Texas is once more the nation’s leader. No, we’re not talking about the number of children with no health insurance. Texas has long held that first place spot. Or the number of times meetings of our State Board of Education has been likened to a Luddite convention. Nor can anyone argue with our lead among the 50 states in cattle, population growth and executions. We are first in how little per capita our state appropriates funds for the arts (18 cents a year). The right answer? None of the above. Our latest Numero Uno championship is we’re the best state of the 50 for the emission of greenhouse gases. And by a long shot.
A bit of background: It seems the EPA (Energy Police Agency) has just released a detailed map of the U.S. showing who’s polluting our air and how. You should be proud, yet humble, to know that the Lone Star State’s coal-fired power plants and oil refineries generated 294 million tons of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases in 2010. That’s more than the next two states — Pennsylvania and Florida – combined. Texas also releases more air pollutants of all sorts than any other state. Why should you care? You shouldn’t, unless you and your children breathe.
Texas, which has 19 coal-fired power plants — more than any other state — and plans to build nine more, is among the few states still adding coal-fired plants. Those power plants accounted for 61 percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, while oil refineries and chemical producers contributed 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively. This spurred the American Petroleum Institute to say this data proves beyond a doubt that there is no reason to include oil refineries in any new anti-pollution rules because the refineries’ pollutants only destroy 15 percent of our lungs or 15 percent of the population. Either way, they have a point.
Remember that in 2006 Gov. Rick Perry wanted to “fast track” the construction of 11, or maybe it was 13, more coal-burning power plants, but got slowed down by those nosey tree-huggers who found a friendly judge. I’m not sure what exactly “fast track” means in this instance, but it has something to do with running up the coal-burning plants during a night when everyone is watching “America’s Got Talent.”
Texas also leads in getting screwed by our power companies: In the years after Texas deregulated its retail electricity market, rates have leaped higher than any other state with similar open competition. Between 1999 and 2007, our residential rate rose 64 percent. Before deregulation, Texans paid far less than customers in other states. However, we are first in wind power – until our electric companies figure out how to slap a finder’s fee on gifts from God.
Why should the EPA (Environmental Prohibition Administration) make such a study of greenhouse gases? You are absolutely right: It wants to link emissions to global warming, a theory opposed by Gov. Perry and most of the Whig Party. No wonder the governor, our attorney general and our GOP members of Congress want to abolish that federal agency and spend the money on dirigibles.
Much of the opposition to the EPA is based on a dislike of all regulations at any level, such as stop signs, child-proof bottle caps and zoning. Houston is the largest city in the nation, if not the galaxy, without zoning. Developers say, “Zoning and building regulations would hurt development, growth and, most importantly, our income.” Tell that to Austin, with more regulations on growth and development than the White House Rose Garden. Indeed, Austin’s biggest problem is that so many other people want to move there – mostly from Houston.
This takes us to the state level. We have the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), an agency with the attack-dog ferociousness of a Portobello mushroom. This agency, ruled by appointees of — who else? – Gov. Perry, rides herd on pollution in a state where the children have a poem, “I shot an arrow into the air. It stuck.” We’ve got neighborhoods near the Houston Ship Channel with Gulf breezes you can chew. In Port Arthur, on a clear day you can see your feet. But air pollution is a statewide problem.
Remember the TCEQ (The Committee for Enjoying Queasyness) is the same state agency that commissioned a highly regarded Rice prof to make a study of the sea level rise in Galveston Bay. The prof attributed some of the rise to global warming, so the commission simply took that part out. Eventually the two sides reached an agreement, but it is obvious our Lung Rangers are the gang that can’t soot straight.
As for the governor, a spokeswoman in Perry’s office said all these EPA anti-pollution regulations are “a continuation of the Obama Administration’s assault on traditional American energy sources and the good American jobs they support.” Who can argue with that? There is a growing number of jobs around Texas for EMS staffers plus the makers of gasmasks, eye drops and headstones.
All this time you have been thinking, “I sure would like to see just how dirty our air is so I can flout it to my cousin in Newark.” Go to www.ghgdata.epa.gov and click on
Greenhouse Gas Data Publication Tool. Then you “Choose a State.” I chose Texas, for some reason, and there it is: 68 pages of facilities around the Lone Star State listing what they are pumping into the air we breathe.
David Doniger, the policy director for climate and clean air at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of the new web site, “It means that every high school student or local reporter can see who the biggest carbon polluters are in his or her own backyard.” That’s easy for him to say. This local reporter has not a clue what any of those scientific terms mean. It’s just as well. I, personally, don’t want to breathe anything I can’t see.
Ashby pollutes at email@example.com