The Sponge: Mar 15–19

Welcome to the Sponge, the place to soak up a week’s worth of Environmental News.

image from: Texas Monthly

Leaky Faucets

Arthur D’Andrea, who was the last remaining member of Texas’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) after fallout over the mismanaging of last month’s winter storm, resigned last Tuesday after a scandalous call was leaked to the press, exposing him for prioritizing profit over people.

Rookie Mistake. Always use the burner phone.

You already know. On the March 9th call, D’Andrea can be heard assuring out-of-state energy investors, like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, that they shouldn’t worry about the government touching their hundreds of millions (repeat: hundreds of millions) of dollars of profits earned from the blackouts surrounding last February’s record storm. This is especially crazy, considering that the Texas PUC is designed to regulate rates and protect taxpayers from the kind of nonsense that those financial traders profited from.

I’m not mad, just D’isappointed.

You should be mad, too. The storm, which left nearly 80 people dead and millions more without electricity, prompted the state’s “power-grid broker”, ERCOT, to artificially over-charge power companies. This sent Texas energy companies into a financial tailspin and led to sky high energy prices for average Texans that could potentially last for years. Meanwhile, financial corporations took the uncertainty as a market trading opportunity: Bank of America made at least $200 million dollars off of the chaos. In an effort to fix the price hikes, the Texas government began exploring retroactively lowering electricity prices. So like Back to the Future, but with energy. While these post-hoc changes would lower energy costs for Texans down the Old Town Road, they would also chip away at Wall Street’s windfall. Enter D’Andrea crooning, “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing.”

1.21 Gigawatts! Who can we blame for this?

Back in the Lone Star state, people aren’t sure who exactly to blame for the energy pandemonium, as various lawsuits and bills just keep coming. For now, though, Arthur D’Andrea, who had been appointed to the PUC only thirteen days earlier, is out of the picture. He can take his bankrupt morals with him, xoxo.

In Other News…

It’s Getting Hot in Here

New research shows that low-income neighborhoods in the American Southwest are, on average, a whole 4 degrees hotter than higher-income neighborhoods nearby. And, surprise surprise, the discrepancies frequently fall along racial and ethnic lines as well. **screams into pillow**

People are pointing their fingers at infrastructure and urban planning — lower-income neighborhoods are usually dominated by exposed concrete and suffer from a lack of greenspace (like parks) to keep surrounding areas cool. Add this to decades of discriminatory housing policies and you have one big, socially engineered, hot mess.

Make no mistake, these crazy hot temperatures are already lethal. Air conditioning isn’t cheap, and in 2020, 510 people in Arizona alone died from heat-related deaths in the state’s hottest year to date. At least 155 of those were people experiencing homelessness. Yep, you read that right. Decades of socioeconomic exploitation has created a literal hotbox of death. Your blood boiling yet?

Farewell, Fossil Fuels

America’s global reputation just got a little less… **Fauci facepalm**

The United States famously leads the world in plastic surgeries, oil refineries, and Prince Harries (sorry, Liz). And now we have the most cities with local bans on fossil fuels!

We know you’re excited, just on the inside.

This is important progress since city slickers use around 75% of the world’s final energy consumption. And now, about 25% of the world’s urban population live in a city with a plan for renewable energy. But we can’t stop (can’t stop) can’t stop the beat now.

In order to fully curb-stomp climate change, cities must hone in on keeping two things in one-two step: transportation and construction. Some cities in the world are already leading the charge with low-emissions zones to minimize the impact of street dinosaurs (known colloquially as “cars that use gas”). Other cities have even tried to straight-up eliminate fossil fuel use in new construction. There were a few problems legalistically after that, (i.e. the state said no), but we see you, Brookline. Love the effort.

With new incentives building green spreading in cities across the U.S., you can give your neighbor a pat on the back. Then a PCR cotton swab up the nose. Because we’re still leading the world in COVID cases too.

And also…

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Aquagenuity Team

Aquagenuity helps consumers, corporations and cities answer the question “What’s In Your Water?” Featured by Forbes, Google, WIRED, TEDx 🙌🏽💧