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Apr 152014

Austin has a special way of celebrating Earth Day. On April 22, dozens of eateries and shops will give back 5 percent of their profits to local conservation and environmental groups.

Give 5 Percent to Mother Earth thumbnailThe Give 5% to Mother Earth Day will benefit the Texas Campaign for the Environment, Urban Roots, Clean Water Fund, Hill Country Conservancy, Friends of Barton Springs Pool, Texas Land Conservancy and Tree Folks.

All residents need to do is to shop, eat, exercise or get their cars worked on at the diverse group of businesses that are participating in this 5th annual event. Here’s a list of the participating businesses.

Last year Give 5% raised more than $100,000 for the beneficiaries.


Mar 132014

The building automation and controls industry will be fundamentally transformed by digital technologies in the coming years, according to a new report from Navigant Research.

Co_op_Building_dual_facadeThe research firm says automation of various building systems – including HVAC, lighting, fire and life safety, and security and access controls – promises to improve energy efficiency and optimization, as well as enhance the comfort and health of occupants. Like the broader computing and voice, video, and data communications markets in previous decades, commercial building automation systems have reached a tipping point, where embedded computing and digital communications are driving accelerating adoption of these systems.

“Because building control systems are usually changed only every few decades, much of the existing building stock is still dependent on older technologies – a reality that will change over time as digital controls replace outdated systems,” the report says.

“Open and integrated systems, converged with modern information technologies, present both risks and rewards for industry stakeholders,” Eric Bloom, principal research analyst with Navigant Research, said in a statement. “Because building control systems are usually changed only every few decades, much of the existing building stock is still dependent on older technologies – a reality that will change over time as digital controls replace outdated systems.”

The increasing focus by building owners, operators, and regulatory agencies on optimizing commercial building energy use has put a spotlight on building automation systems, especially those for HVAC and lighting control, according to the report. In particular, the revolution in energy-efficient lighting, as the industry moves toward greater adoption of light-emitting diode (LED) technology, is opening new opportunities for advanced networked lighting controls.

The report, “Commercial Building Automation Systems”, analyzes the global market for commercial building automation systems for HVAC, lighting, fire and life safety, and security & access controls, as well as integrated building management systems. The report assesses how market drivers and technology advances will affect the adoption and success of these systems.


Feb 192014

Keystone-XL-expansion-pipeline-map-455x600A judge has overturned a law approving passage for the Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska, saying that Gov. John Heineman overstepped his authority in the case when he granted permission in Jan. 2013 for a new pipeline route through the state.

Lancaster County Judge Stephanie Stacy ruled Wednesday that Heineman’s approval was invalid because the decision should have been made by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, which regulates pipelines and other utilities, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling is likely to bring further delay to the project, which aims to bring tar sands crude oil from mines in Alberta across the continental US to refineries near Houston.

Environmentalists have vocally opposed the pipeline, saying it will unleash a torrent of carbon pollution on the world, exacerbating climate change and prolonging the transition to cleaner, renewable energy.

Two years ago, a coalition of environmentalists, farmers and ranchers in Nebraska picketed the governor’s mansion and the state’s unicameral legislature to turn down the pipeline, which was originally routed to pass through Nebraska’s delicate Sand Hills region. The opposition won a reprieve and pipeline construction stopped for a time. Later Heineman approved a new route for the pipeline.

Three landowners sued, claiming Heineman did not have the authority to go around the state’s regulatory body, and today, Judge Stacy agreed.

Jane Kleeb, director of Bold Nebraska, the umbrella group for the Keystone opposition in Nebraska, issued a statement expressing the landowners elation at winning the case.

“Citizens won today. We beat a corrupt bill that Gov. Heineman and the Nebraska Legislature passed in order to pave the way for a foreign corporation to run roughshod over American landowners,” Kleeb said. “We look forward to the Public Service Commission giving due process to a route that TransCanada will have to now submit to this proper regulatory body in Nebraska. TransCanada learned a hard lesson today: never underestimate the power of family farmers and ranchers protecting their land and water.”

The full expanse of the 1,700 mile pipeline has not been approved, though President Obama It requires the permission of the US State Department because it crosses an international border at Montana and Alberta.

Feb 182014

The Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs report shows that California, the number one state for solar jobs, enjoyed 8 percent growth in that sector in 2013, and now employs nearly 50,000 people in the solar industry.

solar-panelsBy contrast, Texas ranks sixth in solar jobs, supporting 4,100 jobs in the sector.

The reasons these two large, sunny states have such different solar profiles can be found in their varied market stances and state policies toward solar. California has developed as the center of US solar manufacturing and has enacted rebates and other policies that help make solar more affordable.

California enjoys “favorable market conditions as well as supportive in-state policies,” which are likely to keep the state in the lead for solar installations and jobs, the foundation report noted.

The top solar states, by rank and number of solar jobs are:

Number 1: California with 47,223 jobs

Number 2: Arizona with 8,558 solar jobs.

Number 3: New Jersey with 6,500 jobs.

Number 4: Massachusetts with 6,400 jobs.

Number 5: New York with 5,000 jobs.

Number 6: Texas with 4,100 jobs.

Feb 062014

Green Right Now Reports

Gas Drilling in Permian Basin

This map cut out shows the intensively drilled Permian Basin in Texas (wells in black) which overlays the Ogallala Aquifer (in red). The Ogallala, a major source of drinking and irrigation water, is fast being depleted.

Business investment group CERES sounded the alarm Wednesday, issuing a major report about the billions of gallons of fresh water being lost to natural gas fracking operations across the United States and in Canada.

CERES researchers evaluated oil and gas water use in eight regions, concluding that gas companies need to improve their water conservation and investors should take heed of the risks involved with fracking in arid and water-stressed regions.

Some of the findings of Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress:

  •  Nearly half of the wells that have been hydraulically fractured (fracked) since 2011 were in areas that face high “water stress.”
  • 55 percent of the wells drilled were in areas experiencing drought.
  • Nearly all the wells in Colorado and California (97 and 96 percent respectively) were in regions of high or extremely high water stress.
  • In New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the majority of wells were in “high or extremely high water stress.”
  • In Texas, which has the most hydraulic fracturing in the U.S., more than half of the wells examined (52 percent) were in “high or extremely high water stress” regions. (Extremely high water stress was defined as meaning that more than 80 percent of available surface and groundwater is already committed to municipal, industrial and agricultural uses.)
  • Six counties in Texas (Karnes, Gonsales, Glassock, Irion, Reagan and DeWitt) were found to have the highest water stress combined with high water use for hydraulic fracturing. Two counties in Colorado (Garfield and Weld) completed the list of the top counties in which high water stress intersected with high water use for fracking.

The report called Texas “ground zero” for water competition between natural gas concerns and others needing water.

“Water competition challenges are already arising with several shale-producing counties operating under water emergencies, leaving shale producers scrambling to develop alternatives to freshwater sources. Tackling these challenges is made more difficult by the industry’s overall poor disclosure on water use, especially groundwater use which has especially weak disclosure and permitting requirements,” wrote study author, Monika Freyman.


Drilling areas are shown in black, overlaid by the reds and yellows, with dark red showing the areas of highest water stress.

Freyman also detailed the competition for water in agricultural California, where nearly all of the drilling is in areas of extreme water stress.

But while the maps developed by CERES and the World Resources Institute clearly show drilling poses a threat to water in the Western U.S., it also reveals water stress regions in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. Some of those water risk areas are in Pennsylvania, near ongoing fracking operations, and in New York, which sits on the gas-rich Marcellus Shale,but currently has a moratorium on natural gas fracking.

GAS Wells near Aquifer Depletion - CERES report

Areas of aquifer depletion are shown in red; areas with natural gas fracking are in black. The large red area across the US midsection represents the Ogallala Aquifer, which is tapped for farming.

The researchers also looked at where the natural gas companies were obtaining water, finding that more than one-third of the 39,294 fractured wells in the study were accessing groundwater. In some areas, spanning Arkansas, West Texas and Nebraska, the groundwater already is being depleted, according to a map of aquifers developed by the US Geological Survey (shown above).

Fracking consumes a lot of water, an estimated 4 to 6 million gallons per well, because it is used to  blast open gas deposits trapped in shale rock thousands of feet beneath the surface. This fracking water is mixed with a variety of lubricants and antimicrobials as well as sand to make it more effective.

The contaminated waste water, known in the industry as “produced water” because it comes back up from the well after the rock has released the sought-after methane, is then either re-injected into “injection wells” or it is sent to a wastewater treatment plant.

Both methods of disposing of produced water have been criticized as failing to remove the toxics in the water from the environment. In the well storage, the toxics are left underground, where some fear they will migrate upward into the water table. This method, typical in the West and Southwest US, also has been blamed for causing small earthquakes that have damaged property in the vicinity.

In other areas, such as Pennsylvania, where significant fracking has occurred, concern has arisen that wastewater treatment plants cannot remove all the chemicals found in fracking water, in particular, the traces of radioactive uranium and other minerals that are released from buried rock during the drilling.

Aiming to inform investors, the report also listed the natural gas companies that it sees as facing the biggest problems ahead in accessing water. Those include the drillers that dominate in areas of high water stress such as Anadarko Petroleum, Apache, Encana and Pioneer. It also included Chesapeake, even though it drills in areas of medium water stress, it is “by far the biggest user of water,” according to the report.

It credited these companies with finding some ways to mitigate their high water use.

“Apache, for example, is recycling 100 percent of produced water in the Permian Basin. Anadarko and Shell are
buying effluent water from local municipalities. Chesapeake is reusing nearly 100 percent of its produced water and drilling wastewater in the Marcellus region,” Freyman wrote.

But, Freyman wrote, the companies need to do much more, and investors need to demand full disclosure on water practices and plans.

“Viewed more widely, however, water management best practices are lagging and no single technology alone—whether recycling, brackish water use or greater use of waterless hydraulic fracturing technology—will solve regional water sourcing and water stress problems. Ultimately, all shale operators and service providers should be deploying a variety of tools and strategies—including substantially improved operational practices related to water sourcing, more robust
stakeholder engagement, and stronger disclosure—to protect freshwater resources for the future.”

Some of the solutions the companies should embrace:

  • Disclose plans and targets for reducing water use and finding alternatives to freshwater use.
  • Minimize water use through recycling or sourcing from non-freshwater supplies.
  • Support projects that improve watersheds and aquifers.
  • Minimize the use of exemptions that allow tapping aquifers and minimize deep-well injection sites.




Feb 042014

Joel SalatinJoel Salatin, local food advocate, author and owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia, has spent the last several years telling people what they must do to build local, healthful food networks that support farmers and bring fresh, quality foods to customers.

The third-generation, libertarian-leaning farmer has written books that deride the present government- controlled system for favoring mega corporations that grow foods with pesticides, hormones and GMOs while squeezing out the small, local producers who can bring efficiency, seasonality and more environmental responsibility to the market.

Rallying family farmers and foodies to this locavore cause, Salatin has appeared at dozens of fairs and seminars. Here he speaks at a January fundraiser for Urban Acres in Dallas, a CSA with farmstands in several DFW suburbs. Salatin maintains that we need to return to the simpler, purer food of a century ago. Sample his philosophy in this video excerpt and see if you agree.

Jan 272014

Green Right Now Reports

Another undercover investigation exposing cruelty toward animals bound for slaughter has surfaced, resulting in calls to close a loophole in the law to better protect veal calves.

Mercy for the MeekThe behind-the-scenes investigation in late 2013 by The Humane Society of the United States revealed that calves that were too sick or injured to walk on their own were still sent to slaughter at a New Jersey meat-processing plant, prompting the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to suspend operations at the facility.

That practice of killing “downer” calves is not against USDA regulations, which do forbid sending injured or sick adult  cattle to slaughter.

Male dairy calves, the progeny of dairy cows in milking operations, have no use in the dairy industry, and are routinely sent to slaughter to be turned into veal.

In the interest of preventing human illness and stopping animal cruelty, the USDA will intervene when it learns of  sick and downer adult cattle being sent to slaughter. The HSUS wants that protection extended to all animals in the livestock system and has asked the USDA to close the loophole that has left veal calves at the mercy of brutal handlers. The advocacy has set up a petition to the USDA in which people can thank the agency for acting to close the New Jersey plant, and also ask that the government close the calf loophole.

In the video, the calves are hung on the slaughter line still conscious and are poked and harassed to get up so they can get into line at the slaughter house.

The USDA acted to temporarily close the Catelli Bros. plant in Shrewsbury, N.J., after the HSUS filed a legal complaint and played footage of their undercover video for officials. The video shows“serious and systemic violations of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act,” according to HSUS, specifically capturing these events:

  • Still-conscious calves struggling while hanging upside down on a conveyor belt.
  • Calves being shot numerous times before reaching unconsciousness.
  • A truck driver dragging a downed calf with a chain around his neck.
  • Plant managers twisting downed calves’ ears and tails when they were too exhausted or weak to stand, lifting the entire weight of some calves by their tails, and telling employees never to do the same when USDA inspectors are watching.
  • Employees shocking, hitting, and spraying calves with water.

HSUS posted video evidence of the abuses on You Tube, but we wouldn’t recommend watching them.

Veal CalfIf you want to get see a sampling of the evidence and get a taste of the attitude toward the animals, without having to watch the graphic details, view the video from about 1:50 to 2:20, a section which documents a conversation between the undercover HSUS worker and the driver of a truck making a delivery of calves. The investigator/worker tells the driver that a calf with a broken leg cannot get up and walk out of the truck, to which the truck driver replies that the calf “just wants to play lazy now.”

The calf is dragged from the truck.

The animals rights group asked animal treatment expert Bernie Rollin, distinguished professor of animal science at Colorado State University, to watch the video and respond.

Rollin, who has lectured widely about animal mistreatment and has viewed videos of animal abuses across the United States and in Europe, including some that resulted in prison sentences for the perpetrators, wrote that:

“Of all the atrocity videos I have viewed, the current video of the slaughterhouse at Catelli Brothers must be ranked among the three worst….,” Rollin said. “The conclusion to be drawn from this video data is self-evident. This plant should be closed down immediately.”

Rollin goes on to explain that the video is a “poster boy for animal cruelty,” which is officially defined by the federal government as the “unnecessary, deviant, purposeless, sadistic, intentional” infliction of suffering on animals.

He notes that St. Thomas Aquinas first noted that humans who treat animals that way will graduate to treating humans similarly, “an insight fully confirmed by psychological research. . . “

“Not only are the animals hurt, but such callous attitudes are contagious, and spread to other workers. In addition, there is no sign of good management, of the sort that would quickly put a stop to the sadism which is not only brutal, but counterproductive to the economic mission of the operation,” Rollin continued. (See the rest of his remarks.)

Rollin goes on to chide a rabbi shown in the video for incorrectly performing a ritual slaughter intended to ordain the meat as kosher. The rabbi violates Jewish law, according to Rollin, who adds that the incompetence he witnessed “makes me ashamed of coming from the Jewish tradition.”

You can see the video on You Tube. It should not be viewed by children, or anyone, save for those who need convincing.

If you must watch, skip to 1:50 and watch until 2:20, as the HSUS undercover investigator and truck driver discuss a downer calf that cannot get up because it suffered a broken leg, apparently enroute to the slaughter house. The worker (and undercover HSUS investigator) tells the truckdriver the calf has a broken leg and cannot get up.

The truckdriver replies that “he just wants to play lazy now.”

Jan 152014
Earthquakes at AZLE USGS map

Dots mark the location of the latest earthquakes NW of Fort Worth. (USGS)

A fresh bevy of earthquakes — about 32 and counting — north of Fort Worth has rattled area residents over the past two months.

At a recent town meetings in the exurb of Azle, northwest of D/FW, residents were hopping mad about cracks in buildings and sink holes in their yards, which appeared after an outbreak of earthquakes in December and early this month.

The latest earthquake, just days ago, was a 3.1 magnitude, still small as earthquakes go but on the larger side of the freak mini-quakes that have been associated with gas drilling activity in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio and a few other places of historical geologic stability.

How and why these earthquakes happen is not well understood, though it makes commonsense: Turn the earth into swiss cheese and things start to shift around.

Lately, scientists have been trying to put a finer point on it. Studying the quakes in areas of dense drilling, they’ve found a correlation between the shaking and the inevitable waste injection wells where drillers dump the “produced” water that was expended on the fracking process. The EPA allows gas companies to deep-six their toxic waste in the earth, apparently for lack of a way to get it to the moon.

We found this video by NPR’s State Impact helpful in understanding this phenomenon:

In 2012, UT research scientist Cliff Frohlich, reported that his study of earthquake epicenters and injection well sites found that most earthquakes in North Texas’ Barnett Shale occur within a few miles of one or more injection wells.

“You can’t prove that any one earthquake was caused by an injection well,” Frohlich said. “But it’s obvious that wells are enhancing the probability that earthquakes will occur.”

In addition, Frohlich found that the wells nearest to the eight earthquake groups he studied were being used as the highest injection rate, with maximum monthly totals exceeding 150,000 barrels of water.

None of the earthquakes reviewed (occurring in 2009-2011) were ranked as 1.5 to 2.5 on the Richter Scale, not large enough to cause any harm to the public.



Jan 152014

Here’s a poster we commissioned a few months ago that remains among the most current infographics showing that the vast majority of the sugar beets, soybeans, canola, cotton, field corn and papaya grown in the United States have been genetically modified.

The poster doesn’t pick sides, but offers the facts. However, if like us, you’re concerned about GM crops undercutting the scaffolding of American agriculture by tethering farmers, nay, whole crops, to major pesticide/seed manufacturers and their selected chemicals (GM seeds are patented), you may see this chart as a wake up call. As a consumer, you may be interested to see the many GM foods in the queue. The genetic modification of foods is quickly advancing to take in fruits and vegetables, a realm of whole foods previously untouched.  (Click on the image to make it larger and readable.)

Corn Poster

This sweeping GM program is actually failing to produce the once-promised escape from heavy chemical dependence. The first generation of GM crops are requiring more pesticides and producing superweeds and superbugs, pests that are resistant to the pesticides. That’s now well documented, including in a few charts in the graphic above.

Monsanto and other corporations are rolling out new lines of seeds that are “stacked” with multiple GM “traits” to resist new chemicals, including some old and not so appealing ones, like 2,4-d, which was a component of Agent Orange. Will this be any safer? Will these new lines not also produce resistant bugs and weeds? Will yields get better under this program? Or will the soil give out under the chemical assault?

Will we continue down a path in which consumers must rebel at their end against something they fear may not be as nutritious or even as safe as the foods of yesteryear (way yesteryear, before chemical farming)? Many Americans, indeed, consumers around the world are wary of GM foods, fearing long term consequences that may only become apparent when it’s too late.

These questions demand answers. But for today, let’s just take in the current landscape. The poster’s a place to start.

Jan 022014

Green Right Now Reports

Congress’ on-and-off romance with wind energy is back off.

wind farm and cattleTax credits for wind expired – again – with the close of 2013.

This isn’t the first time the industry has broken up with its Congress. Every year or every other year for the past decade lawmakers have acted like a reluctant fiancee, extending a hand but always holding back on a full-fledged support for the wind industry.

Lawmakers have been influenced by the many critics of wind, who say it’s not a good match for America if it needs subsidies. The  industry, they argue, should blow on its own, or fade away.

Of course, these voices often have vested interests of their own, namely, the oil and coal industries, which once tolerated wind and solar power as tiny intrusions into the business, but are now facing a renewable industry that’s grown much stronger and stands to take away much more business. The wind sector alone claims to support 80,000 jobs and now generates enough  electricity to power the equivalent of more than 15 million homes in the US. Wind generation has been growing by double-digits the last few years; solar power too (more on that another time).

Wind advocates say that the federal production tax credits (PTCs) that wind producers receive are critical to compete with the fossil fuel industries, which are richly subsidized. (Yes, those who argue against wind subsidies are themselves subsidized. Welcome to Washington.)

With Congress starting and stopping its support every year or so, the wind industry cannot realize its full potential, they say, because investors cannot abide the uncertainty.

Wind power could fly without federal assistance, but only if all energy producers were un-subsidized, they say.

One could argue that renewable power, which can help free the U.S. from dependence on dirty, finite fossil fuels and curb climate change, should be most entitled to subsidies.

But the reality is that such arguments barely make it to the surface as entrenched forces conspiring to keep wind power on a string.

“Enter the Koch brothers, oil billionaires who also own large coal companies,” wrote Jim Marston, president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s US Climate and Energy Program in a December editorial.

“Their political arm, Americans for Prosperity, is targeting vulnerable Republican members of Congress with an estimated $75 million ad campaign urging them to let the production tax credit expire this December “once and for all.” As they see it, the support of tax credits for renewable energy is considered ‘meddling,’ but the estimated $447 billion in tax dollars through subsidies and tax breaks that fossil fuel companies have received since 1918 isn’t.”

It’s 2014, and we know how that battle came out. Koch Bros. knocked out wind power.

Marston noted the hypocrisy:

“The fact that renewable energy tax credits have to be debated every year or two certainly gives the impression that the industry can’t compete on its own without them. But the truth is that the fossil fuel industry has been propped up by the federal government for nearly 100 years and likely could not maintain its competitive edge without the government’s support. Fossil fuel industry leaders recently admitted to this weakness when U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus put forth a proposal to end cherished tax breaks for oil and gas drillers, stating that, if adopted, this provision would “cripple” the recent shale oil boom.”

Democrats in Congress, or at least some Democrats in Congress, are calling for a renewal of tax credits for wind development. Governors in wind-producing states like Iowa and Kansas (though not Texas) also support continuing the tax credits. They maintain that federal dollars should support clean power generation, and the jobs it spins off, as the world forges a future based on renewables.

The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Baucus, has proposed a way to corral the sprawling array of legacy energy subsidies with a proposal that would incentivize cleaner energy production, but without trying to pick one industry over another. The policy would provide subsidies to energy producers whose emissions are 25 percent less than current levels.

The American Wind Energy Association supports such a long-term solution, which could stop the annual debate over wind subsidies.

“We commend Chairman Baucus and the Senate Finance Committee for putting forward a sound policy option to provide domestic energy producers with stability for the years to come,” said AWEA’s Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for public policy.

“The tax code has a century-long history of incentivizing American-made energy, and we must continue to ensure that we have plentiful, secure, clean, affordable energy to power our economy.  Wind energy has already proven that it can deliver in these areas and it must continue to be a critical part of the U.S. energy mix.  We appreciate Senator Baucus’ leadership in trying to find common ground to ensure that the U.S. is well-suited to face the energy challenges of the 21st century by promoting a diverse energy portfolio.”


Dec 182013

Green Right Now Reports

Farm -- Emissions testing shows organic farming better

Emissions testing in a field. (Photo: Mercator Foundation)

Organic agriculture, long considered healthier for soil, water and wildlife, also helps mitigate climate change, according to a study by Switzerland’s Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and the University of Hohenheim.

The meta-analysis looked at 19 studies around the world to find the levels of greenhouse gases emitted by organic and conventional farms.

The review team concluded that, on average, organically managed soils release 492 kilograms less nitrous oxide per hectare every year compared with conventionally managed farm lands (i.e., those that use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides).

Turns out that the organic farms also take up potent methane gases, which potent greenhouse gas contributors (methane is about 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, though it dissipates sooner).

So the organic farms were helpful in two major ways, by releasing less nitrous oxide and also by sequestering or not releasing methane gases.

Experts on the investigation say this means that converting to organic agriculture can be a major contributor to mitigating climate change. In other words, in the case of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, less is more, maybe much more.

The results have been published online this fall in the Science of the Total Environment journal.