A Woman of Substance: Theo Colborn 1927-2014

by jim on December 17, 2014

Theo-ColbornSad news came on Sunday that Dr. Theo Colborn had died at the age of 87. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts in American lives, but he said that well before the woman's movement of the 1970's flourished and allowed an entire generation to experience one. Dr. Colborn's second act just happened to change the entire debate over environmental health. 

Theo Colborn had already retired from her first occupation as a pharmacist, when at age 58, she decided to go back to school in 1985. She got a PhD in Zoology from the University of Wisconsin, with minors in epidemiology, toxicology and water chemistry. She told a PBS film crew that she wanted to get an education so that "maybe I could undo some of the things my generation basically foisted on society." 

After school she began working on clean air issues in Washington DC but then went back to the Midwest to join a comprehensive study on the pollution affecting the Great Lakes. This gave her a chance to review emerging science from a more holistic viewpoint than a specific "reductionist" academic discipline or specialty. She was looking at an entire ecosystem. Although there was lots of new literature on the subject of how chemicals were impacting different species in the Great Lakes region, no one was pooling the research for evidence of possible trends, similarities and effects. She began to use the new tool of computer spreadsheets to do just that…for the very first time.

Her results surprised her and launched a new career that lasted right up until Sunday. What was doing the most harm to Great Lakes animals were not one-off catastrophic events like accidental pipe ruptures that dumped thousands of gallons of industrial poisons into the water, but the long-term, low-level assault by a variety of everyday synthetic chemicals. Their worlds were ending not with a bang, but a whimper. 

Cancer was the big sexy health effect from pollution that everyone was looking for back then, but it was notoriously hard to prove a link between a polluting cause and a cancerous effect. Colborn's research discovered many more subtle, more insidious, impacts from pollution at levels which were officially "below regulatory concern" – first in the biology of animals, then in people. 

Fetuses were particularly vulnerable to these impacts, which affected how hormones could change the shape and function of internal organs, reduce the ability of an animal to behave "normally" in its environment, harm the immune system's ability to respond to routine threats, even warp reproductive systems in gender-twisting ways that seemed to remake males into females and females into males. Such changes weren't necessarily fatal like cancer, but were being passed on from generation to generation until a species could no longer reproduce healthy versions of itself. The biological Xerox machine kept malfunctioning in small and large ways over time until the copies no longer looked like the originals. Because animals had shorter life cycles, you could see the effects of these changes add up much quicker than you could in humans, but Colborn had no doubt that similar effects were occurring within our own species as well. 

This field of research was so new, it didn't even have a name.  In 1991, she and 20 other scientists investigating it gave it one – endocrine disruption. In 1995 she and three others wrote the founding document of this new science, the best-selling book, "Our Stolen Future" chronicling how everyday, ubiquitous man-made chemicals were impacting human development. Not since Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" (another work by another woman who was thinking outside the box) had a single book so challenged the conventional ideas about pollution and its impact. It remains required reading for any environmental activist. 

If you were doing field work around industrial pollution sites in the 1990's, as Downwinders at Risk was in Midlothian with its three cement plants, one of which was the largest burner of hazardous waste in the state of Texas, the book instantly connected the dots between what was coming out of the smokestacks and the strange health effects being reported by local citizens. It was the constant exposure to the toxic soup of dozens of contaminants that could be the explanation behind inexplicable birth defects of almost any animal population being breed near-by, as well as the heretofore unknown health effects among the plants' neighbors. Reading the book, one felt like you'd discovered the Rosetta Stone of environmental health. 

Every article you've ever read about the possible dangers of the plastic packaging additive BPA, or declining sperm counts in males all over the world, or male fish behaving like female fish, can be traced back to Theo Coburn and her peers who founded the field of endocrine disruption. Subsequent science has linked pollution exposure to Parkinson's disease, autism and obesity. Her overarching point was that we are swimming in a sea of industrial chemicals without knowing very much at all about their effect to the human body. That thesis is being proved right almost weekly by scientists, some of whom were not even born when Colborn decided to embark on her second career. 

Her lifetime spanned the maturity of the environmental movement itself, from conservation-minded tree hugging concerns to people-poisoning invasions of the body snatchers health effects. There's no imagining the contributions she could have made had she devoted the first part of her adult life to the cause, but the entire human race is a beneficiary of her decision not to stay a retired pharmacist. She did not go quietly into that good night. She turned the world upside down on her way out. R.I.P. 

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Badge of honorWe must be doing something right. 

Last Thursday, Energy in Depth, the national PR arm of the oil and gas industry, singled out Downwinders at Risk for our support of longer setbacks between people and gas industry facilities in Mansfield and other North Texas cities. 

EID calls these setbacks, now passed in DISH, Denton, Southlake and Dallas, "defacto bans" because they require wells and compressors to be anywhere from 1000 to 1500 feet from homes, schools, park and other "protected uses" – to use city zoning lingo.

But of course these setbacks are defacto bans only because industry wants them to benot because there are any technical obstacles to them reaching the gas underneath these cities due to distance. Gas operators can now punch a hole and reach deposits up to at least a mile or two away from where they place their rig on the surface. That's more than three 1500-foot setbacks end-to end.  Operators have to spend more to drill to get that gas, but that's the price they pay for trying to place heavy industry in the middle of residential areas, parks, or near schools – something most cities don't allow when it comes to hazardous waste incinerators, chemical plants or landfills. Part of the problem is the inherent arrogance of the gas industry's position – it wants to pollute like a heavy industry, but it doesn't want to be regulated like one. 

You know the folks in Corporate are getting worried when these things pop up on the Energy in Depth agenda. They understand their much-beloved "Fort Worth model" of less protective 600-foot setbacks and looser regulations in now under organized assault. While the rest of us see a constant barrage of new studies coming out every month emphasizing the dangers to human health of proximity to gas facilities, the industry wants time to stop in 2010, before we knew so much.  But time marches on. And so does knowledge, and then public opinion.

Mansfield is deep into the Shale. It shares a border with Ft. Worth, unofficial headquarters for the Barnett Shale Energy in Depth crowd. A rejection of Cowtown's approach to regulating the gas industry here would be a major setback to the industry. The stakes are high. Just in the last week, two national publications, a subscription-only national newsletter called Environment and Energy Daily, and the Center for Public Integrity, have posted stories on the Mansfield fight. They've hit a nerve. That's why Energy in Depth is writing about it. 

Getting criticized by EID is recognition that the partnership between Mansfield Gas Well Awareness and Downwinders at Risk is having an impact. We consider is a badge of honor. Our only regret is that it came too late to be used in our traditional end-of-year fundraising letter. Because after months of frustration, Mansfield residents are finally getting the attention they and their complaints deserve from their city council and the media. It's a national fracking fight hotspot. That's not an accident. That's good organizing. 

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Building Momentum in Mansfield

by jim on December 5, 2014

IMG_2031Good things come in threes. Lance Irwin, Erick Orsak, and Tamera Bounds proved that again on Wednesday night when they led the Mansfield Gas Well Awareness contingent during the Mansfield City Council's "work session" on rewriting the city's gas drilling ordinance.

Combined, they projected just the right mix of competence, skepticism, and experience to combat the "Don't worry, be happy" approach of the Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality presentations that preceded them in the agenda.

(By the way did you know, that according to Austin, the average response time of a TCEQ inspector responding to a complaint was only 5 hours? Downwinders at Risk is willing to pay $100 to the charity of the inspectors' choice if anyone out there has ever gotten a response that quickly. After almost 30 years of dealing with state environmental agencies, we can't recall a single instance where it took less than a day for an inspector to show up, even when the situation was "urgent.")

By putting the three residents in the same horseshoe as industry, state agencies, and itself, the Council elevated the status of the resident's group beyond anything it had enjoyed in previous rounds of jousting over drilling. Whether that leads to the kinds of substantial changes to the city's drilling ordinance the group is pursuing remains to be seen.

What was obvious after the formal presentations ended and a more informal question and answer period followed was the large disparity in monitoring and self-regulation within the industry. There were at least 10 or 12 gas operators sitting at the table during the event. Conspicuous by its absence was Eagleridge, the source of many complaints in Mansfield and of course, the company that ignited the Denton fracking vote controversy.

But Eagleridge's Chief Operating Officer Mark Grawe was present, in the back of the room, trying to keep a low profile. It didn't work. Let's just say when you get called on the carpet by Stephen Lindsey, the Mansfield Council member whose day job is the "Government Relations and Community Affairs Director" for gas industry giant Quicksilver, you know you're not going to have a good night. As the evening wore on, it was clear Eagleridge was being portrayed as the poor, white trash cousin of the more established players like XTO and Chesapeake. The company lacked the remote sensors, automatic cut-offs, and other kinds of precautions that the rest of the industry reps liked to brag about. By the end of a rigorous cross-examination of Grawe by the residents' group, there was an unacknowledged consensus that perhaps the floor for regulating existing wells needed to be raised in Mansfield so that moving target known as "industry best practices" was updated applied to all.

More ambiguous was the response to the residents' request for a 1500-foot setback to replace the current 600 feet requirement – with a variance that can decreases that distance to 300 feet. Some industry representatives and council members want to frame the problem in terms of incidents and accidents that can be fixed with better equipment, rather than systematic changes that require separating people from heavy industrial activity, no matter how good the intentions are.

Also left hanging was how to better regulate polluting compressors. The city's lawyers, who've written protective ordinances for Dish and Southlake, was more circumscribed with their Mansfield employers. Cities can't regulate pipelines and mid-stream compressors for "safety standards," already addressed by the Railroad Commission they said. Left unsaid was that cities can and have regulated compressors for noise and "odors," otherwise known as toxic chemical exposures.

Bounds presented the city council with what she called a model ordinance that combined the best, most protective aspects of drilling regulations from DISH, Southlake, Dallas, Denton, Arlington and even Fort Worth. Saying these were legal requirements that hadn't been challenged by industry and so were available for adoption by the city, Bounds put the council on the spot by saying Mansfield needed to protect its citizens at least as much as these other municipalities and had no legal excuse for not doing so. Mayor David Cook took note of the work she'd done in compiling the new ordinance and said the city would perform its own side-by-side comparison and come back in January to continue the discussion.

Overall, the mood of the evening was cautious but positive. It was hard not to be impressed by the residents' knowledge and expertise, and everyone was civil in public. Afterwards, however, one of the first things Bounds heard was an industry operator telling her there was no way he was going to accept a 1500-foot setback. There is still plenty of work to be done. But it was a step in the right direction. And there are no big changes without incremental changes first. 

It helped that the media were out in force, trying to identify the next fracking hotspot after Denton. There was a row of TV cameras and local and national print reporters showed up to take notes. Channel 8 had the best coverage of the evening, and if you can get past the paywall, here's the Star-Telegram's take.

As has been noted before, Mansfield is no Denton. It's not even Southlake or Flower Mound. It resembles Ft. Worth more than it does Dallas in terms of politics and attitudes toward the gas industry by the Powers That Be. It has more wells per capita than just about any place else in the Shale. But those are all reasons that make it worth fighting the good fight there. If residents can make their case effectively and change their situation in Mansfield, then there really is hope for everyplace else in the Barnett. Stay tuned.

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Make Your Butt A Force for Good Tonight

by jim on December 3, 2014

butts in a chair 2Woody Allen is famously credited with the line that "showing-up is 80% of life." With organizing, it's more like 90%. There are at least two places to be tonight where just your butt in a seat will make a huge, positive difference:

1) Mansfield City Council Work Session on a New Gas Drilling Ordinance, 6 pm, Mansfield Performing Arts Center Workroom, 1110 West Debbie Lane, (near Hwy 287 –  just south of I-20) (map). 

After almost a year of struggle, residents of Mansfield are getting a hearing tonight in front of their city council. Unfortunately, the council, including two members who make a living from the gas industry, are making the  the residents take on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Texas Railroad Commission, 10-13 gas industry representatives, pro-industry state representatives, senators, and Congressman, as well as their own city staff  – all in one evening. They're besieged, and they really need your help tonight.

We have it on good authority that the Mansfield Mayor is using this set-up to "gauge public opinion on the issue" even though members of the public won't get to speak. So it's all about attendance – butts in seats. 

Mansfield isn't Dallas. It isn't Denton. It's not even Southlake or Flower Mound. It's deeper into the Shale, more blue collar, and more pro-industry than any other city that's been challenged over their old drilling ordinance in the last several years. The city has more gas wells now per capita  – over 200 in a city of 60,000 – than just about any other place in North Texas – with a potential for 300 more.  Concerned residents are at a disadvantage in trying to change the status quo.

Just your being there in a seat tonight sends a message you care about this issue. And if you live in Tarrant county or any place else where there's gas drilling in the Metromess, it's in your own self interest to help them in Mansfield. A victory there will make it more possible to win in other places. It will mean less air pollution from their wells and compressors blowing downwind. It will mean the tide is moving further west.

So do yourself, the region, and the cause a favor and show up tonight. You don't even have to speak. You just have to be present to win. 

2) Trinity Toll Road Debate -  6:30 p.m.  at Rosemont Elementary School, 1919 Stevens Forest Drive (map)

State Representative Rafael Anchia is sponsoring this debate over this leftover 20th Century boondoggle that features almost all the major players on both sides of the issues – Michael Morris, Mary Suhm, Patrick Kennedy and Scott Griggs. Again, your presence sends a valuable signal – that you're opposed to this floodplain toll way, and that this will be an important issue in the May Dallas elections. Go and be active members of the peanut gallery – cheer on the opponents, jeer the supporters.

It's particularly important that the public show increased interest tonight as Suhm and Mayor Rawlings conspire to muddy the waters with a new "review" of the plans of the road. They hope to give Citizen Council-backed candidates in the May election a way out of a simpey yes or no answer to the Toll Road – by saying their waiting for the review. You need to make sure they get the message that nobody is falling for that ruse.

Your butt can be a powerful voice for change tonight, or it can sit on the couch. Get out and show-up.

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rick Perry Lasers Eyes Burn EPAOn the day before Thanksgiving EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy went forward with a recommendation to lower the federal ozone, or smog, standard from the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) to somewhere between 65 to 70 ppb, while also agreeing to take public comment on a new standard as low as 60 ppb.

While this might seem like a big step, these are actually the same numbers that have been circulating since George W Bush was president. Since 2008 the EPA's own independent science advisory panel has recommended a national standard in the 60 to 70 range twice – and twice this recommendation has been put on a shelf because of political considerations, most recently in 2011. Now, with the re-election campaign behind them, the Obama Administration has decided to tepidly move forward.

Making the range recommendation it did means that the agency will take comments and mull it over for a year before deciding to issue a specific number in December 2015. There will be at least three national public hearings as part of that comment period – although we don't know the locations of those hearings yet. Once it decides on a particular number for the standard, the Administration most likely will give states until 2025 to comply with it. Or in Texas' case, we should probably say they'll give the state until that year to fail to achieve the standard for the first time. 

According to the EPA,

…the new regulation would by 2025 prevent from 320,000 to 960,000 asthma attacks in children, and from 330,000 to 1 million missed school days. It also estimates that by 2025 the rule would prevent 750 to 4,300 premature deaths, 1,400 to 4,300 asthma-related emergency room visits and 65,000 to 180,000 missed workdays.

Besides saving lives and preventing illness, the effect of the new standard will be to broaden the number of counties brought into "non-attainment" by the EPA across the state, and thus subject them to the same ineffectual TCEQ proposals for cleaning up the air DFW has been experiencing for decades.

Reaction from industry and Austin was predictable and predictably wrong-headed. Over the last 20 years, as the national standard has been lowered to account for the increase in knowledge we have about the human health effects of smog, Texas has never supported any change. Any. Never. It's always argued that lowering the standard wasn't necessary to protect public health and too costly to industry – causing economic calamities that never seem to happen. If it was up to Austin, we'd still be choking at the level of 125 ppb that was in effect up until the mid-1990's.

Of course in recent years, Rick Perry's TCEQ has added a nice Orwellian touch by having its "toxicologist" argue that smog isn't really that bad for you.

Maybe that's why no one has had a lot of confidence in the state's ability to write a new smog plan for DFW that will get levels down to the current 75 ppb standard by the deadline of 2018. That plan is being put in the regulatory pipeline by TCEQ and will be going to public comment itself beginning December 26th (yes, that's right, the day after Xmas) and running through January 30th. They'll be a public hearing on it as well in he next 60 days, probably in Arlington, although details haven't been released.

Although it's called a plan, there's no planning in it. The state proposes to do absolutely nothing to reduce pollution from any major smog source. Nada. No new controls on cement kilns, coal plans or gas facilities. Instead it says that the federal government's new gasoline mix, to be introduced in 2017, will produce enough of a decline in smog to get the region "close enough" to the 75 ppb standard. Never mind that that standard is now medically obsolete according to the EPA, and God forbid the state should require more pollution controls to aim for the lower 65-70 level we all know is on its way. Nope. At last count there were still three local monitors that hadn't even reached the 75 ppb level by 2018 in the state's computer model prediction, and that result relied on a steep decline in oil and gas drilling that may or may not happen.

According to the Clean Air Act, the state is supposed to be requiring major sources of smog pollution in DFW to install all "Reasonably-Achievable Control Measures"(RACM) that could help speed our  compliance with the 75 ppb standard. This would include things like SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) on the Midlothian cement plants and East Texas coal plants and electrification of compressors in the Barnett Shale gas patch. However, Austin says those ideas are not "technically or economically reasonable."

The state might have a point – if companies within those same industries weren't already turning to these options voluntarily. For example, Holcim has applied for a permit to install SCR in one of its Midlothian cement kilns. So is Rick Perry's TCEQ saying a multinational cement company operating in the private market with two competitors down the road is installing a piece of pollution control equipment out of the goodness of its bottom-lined heart that's neither technically or economically feasible? Are Holcim's managers a bunch of profit-losing unrealistic treehuggers? Hardly.

Likewise, SCR has been installed on plenty of US coal plants – just not on the oldest dirtiest one in East Texas that need it the most. It's not a new technology at all. Same with electric compressors. In fact, those are required now under some city drilling ordinances. Wouldn't you hear banshee-like howls from the oil and gas industry, much less lawsuits, over those ordinances if that was not a technological or economically feasible alternative? In fact, electrification saves money by reducing the waste of gas product it takes to run conventionally-powered compressors.

This is the ridiculous result of a regulatory agency being an extension of a presidential campaign that promises to be easy on business and tough on the EPA. The order has come down from on high that no new pollution control requirements are to be sought by TCEQ in these smog plans, no matter how silly it makes the state look, or how much dirty air Texas residents have to breathe.

That's why in addition to calling for these kinds of pollution controls in the public comment process, and only having those comments fall on deaf ears in Austin, citizens must also put pressure on the EPA – too often the state's enabler in these matters.

As the ultimate authority on enforcing the Clean Air Act, the EPA can reject the state's plan and send it back to the drawing board with specific recommendations, or substitute a new one of its own creation - like it just had to do with the state's terrible haze-prevention plan that would have taken 150 years to work.

Certainly citizens have to put their case for federal action on the record during the TCEQ public comment period, but then we have to take that case directly to EPA and make them live up to their own regulations. And if they won't, then the next stop may have to be federal court.

If the last 20 years of clean air wars in Texas has taught us anything, it's that it won't matter what new smog standard the EPA sets, or whether the current one is being enforced or not, unless a federal agency or court, prompted by citizen action, make it matter.

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Les MisŽrables by Cameron Mackintosh, opening night November 28

Mansfield City Council Work Session on a New Gas Drilling Ordinance

6 pm, Wednesday, December 3rd

Mansfield Performing Arts Center workroom

1110 W Debbie Ln, Mansfield, TX 76063 (map)

Denton's successful citizens revolt is off the streets for now and in the courts. The next organized front in the battle over urban gas drilling in DFW is the Fort Worth suburb of Mansfield. And this next Wednesday, December 3rd, beginning at 6 pm, hard-pressed residents there need your help in turning the tide.

In response to months of grassroots effort on the ground, and only after the very first presentation by a physician on the medical consequences of fracking, Mansfield's city council has called for a "work session" to "discuss" changing its circa-2009 drilling ordinance for next week.

Only this work session is designed to shut down the residents call for reform. The city is inviting

– The Railroad Commission

– The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

-All local elected officials ( Joe Barton, Bill Zedler, Rob Orr, Jim Pitts, etc)

– All 12 gas operators with wells and/or compressors in town, including Eagleridge, Exxon-owned XTO, Chesapeake, Atlas, Devon and Enervest.                                                                                                     

These "stakeholders," along with city staff and city council will be given 15 minutes to make the case that the status quo is just fine. And oh yeah, then the residents group – Mansfield Gas Well Awareness – will get their 15 minutes to rebut the previous 90 minutes. No "outside groups" like ShaleTest or Downwinders – are allowed to participate or aid them.

What began as a simple request by the residents to meet one-on-one with the mayor has now blossomed into this huge conflagration where the city hopes to overwhelm the local group. It's in the self interest of everyone concerned about clean air and citizens rights and good government and fracking to prevent that by showing up in support of change on Wednesday night.

Even if you don't live in Mansfield, you have a dog in this fight. The air pollution from those Mansfield wells and compressors ads to downwind smog and toxic air pollution that residents in Arlington and Fort Worth and places further away breathe. 

Progress in Mansfield means progress is more likely in other places in the Shale. A victory there means we advance a new, better model for regulation further west. Mansfield has more wells per capita than almost anyplace else in North Texas, over 200 now in a city of just 60,000 with the potential for another 300. Like other Tarrant County cities, it got hit early and hard by the Boom. Its drilling ordinance was written in 2008-2009, and based on – what else? – Fort Worth's model of 600 foot setbacks. This is a chance to bring the newer, more protective Dallas-Southlake-Denton model deep into industry-friendly territory.

Showing up next Wednesday means you're saying no to the bullying tactics the Mansfield city government are using to silence local residents. Just like corruption and gas drilling went hand in hand in Dallas, so it is in Mansfield, with no apologies for using a gas industry spokesperson as the city's main negotiator for gas drilling issues.

Two of its seven city council members have direct ties to the gas industry and obvious conflicts of interest over gas drilling decisions for the city. But one of them, Stephen Lindsey, is the Mansfield city council's point person for all things gas related despite, or because, of his job as "Government Affairs and Community Relations Director" for Quicksilver Resources, the sixth largest operator in the Barnett Shale. We've written extensively in this blog post about Lindsey's national role as an industry expert in "managing" local opposition to drilling. The guy is an industry PR troubleshooter and he's now personally directing Mansfield's response to the resident's request that the city update its ordinance.

Mansfield residents are besieged. They need your help. They need your butt in a seat on Wednesday night at the "work session." It's no coincidence this session is happening now, as the holiday season begins. The Powers That Be are hoping it wil get lost in the shuffle. Don't let that happen. If you want to see the legacy of the Dallas victory extended, if you want to see Denton's hard-fought victory pay-off elsewhere, please be at this Wednesday night showdown in Mansfield. It's the next hotspot for change, and we can't get it done without your active support.

Mansfield City Council Work Session on a New Gas Drilling Ordinance

6 pm, Wednesday, December 3rd

Mansfield Performing Arts Center workroom

1110 W Debbie Ln, Mansfield, TX 76063 (map)

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Lindsey ConflictedStephen Linsdey is an entrenched member of the oil and gas industry. In the mid-Oughts he worked for Flowserv, the multinational manufacturer of valves and pumps used at thousands of oil and gas facilities worldwide. From 2007 to 2008 he was put in charge of protecting and developing Iraqi oil fields during the Iraq War. Beginning in 2008, just as the local Shale boom was taking off, he went to work for Quicksilver Resources inc, the sixth largest producer in the Fort Worth Basin, where he's been ever since, serving as Senior Director Of Government Relations and Community Affairs.

According to the company's job description, Lindsey's responsibilities "include community relations, municipal/city engagement, governmental/legislative affairs, regulatory/permitting, external affairs and corporate/public relations." He's also Treasurer of Quicksilver's Political Action Committee, overseeing the distribution of thousands of campaign contributions to officials such as Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, and Texas House Representative Jim Keffer, Chair of the House Energy Committee.

Lindsey's job is to smooth over any regulatory obstacles in the way of Quicksilver's production goals. He's the company's lead negotiator with local and state governments. He also is in great demand on the oil and gas industry speaker circuit as an expert on how to deal with what he says are those "working against industry's interest."

In his own words, "My role in my organization is to make insure the guys that want to drill wells and complete wells, and run pipelines, and put in surface equipment, and move trucks can do it uninhibited. Can do it without fear their permits are gonna get denied, or the regulatory structure is going to come down on them."

That's his day job. But Stephen Lindsey is also a Mansfield City Council member. In fact, as coincidence would have it, he's the city council member the Mayor has put in charge of overseeing the city's gas drilling policies.

And now, he's the city's go-to guy for the re-examination of Mansfield's obsolete 2008 gas drilling ordinance that's been the subject of a steady grassroots campaign of determined residents. You got a problem with that?

As it turns out, Lindsey isn't even the only member of the Mansfield city council who's intimately connected to the oil and gas industry. Larry Broseh is president of a drilling parts manufacturer whose clients include gas patch operators all over the state, including the Barnett Shale. That's two out of the seven city council members who have a pretty big conflict of interest.

But it's not just who Lindsey works for that makes for the outrageous double duty. It's what he does for Quicksilver. He's the slick PR guy that interfaces with local city councils to downplay the hazards of fracking in order to win permits. He's the spokesperson in the media. If Quicksilver had wells in Mansfield (the closest ones are in Arlington), the council would be sitting across the table from Stephan Lindsey. And as a national poster boy for fracking's public relations strategies, he's often the friendly face of the industry across the country. He's certainly fracking's most high profile elected official in the Barnett. And he wants you to know he's sincere about trying to get "the best product" i.e the best conciliatory agreements between industry and government.

With only 60,000 residents, but over 200 wells and another 300 potential ones to come, Mansfield has twice as many wells per capita than Denton and almost a third more per capita than even Fort Worth. Residents there are pressing to replace an industry-blessed "Fort Worth model" 600-foot setback (that's really a 300 setback with variances) with a "Southlake/Dallas model" 1500-foot setback minus any variances. Outside of Denton, now in court over an outright ban on fracking, Mansfield is the next battleground in the Barnett Shale for the clash between these two competing regulatory templates.

Lindsey is well aware of this clash. Part of his job is going around the country warning industry about the growing power of local governments in regulating drilling. He cites Flower Mound and Denton as bad examples.  As one industry conference panel moderator posed it to Lindsey, "What's your advice on how to prevent a Denton?"

According to Lindsey, "local governments are increasingly at odds with state government." Cities don't feel as if they're protected by state entities like the Railroad Commission or TCEQ anymore. "Detrimental regulations" by municipal governments are on the rise. When older white Republicans are opposed to you, "that's a sea change."

Much to Lindsey's chagrin, unlike Colorado, where the Attorney General has taken local county governments to court because of this overreach, Texas home rule cities "can do whatever they want." If the cities think it's in their best interests, those regs "are going to stand" unless they're challenged. You can almost taste the anticipation he has over the lawsuits the Denton fracking vote has generated as a chance to settle the score and cut the cities down to size.  

In his presentations to industry peers, Lindsey boosts about his role as a Mansfield city council member. "I'm on both sides of it. I'm out lobbying, er, presenting at City of Fort Worth, City of Arlington, City of Haslet, City of Southlake, City of Northlake –  all of our operational areas, trying to get our permits approved and on the other hand, I'm sitting on our own city council listening as XTO, and Chesapeake, and other operators come in and present there."

Traditionally, the strictest interpretations of conflict of interest have meant that the elected official or a close relative had to have worked for or owned stock or or percentage in the specific company being discussed. Since Quicksilver doesn't have any wells in Mansfield, Lindsey passes that test. But in terms of a more general conflict over the escalation of local regulation of the gas industry, his positon in Quicksilver and as an industry spokesperson certainly does pose a conflict.

He doesn't hesitate to describe threats to the industry as a whole, or to advise other companies on how to "manage them."  No matter how much more protective to public health it might be, wouldn't the spread of a Dallas-like model of "detrimental" regulation of drilling to a place like Mansfield be a bad precedent for the industry as a whole? Wouldn't it constitute a threat to other operators like Quicksilver, whose own future wells might be targeted next in Arlington, or Haslet, or God forbid, even Fort Worth?

If he was being honest, Stephen Lindsey the industry lobbyist would have to say yes. After all, as he noted to a Colorado reporter in an article over a local County's demand for a monitoring water well Quicksilver didn't want to install, "We’ve got to make prudent decisions about what option is best for the company."

In 2010, the City of Fort Worth Ethics Committee ruled that three gas company employees had a conflict of interest in serving on its air quality study committee by concluding, "The level of their loyalty to their employers has put them in a position of wearing two hats."

The same is true of Stephen Lindsey. Mansfield residents shouldn't have to guess which hat Lindsey is wearing when he's working as a city council member, or whether he's putting their well-being or the industry's bottom line first.

(Most of the quotes used in this post come from a presentation for the American Business Confernce in October, avaialble for viewing online: http://vimeopro.com/lbcg/fe14/video/108496562)

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adhdOver the course of this blog, there have been countless "Air Pollution Linked to….." headlines. Not just diseases or illness you might associate with breathing bad air like COPD, or heart disease, or strokes, but Parkinson's, immune system breakdowns, Autism and so forth – ailments that seem to be skyrocketing even as Americans as a whole receive better medical care and live longer. Almost all the time these ailments are tied to "ambient" levels of air pollution, i.e. levels you might encounter if you lived in a typical city or…downwind of a large polluter.

The latest example of this phenomenon is study from Columbia University's Center for Children's Environmental Health, linking ambient levels of a particular kind of air pollution and the risk of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD in young children. The air pollution in question is a familiar one to Downwinders – Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs, that include a variety of nasty substances, including benzo[a]pyrene. PAHs are produced by from "incomplete combustion."

Downwinders first encountered PAHs because of the long list of "Products of Incomplete Combustion" from the burning of hazardous waste in the Midlothian cement plants. But they can be produced from the burning of fossil fuels, tobacco, or the organics that might be in a gas well flare. In addition, they can also show up in the food we eat.

In the Columbia study, 233 non-smoking African-American and Dominican pregnant women and their off spring living in New York City were followed for nine years. Almost half the children started out with detectable levels of PAHs in their cord blood at birth. As the study's authors point out, this is worrisome because "during the fetal period and early childhood years, the brain is rapidly developing and vulnerable to neurotoxic insults that may manifest as adverse outcomes in childhood and adulthood."

And that's exactly what the researchers found. Prenatal exposure to PAHs in umbilical cord blood at delivery was associated with developmental delay at age 3, reduced IQ at age 5, and symptoms of anxiety/depression and attention problems at ages 6–7. By age 9, children whose mothers had higher levels of PAHs in them at birth were five times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than those with lesser levels.

It's important to remember that this affect was caused by exposure levels in the ambient NYC air, not particularly "dirty air" by traditional standards. Populations who live downwind of coal plants, cement plants, large gas plays, or any large, continuing source of PAHs might be expected to experience higher rates of impact because their exposure levels are higher. 

And although this study focused on PAHs, the study notes that previous studies have identified "an association between ambient particulate matter (PM10) and childhood ADHD," a combustion pollutant even more common than PAHs.

Studies like these raise the same question time and again: how much of our current epidemic of childhood behavioral and developmental problems are caused by environmental factors within our control? With each successive year of research, we find links between "ambient levels" of environmental contaminants and a long list of health problems never before associated with pollution.

They also highlight the complete inadequacy of our current way of regulating pollution. As long as we're only regulating it from each source, instead of from a cumulative perspective, we're always be overdosing people with contaminants. By themselves, many different sources of air pollution can be churning out "safe" levels of things that can kill you. Combined downwind, not so much.

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Hulk defeatedCongratulations to Frack Free Denton.

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pyhrric-victoryBecause there's been no public polling, it's impossible to know which side is leading in the Great Denton Fracking Vote of 2104 going into Election Day. Indications here and there in news coverage give hints that internal polling by industry shows them behind. But before the count begins tonight, one gets the feeling that even if the fracking industry wins, it still loses – that this will be a totally Pyrrhic victory.

It has only itself to blame. It raised the stakes so incredibly high, went so over-the-top in its opposition, that even those who might sympathize with some of its arguments can't stomach the bullying tactics used to defend them.

If, after spending almost a million dollars, becoming Chicken Littles of economic disaster, and recklessly throwing around libelous claims of secret Russian influence, it should win, it will be akin to The Hulk beating up a ten-year old near-sighted Boy Scout. But in setting-up such a mismatch, don't be surprised if you create a lot of backlash sympathy for the near-sighted Boy Scout. Everyone loves an underdog.

Attempts to equate "a DC-based environmental group's" in-kind contributions to Exxon's dump trucks of cash are laughable and wholly ineffective. Of the two sides, only the industry has made this a national rallying cry and given it a symbolism way out of proportion to its actual impact. Only the industry has made it an ideological fight for the ages. Locals have effectively kept it an us vs them community fight, with corporate out-of-towners as the villains. That's a perspective that tends to unite voters of a variety of hues.

So if the industry wins, the reaction will be of course it did. It bought the election. It used a Howitzer to swat a fly. Another example of raw corporate power in an age marked by its abuse. It won't have proved anything other than it can spend a lot of money driving a grassroots-driven initiative into the ground. Hooray for Mr. Burns!

From a practical standpoint, it will not have won them any new allies and, from all indications, made the Denton City Council as a whole even more anti-fracking and pro-ban than it was this summer. From here on out, it'll be a tough slog for any company that wants to drill a new gas well in town and development around older wells will be put under an electron microscope that might result in some precedent-setting zoning regulations.

Next May, long after the high-paid political consultants and corporate checks have deserted Denton, and with fewer Greg Abbott partisans showing up, they'll be a municipal election which will serve as a second referendum of sorts, where the effects of the last six months of grassroots organizing will be revealed in even higher relief.

And what if the near-sighted Boy Scout wins? Well, because the industry has set this up has a national test, that will be magnitudes more embarrassing and newsworthy than if the predictable purchasing of votes happens. It will be a Goliath-killing rebuke. It will spawn panic in boardrooms in Dallas and Houston, and back rooms in Austin. It will force State Representative Phil King to awkwardly explain how local control is OK for Texas when it comes to rejecting EPA regulations, but is absolutely wrong when it comes to cities rejecting the state's incestuous non-regulation. It will further paint the industry and their bought-and-paid for mouthpieces into a corner where their position will be: the less democracy, the better. That is not a winning strategy in the long run.

Regardless of the vote count tonight, it's hard to see the fracking industry emerging better off than it was when this whole thing started. And it only needs to look in the mirror to place the blame for that PR failure.

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kiln_holcim copyThere's a public meeting hosted by TCEQ at 7pm tonight concerning the new permit for Holcim's Midlothian cement plant. It's taking place at the Midlothian Conference Center, at 1 community Center Road, right off Hwy 287. Here's a map if you need one.

This is your only chance to ask questions and raise concerns about Holcim's new permit, or any other aspect of Holcim operations in a public forum in 2014.

Remember that Holcim's pollution contributes to higher smog levels as far north as Denton and Wise Counties. Along with TXI and Ash Grove, its plumes have been associated with higher childhood asthmarates in southeast Tarrant County.

Holcim is also still the only Midlothain cement plant still blasting for rock. The others use machinery to mine limestone, Holcim uses ammonium nitrate, the same explosives that caused the West, Texas catastrophe.

The good news is that Holcim has decided to install Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) pollution control on one of their two large cement kilns. That's what the new permit mostly is about. Although well-known for reducing smog-forming Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) in the European cement industry, Holcim is using it to reduce Total Hydrocarbons – a category of pollutionthat includes toluene, benzene, and xylene.

You can read about how important a victory SCR is for all DFW breathers here. It's been a 15 year effort. Holcim's decision to install SCR should be celebrated.

But important questions remain about when the SCR unit will become operational and how reductions in airpollution like NOx will be tracked by the company.

SCR is only being installed on one of two Holcim kilns in Midlothian. The other kiln is getting a "Regenerative Thermal Oxidizer" – the equivalent of a flare on a gas well – to burn off its total Hydrocarbons.

Because they're combustion-based, RTOs increase NOx pollution. How much, and how Holcim can catch that increase before it goes up the stack is alsothe subject of the permit.

The public meeting on Monday is not a hearing. But it is the only public forum where citizens can thank Holcim for finally installing SCR, as well as express their concerns and ask questions about the permit.

We know it's a busy time of year, and it's the day before Election Day, but do your lungs a favor and attend a meeting about a permit that can affect them for good or bad.

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hanging gas mask on hookFor the first time since DFW began recording its smog levels, the region's three-year running average dipped below the 1997 eight-hour 85 parts per billion (ppb) standard. After years of leveling off at around 86-87, it's dropped to 81 ppb.  That's good news.

DFW's decrease is attributed to 2011's terrible numbers rolling off the board and a wetter, cooler and windier summer than normal these last five months or so. As both drought-ridden 2011 and this year's results demonstrate, weather still plays an extremely critical role in how large or small our smog problem will be. Another summer or two like 2011 could easily put us back over the 1997 standard. More wet and cooler weather could see the decrease continue.

The news would be better except that we were supposed to have originally accomplished this milestone in 2009, then again last year after a second try, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

As it is, we still haven't reached the current, more protective 2008 national standard that was revised downward to 75 ppb after a review of the scientific literature.

In January, TCEQ will host a public hearing on its proposed "plan" to EPA to meet that goal that predicts most, but not all DFW monitors will reach 75 ppb by the summer of 2018. 

Despite overwhelming evidence that new controls on the Midlothian cement plants and the reduction of gas industry pollution could speed this achievement, TCEQ's new plan contains no new pollution control measures on any major sources of smog polluters – cement kilns, coal plants, gas sources – but instead relies on the federal adoption of a new lower-sulfur gasoline mix for on-road vehicles. Like past proposals by Rick Perry's TCEQ, this one depends solely on the feds to get them into compliance. TCEQ isn't lifting a regulatory finger to help.

And its new plan once again aims high, not low. At last count, there were at least three Tarrant and Denton County monitors that TCEQ admitted would still be above the 75 ppb standard at the end of 2018. "Close enough" is the reply from Austin.

From a public health perspective, it's even worse. Why does the ozone standard keep routinely going down? Because new and better evidence keeps accumulating to show widespread health problems at levels of exposure to smog that were once considered "safe." About every five years, the EPA's scientific advisory committee must assess the evidence and decide if a new standard needs to be enforced to protect public health.

For most of the last ten years, the position of this independent panel of scientists is that the standard should be somewhere between 60 and 70 ppb. They were ignored in 2008. They were ignored in 2011. They once again came to this conclusion last May. What was the evidence that persuaded them? That the current 75 ppb standard for smog causes almost 20% of children in "non-attainment areas" to have asthma attacks, and leads to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Cutting the standard to 60 ppb reduces those deaths by 95%. Since the Clean Air Act states the EPA is duty bound to set a smog standard protective of human health, 60 ppb seems to be the threshold level that the current scientific literature says is actually safe for the majority of the population most vulnerable to the impact of bad air. By contrast, a smog level of 70 ppb only reduces those deaths by 50%. (Policy Assessment for the Review of the Ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, Health and Environmental Impacts Division, Ambient Standards Group, August 2014)

By December 1st, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy must decide whether to officially recommend a standard in that 60-70 ppb range. It looks as though this time, the EPA might just endorse what the scientists are recommending, although it's unclear whether it'll be the upper or lower part of that range.

So even while the TCEQ is saying it's "close enough" to achieving the 75 ppb standard left over from George W's administration by 2018, the evidence is that level is too high to prevent large public health harms and must be lowered. A lot.

This is why it's so infuriating that the TCEQ is satisfied with getting only "close enough" to a 2008 standard that's about to become obsolete. Austin knows it could demand better air pollution control measures on the market right now that would accelerate the decrease in smog. It knows the pubic health would benefit from requiring such measures. But it's willing to condemn DFW children and others at risk for many more years for the sake of keeping its "business-friendly" reputation.

And while this year's slip below the 85 ppb standard is a sign of some progress, it remains true that DFW still has the worst air in Texas – a title we took from Houston years ago. Take a look at the chart summarizing the 2014 ozone season across Texas. Despite the nicer weather, DFW still had almost twice as many readings above 75 ppb as Houston and four above the 85 ppb standard. Houston had no readings above 85. In fact, San Antonio was the only other city to record a level so high – once.

2014 ozone resultsDFW still has a smog problem and all it takes is another hot and dry summer to see it escalate. We need the help more controls on major sources could give us. We need Selective Catalytic Reduction on ALL the Midlothian cement and East Texas coal plants. We need electrification of gas compressors in the Barnett Shale. This should be the message to both the TCEQ and EPA during the public hearing in January.

DFW smog in 2014: we've met the Clinton era standard for now, on the way to trying to get "close enough" to the W Standard, and still very far from a new Obama standard. Don't hang up the gas mask yet.

 

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Medical staff symbol(Mansfield)— A new group of Mansfield residents is sponsoring what’s believed to be the first DFW presentation by a medical doctor on the health effects of fracking as part of a campaign to re-write the city’s six-year old drilling ordinance they say no longer reflects the best science, or provides enough public protection.  

Mansfield Gas Well Awareness is hosting Dr. Anne Epstein, M.D. at the Mansfield Holiday Inn on October 29th beginning at 7 pm. Dr. Epstein is an internal medicine specialist who graduated from Baylor Medical School and sits on the Lubbock County Board of Health. She’s a member of the Board’s Oil and Gas Advisory Committee that recently voted to recommend setbacks of 1500 feet separating homes, workplaces, and schools from wells. Mansfield currently allows wells as close as 600 feet to residences, with post drilling development up to 100 feet.  

“Our 2008 ordinance was written before new scientific studies showing higher rates of birth defects and cancers among those living close to gas wells,” said Tamera Bounds, a member of MGWA. “Like Lubbock, Dallas and other Texas cities that have looked at those studies recently and adjusted their regulations, Mansfield must update its obsolete rules to better protect our families and property values.”

206 gas wells have been drilled in the city of 60,000 in the last six years with the potential to drill 300 more. That’s almost as many as Denton, with twice the population. Almost every Mansfield resident currently lives within a mile of one well or more. However, the Special Use Permits (SUPs) approved by the city expire after five years. SUPs for undrilled wells approved in 2008 and 2009 have already expired or will soon, and MGWA wants the city to take the opportunity to strengthen its drilling ordinance.

“We want to make sure our rules match the new science by allowing for bigger buffer zones, more air pollution controls and better monitoring and emergency response,” said Bounds. She citied 2008 correspondence from a gas well operator to the Mansfield Planning and Zoning Committee that claimed closer distances between schools and wells, as opposed to nursing homes, were justified because children are very mobile.”

“We need rules based on more than the industry’s estimate of how fast our children can run.”  

Among the recent studies cities by Bounds and scheduled to be reviewed by Dr. Epstein are those from the University of Colorado School of Public Health that trace close proximity to gas wells with higher rates of birth defects, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health that discovered benzene and silica levels among workers at drilling sites that exceeded federal exposure limits. 

Bounds’ group is being assisted by DFW clean air group Downwinders at Risk, which was instrumental in getting a new Dallas gas ordinance passed in 2013.  Downwinders Director Jim Schermbeck says he thinks the Mansfield effort marks a milestone in Tarrant County’s coping with the Barnett Shale drilling boom. “It’s a great example of residents in a city saturated with wells after the first wave of drilling trying to recover and catch up with the science before the next wave makes things a lot worse.” 

Schermbeck cautioned that the Mansfield group had an uphill climb considering its current council make-up.

At least two of Mansfield’s city council members are directly involved in the fracking business. Larry Broseh is the president of Drill King International, a manufacturer of drilling equipment, and Stephen Lindsey is Director of Government Affairs of Quicksilver Resources, a natural gas and oil exploration and production company.

Bounds said the group would ask those two council members to recuse themselves from the writing of a new ordinance because of their conflict of interests. “ This needs to be a citizen-driven process. It needs to be a science-driven process. The 2008 ordinance came directly from industry and hardly involved residents at all. This time, things need to be different.”

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Perry Mini mesWhen explaining how the powers of state government are distributed under the Texas Constitution, the emphasis is usually on how powerful the Lt. Governor is and how weak the Governor actually is – a leftover from the Confederate backlash to Reconstruction.

But that explanation usually assumes a traditional two-term governor, not one who takes up residency for 14 years.

In the past it was hard for any one Texas governor to put their personal stamp on so many state agencies so deeply because they were out after four to eight years and the terms of the appointments were staggered. Multi-member commissions were a mix of appointees from different administration, representing different government philosophies and parties. This made compromise a necessity.

And then came Rick Perry.

After 14 years, he's not only been able to appoint all the top level decision-makers in all of the state's various agencies and commissions, he's been able to go down two to three layers deep in each bureaucracy and make sure those mid-level officeholders reflect the same views.  Compromise is no longer necessary. Through this process, he's assembled more power than perhaps any other Texas governor in history.

Even if Wendy Davis were to win next month, it would take many years to replace Perry's choices for all of the state agencies that affect Texans on a daily basis. Some don't expire until 2019. And Davis would have to win approval for each appointment from what is shaping up to be the most business-friendly state senate Texas has seen since Spindletop.

Recently, the Austin American Statesman reviewed over 8,000 Perry appointments, and found:

Nearly 4 in 5 Perry appointees are white, even as the portion of whites in the state dropped from 55 percent in 2000 shortly before Bush left office to 44 percent in 2010. Overall, 77 percent of his appointees have been white, and 67 percent are male.

Perry has appointed 90 of his former employees to boards and commissions, placing trusted lieutenants in the upper echelons of government agencies. Twenty-three of those one-time governor’s office workers were given paid appointments.

Nearly a quarter of appointees are donors to Perry’s campaigns, together giving more than $20 million. That constitutes a fifth of all contributions he has received during his time as governor.

No agency reflects Perry's these trends more thoroughly than the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Zac Covar, white and male, was a Perry aide, who then became an assistant to the TCEQ Chairman appointed by Perry, who then became Executive Director of the TCEQ, who then became one of three Commissioners himself. He's also a fellow Aggie, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Poultry Science from Texas A&M University, making him imminently qualified to help run the largest environmental agency in the free world outside of the EPA. His term expires next year.

Commissioner Toby Baker, white and male, was another Perry aide, and another fellow Aggie, with a degree in Public Administration. His term expires in 2017.

Chairman Bryan Shaw, white and male, is still another fellow poultry science degreed graduate of A&M, although you be hard-pressed to discover that in his official job description now days (two chicken scientists ruling the TCEQ coop seems to be an embarasment that even shames the Perryites). Since he was last appointed in 2013, his six-year term won't be up until 2019.

It's not only the top administrators at TCEQ who are full-fledged mini-mes  of Perry. It's also the agency's Chief Engineer Susana M. Hildebrand, who's been known to flat out lie to Legislative Committees about the inconvenient results of studies that don't reflect the hardcore pro-leave-industry-alone views of the Perry Administration. It's the TCEQ's Chief Toxicologist, Michael Honeycutt, who keeps insisting that smog really isn't that bad for you.  And on and on.

The result of all this political in-breeding is an agency which is the largest purveyor of junk science in the state, taking every industry-financed "study" and promoting it as if it were gospel, even if it's in the extreme minority of scientific opinion, while discounting the overwhelming collection of independent academic reviews that contradicts it. That's how you arrive at the point where the state's major environmental agency says there's no such thing as climate change, no harm in smog, and the continuing release of millions of tons toxins are no big deal. That's how a month before Holcim decides to install SCR at its Midlothian cement plant, a representative of TCEQ can say straight faced in an Arlington regional air quality meeting that the technology "isn't technically feasible."

This is why many of the state's citizen groups have given up on anything useful coming out of Austin for the foreseeable future. They've decided that If change is going to happen in Texas it'll be at the local level, where Rick Perry's fingerprints have not yet smudged all reconciliation with reality. And that's exactly why recent local expressions of people power, like the Dallas drilling ordinance and the Denton fracking ban vote are such a threat to an otherwise watertight hegemony emanating from the Governor's office.

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Energy revolution fistMany of you are probably headed to the Sierra Club's Earth Wind and Fire energy get together this coming weekend in Addison. As a kind of primer on how greener, cleaner energy could flourish in the US and what it would mean to the way we produce, distribute, regulate and charge for power, you might want to check out this New York Times piece from earlier in the month on how Germany is turning the corner. 

Deutschland is close to getting 30% of its energy needs from renewable sources, by far the leader among heavily industrialized nations – America is currently achieving about half that. That's impressive, but by far the most interesting parts of the story is what kind of ripples in the marketplace a commitment to green power can produce once a government decides to make that commitment.

For example, it's in large part due to German demand for solar that the prices of Chinese solar panels have plummeted, making the choice cheaper for everyone else around the planet. Likewise, more off shore wind power is being built to correspond to the daylight hours when it's needed most by consumers and those prices are also coming down thanks to German leadership.

Especially noteworthy is the anxiousness of utility companies who see their old business plan of large, centralized power systems  evaporating with the rise of so many smaller, decentralized options. As the article states:

"A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

Some experts say the electricity business is entering a period of turmoil beyond anything in its 130-year history, a disruption potentially as great as those that have remade the airlines, the music industry and the telephone business."

Among the strategies in play are "energy retainers" – regular payments to persuade utilities to keep some fossil-fuel power plants on standby for times when renewable sources lag. That's a complete upside down pyramid approach from previous years that saw those same older plants used as "base load" facilities with renewables supplementing them when necessary.

And while the sources of power are changing as a result of this energy revolution, so are the ways people use it. In Texas' deregulated electricity market, you're already seeing different pricing for different times of day so that consumers take better advantage of non-peak hours. Appliances like dishwashers and water heaters with "smart chips" in them could automatically take advantage of these differences and level out demand.

Check out the NYT piece and then, for a more radical American perspective on the German energy revolution and how it can be translated into action on this side of the Atlantic by the guy that invented the term "negawatts" read Amory Lovins' take. Lovins has been at the forefront of alternative energy since before the term was created and what were once thought to be fanciful flights of imagination on his part by the utility companies are the reality they're now having to deal with.

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Montgomery Ward watermarkVia the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, it seems the city finally wised up and decided it was not a good match to have the most high-profile promoter of urban gas drilling in Cowtown be the spokesperson for a new "healthy lifestyle" initiative.

Last Friday, Healthways announced that former Chesapeake top executive and all-around shill for everything-is wonderful-about drilling, Julie Wilson, had resigned her post as VP for the Fort Worth Blue Zones Project that seeks to promote a dialog about healthier choices for residents. Unfortunately it arrives about eight years too late to initiate a discussion about the wisdom of putting large toxic air polluters next to homes, schools, and parks.

Wilson's appointment to the Zones Project had raised eyebrows and objections even among a mostly quiescent Fort Worth population that had been among the first victims of the fracking boom in the late "Oughts." As in, we ought to have thought about this some more. Blue Zones got sizable blowback over her hiring, and it followed them wherever they showed up for one of their many community meetings, making for uncomfortable distractions to their more mainstream agenda concerning people's smoking, eating and exercise habits.

Wilson's resignation is one more sign of how far Chesapeake's star has fallen in Fort Worth. It's former corporate headquarters on the banks of the Trinity is now owned by Pier 1. Most of its Barnett Shale holdings have been auctioned off for needed cash. Aubrey McClendon, its founder and CEO had to resign last year after a stock scandal. The city and other entities are suing the company for royalties they think they were cheated.

But like the high-watermark from the 1949 flood that lasted for decades on the old Montgomery Wards' warehouse on 7th street, the pollution from its former facilities and stains on Ft. Worth's civic infrastructure from Chesapeake's invasion remain to remind everyone just how badly Fort Worth was rolled by the company.

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