Environmental Protection Agency

Photo Credit: Shannon Butler | Daily Texan Staff

Bailey Anderson can’t predict how people will respond when she petitions on the street for lower carbon emissions. Sometimes, people support and encourage her work. Other times, they tell her restrictions on emissions would hurt the economy. And then there are those who tell her what she’s doing is wrong and that climate change is not real. 

Anderson, an international relations and global studies junior, is part of a new batch of Sierra Club student interns who are trying to increase support from local politicians to pass the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan in Texas. The Clean Power Plan, which orders each state in the nation to cut down its carbon emissions, is currently not backed by Texas. The Sierra Club is trying to change that.  

The local chapter of the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization, hired student interns this year to work on its new campaign, Austin Beyond Coal. The campaign advocates for the reduction of coal as a main energy source. According to Jacob Rainey, field organizer for the Sierra Club and overseer of the interns, the students play a huge role in petitioning local politicians to
support this campaign. 

“We’re trying to get local legislators and local politicians to build a base of support, so that, when they go to the state legislator and say that they want to push the clean power plan from the EPA, there is a basis for it for that,” Rainey said. 

Geography sophomore Michelle Paschall became a Sierra Club intern last month and went to the Shield the People Climate March on Sept. 21. She said interning will give her the hands-on experience in activism that she wouldn’t get otherwise. 

“I want to be involved in the real world in taking part in climate action,” Paschall said. “You only learn so much in the classroom and I really wanted to learn about what was going on locally and in the country today. Now is the time to get involved.”

Anderson said getting Texans to support the EPA’s plan is essential. 

“[Texas is] the number one producer of carbon emissions in the nation, so, if Texas doesn’t make a change, it’s going to be really difficult for the rest of the nation to cover for that,” Anderson said. “We also have the highest potential for solar and wind power in the country, so Texas could make a huge difference.” 

Anderson wants to sway the mixed responses from the public on this issue and gain more support. 

“I’ve heard every different variety of answers to this,” Anderson said. “I think the public is very confused, and they’re not sure what to believe.”

In the coming months, Paschall, Anderson and the other student interns will push Austin Beyond Coal and the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to local legislators for next year’s session. Paschall said the ultimate goal is to get Texas on board with the Clean Power Plan and to reduce carbon emissions nationwide. 

“It’s vital for Texas to be a part of that plan,” Paschall said. “It is a fight.” 

Anderson said it is important for students to get involved also.

“We should take care of the planet we have because we don’t really have another option,” Anderson said. “I feel like our generation is the one that’s actually going to be able to make a difference in this. If we don’t do something now, our opportunity to make a difference is going to disappear.”

Horns Down: Texas households are financially insecure 

A report released Thursday by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a national non-profit focused on alleviating poverty, said that 49.8 percent  of Texas households are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they lack funds to pay for three months of basic expenses in the case of a crisis, such as losing a job. According to the Texas Tribune, our state ranks 30th in the country for liquid asset poverty and 37th in overall financial security. In the 2014 Asset and Opportunity scorecard the CFED compiled, Texas ranked 48th in the small business ownership rate, 42nd in the number of low wage jobs and 37th in the number of small business loans made per worker. Considering Republicans often tout our economy as an example that the rest of the nation should follow, these findings are particularly discouraging. We hope that all Texans will soon be able to reap the benefits of our state’s supposed prosperity, rather than just the select few sitting at the top.

Horns Down: Texas’  refusal to Follow EPA Regulations

For the past three years, the Environmental Protection Agency has required energy companies nationwide to apply for greenhouse gas permits, and, for the past three years, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has refused to enact the rules in Texas, arguing it is illegal for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. As a result, many local energy companies have had to apply for the permits directly with the EPA, leading to a substantial backlog in applications. Sunday, the Texas Tribune reported that this backlog has hurt Texas businesses, keeping them from being able to fully capitalize on the shale boom. For years, conservatives in Texas have argued that the EPA’s regulations cripple the economy, but, in this case, the opposite seems to be true. We find it disappointing that Texas’ ideological battle with the federal government has gone so far as to hurt business in our state, and we hope that this situation will compel the TCEQ to step up and follow through on EPA requirements. 

Only yesterday, we wrote an editorial concerning the abysmal job the Texas state government has done of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the editorial, which argued that Texas should be held accountable for its inadequate regulation of pollution, we mentioned that the chief offender — the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — wanted the question of whether it was required to comply with national emissions regulations to be decided in a higher court.

It seems they’ll get their wish.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Texas’ challenge to federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Texas, along with Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina and the American Petroleum Institute, claims that the Clean Air Act covers only toxic air pollutants and does not grant the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to penalize the emission of gases that contribute to the dangerous warming of the atmosphere.

The Court declined to hear several of the states’ other appeals, which will allow the EPA to continue regulating emissions from motor vehicles and certifies the EPA’s assessment of greenhouse gases as a public health risk — invalidating the plaintiffs’ arguments to the contrary. The question they did choose to debate is whether the EPA’s authority to regulate motor vehicles also extends to stationary sources of greenhouse gases, like power plants and oil refineries.

We’re not qualified enough to sift through the legal nuances of the Clean Air Act and determine the limits of federal jurisdiction. But we do know that if the federal government is not able to regulate the massive amounts of greenhouse gases pumped into Texas skies, our state certainly won’t do so itself. The Texas government has consistently shown support for big business rather than the environment  — Texas leads the nation in greenhouse gas emissions,  producing more than the next two states combined — and cannot be trusted to responsibly restrain major polluters from wantonly damaging our planet.

Hopefully, the Court will recognize the danger of letting Texas’ pollution continue unabated and allow the federal government to intervene.

As the federal government shutdown heads into a second week, UT researchers find themselves missing grant submission deadlines and worrying about their prospects for funding in the next fiscal year.

Substantial amounts of research are funded every year by grants from federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2011, federal agencies awarded more than $154 million to UT researchers.

Though most funding comes through direct grants, cooperative and pass-through grants involving federal and state partnerships also play a role in the research funding process and all are affected by the government shutdown.

Because the review of grant applications is classified by the federal government as a nonessential operation, grant review has come to a complete halt.

“Many employees at the NIH have been furloughed and the agency is currently not processing new grant applications,” said John DiGiovanni, a cancer researcher and pharmacy and nutritional sciences professor.

Though Grants.gov, the federally maintained grant submission website, is remaining active through the shutdown with reduced staff and funding, no grant proposals will be downloaded from the site or reviewed.

“The grant submission process is really in suspense right now,” said John G. Ekerdt, associate dean for research in the Cockrell School of Engineering. “At this time, there’s no one to process grants and the sites for grant submission are down.” 

Despite the shutdown, which has brought the grant review process to a halt, grant money that has already been doled out is safe. Ekerdt said money already allocated by previous grants is in the hands of researchers and can be used without complication.

“No ongoing projects have been canceled because [of] funding issues from the government shutdown,” University spokesman Robert Meckel said.

Travel preparations and university-provided funding will also remain unaffected through the shutdown. The UT International Office is still processing passport applications to keep study and work abroad on track, and there are a variety of research opportunities through the University open to both graduate and undergraduate students.

But the government shutdown is just one aspect of larger funding issues that have been plaguing researchers for years, DiGiovanni said. Federal funding has been dwindling since the federal sequestration earlier this year, which DiGiovanni said affects the ability of the University to hire. 

“We’ve all been affected by the sequestration that took place earlier this year — it’s been hard on many of us that rely on grant money for our research and it’s caused funding cuts on top of already serious cuts to federal funding,” DiGiovanni said. “These cuts have seriously impacted our ability to hire and retain personnel and to make research progress.”

Correction: In the Oct. 8 edition of this article in The Daily Texan a reporting error was made.  Federal funding given to UT researchers was incorrectly reported as $154 billion. The correct amount is $154 million. This correction was run in the Oct. 9 edition of The Daily Texan.

Ph. D. student Soo-hyun Yang throws away her trash in a compost bin at Littlefield Cafe.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Division of Housing and Food Service is teaming with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce its food waste by 5 percent in one year.

The department announced Friday its participation in the EPA’s national Food Recovery Challenge, which tasks participants with decreasing food waste by reducing unnecessary consumption and increasing composting and food donations to charity. The EPA estimates 34 million tons of food are wasted annually in the U.S., much of which ends up in landfills and becomes a significant source of greenhouse gases.

DHFS environmental specialist Hunter Mangrum said the department has been working to reduce food waste for many years by introducing single-stream recycling in dorms, composting, monitoring purchasing and donating over-produced food. Mangrum said it is important that UT be a leader in developing and implementing projects aimed at sustainability and waste reduction.

“In my opinion, this is a global issue, and we are a part of an institution that is globally minded. Thus, it is our responsibility and deep-rooted desire to help better humanity,” Mangrum said. “And I believe here at UT is where so much of that can be fostered, practiced and then shared with the rest of the world.”

While DHFS has not announced any new programs to ensure it meets the program’s 5 percent reduction goal, Mangrum said the resources the EPA will provide through the Food Recovery Challenge may bring added efficiency and new ideas to the department. One such resource that DHFS will use is the WasteWise Re-TRAC, a data managing and reporting system that records and tracks waste generation and reduction activities.

In participating in the Food Recovery Challenge, UT joins Rice University, Baylor University, University of Houston and UT-Arlington, becoming the fifth university in Texas to make the pledge to reduce food waste.

EPA environmental engineer Golam Mustafa said UT will be a valued participant because of its large-scale dining and food operations and the opportunity to educate students about environmental sustainability.

“The reason we are approaching universities is because it’s where our future generations will be educated,” Mustafa said. “They will be taking care of the environment. In our society we waste a lot of food because food is cheap here and it is a very small percentage of our total income compared to Third World countries.”

Mustafa said the 5 percent reduction goal is not binding, and the resources offered by the EPA will continue to be available after a year.

Collin Poirot, political communications senior and assistant director of the Campus Environmental Center, said the University’s decision to take part in the EPA program has partly to do with student advocacy for the issue. The Campus Environmental Center is a sponsored student organization that works to educate students on environmental issues and develop sustainability projects on campus.

“The fact that UT-Austin, one of the largest universities in the country, is helping to lead the way on the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge shows that the administration has listened to student concerns,” Poirot said. “More and more universities across the country are realizing that students want to live somewhere that offers them the opportunity to live sustainably.”

Big Bend National Park is one of the many parks in Texas whose scenic views are affected by air pollution. A plan to reduce haze by controlling air pollutants will be submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency next November.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Smoky haze mars the otherwise picturesque views for national park visitors around Texas’ Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks.

A new plan to reduce the haze, titled the Regional Haze Rule, will be submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency by November, said Stephanie Kodish, clean air counsel for the National Parks Conservation Association. The rule will help to reduce air pollution that impairs visibility in 156 scenic national parks and wilderness areas and is aimed at controlling pollutants to protect treasured places, said Kodish.

Terry Clawson, media relations manager for Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said the haze program focuses on preserving visual aesthetics, rather than focusing on human health.

Some haze components are due to man-made pollution, he said, but in much of West Texas and the Southwest United States, dust is a major contributor to reduced visibility.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said the issue extends beyond state lines and requires national focus.

“We could be doing much more to reduce emissions,” he said. “We should clean up our own mess in East Texas and work cooperatively with the federal government.”

The haze, he said, has long-term effects on quality of life for community members and national park lovers.

“Big Bend National Park has some of the most spectacular views in the world, but as haze floats into our national parks, it diminishes the experience,” he said. “That will reduce tourism and money for the community, so there’s a lot of far-reaching impacts.”

Michael Haynie, interpretive park ranger at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, said recent studies have shown degrading trends in some types of pollution but [the studies] vary year-to-year due to environmental conditions. The haze seen in Texas national parks has sharply increased due to recent wildfires, he said.

“There’s weather variables, there’s fire, so it really is kind of a mixed bag,” he said. “But people come out here for the vistas and when you reduce visibility, you impact some of the scenic and aesthetic values of the park experience.”

Denton Walker, co-president of Environmental Law Society, said he feels that despite interest in national parks, clean air and pollution reduction are issues that often aren’t emphasized enough.

“Students and seekers of knowledge should be more aware of important issues like this one,” he said. “Many students are aware of the problem, and too many ignore it.”

To prevent park views from getting hazier, Clawson said there are preventative measures community members can take to reduce the impact of the haze.

“All Texans can help reduce haze by driving less, choosing more fuel efficient cars, taking public transportation, reducing trips through drive-thrus, reducing vehicle idling and reducing electricity use,” he said.

Published on Wednesday, April 18, 2012 as: EPA rule hopes to improve smoky views

ROCHESTER, Mich. — Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry says he would eliminate three federal agencies. Just don’t ask him to name them.

“Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see,” the Texas governor said during a debate Wednesday night.

Perry’s rivals tried to bail him out, suggesting the Environmental Protection Agency.

“EPA, there you go,” Perry said, seemingly taking their word for it.

But that wasn’t it. And when pressed, the candidate drew another blank.

“Seriously?” moderator John Harwood, one of CNBC’s debate hosts, asked. “You can’t name the third one?”

“The third agency of government I would do away with — the Education, the Commerce. And let’s see. I can’t. The third one, I can’t,” Perry said. “Oops.”

Later in the debate, Perry revisited the question and said he meant to call for the elimination of the Energy Department.

After the debate, Perry bee-lined it to the crush of reporters gathering to interview campaign surrogates — and he immediately indicated that he knew he had made a really bad mistake. The first words out of his mouth as reporters crowded around: “I’m glad I had my boots on because I really stepped in it tonight,” he said.

Perry added: “People understand that it is our conservative principles that matter.”

“We all felt very bad for him,” Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman also running for the nomination, said after the debate.

The next few days will shed light on whether voters care about the misstep — and punish him for it.

Texas’ largest power company, Luminant, announced Monday that it filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency because of a new regulation that would force the giant to shut down several of its facilities and eliminate about 500 jobs. This comes at the heels of President Barack Obama’s $450-billion plan to create jobs and boost the economy.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is designed to protect the health of Americans and the well-being of the environment by significantly cutting smoke stack emissions in 27 of the highest polluting states by January 2012. According to the EPA, the reduction of emissions will result in the prevention of as many as 34,000 premature deaths, 400,000 aggravated asthma attacks and 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks per year starting in 2014.

Despite the projected health benefits, the rule has encountered widespread criticism, especially in Texas. In fact, at a hearing Tuesday in Austin, state power companies and members of commissions questioned the inclusion of Texas in the new rule, according to The Texas Tribune.

Luminant spokesman Allan Koenig said that the new requirements are “simply not achievable in five months,” according to The Associated Press. Electric companies across the state have asked the EPA to extend the deadline, claiming that the modifications necessary to comply with the regulations would require them to cut back on production and, as a consequence, lay off workers.

Luminant’s decision to discharge employees can be seen as a response to President Obama’s job generating plan. The move appears to be a continuation of the never-ending political games that have taken a hold of American politics in the past few months.

Only hours after the company’s announcement, Gov. Rick Perry accused the Obama administration of “[continuing] to put up road blocks for our nation’s job creators by imposing burdensome regulations based on assumptions, not facts, that will result in job losses and increased energy costs with no definite environmental benefit” in a press release.

Decreasing production, and thus laying off workers, is not necessary to meet the new EPA regulations. Power-generating agencies could instead switch to cleaner coal and invest in new equipment to decrease emissions. Let’s not forget the basic economic principle, which is that technology is the catalyst of growth.

Furthermore, increased energy costs are inevitable, and we will all be affected by them. The rule is an important step toward a more sustainable environment and a healthier population, and we can expect higher energy costs to be offset by cuts in healthcare and environmental cleanup expenditures.

Finally, the environmental and health benefits of decreasing smoke stack emissions are definite. The EPA estimates that the new regulation will cut sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 73 percent and 50 percent respectively. These emissions are linked to acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer and various respiratory diseases.

The rule makes sense and is fair. As its name implies, the exceedingly high rates of smoke stack emissions in one state negatively affect the health and environmental conditions of its neighbors because pollution is not contained by state borders. Thus, if other states can comply with the environmental regulations established by the EPA, there is no reason why we shouldn’t do the same.

Everything is bigger in Texas, but smoke stack emissions can be the exception.

Quirico is an economics and international relations junior.