February 29, 2008

Texas Energy Crisis

Texas again reigns supreme as the leader in CO2 production in the nation! This is just another award that embarrasses me being a native Texan along with our degradation of science principles in high schools (I'll cover this on Saturday) and being some of the fattest Americans. This report though hits on the underlying problem in the state; that our local and state governments are in bed with big industry.

So being a scientist I like to tease out all aspects of the facts in order to get a full picture of the information. I'll steal from a Newsweek article here:

If Texas were its own country, it would be the 48th most populous in the world, right between North Korea and Ghana. In terms of landmass, at 268,000 square miles it would be the 40th-biggest. Were the Lonestar State to secede from the union it would be the world's eighth-largest emitter of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, just behind Canada, with 630 million metric tons spewed into the atmosphere in 2005, according to new figures released this week by the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration. That's actually a reduction of 40 million metric tons since 2003, when Texas was the globe's seventh-largest CO2 contributor. But even though the state is improving, Texas still outpaces the combined emissions of California and Pennsylvania, the states with the second- and third-highest CO2 outputs.
Wow! We produce more greenhouse gas than the number 2 and 3 states combined?!?!? Of course Texas is the nation's largest energy producer, and has more cattle and oil refineries than any other state, effectively making us the power plant, gas pump and beef basket of the nation. So is industry totally to blame for this? Hell no, its us the citizens who really need to look at ourselves. Our 23.5 million citizens use 3,000 more kilowatt hours every year than the average American, and we like to drive large gas guzzling cars. According to the Texas DPS there are 20 million vehicles registered in the state, and a full quarter of them are pickup trucks (nationally 16% of vehicles are trucks). And this last year 61% of new vehicles were light trucks (nationally, 47%) .

A third of our emissions come from transportation and in such an expansive state little to nothing has been done by either local or state governments to ease this environmental pressure. As defined by the EPA's Clean Air Act more than half of all Texans live in areas where the air is unsafe to breathe.

And you think this type of health hazard would spur the government to enact change but Texas stands as one of only 15 states without a climate action plan. And of those 15 states 11 have bills under consideration, but Texas has yet to even begin to consider a plan! And here's how serious our governor is about climate change, last year he said "Al Gore's mouth is the country's leading source of carbon dioxide, not Texas." And bless the good Aggie's heart, you know he's just looking out for big business in his state, but at some point Texas is going to have to break the co-dependence on the oil industry for policy and money.

So how is big industry affecting Texans energy policies? Well last year the Texas Association of Manufacturers and Houston-based Exxon Mobil successfully lobbied against a bill that would have provided tax incentives for businesses and homeowners who install solar panels. The state legislature even voted down a bill that would have increased taxes to provide for a light rail system in the state. The Texas Oil and Gas Association and Texas Automobile Dealers Association spent $12 million to successfully defeat a bill by an Austin Democratic senator that would have set up a task force to study climate change. And in 2006 TXU announced it would build 11 coal plants to supplement the 18 Texas already has. The state government even fast tracked the application process to ensure the public had little to no time to comment on it. Luckily a coalition of 40 cities and local governments blocked the plans and TXU was bought out. An upcoming documentary by Robert Redford, "Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars" will detail the fight against big industry.

But things aren't all bad. Texas continued to push wind power and added $3 billion in wind generation last year. Legendary oilman Boone T. Pickens has invested billions of his own money to build the largest wind farm in the world in the Texas panhandle which should begin construction in 2010.

And even though the state government has dropped the ball, local governments are making a push towards renewable energy sources with Austin leading the way. Austin mayor Will Wynn put forth a plan to have the city run 100% on renewable energy sources by 2012, that's only 4 years!!! The plan also calls for every new single-family home to be zero-net-energy-capable by 2015!

The push for innovation in these areas will come from local governments and their citizens who demand that energy production be adjusted to uncuff the state from the oil industry. Big business has little interest in these goals as witnessed by GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz who during a closed door meeting with journalists in Dallas said, "Global warming is a total crock of shit. I'm a skeptic, not a denier … I’m motivated more by the desire to replace imported oil than by the CO2." Wow, talk about a real desire to help not only our neighbors but our planet.

I for one am planning to make myself less oil dependent in the next 5 years and for many reasons. One will be the cost of oil consumption. Basic economics tells us that as supply decreases (we keep taking out oil, but no new supplies are being created) and demand increases (humans have used 1 trillion barrels of oil since 1859, more than 93% of it since 1973) prices will skyrocket.

I am unwilling to use a vendor who's cost of service has tripled in the last 7 years and has a 62.8% medium or worse risk of delivery failure. I'm unwilling to rely on an industry which can cut off 97% of its supply for political, weather and policy demands.

Ordinary citizens are starting to listen as well. A family friend of ours has recently added 78 wind turbines twice the size of the Statue of Liberty to his farm outside of Sweetwater, TX. He gets paid abou $500 a month for allowing the turbines on his land and his new favorite catch phrase is "that's just money you're hearing." The New York Times even picked up on this story and has made Louis a local celebrity with farmers and city dwellers alike asking how they can get in on some of the money. This is a very telling movement as always has been the case with human reason, if there is incentive your ideals will change to meet the reward.

So go out and make a difference Texans, this is our damn state! Don't let the businesses and suits in Austin tell you how the energy policy should be, be heard and make a stand. Contact your local politicians and tell them how you feel. I myself have had good conversation with Senator Ogden concerning two separate energy bills which the congress will see this year. I encourage all of you to get out and shoot a quick email or phone call to these guys, its their freakin' job to listen!

Senate District 5--Senator Steve Ogden
District Address: 3740 Copperfield Dr., Suite 103
Bryan TX 77802
Phone: (979) 776-0521

House District 14--Representative Fred Brown
District Address: 1920 West Villa Maria Road, Suite 303
Bryan TX 77802
Phone: (979) 822-9797

And our national representatives:

Congressional District 17--Congressman Chet Edwards
111 University Drive East, Ste. 216
College Station, TX 77840
Phone: (979) 691-8797

Senator John Cornyn contact.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson contact.

*All of these Congressman have email addresses on their linked pages. I encourage you to slip a little note that this sort of stuff is important

Sphere: Related Content