Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Kelly Connelly

Kelly Connelly is an intern with StateImpact Texas.

  • Email: TX_kelly@fake.com

Why Changes to Eminent Domain in Texas May Be Imminent

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The remains of a structure on the Gulf shore Galveston, Texas. Hurricane Ike changed the landscape of the region in September 2008.

Texans certainly have a love for private property. 95 percent of Texas land is privately owned. But earlier this week the state house Committee of Land and Resource Management heard invited testimony on a couple of situations that may call for Texas to take over a little more land by eminent domain.

Two Texas Supreme Court cases recently took on the eminent domain issues. In both cases, the Court ruled in favor of the property owners.  The first, Severance v. Patterson, considered beach front property and the Open Beaches Act, while the second, Texas Rice Lands v. Denbury Green Pipeline, looked into the form oil and gas companies fill out in order to condemn Texans’ private property for their pipelines.

The second case poses a more pertinent challenge for Texas representatives. Representative Rene Oliveira, chairman of the Land and Resource Management committee, says they must find a balance between landowner rights and the needs of the oil and gas industry. Currently, companies are required only to fill out a simple form, checking a box that says they’ll be “common carriers,” meaning they’ll allow other companies to use their pipelines. Continue Reading

For Texas Ranchers, the Grass Isn’t Always Greener

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Victoria Hogue helps to move cattle into pens after they had been sold at the Abilene Livestock Auction in July 2011. The drought caused shortages of grass, hay and water forcing ranchers to thin their herds.

Last year’s drought dried up hay fields, sent feed prices through the roof and forced many Texas ranchers to sell off large portions of their herds. And while winter rains helped ease the drought in Central and East Texas, they weren’t enough to wipe it out completely.

Yes, grass initially came back on the ranches of Central and East Texas, but it’s been a dry few months. “The hay fields aren’t doing any good at all,” says Elgin rancher Brent Johnson. “I mean, you know, you’re lucky to get a 50 percent production off of ’em at best, and that’s probably even stretching it.” But because there are less cows this year after last year’s sell-off, the little hay production Johnson does have can cover his herd for now.

“Most of the state is out of exceptional drought now,” says Gene Hall with the Texas Farm Bureau. “But the real problem is going to be feed, growing enough grass, [and] putting enough hay away to matter.”

Some think the state’s cattle industry may never fully recover from the drought. But Hall says the cattle business is cyclical. “You can track it over time,” Hall says. “The beef economists, the cattle economists can look at it and show you okay, cattle numbers will build to the point where prices decline, they sell off, and then they start building again. Ranchers want to be building their herds now.” Continue Reading

As Drilling Operations Continue, Texas Roads Suffer

Truck traffic on FM 81 in the Eagle Ford Shale formation area. Photo courtesy Texas Department of Transportation.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation it takes nearly1,200 trucks to bring a gas well into production. TxDOT says those trucks do damage to roads equal to nearly 8 million cars.

That’s a lot of wear and tear.

So it makes sense that the state of Texas roads would get some attention during the Texas House Committee on Energy Resources’ two-day marathon of hearings on the impact of state’s energy industry this week.

Phil Wilson, TxDOT’s Executive Director, and John Barton, the deputy director and chief engineer, went before the committee to discuss the problem. Continue Reading

What the Military is Learning About Energy Conservation

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

A Secret Service agent is seen at the largest photovoltaic solar plant in the United States where President Barack Obama delivered a March 21 speech about the importance of energy security.

Though the military’s energy initiatives aren’t new (the Army’s plan “Net Zero” facilities, like the one at Fort Hood, were signed off on in 2005), progress made over the past several years has been easing over into the private sector.

Last week, the Texas Coalition of Water, Energy, and Economic Security (TCWEES) hosted a legislative briefing featuring three military-affiliated specialists familiar with the energy conservation efforts of the Texas Army and National Guard.

Greg Kuhr is the Director of Facilities and Logistics at the US Army Installation Management Command. Colonel Tracy Norris is the Director of Construction & Facilities Management at Camp Mabry, and Brian Dosa is the Director of Public Works at Ft. Hood.

The three experts said that sustainable energy is a military priority.  They hope to achieve “energy security,” which one panelist defined as “assured access to reliable supplies of energy and the ability to protect and deliver sufficient energy to meet operational needs.”

Continue Reading

TCEQ Wants to Make Texas Trucks A Little Greener

Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers

The TCEQ wants to phase out dirty old diesel trucks and replace them with alternative fuel or hybrid ones.

The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ) announced a grant program this week that will help get more diesel trucks off the state’s roads.

TCEQ plans to release a total of $5.7 million to businesses hoping to replace their diesel-powered fleets with either hybrid or electric vehicles or vehicles powered by compressed natural gas, liquified natural gas, hydrogen, propane, or fuels containing 85% methanol by volume.

The funds for the grants, called the Texas Clean Fleet Program, will come from TERP, the Texas Emission Reduction Plan.

To be eligible, businesses must own or lease a fleet of 75 vehicles and plan to convert at least twenty of them. The TCEQ says they will require reductions of nitrogen oxide emissions of at least 25 percent. The grants will be competitive, given to the conversions that will have the least cost per ton of nitrogen oxide reduced.

This means small businesses and individuals will have a hard time being eligible for the grants, but Joe Walton, who manages grant implementation at the TCEQ, says there are other programs available to smaller parties.  Continue Reading

The Private Space Industry Has Eyes For Texas, But Not Everyone’s On Board

Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Elon Musk introduces SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket which could complete missions to the International Space Station and Moon at a news conference on April 5, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Maybe you’ve heard of Space X, the private space exploration company that recently docked their first spacecraft at the International Space Station. Now they’re looking to expand their operation in Texas.

Space X is undergoing the permit process with the Federal Aviation Administration for a launch pad outside of Brownsville, at the southern tip of the state.

A new Space X launch pad could be economically beneficial for the city. Gilberto Salinas of the Brownsville Economic Development Council says Space X could “change the game” in town.  “The jobs that it would bring with it,” Salinas says, “it would bring about 600 [direct] jobs paying extremely well.  It could drop our unemployment by one full percentage point.”

But not everyone is happy about the site Space X has chosen. Continue Reading

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