leading emitter in the U.S. of greenhouse gases and other dangerous toxins. The EPA report contains explosive documentation of the level of mercury and arsenic pollution that these coal-fired power plants are emitting into the air and water that sustain life in Texas. These same emissions also adversely affect climate conditions for persons around the world. Information in Tables 1, Table 2, and Table 3, can also be found here along with additional valuable and disturbing information.

Table 1 Top Ten States Ranked by Total Power Plant Emissions of Airborne Mercury Pollution in 2010
Rank State Airborne Mercury Emissions (pounds) 11,127 4,218 3,964 3,835 3,175

1 2 3 4 5

Texas Ohio Pennsylvania Missouri Indiana

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Will Texas be a Toxic Dumping Ground or Paradise?

Rank

State

Airborne Mercury Emissions (pounds) 3,002 2,495 2,363 2,287 2,253

6 7 8 9 10

Alabama West Virginia North Dakota Kentucky Michigan

Source: Data from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

Table 2 The Top Five Polluting Power Companies in U.S., 2010, Airborne Mercury
Airborne Mercury Emissions (pounds) 6,220 4,585 4,369 3,699 3,025

Rank

Company American Electric Power Luminant 2 Generation Co. 1 3 Southern Co. 4 Ameren Corp. 5 NRG Energy

Source: Data from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). As shown in Table 3, the dirtiest mercury-emitting companies are well entrenched in the dirtiest state with the dirtiest power plants where we happen to live.

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Table 3 Texas has Six of the Top 10 Dirtiest Power Plants, 2010 Airborne Mercury Pollution
National Rank 1 3 4 5 7 10 Facility Name Big Brown Steam Electric Station & Lignite Mine Martin Lake Steam Electric Station & Lignite Mine Limestone Electric Generating Station American Electric Power H.W. Pirkey Power Plant Monticello Steam Electric Station & Lignite Mine W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station Airborne Mercury Emissions (pounds) State County City Owner Luminant Generation Co. LLC Luminant Generation Co. LLC

1,610 TX 1,420 TX 1,150 TX 1,070 TX 1,005 TX 820 TX

Freestone Fairfield Rusk Tatum

NRG Texas Power LLC American Electric Harrison Hallsville Power Mount Luminant Titus Pleasant Generation Co. LLC NRG Texas Power Fort Bend Thompsons LLC Limestone Jewett

Source: Data from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI).

Dangers of Toxins Released by Coal-fired Power Plants to the Rivers and Lakes of Texas and to the Fish and Animals that Live there
Mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants ends up in the air we breathe and the water we drink. This pollution also limits the ability of Texans to safely eat the fish caught in the rivers, lakes, and Gulf Coast fisheries of Texas. Dr. Larry K. Lowry, PhD, with The University of Texas Health Center at Tyler Health, published Implications of Mercury (Hg) in East Texas Lakes, which includes the following list of warnings about particular species of fish that have high levels of mercury in them and that are found in the waters of East Texas and in the waters along the Gulf of Mexico. Read the complete article here.

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Source: Implications of Mercury (Hg) in East Texas Lakes

Figure 1 List of Mercury Advisories associated Affected Species of Fish
A birds-eye view of mercury advisories and bans is Texas is shown in Figure 2.

Source: Implications of Mercury (Hg) in East Texas Lakes

Figure 2 Maps of Texas Showing Mercury Advisories and Bans

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There is a very clear correlation between the presence of mercury in the water and the fish when the proximity of coal-fired power plants are placed side-by-side Figure 2 contains a map of coal-fired power plants along with the areas where warnings against eating the fish due to high levels of mercury in the fish.

Figure 3 Map of Coal-fired Power Plants and Mercury Advisories
Source: Mercury Alert: Texas, published by the Environmental Defense Fund, March 2011

Dangers of Air and Water-borne Mercury Pollution and Other Toxins to the Health of the People of Texas
The focus of this article is to inform readers that coal-fired power plants emit high levels of mercury into the Texas environment. The article assumes readers know that mercury is hazardous to your health. But, there are two references included here that explain in detail the relationship between coal-fired power plants, the release of mercury into the environment, and how mercury damage the environment and the well-beings of all life on the planet. For example, Michael Sorenson, a former Texan who moved to Washington state for health reasons, was diagnosed with MS at age 25. Michael produced this incredible report about the damage to his health caused by pollution produced by the W.A. Washington Plant in Texas in his Web post, “Your Local Neighborhood Coal Plant is Killing You”. If you follow all the links in Michael’s report, you will see that he has done his homework. One could write a similar story about the other power plants in Texas.

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Will Texas be a Toxic Dumping Ground or Paradise?

The Clean Air Task Force has prepared an interactive Texas map on a Website titled, “Death and Disease from Power Plants” where viewers can click on a coal-fired power plant location on the map and see the economic and health effects on individuals who live near a power plant.

Implications of Texas’ Greenhouse Emissions on the Climate
While the issue of Climate Change is not the primary subject of this article, I will address it here because it is an offshoot, if not a major branch of the types of problems created by the failure of the political system in the U.S. and our state to regulate and stop dangerous pollution. Like Mercury pollution, the Houston Chronicle reports that Texas leads the nation in emitting Greenhouse gases which most climate scientists believe cause Climate Change and the unpredictable weather that it brings. Climate Change has become more politicized than it should be. Large energy companies, including the companies mentioned in Table 2 and companies like Exxon Mobil see stricter pollution and greenhouse regulations as a threat to their profits and have spent large of money to mold public opinion to be skeptical of the reality of Climate change. Here are some arguments that are frequently made by Climate Change “skeptics”. There is no “proof” that Climate change is real. Persons who use the terms “proof” or “prove” misuse those these terms as they rarely appear in scientific debate, which is essentially what the Climate Change debate entails. The Scientific Method, which underlies most science research, establishes tentative “hypotheses” which are then examined and re-examined by scientists over time. Some issues me be considered as “settled”, but never proven in any absolute way. For example, Einstein theory of Relativity is being constantly examined by scientists and refined. The same thing can be said about Quantum Mechanics. Scientists are more likely to be comfortable with the standard of proof used in civil law suits, which is the “preponderance of evidence,” not the criminal law standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” We need to wait until we are absolutely certain that Climate Change is real, before we act. The same “proof” fallacy appears here again. But, if one looks at this objection closely, it is clear that the emphasis in this argument is more about what policy toward Climate Change is prudent. “For example, the late dare devil, Evel Knievel, had a much laxer standard of what is risky than some who teaches defensive driving for a living. Regarding Climate Change, the Scientific American points out in “Top 10 Places Already Affected by Climate Change” that small island nations and countries such as Bangladesh with many areas at or below sea-level are more likely to take the possibility of Climate Change more seriously than if you happen to live in a higher elevation area of the world. Worst case scenario thinkers prefer to err on the side of safety. George W. Bush, for example, was not a worse case scenario thinker, was warned when became President about the possible dangers to New Orleans of a major hurricane. As President he cut funding for expanding wetlands, which act as buffer against hurricanes, near New Orleans. He also did not order the Army Corps of Engineers to raise the height of levies around New Orleans. There plenty of other blame to go around for the disaster that happened to New Orleans after Hurricane. My view is that if you can’t live with the consequences of a worst case scenario that can be prevented, then it is prudent to act to prevent the worst case from happening. With Climate Change neither the Democrats, nor the Republicans are acting prudently to keep what many climate scientists are warning is on the path to happen in our lifetimes.

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Scientists do not agree that Climate Change is real. There have been dueling lists of scientists and “supposed scientists” such as uncredentialed TV weather persons put forward by environmental groups and Climate Change skeptics. The record is clean the “preponderance” of credentialed climate scientists believe that Climate Change is real. NASA scientists, such as James Hansen with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, have access to the most sophisticated climate-monitoring satellites in the world have been in the forefront of warning about the dangers of Climate Change. Federal government is “skewing” the results reported by climate scientists through the power of the government to “reward” and “punish” study results by giving or funding climate research. This statement was given credence due to what was called “climate-gate” when email systems used by climate scientists in Great Britain were hacked. Persons who believe that climate scientific research is “rigged” latched onto story as the “smoking gun” that Climate Change was made up governments seeking to put in stricter controls on the use of greenhouse gases produced by factories such as coal-fired power plants that could reinforce climate change processes at work. In fact, during the Bush and Obama administrations climate scientists warning about Climate Change were more often fired or muzzled, rather than rewarded. Also since the “climategate” scandal broke, there has been another scandal that has gripped the British government, and that is the stories he exposing the existence of a giant hacking effort led by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation ((News Corp) whose reporters spied on a variety of persons to create stories, that were short on truth, but long on sensation . The News of the World, Murdoch’s British tabloid had to be closed because of its hacking practices. Rupert Murdoch was also one of the leading Climate Change deniers who over time has made debunking Climate Change his top priority. Murdoch publications, such as Fox News in the U.S. have specialized in portraying opinion as news. There is opposition to solutions proposed by governments and business elites for combating Climate Change. For example Cap-and-Trade systems, which allow polluters to trade “pollution credits,” allow for selective enforcement, one for polluters and one for everyone else. Carbon taxes are opposed as a hidden method of raising taxes that will ultimately be paid by consumers through higher energy rates. I happen to oppose both Cap and Trade and Carbon taxes and agree with both of these arguments, It should be pointed out these are “proposed solutions” that are separate and apart from the questions, “Is Climate Change real?” “Doesn’t Climate Change pose a real threat to world?”, and “Should the U.S. and Texas governments be taking steps to combat Climate Change. I think the answer to all these questions is an emphatic “Yes”. Solutions to the problem of Climate Change are and will be the subject of vigorous debate during the upcoming 2012 Presidential and Congressional and State legislative elections. After the election and for the coming decade, the debate will continue in future elections and during federal and state legislative hearings and around EPA rules that address this subject. Too much time has been spent of debating whether Climate Change exists. In a functioning democracy, rational debate on finding solutions is the best way to determine how to deal with Climate Change. But, it is time to act with a sense of urgency, not going down “rabbit holes” which polluting industries have constructed to divert voters from the looming dangers of Climate Change on people in the U.S., Texas, and the world.

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Implications for Individuals and Families who Fish and Eat the Fish they Catch
If you want to go fishing in Texas, instead of hiring a fishing guide, you may need the advice of a chemist, specializing in testing waters for toxic chemicals or wildlife biologists who knows how to measure fish for toxic residues. I have included fish advisories and bans in this article taken from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, who most Texans would agree is an authoritative source of information about the safety of eating the fish caught in public waters in Texas. Check the list of advisories and bans at the Parks and Wildlife’s advisory page. The Parks and Wildlife department, which has a motto, “Life is better outside” also publishes Special Notices containing food safety warnings in its 2011-2012 Texas Commercial Fishing Guide (Effective SEPT. 1, 2011, Expires Aug. 31, 2012) See full text here. Most casual fishing enthusiasts would not think about reading the Commercial Fishing Guide to find if the fish in the river or lake in which they were planning to fish was safe or not. And, many would assume that Texas waters would be safe for fishing and not go to the Parks and Wildlife’s Bans and Advisories Webpage. Also, I have been to several of the lakes mentioned in the notices below and did not find any posted warning about the categories of fish that were not safe to eat or about any dangers of Mercury or PCBs or other toxins mentioned in the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s advisories and bans on fish consumption. This practice is counter to the normal practice where warnings appear routinely on everything that is remotely dangerous and always appear on products that are always dangerous such as High Voltage lines. Mercury is always dangerous. In rural areas, it is not unusual to let school children fish unsupervised and is often considered to one of the Pluses in living the rural lifestyle where children can learn about nature and the outdoors directly and not from books.

Political Implications of Environmental Justice Issues in Texas
There are several reasons why the people are not aware of how polluted the air and water has become in Texas: People falsely assume that State and Federal regulatory agencies that are supposed to protect the health and safety of its citizens is doing its job. While employees of the agencies are for the most part honest government employees trying to do their jobs, the persons who head the agencies are appointed by elected officials who take campaign contributions from the persons they are supposed to regulate. This means that the policies that the employees of the regulatory bodies are enforcing are weak or non-existent laws that protect the polluters, but not the people. For example, most of the coal-fired plants that spew out the mercury pollution that contaminates the air and water of Texas were “grandfathered” out of existing state pollution laws. The EPA recently stepped in to set higher air and water standards, but even the EPA lags behind the technologies that allows scientists to measure toxins in the environment and only very slowly tightens the standards on toxins and arsenic, with which there is no safe level.

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At both the State and Federal levels, there is a revolving door between industry that pollutes and the regulatory agencies, where employees of the industries who are supposedly regulated and employees of those agencies who regulate them move seamlessly between the public and private sectors. If a government employee writes a favorable rule, that employee can receive his or her reward by going to the higher paying job in the public sector. An executive from a polluting agency can give a campaign contribution to an elected official, or now under the Citizens United case can have his corporation give indirectly a Super PAC that supports the elected official and be rewarded with an appointed as the head or member of the Board of Directors of the agency who will “go easy” on his or her former employers. As many have noted, the current system of campaign finance is “legalized bribery.” The culture of deregulation has taken its toll in Texas as it has at the federal government level. Regulation has been demonized as “job killing” or “bad for business”. The trade-offs for deregulating industries that emit very toxic substances as a by-product of its business, are polluted waters, fish tainted with deadly toxins, and unsafe air and water that enter our bodies and cause us to get sick and/or die prematurely. One of the fear tactics used by the companies and agencies who pollute is that it is argued electricity rates will go up if tighter pollution standards are enforced. In hard economic times, this argument has a certain persuasive power. But, the cost of electricity is not the only cost that consumers face. For example, if you get sick from consuming mercury or your child suffers mental damage from high levels of mercury that is also a cost you will have to pay. One of the criticisms of current market-pricing mechanisms is that companies that pollute can pass on the health and environmental cleanup costs to the public at large, while they retain the profits they make from their polluting industries. A Texas culture that values commerce over nature, profits over the safety of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat should not be surprised with the results that we see in our state.

Voters of Texas are at a Moral Crossroads
Texas is at a crossroads with regard to the type of world we want to leave future generations. There is much talk about the problem of the Federal Deficit, and it is an issue of concern. But, there is a greater deficit, a moral deficit, that occurs when voters turn a blind eye to the rising dangers to the total ecosystem that sustains life in our nation, our state, and in the world, This type of intentional moral blindness allows the health and safety of children and future generations to be sacrificed to the goal of protecting the Status Quo, where the Bottom Line is allowed to be the last word in every important political decision that we make.

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Will Texas be a Toxic Dumping Ground or Paradise?

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