Texas, Accused of Downplaying Cancer Fears, Grudgingly Re-examines Flower Mound Cluster

Categories: Environment

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David Basanta
MD Anderson Cancer Center
People who live in Flower Mound may or may not be at higher risk for developing cancer. The state already assured the public that there isn't a cancer cluster back in 2010, but after a UT-Austin researcher published a recent report challenging the state's methods, Texas has grudgingly agreed to look into it again.

The state explained its plans to do an "updated analysis" in a terse, somewhat defensive press release that is careful to not give too much credence to any lefty UT-Austin professors: "The updated analysis will use the most current data available and will again follow accepted scientific and statistical methods and be led by epidemiologists and cancer data experts," the Texas Department of State Health Services says in a statement.

The DSHS credits "community interest" more than any competing research as the motivation behind its new analysis. It mentions the UT-Austin report but doesn't link to it or mention the researcher by name: "Recent community interest was prompted in part by an article published in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal by a University of Texas at Austin faculty member."


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Exxon Is Way More Optimistic on Climate Change Than the UN

Categories: Environment

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World Economic Forum
Rex Tillerson
We're all getting sophisticated enough to agree that climate change is real, climate-deniers are wrong and someone should do something about it. Good for us. But what any of that actually means is still a major point of debate. On Monday the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a new report detailing the ways that a harsher planet could mess with society.

On the same day that report was released, our local Exxon released its own, unprecedented report, also acknowledging that the risks of climate change. "The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action," William Colton, Exxon's vice president of corporate strategic planning, said in a press release.

The UN and Exxon reports both agree that adapting to climate change is important, that the population is getting bigger and demands for energy will increase with all the new people. But the reports are mostly pretty different. Exxon's climate change report is the climate change report for winners, more or less giving the middle finger to the renewable industry and predicting that fossil fuel sales are "highly unlikely" to be curbed by government regulation.

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Prairie Chicken vs. Texas Battle Ends in Surprising But Meek Victory for Prairie Chicken

Categories: Environment

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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Texas doesn't necessarily want the lesser prairie chicken to die, but Texas is vehemently opposed to doing anything that might prevent the bird from dying.

Late last year Texas was vowing to fight any efforts by the feds to place the dying bird on an endangered list, but the state has just been just hit with a minor setback. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is planning to give some extra protections to the bird anyway.

Texas is pissed. The fowl are now enjoying a reputation as menacing creatures that will wreak havoc on the all-powerful energy industry. Good for you, lesser prairie chicken.

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Dallas 2014 Mosquito Plan Lazily Defends Controversial Adulticide

Categories: Environment

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Bill Lile
Dallas thinks it's really great that some of you people are interested in environmental bullshit. That's the clear message we're getting from the city's 2014 Mosquito Plan, a report that makes a few lazy attempts to appease the environmental folks who have argued that Dallas' current mosquito-killing methods are bad for our ecosystem.

It was last summer when a group of local foodies, scientists and environmentalists started a big campaign to lobby Dallas to back off of adult insecticides and instead try some non-toxic larvicides in its mosquito-killing efforts. Sure, our federal health agencies and other cities have been aligned with Dallas in a similar, pro-adulticide message, but a growing a body of research argues that this approach is out-of-date.

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Denton Homeowners Are Suing to Stop EagleRidge's "Loud and Constant" Fracking Operation

Categories: Environment

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Christopher St. John
It might seem like an obvious point: no, you can't just start a massive industrial operation right next to a middle-class residential neighborhood. Most homeowners aren't cool with that. But Dallas-based EagleRidge Energy has boldly gone ahead and extracted oil on sites next to a few Denton residential communities anyway, ignoring complaints from neighbors for months now.

Residents first took their concerns to their city officials, who in turn, briefly tried suing EagleRidge before backing down. Homeowners have also been working on a petition to get a total Denton-wide fracking ban on the ballot, though they have until August to collect the signatures. In the meantime, residents just started step three of taking on EagleRidge: suing.

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Jonathan Shokrian, an SMU Alum/Hipster Underwear Salesman, Allegedly Exposed Day Laborers to Asbestos

Categories: Environment

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Facebook
Jonathan Shokrian

If you've ever felt the urge to buy a single pair of fancy underpants for $16 from a bunch of bros with cool Facebook pictures, then you may have heard of Jonathan Shokrian. In the tech and fashion press, he's known as the CEO of a very hip underwear website called MeUndies.com.

"We're never going to be Calvin Klein," Shokrian told The New York Times last May. "This is like American Apparel, but more tasteful."

Here's what's not tasteful: The Environmental Protection Agency says that Shokrian exposed day laborers to toxic asbestos when he was a student at SMU, working for his dad's construction company and trying to save money on asbestos removal.

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Denton City Council Says It Must Allow Fracking Near Homes, so Homeowners Turn to Voters

Categories: Environment

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Christopher St. John
Last fall, Eagleridge Energy won some permits to frack right next to a few Denton neighborhoods, despite a new city ordinance that was supposed to keep the company farther away. The city said sorry, it was powerless to stop Eagleridge, because the company had found an extremely clever loophole. So now, pissed-off homeowners are responding by basically telling the city "screw you" and trying to kick the company out themselves. Calling themselves the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, a group of homeowners just announced that they're trying to place a total ban on fracking within city limits on the ballot.

"The city and the state have repeatedly failed us," Maile Bush, one of the homeowners living just outside an Eagleridge drill site, says in a joint press release with Earthworks, an environmental group focused on mineral and energy development.

After years of political wrangling among local activists, the Denton City Council in January 2013 approved an ordinance that required a 1,200-foot setback between drilling operations and residences. That wasn't the 1,500 feet that some had hoped for, but it was tougher than before.

In the end, however, it didn't matter much. While the local activists and the City Council had their argument over setbacks, an energy company profiting from Denton's land continued to do as it pleased.


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Is Water Conservation Really Bankrupting Texas Cities, or Are They Just Bad at Planning?

Categories: Environment

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AgriLife Today
The Trinity River bed.
The people of Fort Worth have been doing a good job of using their water sparingly, and that has the Fort Worth Water Department very, very worried.

Recent news reports claim that Fort Worth has been bleeding cash because of its noble water conservation efforts. The city lost $11 million "because of water conservation," the Texas Tribune reports, or as the Fort Worth Star-Telegram figures, the city simply made $11 million less than it had anticipated because of water conservation.

Either way, Fitch Ratings last year downgraded Fort Worth's credit rating, partly blaming it on "reduced water sales." City leaders now see water conservation as "a double-edged sword," as one city councilman described it to WFAA on Tuesday.

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Inspector General May Have Cleared EPA in Flaming Water Case, But Parker County Man Says It Caved to Politics

Categories: Environment

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The EPA inspector general dumped it right before Christmas, when the media had checked out on holiday auto-pilot. Because of this curious timing, the report didn't get nearly the play it should have. But it can be summed up like this -- given the EPA's statutory authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the emergency order it issued to Range Resources in Parker County over groundwater contamination was pretty standard.

That isn't to say that the portrait it paints of the agency is glowing, or that it looks any less like it hung Steve Lipsky out to dry. The homeowner reported problems with his water well to the Texas Railroad Commission back in 2010. His pump was vapor-locking; his water, effervescing. It didn't seem like coincidence that this was mere months after Range Resources began fracking operations nearby. Less watchdog than lapdog, the commission was taking its time investigating even as its representatives told Lipsky that the gas accumulation might not be safe. The EPA, meanwhile, had done some of its own testing and detected levels of benzene and methane that were above federal limits. Convinced that the danger was clear and present, and that the commission had no intention of doing anything about it anytime soon, EPA issued an emergency order compelling Range to provide drinking water, to identify the extent of the contamination, and to stop it.

Range ignored most of the EPA's order. The commission exonerated it shortly thereafter (though, in this report, commission staff and officials admitted to the IG that they don't know what sort of evidence they'd require for a finding of contamination, because they'd never made such a finding). In response, Range stopped supplying drinking water, and removed explosivity meters from the affected homes. Faced with Range's intransigence, EPA sued.

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Texas Landowner Fighting Oil Giant Is Pleasantly Surprised That Texas Supreme Court Looked Kindly on Her Case

Categories: Environment

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Facebook
Julia Crawford
Pretend that a corporation from China wants to build a factory in Texas just for the fun of it and needs to seize a bunch of Texans' private property to build the factory, because it's going to be really big and awesome. Do you think the Texas Supreme Court would stand for that? Probably not.

And so, environmentalists are attempting to make a similar, pro-property rights argument to stop the southern portion of the Keystone Pipeline in its tracks. Sure, they could try to challenge TransCanada for safety reasons, pointing out that its Gulf Coast pipeline already had to be dug up for potential repairs 125 times.

But defending private property is a popular issue here, and using that tactic in court lately seems to be sort of effective. The Texas Supreme Court has just allowed a landowner's case against TransCanada to go forward, even though the lower courts had previously refused to hear it.

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