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Next month will herald the fifth anniversary of the disastrous Hurricane Ike. To many Houstonians this was their first experience with such a large hurricane since the last major hurricane, Alicia, hit in 1984 before many Houstonians were born. Houstonians will remember waking up the day before the hurricane hit to the local news showing 4 feet of water in Galveston with officials warning of “certain death” to people who lived on the island.

In the face of the anniversary is a new report projecting that Houston will have the “seventh-largest percentage increase in average annual losses from sea-level rise by 2050,” the only US city on the list of 20 cities with the largest percentage increases worldwide. It joins cities like Port-au-Prince and Athens as cities that will face disastrous flooding.

Even if the so-called “Ike dike” is put into place alongside pumps and movable storm-surge barriers, Houston will still experience annual losses of $190 million by 2050.  With a catastrophic storm surge, losses may be over $9 billion dollars.  In comparison, Hurricane Ike was a $20 billion dollar disaster.

Without a doubt, billion dollar disasters that Houston has had in the past would be even more catastrophic.  The “500-year floods” like Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 would be more frequent and more catastrophic.

With prospects such as these, isn’t it important to address climate change before more Ikes and Allisons occur?

Report can be found free on Google Scholar as “Future flood losses in major coastal cities.”

Guest Blog by Marion Mlotok

On Thursday, May 30, 2013, the Texas Senate held a public hearing on redistricting as a launch of the 83rd 1st special session.  The hearing started at 9:00 am and closed at 11:30 am after everyone had testified.  Testimony was for 3 minutes each. I arrived early to a nearly empty auditorium, and when the hearing started, the hearing room was far from packed.

A number of attendees at the hearing, including some of the Senators, pointed out that this was mighty short notice for a public hearing with such far-reaching consequences.  The announcement of the hearing was made Monday, May 27 at 5:30 pm, 62 hours before the hearing, according to Chair, Kel Seliger.  Also the hearing was set for 9:00am on a work day.  No field hearings were or will be scheduled.  It was also brought up that the minorities most affected by this redistricting were the least likely to be able to arrange and afford to take time off work, arrange and afford childcare and afford transportation to Austin.

There will be two more Senate redistricting hearings, Thursday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 12, both at 9:00 a.m. in the Finance Room, E1.036.  All amendments and alterations must be submitted by noon June 10 for consideration for the June 12 meeting.

Most of the testimony was opposed to the maps in SB1, SB2, SB3 and SB4 on the basis of disenfranchisement of minorities.

My testimony was about Austin being split into 6 US Congressional districts, one snaking to Houston, one to Fort Worth, two to San Antonio and one to Laredo.  I pointed that Austin would have no US Congressional representation in Washington.  Austin is big enough to have 7/8 of it as one Congressional district.  In a world that made sense, the other 1/8 of Austin would be in a compact district contiguous with the main Austin district.  Likewise, Travis County is big enough to be almost two US Congressional districts and shouldn’t be split into 5 districts, effectively disenfranchising Travis voters in Washington.

The only elected officials from Travis County or Austin represented were the Travis County Commissioners who registered opposition to the US Congressional map splitting Travis County into 5 US Congressional districts, each having less than 35% of the voters from the district living in Travis County.  The objection was that effectively Travis County would have no representation in the US Congress.

The maps in these bills are the interim maps that were drawn so we could have 2012 elections.  You’ll find interactive maps on the official Texas Redistricting website here: http://www.tlc.state.tx.us/redist/redist.html

You can choose cities and choose to overlay various maps that have been submitted as well as overlay the interim maps for US Congress, Texas Senate and Texas House.

Parallel to this, court is in session in San Antonio with various minority plaintiffs on our redistricting vis a vis the Voting Rights Act.

House Hearings
The House will be having hearings on the companion bills HB1, HB2, HB3 and HB4 tomorrow, Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1, both days at 9:00 a.m. in the Capitol Extension Auditorium, E1.004, opposite the cafeteria.

I would urge those who can to attend the hearings and record your opposition to these bills.  They disenfranchise the minority vote and they disenfranchise Austin and Travis County.  To that end,  I’ve reached out to a number of our City Council members and Texas House Reps from Austin and our Austin/Travis Senator Kirk Watson to please come to the hearings and get on record with their voice on this significant issue for the area.

Video of the hearing is at http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchives/ramav.php?ram=00006247

by guest blogger Jane Dale Owen

GP-ExxonOn May 9, carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the earth’s atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time since measurements began in 1958, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. Climate experts consider this to be the tipping point when unimaginable disastrous climate change is inevitable.

As if to illustrate this point of no return, monster tornadoes raged across the middle of this country completely obliterating Moore, Oklahoma. Pieter Tans, a senior scientist in NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division told a New York Times reporter,  “It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.”

For years, responsible investor groups have called for ExxonMobil to address climate change. The company’s board of directors seems to hardly notice. Again this year, there are resolutions calling for greenhouse gas emissions goals.

But a major shift in shareholder resolution themes is emerging. 2013 shareholder resolutions call for ExxonMobil to disclose what the company is doing to adapt to extreme weather and climate change. This shift in resolution themes illustrates how neglecting to address climate change has contributed to a global crisis in which disasters are anticipated and preparedness for such events is a priority for any company’s business plan.

The situation reminds me of a Winston Churchill quote:

Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

As I cast my votes this year, I hope that more shareholders will get involved to move ExxonMobil toward a life-sustaining future. ExxonMobil’s $44.9 billion in earnings for 2012 came close to a world’s record. Instead of wildcatting in costly, unproven non-conventional fossil fuel technologies such as fracking and tar sands that add greenhouse gas to the atmosphere, the company could show foresight and leadership by investing in clean, renewable energy such as wind, solar and geo-thermal.

At the very least, ExxonMobil could invest some of its vast resources in best available technology to clean-up the emissions from its refineries and chemical plants. In addition to increasing CO2 levels, these emissions endanger the lives and health of the people living on the fence lines of these operations.

Unless citizens get involved, we can expect ExxonMobil to continue business as usual. Of course we should expect our company to disclose to us it’s plan for adapting to climate change and how much it will cost.  But I regret that this company, the U.S. government and others did not heed NASA Scientist James Hansen’s warning to the U.S. Congress about climate change in 1988. If action had been taken then, I believe we could have avoided much of the loss and suffering due to storms, fires and drought we recently have seen and are likely to see in the future.

If you are an ExxonMobil shareholder, I urge you to exercise your power — review the shareholder resolutions and vote.  We must continue to work toward getting this company to take responsibility for its role in climate change. As Ralph Keeling, geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography noted in the report about CO2 levels, “There’s no stopping CO2 from reaching 400 ppm. That’s now a done deal. But what happens from here on still matters to climate, and it’s still under our control. It mainly comes down to how much we continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy.”

– Jane Dale Owen is granddaughter of Robert Lee Blaffer, one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining Company, the parent company of Exxon Mobil. She is president and founder of Citizens League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) www.cleanhouston.org, an organization that provides news, information and education about global and local environmental issues.

The democratic governance of Austin Energy has been preserved thanks to all the citizens who have turned out and did so again last night.

It was a late night at City Hall yesterday. By the time many of us testified it was after midnight, but our efforts and those of our partners — the SEED Coalition, Texas Campaign for the Environment, other advocates and concerned Austin residents — made the difference.

The City Council paid attention to your emails and comments.

Recognizing good governance will help us ensure that our elected officials continue to be responsive to us in the future.
Instead of handing governing responsibility of Austin Energy to an unelected board, the City Council created a committee on Austin Energy to dedicate more time to the important issues facing our utility. All members of the City Council will serve on the new committee.

The City Council did exactly what we wanted by maintaining democratic control of Austin Energy and dedicating more time to our most important city asset.
Of course, we’ll continue to monitor the discussions of the new City Council Committee on Austin Energy and we’ll let you know when we need your help again to protect democracy, clean energy, fair rates and funding for our city services.

Help us show our appreciation — email City Council members and thank them.

Press Conference RE: Austin Energy Governance 2-13-13

UPDATE

This morning, Mayor Lee Leffingwell pulled Item 29 from the consent agenda indefinately.  Item 71 has been set for 7PM

May 22, 2013

Our basic premise that governance by an elected body is more accountable is proving true.  Over the past couple months, many Austinites have expressed their concerns to City Council about a proposed ordinance that would establish an un-elected board to govern Austin Energy.

Before citizens got involved in the process, this ordinance seemed destined to pass and we all would have found ourselves with less power over an important piece of our local government.

As citizen’s began to voice their concerns the majority of city council members heard their constituents and the ordinance was substantially changed. Councilmembers deserve a lot of credit for the work that they have done to improve this ordinance.  However, it would still establish an un-elected board, which is a dangerous road to go down because such a board could be granted more powers in subsequent ordinances.

Discussion of the ordinance that would establish an un-elected board to govern Austin Energy has been set for 7 pm this Thursday (5/23).  It is item #29 on the agenda. (click here and select item 29 to watch the portion of today’s work session concerning this ordinance)

If you wish to sign up to speak on it or just to register your opinion, you can do so at the kiosks inside City Hall.

Because of the changes made to the ordinance in response to citizen participation in the process, the primary supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Leffingwell, now no longer support it.  Thus, the ordinance may be withdrawn on Thursday morning, so look at the agenda before heading to City Hall Thursday evening.

pants on fireAccording to PolitiFact Texas, State Representative Wayne Smith’s pants are on fire.  PolitiFact Texas recently analyzed a statement regarding global climate change by Mr. Smith, a Republican from Baytown.

During floor discussion of his greenhouse gas permitting bill, HB 788, he said, “Science has not shown greenhouse gases to be a problem.”  Then Smith went on to say, “There’s no need to regulate greenhouse gases.”  Well, Politifact Texas disagreed.  They throughly researched Mr. Smith’s statements and found them to be totally false, or “pants on fire” as they put it.

Take a look at the PolitiFact Texas analysis and give Representative Smith’s office a call and tell them what you think about his inaccurate statements: (512)463-0733.

Excerpted from Julia Trigg Crawford’s facebook page.

Julia on her ranch before Keystone starts work

Julia on her ranch before Keystone starts work

Crews from TransCanada/Michels/Universal Field Services and others I don’t recognize started arriving yesterday in preparation for the destruction on our place. Within hours of their arrival the pasture inside “their” fenced in area was shredded, road signs designating “work area” went up, hundred of timbers used to support heavy machinery were unloaded from 18 wheelers and stacked, and most gut wrenching was the “blading” of our land by a trackhoe in preparation for even more heavy equipment. I’ve attached a photo of my land a few months ago and what I witnessed yesterday. I intend to share as much of this process with you as I can.

But just as the workers were really getting going, yesterday afternoon a monstrous wind and thunderstorm blew in, forcing all the men off their equipment, scurrying for cover in their nearby pickups. A sign perhaps?

I was told our place is the final link, the last piece of property needed to complete TransCanada’s conveniently uncoupled and renamed Gulf Coast Segment of their Keystone Project. Furthermore, they will work 7 days a week if needed to overcome any delays, weather or otherwise. All eyes are on us folks, we really are The Last Stand.

Day one of Keystone's destruction of Julia Trigg Crawford's ranch

Day one of Keystone’s destruction of Julia Trigg Crawford’s ranch

All this while our appeal is freshly delivered and active at the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Texarkana. Unbelievable. TransCanada’s decision to move forward and initiate construction during our legal case just strengthens my family’s resolve to continue fighting. We maintain, now more than ever, that they never had the right to take our land in the first place. Their claimed Common Carrier status? A rubber stamp handed out by the embattled Texas Railroad Commission. This pipeline? An interstate project, even the Railroad Commission says it is out of their jurisdiction. The product to be carried? Tarsands, a product mined in Canada, and one of the most toxic and destructive products borne by Mother Earth. Just ask the residents in Kalamazoo and Mayflower what it did to their communities and waterways when it could not be contained. And sadly ask the First Nations in Alberta how is is destroying their lands and lives.

I hear the beeping of heavy equipment being moved, I guess they’re back at it already today, so I’m headed out to watch and take more photos. If you thought I was a mad and motivated landowner before, well, you’re about to see me hit a new gear. Stay tuned.

We’ll keep you updated about her appeal and the work on her land.

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