Texas Energy Policy and Environmental Concerns
Just like you learned in science class, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This means that everything you do, whether big or small, will have consequences somewhere along the line. Even something as simple as flicking on a light switch can contribute to big changes hundreds of miles away. In recent decades, private citizens and government officials have gone to great lengths to illuminate and address the environmental consequences of energy use. Balancing these two concerns is not easy, but the back-and-forth persists, both in Texas and beyond.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created by legislation signed by then-President Richard Nixon. This was a time of great interest in environmental issues and EPA policies have cleaned and preserved countless bodies of waters and tracts of land in the fifty states. After alarming reports detailing the amount of pollution in American skies, the EPA set new regulations limiting the quantities of certain chemicals allowed to be released by power companies. The regulations sought to award industrial polluters a limited number of credits. The point is to incentivize industry to keep their pollution levels below a certain standard.
Unfortunately, in January 2011, the EPA was forced to take direct control of the administration of these limits in the Lone Star State. Citing the possibility of problems for the Texas energy industry, state officials, including Governor Rick Perry, declined to enforce the regulations. Just like any rule, the environmental standards make life slightly harder for the follower. In order to remain within the margins set by the legislations, for example, power companies must use more environmentally friendly fuels and equip their power plants with scrubbers. These devices are installed atop smokestacks, trapping carbon dioxide and other pollutants that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
As Ramit Plushnick-Masti reported in The Washington Post, EPA officials claimed that pollution levels in Texas, particularly in the water, were at unacceptable levels, prompting the need for the legislation. Governor Perry, on the other hand, led the charge to reject the regulations. In his view, the federal government didn't have the right to impose those kinds of limitations on states.
The disagreement, of course, will be resolved in court. Whether it is primarily the federal government's responsibility to regulate pollution, private companies and individuals will continue to work together to keep emissions in check. Texas Retail Electric Providers (REPs) are already part of the solution. Dynowatt, powered by Accent Energy, offers a plan called GoGreen that allows a homeowner to get all of his or her Texas electricity from wind farms, a source of generation that causes little to no pollution at all.
Nuclear energy is an option that is becoming increasingly popular as pollution becomes an ever greater concern. Nuclear reactors don't really burn anything in the same way a natural gas-burning plant does. The reactor uses radioactive materials to heat water that is run through a steam turbine. The tall clouds you see billowing from the top of Texas's nuclear power plants are made up of water. Unfortunately, there is one big catch. Once spent, the fissile material retains radioactivity, though it can no longer produce electricity. This nuclear waste must be disposed of in such a way that it can't hurt anyone. There are several existing nuclear waste facilities in the United States, often carved into large mountains. The waste material will pose a clear danger to humans for thousands of years; fortunately, it is being kept in remote places.
As can be expected, the construction of a nuclear waste depository can be a contentious issue. Many people don't want one in their state, while others appreciate the source of revenue. (Of course, the waste must go somewhere and must be in someone's state.) A plan has been proposed to store this nuclear pollution in Andrews, Texas, a small municipality located near the New Mexico border.
This proposal is particularly interesting one because it's a joint venture with the state of Vermont. As Matthew L. Wald points out in the New York Times, the facility would also accept waste from 36 other states. Of course, the plan has been met with concerns from thousands of citizens, and resolution of the case will proceed for months, if not years.
In several decades, alternative energies may render these kinds of decisions obsolete. Instead of worrying about carbon dioxide emissions, we'll all enjoy solar electricity or juice provided by the tides and other sources. Until then, we'll have to continue to use the tools of democracy to make important decisions that protect our environment while preserving our standard of living.