South Texas Environmental News | Vol. 2

Al Gore warned investors who buy stock in alleged green sustainable corporations to watch out for tricks. The former vice-president said, “We must be vigilant about the rising threat of greenwashing or risk derailing hard-won progress. Large emitters must increase their climate ambitions with renewed credibility and urgency.”

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks during a Bloomberg panel session on day two of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 49th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 22 – 25. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Greenwashing is the process of misleading consumers about the greenness of a product or lying about environmental performance. Dallas-based Exxon-Mobil who last month said they were upgrading their Baton Rouge refinery to process crude with less sulphate pollution did not mention they were simultaneously modifying it to burn Canadian Tar Sands, a climate change end-game move according to 350.org’s Bill McKibben. Gore’s website Climate Action 100+, rated Exxon near the bottom in taking credible action against climate change and rated them near the top as a green-washer. Maine will be the first state to collect fees from plastic makers and packagers to help fund municipal recycling programs. The bill’s sponsor, State Rep Nicole Grohoski, said in a statement, published in The Hill, “I’m proud that, once again, Maine is a national leader when it comes to commonsense environmental protections.”

Meantime in Texas, several municipalities, including Fort Stockton, and Laredo tried a commonsense environmental protection to out-law plastic grocery bags, 98% of which are made from fossil fuel. Although the bills passed at the municipal level, in 2014, the Texas Supreme Court quickly nullified the no plastic ordinances state-wide by making judgement that the state’s solid waste laws were not meant to be modified at the local level.

The negating of municipal law by the state continued when Denton passed a no-fracking ban inside city limits but was overturned by the state under HB 40 the following year. The practice continues today as the 87th Legislature recently overturned Austin’s city ordinance to disallow the incorporation of fossil fuel systems in new construction. The phenomena gave weight to a jingle coined by the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club radio ad that said, “If you don’t think the Texas state government is a front for oil and gas, think again.”

The entrance to the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site is seen, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017, in Channelview, Texas. The Environmental Protection Agency says an unknown amount of a dangerous chemical linked to birth defects and cancer may have washed downriver from a Houston-area Superfund site during the flooding from Hurricane Harvey. EPA said Thursday night it has ordered the companies responsible for the San Jacinto River Waste Pits site to immediately address damage to a protective cap of fabric and rock intended to keep sediments highly contaminated with dioxins from spreading. (AP Photo/John L. Mone)

The San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site, near Houston, built in the 1960’s for disposing dioxin-laced solid and liquid paper mill wastes, continues remediation but high water is snagging efforts. The EPA has now required clean up contractors to build a cofferdam around the site to mine the waste under dry conditions.

At another site, Houston Mayor, Sylvester Turner, has requested an inspection of a former Union Pacific railroad tie creosote operation that has been linked to two cancer clusters in Houston’s predominately black Fifth Ward. Mayor Turner said, according to the Houston Chronicle, “We need the EPA’s help to help mitigate environmental risks to this overburdened community and advance environmental justice.” The mayor also wrote a letter to the head of the EPA, requesting among other things, “relocation for impacted residents.”

Meantime a long-term study of air-born lead by the Psychology Department at the University of Texas, released last week, concluded that people that lived or worked near lead intensive areas may have had their personalities altered and were more likely to be less conscientious, less agreeable and more neurotic.

Limetree Bay Refining, formerly Hovensa, a joint venture between Hess Oil and Venezuela, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the Federal District Court of South Texas in Houston. The refinery located in St Croix, Virgin Islands, and at one time one of the biggest in the world, was shut down in May after the EPA cited it with numerous violations including raining oil droplets on the people of St Croix. The main business of the refinery over the years since its inception in 1966, was refining Venezuelan crude into gasoline and shuttling it by tankship to mainland USA ports. The refinery was fined 5.3 million dollars in 2011 for violating the Clean Air Act and then shuddered in 2012. It attempted to re-open in 2019 after securing the OK from the Trump presidency and securing a $1.25 billion dollar loan from international sources. The Washington Post said several class-action lawsuits are pending against Limetree, from which residents are seeking damages in the wake of accidents since the refinery attempted the re-start in February.