Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mayor Annise Parker Rings in Season with 94th Holiday Celebration and Tree Lighting Ceremony

Ring in the season with the 94th Mayor’s Holiday Celebration and Tree Lighting Presented by Reliant on Friday, December 6 at Hermann Square outside of City Hall; 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. This spectacular, FREE event is a holiday tradition of music, fireworks and family fun. A towering holiday tree, glowing with energy efficient LED (light-emitting diode) lights, shimmering ornaments and a stunning star topper will light up the streets of downtown Houston this holiday season.

Danielle Bradbery, winner of "The Voice" 2013, will enchant crowds at Houston’s premier tree lighting as the featured artist. The holiday variety show will also include performances by the Winter Wonderettes, the KIPP SHARP Singers, and a command performance by International Touring Artist, Marcie Chapa and the MacArthur Jammin’ Generals Drum Line.

“I’m excited once again to kick-off the holidays at City Hall with my fellow Houstonians,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “This is such an animated event filled with lights, fireworks, music, family and friends. It truly signifies Houston’s energy.”

Immediately following the performance, Mayor Annise D. Parker and Reliant President, Elizabeth Killinger, will light the Official Holiday Tree and ignite a spectacular fireworks finale perfectly timed to the Hallelujah Chorus from “Handel’s Messiah” featuring Music Director, Ernest Walker and his award winning band and the official Holiday Choir featuring Westbury High School and Gospel Music Heritage Month Choir.

“I am thrilled to join Mayor Parker in this annual celebration of hope and joy, coming together as a city to usher in the holiday season with the tree lighting,” said Elizabeth Killinger, president of Reliant. “This is Reliant’s eighth year to sponsor the event, and we are excited to join in the holiday fun while being ever conscious of energy efficient alternatives to light up our holidays.”

The Presenting Sponsor is Reliant, an NRG Company. Other sponsors include: Southwest Airlines®, Official Airline Sponsor; Cigna, VIP Reception Sponsor; Houston Downtown Management District; Houston Parks and Recreation Department; and the Houston Public Library Foundation. The celebration is produced by the Mayor’s Office of Special Events. Public parking is available in the Theater District.

For more information, please visit or

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Houston Fire Department Offers Home Heating Safety Tips

Houston Fire Department LogoWith the holiday season and colder weather fast approaching, the Houston Fire Department (HFD) recommends the following safety tips when using supplemental heating sources:
Space Heaters Need Space
  • Keep all combustible materials at least three feet from the heater
  • Never leave children unattended in a room with a space heater
  • Open-face heaters should have a screen
  • Provide ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Vented Gas / Fired Heating Appliances Tips - Central heating units, floor furnaces, recessed wall heaters and vented space heaters
  • Do not use these units without a proper vent pipe that exhausts to the outside
  • If your flame is not blue, it is not burning properly and is producing carbon monoxide, which can kill you. Turn off the appliance
  • Inspect the appliance(s) annually by a qualified service technician. Don't wait for cold weather!
  • Look for the American Gas Association label and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for proper usage.
  • Use flexible metal tubing (never rubber) with threaded ends to connect the heater to the gas valve. There should be a cutoff valve for the heater at the wall
  • Use soapy water to check all connections and valves for leaks. NEVER use a match to test for a gas leak!
Electric Heaters Tips
  • Never overload outlets or breakers
  • Never use extension cords for the heater. If the cord is hot to the touch, turn off the heater and unplug it!
  • Permanently installed electric heaters should have lint and dust removed regularly. Lint and dust will burn!
Fireplace safety from the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) 
According to the NFPA, while fireplaces often conjure up images of warmth and comfort, they also are a source of house fires.

  • Ashes should be cool before putting them in a metal container, and kept at a safe distance from your home
  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned annually by a professional chimney sweep
  • Keep combustibles at least three feet away from a fireplace, and create a three-foot "kid-free zone" around open fires
  • Make sure the fireplace has a sturdy screen to stop sparks from flying into the room
  • Never leave a fireplace fire unattended, particularly when children are present
Smoke Detectors Save Lives - It's Just That Simple
If you need a smoke detector, call 832.394.6633 to schedule a smoke detector installation or appointment. If you or someone you know is deaf or hard-of-hearing and needs a smoke detector, contact Kenyatta Parker at or 832.394.6648.

For more information on smoke detectors, visit To learn more about HFD,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Efforts Underway to Control Harmful Air Pollution at Texas, Louisiana Facilities

Boston-based Cabot Corporation, the second largest carbon black manufacturer in the United States, has agreed to pay a $975,000 civil penalty and spend an estimated $84 million on state of the art technology to control harmful air pollution, resolving alleged violations of the New Source Review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act (CAA) at its three facilities in the towns of Franklin and Ville Platte, La. and Pampa, Texas, announced the Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today.  This agreement is the first to result from a national enforcement initiative aimed at bringing carbon black manufacturers into compliance with the CAA’s NSR provisions.    
The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is a co-plaintiff in the case and will receive $292,500 of the penalty.
“With today’s commitment to invest in pollution controls, Cabot has raised the industry standard for environmental protection,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “These upgrades will have lasting, tangible impacts on improved respiratory health for local communities. We expect others in the industry to take notice and realize their obligation to protect the communities in which they operate.”
“By agreeing to pay an appropriate penalty and install state of the art technology to control harmful air pollution, Cabot Corp is taking a positive step forward to address these significant violations of the Clean Air Act,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “This agreement will serve as a model for how the industry can come into compliance with the Clean Air Act by installing controls that prevent harmful pollution and improve air quality for surrounding communities.” 
“This is a huge win for the citizens of our district,” said U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley.  “These harmful pollutants can cause serious, long-term respiratory harm.  The United States Attorney’s Office is committed to the enforcement of the environmental laws and protection of the community.  This settlement promotes a healthier environment and an opportunity to allow the residents of the district to breathe cleaner air.”
At all three facilities, the settlement requires that Cabot optimize existing controls for particulate matter or soot, operate an “early warning” detection system that will alert facility operators to any particulate matter releases, and comply with a plan to control “fugitive emissions” which result from leaks or unintended releases of gases.  To address nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution, Cabot must install selective catalytic reduction technology to significantly reduce emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent limits.  At the two larger facilities in Louisiana, Cabot must address sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution by installing wet gas scrubbers to control emissions, install continuous monitoring, and comply with stringent emissions limits.  In addition, the Texas facility is required to comply with a limit on the amount of sulfur in feedstock which is the lowest for any carbon black plant in the United States.
These measures are expected to reduce NOx emissions by approximately 1,975 tons per year, SO2 emissions by approximately 12,380 tons per year, and significantly improve existing particulate matter controls. Exposure to NOx emissions can cause severe respiratory problems and contribute to childhood asthma. SO2 and NOx can be converted to fine particulate matter once released in the air. Fine particulates can be breathed in and lodged deep in the lungs, leading to a variety of health problems and even premature death.  The harmful health and environmental impacts from these pollutants can occur near the facilities as well as in communities far downwind from the plants.
In the complaint filed by DOJ on behalf of EPA, the government alleged that between 2003 and 2009, Cabot made major modifications at its carbon black facilities without obtaining pre-construction permits and without installing and operating required pollution technology. The complaint further alleges that these actions resulted in increased emissions of NOx and SO2, violating CAA requirements stating that companies must obtain the necessary permits prior to making modifications at a facility and must install and operate required pollution control equipment if those modifications will result in increases of certain pollutants.
Today’s action also requires that Cabot spend $450,000 on energy saving and pollution reduction projects that will benefit the communities surrounding the facilities in Franklin and Ville Platte, La. and in Pampa, Texas, such as upgrading air handling units at municipal buildings in the three communities to more efficient technology. 
Carbon black is a fine carbonaceous powder used as a structural support medium in tires and as a pigment in a variety of products such as plastic, rubber, inkjet toner and cosmetics. It’s produced by burning oil in a low oxygen environment; the oil is transformed into soot (carbon black), which is collected in a baghouse. Because the oil used in the process is low value high sulfur oil, the manufacturing process creates significant amounts of SO2 and NOx,, as well as particulate matter.
This settlement is part of EPA’s national enforcement initiative to control harmful air pollution from the largest sources of emissions. Since 2010, EPA has been focusing enforcement efforts on reducing emissions at carbon manufacturing plants in the United States. Currently, none of the 15 carbon black manufacturing plants located in the United States have controls on emissions of SO2 and NOx or have continuous emissions monitors.
Cabot Corporation manufactures global specialty chemicals and performance materials, which include rubber additives for tires and brake pads, activated carbon for air purifiers, chemicals used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, and inkjet colorants. 
The proposed consent decree will be lodged with the United States District Court for the Western District Court for Louisiana and will be subject to a 45-day public comment period. The company is required to pay the penalty within 30 days after the court approves the settlement. The proposed consent decree can be viewed online

More information about EPA’s national enforcement initiative:

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Judge Rules in Favor of EPA: Chemical Company Fails to Disclose Public Health Risks

In an administrative decision issued earlier this week, Elementis Chromium, Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of chromium chemicals in the world, was ordered to pay a penalty of $2,571,800 for failing to disclose information about substantial risk of injury to human health from exposure to hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, on workers in modern chemical production plants, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). 

“Our job is to protect all Americans from exposure to harmful chemicals at home, at work and in their daily lives,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This decision supports our commitment to public health and reinforces the importance of companies providing key information about the risks their chemicals pose.” 

TSCA requires chemical manufacturers, processors, or distributors that obtain information demonstrating that a substance or mixture presents a substantial risk of injury to human health or the environment immediately inform the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This information allows EPA to understand and limit, when necessary, potential hazards associated with the manufacturing, use, and disposal of chemical substances. 

In September 2010, EPA filed a complaint against Elementis with the Office of Administrative Law Judges, alleging TSCA violations for failing to report the results of an industry-commissioned study that documented significant occupational impacts to workers in modern chemical plants. According to EPA, the study filled a gap in scientific literature regarding the relationship between hexavalent chromium exposure and respiratory cancer in modern chromium production facilities. Chief Administrative Law Judge Susan Biro held an administrative hearing in December 2011, where both sides presented expert witnesses and additional evidence. On November 12, 2013, Judge Biro issued a decision and assessed a penalty, concluding that Elementis had violated TSCA. 

This decision will become a final order 45 days following issuance unless the company chooses to appeal the decision to EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board. 

Elementis, which is based in East Windsor, N.J., is a global specialty chemical company with operations worldwide. Elementis has been manufacturing and distributing chromium-based chemical substances and mixtures for more than 35 years and has two main manufacturing plants in Castle Hayne, N.C., and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

NARI Encourages Green Remodeling Practices

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) and GreenStar have formed a strategic alliance to provide green training and certification to the remodeling community.

GreenStar is a leading residential building standards and certification program available in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. This program certifies homes via an objective, third-party verification system that assures consumers that their remodeling project meets the program requirements and is constructed as designed.

NARI’ Green Certified Professional (GCP) certification prep program “High-Performance Remodeling” has incorporated GreenStar training, and GreenStar will now award points toward its project certifications for those who have earned a NARI GCP.

“NARI’s High- Performance Remodeling course and GCP certification provides remodelers the technical tools needed to build GreenStar certified projects,” says Dan Taddei, NARI director of education and certification. “The industry has been looking for a way to recognize projects like such as additions or kitchen and bath remodels as being remodeled green—GreenStar does it.”
“GreenStar marks a new era for remodelers across the country,” says Michael Anschel, GreenStar’s director of development.  “Now there is finally a comprehensive, robust, legitimate green remodeling tool that anyone can use. The debate over what constitutes ‘green’ is over. Remodelers can certify everything from a bathroom, kitchen, or even windows and siding replacement, all the way to a whole home remodel and offer something unique and valuable to their clients.”

Both NARI’s GCP and GreenStar focus on the holistic view of the house and its interactive systems, focus on areas such as energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, water conservation, resource efficiency and site and community impact.

About NARI: The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) is the only trade association dedicated solely to the remodeling industry.  The Association, which represents member companies nationwide—comprised of 63,000 remodeling contractors— is “The Voice of the Remodeling Industry.”™ To learn more about membership, visit or contact national headquarters, based in Des Plaines, Ill., at (847) 298-9200.

ABOUT GREENSTAR: GreenStar, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, was founded in 2007 and has developed a leading residential building standards and certification program created to promote healthy, durable, high-performance design and construction for both new and existing homes.  An objective, third-party verification system assures consumers that the new home or remodeling project meets the program requirements and is constructed as designed. A whole-systems approach applies the five (5) key concepts of green building programs – Energy Efficiency, Resource Efficiency (including durability), Indoor Environmental Quality, Water Conservation, Site and Community – to the traditional building process.  The MNGS program improves the impact of green building programs on individuals, their families, the community, and the environment. - See more at:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

What is Builder Confidence in 55+ Market?


Builder confidence in the 55+ housing market showed continued improvement in the third quarter of 2013 compared to the same period a year ago, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) latest 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. All segments of the market—single-family homes, condominiums and multifamily rental—registered strong increases.

The single-family index increased 14 points to a level of 50, which is the highest third-quarter number since the inception of the index in 2008 and the eighth consecutive quarter of year over year improvements.

“We have seen steady improvement in the 55+ housing sector as buyers and renters are attracted to new homes and communities that offer the lifestyle they desire” said Robert Karen, chairman of NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council and managing member of the Symphony Development Group. “Although the market is significantly stronger than it has been in recent years, we still have a ways to go to get back to full production.”

There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair or poor (high, average or low for traffic). An index number below 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as poor than good.

All of the components of the 55+ single-family HMI showed considerable growth from a year ago: present sales climbed 16 points to 52, expected sales for the next six months rose 11 points to 53 and traffic of prospective buyers increased 10 points to 43.

The 55+ multifamily condo HMI posted a gain of 14 points to 37, which is the highest third-quarter reading since the inception of the index. All 55+ multifamily condo HMI components increased compared to a year ago as present sales increased 15 points to 37, expected sales for the next six months climbed 11 points to 40 and traffic of prospective buyers rose 13 points to 35.

The 55+ multifamily rental indices also showed strong gains in the third quarter as present production increased 17 points to 48, expected future production rose 15 points to 50, current demand for existing units climbed 18 points to 60 and future demand increased 16 points to 60.

“Right now the positive year over year increase in confidence by builders for the 55+ market is tracking right along with other segments of the home building industry,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “And like other segments of the industry, the 55+ market is improving in part because consumers are more likely to be able to sell their current homes, which allows them to buy a new home or move into an apartment that suits their specific needs.”

For the full 55+ HMI tables, please visit

Friday, November 1, 2013

Remodeling Market Index (RMI) Continues to Climb


The Remodeling Market Index (RMI) continued to climb at a modest pace in the third quarter of 2013 rising two points to 57, the highest reading since the first quarter of 2004, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

An RMI above 50 indicates that more remodelers report market activity is higher (compared to the prior quarter) than report it is lower. The overall RMI averages ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future remodeling activity. The RMI's current market conditions index rose from 54 in the previous quarter to 58, the highest reading since the creation of the RMI in 2001, driven partly by rising existing home sales.

"The growth in home equity and home sales prompted home owners to remodel as they prepare to move or undertake upgrades that they put off during tough times," said NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bill Shaw, GMR, GMB, CGP, a remodeler from Houston. "NAHB Remodelers looks forward to continuing our tradition of professional service and craftsmanship as the housing recovery makes progress."

All three major components of the RMI's current market conditions index increased in the third quarter. Major additions and alterations increased from 51 to 55, minor additions and repairs from 55 to 58 and maintenance and repair from 57 to 59. The future market indicators component of the RMI remained even with the previous quarter reading of 56.

Regionally, the RMI has registered two consecutive quarters of gains in the Northeast, Midwest and West. In the South, the RMI edged down slightly in the third quarter after a five point gain the previous quarter. All four regions were above 50 and higher in the third quarter than in the first quarter of 2013.

"In addition to existing home sales, which support remodeling activity as owners fix up their homes before and after a move, remodeling has benefitted from rising home values," said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "This boosts home equity that owners can tap to finance remodeling projects. We expect existing home sales and house prices to increase, but at a slower rate over the next year, so the demand for remodeling services should also increase, but more gradually over that period."

For more information about remodeling, visit