perry’s soggy arteries

For a state with no energy plan, we do pretty good. Until we don’t.

The largest energy producer in the country, Texas is not only rude with crude but also has the most wind energy going of any state. Transmission expansions approved by our beloved Public Utility Commission ensure that more is on the way.

We’re also the largest greenhouse gas emitter and stall in a tri-way tie as only the 19th most energy efficient state in the Union (pdf).

That we don’t have a state energy plan is problematic. Yeah, we have a Governor’s plan (that includes recommendation for using tax money to lobby against carbon legislation, last I heard) and a variety of ambitions filtering out of an assortment of agencies, but nothing our Legislature approves to chart a collective course.

Hard to chart courses when you’ve been deregulated and turned over to the wolves, but such a plan may have overridden (and expect this to come up again in the near future) the PUC’s failure to require utilities doing business in the most climate-vulnerable parts of the Gulf Coast to have hurricane-hardened infrastructure.

Perry has vigorously defended his commissioners, saying: “The idea that you’re going to, from Washington, D.C., or for that matter from Austin, Texas, have a fiat that will protect all Texans on all days is a bit of a stretch.”

Yeah, SurvivaBalls for all would be a challenge. Recognized. Doesn’t stop us from expecting sober-minded planning to keep state residents in “Energy City, USA” of all places from going for weeks without power (and coming a mite close to marching to lofty Austin, Texas for your head, sir).

Weeks after Ike, nearly half of CenterPoint’s 2 million blacked-out customers were still in the dark.

The Public Utility Commission staff after Hurricane Rita in 2005 recommended aggressive tree-trimming programs and major upgrades, including replacing wooden electric polls with metal or concrete.

Utilities fought the measures on the grounds that upgrading the distribution system would cost far more than repairing it after a storm. The PUC in August ordered a cost-benefit analysis of only one recommendation: moving electric substations out of flood zones.

Substations in flood zones? Smart. Anyway, reporters have looked at the enviro fallout from Ike (Go, Dina!), but few that I have noticed are tackling hardening of the energy arteries to protect Coast residents.

Guv Perry, fresh from pledges of millions in gimmes for a federal germ lab and bemoaning carbon legislation at an Austin “clean” coal conference in Austin, doesn’t appear anxious to challenge the utilities to get serious about storms.

Better late than never. Another AP writer just inspected our petro plants and, unsurprisingly, found them lacking.

TEXAS CITY, Texas (AP) — When Hurricane Ike was on its trajectory for the petrochemical industry clustered here, the storm had the makings of an environmental nightmare unlike anything in U.S. history.

Of course, that didn’t happen. Ike’s storm surge was less severe than feared and the floodwalls, levees and bulkheads built around the region’s heavy industry generally held. Some hazardous material spilled, but nothing to cause the widespread environmental damage some feared.

But many of the plants and refineries are protected by a 1960s-era, 15-foot-high levee system built by the Army Corps of Engineers that is strikingly similar to the one around New Orleans that failed catastrophically during Katrina.

The shortcomings are plain to see.

For example, Texas City — home to seven massive facilities run by industry giants like the Dow Chemical Co., BP and Valero — is surrounded by a ring levee system that includes earthen levees without erosion-control concrete, long stretches of floodwalls similar to those that failed during Katrina and a mishmash of levee heights.

“They’ve got the same piles of dirt and flawed I-walls that destroyed New Orleans defending 22 percent of the nation’s refining,” said Robert Bea, a civil engineer and levee expert with the University of California-Berkeley.

The Corps of Engineers is aware of the danger.

“There certainly is risk and there certainly can and will be storms that may come along that will overtop those levees,” said Col. David C. Weston, the corps’ Galveston district commander.

“If you had 25 feet of surge, you’d be 10 feet over the top of those structures, and I would expect to see significant damage” to the refineries and other infrastructure, Weston said.

Swing! Counterswing!

Remember how Interior folks were recently accused of drugging, screwing, and just generally flippin’ out with the energy company execs they were supposed to be regulating? Here comes payback. An energy front group assembled by the public-relations execs at Pac/West Communications (the same tree-huggers that contracted with the state of Alaska to brainstorm ways to open ANWR to drillbit gristle) are hot to nail some enviro hide. According to Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, the group — called in a feat of limitless creativity, Americans for American Energy — has beckoned Congress to investigate Interior-enviro org relationships that may be “pursuing an anti-American energy political agenda.” We suspect such actions would be, like, NOT drilling in protected national parks and whatnot. Criminal.

[Top image is by Kevin M. Cox/Galveston County Daily News. Secondary is SurvivaBall utilizing the lifeforce of wildlife.]

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