by Erika McDonald
Appellate court blocks administration changes that weaken clean air act
On Christmas Eve, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked some of the Bush administration's changes to the Clean Air Act, agreeing with more than a dozen states and cities that claimed the changes could cause irreparable harm to the environment and public health.
Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency, with an interim director at the helm, approved changes to the new source review program of the federal Clean Air Act. The changes would have allowed power plants, refineries and other industrial facilities to make repairs in the name of routine maintenance without installing additional pollution controls even if those changes resulted in increased emissions.
In addition to the state and city governments, environmental and health groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the American Lung Association, also challenged the rule in the appeals court. Main Street light rail now up and running
Crowds gathered on News Year Day, to be a part of the inaugural ride on the Main Street rail, the 7.5 line that travels from downtown Houston, through the Medical Center and Reliant Park. Hundreds showed up to take advantage of Metro’s free fare promotion which lasted throughout the weekend. The question remains whether the cars will stay full once the novelty wears off. Ridership is just one of the factors rail supporters and opponents will be watching closely in the weeks and moths ahead. In November, Houston voters narrowly approved the future construction of more light rail. The Metro Solutions plan includes 72 miles of rail, a 50 percent increase in bus service and double HOV lane miles.
After one decade dioxin still a problem in Houston Ship Channel
The results of a one-year Univeristy of Houston study presented to a group of state, local and company officials last week show dioxin in more than 80 percent of the water samples taken.
Tests for the chemicals in sediment found it above normal 83 percent of the time.
But what shocked scientists most were the levels in fish -- which had not changed, or were higher, than a decade ago. Eating fish is the primary way humans are exposed to dioxin.
"We have exceedances just about everywhere," said Hanadi Rifai, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the university, which is conducting the research for the state.
The goal of the research is to determine how much dioxin can continue to enter the Houston Ship Channel while making fish safe to eat -- a lofty ambition for what was once regarded as one of the most polluted waterways in the country.
In 1990, the state health department first warned against eating more than eight ounces a month of certain species of fish in the waterway to Upper Galveston Bay. Since then, environmental laws have clamped down on air and water pollution, and paper pulp mills, which generated massive amounts of dioxin in the paper bleaching process, also closed.
But dioxin can enter water from myriad other sources, such as burning trash and medical waste, or in rain and dust laced with dioxin from smokestacks. Tainted runoff is also a big contributor, the study found.
Scientists across the state are planning or working on 83 waterways according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, but by far the Houston Ship Channel is the most complex and costly. The five-year study is expected to cost $5 million.
Houston Chronicle: White selects new city council committee on flooding and drainage
As one of his first acts in office, Mayor Bill White established a new council committee on flooding and drainage.
During last year’s election, flooding was identified as a major concern for Houston voters and the issue was identified, along with traffic congestion, as a priority by the White campaign.
The newly appointed committee members include Ada Edwards as chair and Toni Lawrence as vice-chair. Also on the committee are Carol Galloway, Adrian Garcia, and M.J. Khan. White said issues of long term funding will be considered and addressed by the Fiscal Affairs Committee.
How to pay for flood management and drainage infrastructure will prove to be the central challenge for the committees. An oppurtunity to fund projects was missed last year when a proposal to add a $2-per-month drainage fee to city water bills was overturned in the final days of the Brown administration.