It’s a bragging right Texans would be happy to do without: The state was in the path of half of the country’s billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in 2019.
The Lone Star State claimed seven of 14 of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $1 billion disasters last year and is the only state to witness a disaster from each category the agency tracks — drought, tropical cyclone, flooding, wildfire, freeze, winter storm and severe storm.
Last year marked the fifth consecutive year that 10 or more $1 billion weather and climate disaster events impacted the United States.
“We are sort of in the crosshairs, in the intersection of tornado alley and hurricane territory,” state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said.
Another reason that Texas tops the rankings is because of its size, large population and development in vulnerable areas, such as coasts and river flood plains.
“Compared to other states nearby, we also have a lot more infrastructure,” Nielsen-Gammon added. “We have four of the 15 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. There are not a lot of states that can say that and those don’t tend to get tornadoes or hurricanes.”
Oil and gas industry expansions could add as much greenhouse gas pollution as the equivalent of 50 coal plants by 2025 — with much of that increase coming from Texas and Louisiana — at a time when pressure to slow down global warming rises, a new report found.
Over the next five years, the industry plans to build or expand 157 plants, in addition to more drilling that could release up to 227 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions — up to 30 percent more more than 2018, according to the Environmental Integrity Project’s new report, “Greenhouse Gases from Oil, Gas, and Petrochemical Production.”
Although greenhouse gas emissions in the United States fell about 2 percent last year, mostly as a result of a decrease in coal consumption, that modest progress is being undercut by the expansion in the oil and gas industry, said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws. It was founded in 2002 by former Environmental Protection Agency attorneys.
“We think this is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and that the amount that’s already here and what is likely to be added into the atmosphere is pretty alarming,” Schaeffer said.
Johnny Gallegos started to feel nauseated and sleepy — so much so that the 18-year-old couldn’t get off the bus.
He was on a “toxic tour,” an expedition led by a local advocacy group to some of the Houston-area neighborhoods most affected by pollution from sources such as petrochemicals and metal recyclers. Something in the air was making him feel sick.
That made the Furr High School student feel something else: anger.
“Sometimes I feel like these (chemical) plants and the people who run these plants don’t care about what they are doing and they are just in it for the money,” said Gallegos, his eyes welling with tears. “And that angers me, but it also makes me really sad because these people” — the affected communities, he added — “their voices are not enough to change anything.”
Located on the city’s east side, the school was overhauled a decade ago to address high dropout rates. From the third floor, students can see the site of a once-massive landfill. The nearby bayou is polluted, they say, and chemical plants lining the Houston Ship Channel are only a few miles away.
It is also one of the few high schools in the country — if not the only one — where the curriculum revolves around the theme of environmental justice.
The focus on environmental issues at Furr comes as young people are becoming more vocal and active in calling for action on climate change. They sue the government, interrupt major sporting events and organize candidate forums. But they also grow gardens in food deserts, plant trees to mitigate flooding and monitor air quality to keep their communities informed.
Johnny Gallegos started to feel nauseous and sleepy — so much so that the 18-year-old couldn’t get off the bus.
He was on a “toxic tour,” an expedition in which a local advocacy group takes participants to some of the Houston-area neighborhoods most affected by pollution from sources such as petrochemicals and metal recyclers. Something in the air was making him feel sick.
That made the Furr High School student feel angry, too,
“Sometimes I feel like these (chemical) plants and the people who run these plants don’t care about what they are doing and they are just in it for the money,” said Gallegos, his eyes welling with tears.
“And that angers me but it also makes me really sad because these people” — the affected communities, he added — “their voices are not enough to change anything.”
Fueled by a sense of justice and concern about their future, young people are part of an increasingly vocal and active movement of environmental advocates and activists in the region and around the world. They sue the government, interrupt major sporting events and organize candidate forums. But they also grow gardens in food deserts, plant trees to mitigate flooding and monitor air quality to keep their communities informed.
This fall, Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teen who in 2018 started skipping school to strike outside of her country’s parliament, became a global icon after she sailed to New York to address the UN Climate Action Summit. She chided world leaders for failing her generation and helped lead protests across the globe that attracted millions demanding action on climate change.
For them it’s personal, they say. After all, they will be the ones to deal with the most dire consequences of climate change, especially if adults fail to act.
Rising seas and more intense flooding caused by climate change could put nearly 80 percent of the Superfund sites in the Houston area at greater risk of releasing toxic pollutants into waterways and nearby communities, data from a congressional watchdog agency show.
A report by the Government Accountability Office found that more frequent or intense extreme-weather events such as flooding, storm surge and wildfires could affect 60 percent of the contaminated sites nationwide — and 67 percent in Texas — overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The GAO recommended that the federal agency do more to manage the risks from climate change.
The EPA largely rejected the report’s recommendations.
Assistant Administrator Peter Wright said in a statement that the agency “believes the Superfund program’s existing processes and resources adequately ensure that risks and any effects of severe weather events” that become more intense or frequent are covered by risk-response decisions at the sites.
There are 24 of these sites with hazardous toxins in the Houston area, according to the GAO data. Of these, 14 would be affected by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane, 13 by flooding risk, seven by sea level rise and one by wildfires — with many of them potentially affected in more than one way.