Texas Environmental News

Critical accounting error
Accounting may be the devil in the details when it comes to calculating who’s green and who’s not. Last week several European countries boasted of their lead in carbon reductions at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, but an article in National Geographic suggests burning wood to reduce carbon is not the answer. Over 20 million tons of U.S. wood pellets were exported to Euro-ports last year, including the U.K.’s DRAX industries that burns 5 million tons a year in converted coal plants. At the smokestack, according to National Geographic, burning wood produces more carbon emissions than burning coal. Moreover, trees that once absorbed carbon dioxide are now felled. Princeton University’s carbon specialist Tim Searchinger said a “critical accounting error” was made at the Kyoto Conference in 1997. Policy makers not only failed to limit biomass burning but they also incentivized it. Through a loophole, the world accounting system does not require the counting of carbon emissions from wood-fired power plants. Earlier this year, 500 scientists warned world leaders that logging trees for bio- energy undermines the fight against climate change. “It’s the opposite of what we should be doing,” said Andy Wood, director of the North Carolina-based Coastal Plain Conservation Group. Simultaneously, the wood pellet export business is booming now from East Texas to the Carolinas. Woodville LLC, a Port Arthur exporter of wood pellets, settled an air pollution suit out of court last month after numerous complaints of chemical odors and bad air by neighbors near their Woodville wood pellet processing facility.

Texas billionaire gets a fine and owner financing
Hilcorp Energy, the number one producer of methane in New Mexico and the number 16 producer in Texas, tacked on new violations to its operating record as New Mexico’s Oil Conservation Division fined the Texas corporation $1.6 million on six counts of failing to remediate six gas-producing sites. New Mexico OCD Director Adrienne Sandoval said, “Thanks to the good work of our inspectors, the OCD is able to issue our largest civil penalty since our ability to assess penalties was reinstated in 2020, which sends the message that we take our compliance obligations seriously.” Hilcorp is a privately held corporation owned by Houston billionaire Jeffrey Hildebrand. In May, the Clean Air Task Force reported the “company’s methane emissions are the highest in the U.S. – six times the national average.” The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Hilcorp profits by buying aging and highly-polluting gas wells — including the recent acquisition of all of BP’s oil and gas wells in Alaska for $5.2 billion, owner financed, as the major company sought to discard its more unclean assets.

Environmental justice tour
An environmental justice tour was staged this week as EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited Houston’s Fifth Ward, a historically Black neighborhood and Manchester, a largely Latino area. These areas along with others nearby shoulder the brunt of Houston’s industry where cancer and other forms of disease are above average and have been linked with shoddy protections against the many hazardous materials trafficked in the area. According to the Texas Tribune, the tour’s aim is to prioritize and protect human health.

Abbott: “Pound Sand”
Last week, in what may have been a condensed version of everything Governor Gregory Abbott learned in law school, or perhaps his version of Marie Antoinette’s alleged “Let them eat cake,” Abbott tweeted, “Pound Sand,” after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres suggested Texas show up at the international climate conference COP26 in Glasgow. Abbott, behind his Twitter platform, defended the 43 oil billionaires in Texas, the 8% of state tax revenues generated by oil and gas, and the industry’s 1.5% of the total Texas workforce, causing some to wonder: What about the rest of us? What about the majority of Texans that believe arranging special favors for big oil in return for campaign contributions is wrong? Pro-oil Texas House of Representative Dan Crenshaw did attend COP26 in Glasgow last week. Crenshaw’s campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry amounted to $631,788 in 2018, according to DeSmog, and his Scottish trip may or may not be official business. DeSmog suggests he’ll be reporting to the industry rather than his constituents regarding the latest attempts to displace oil and gas as the world’s primary energy fuel, but he did — at least — attend.