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April 2001 BBRSC Newsletter

LAST MINUTE ANNOUNCEMENT:

CBS Evening News will be in the area the week of April 16th, filming a story on pollution in Big Bend National Park. I talked to the reporter today (April 6th) and she said that CBS plans to come to our meeting on the 17th. As you see in the lead newsletter story, Supt. Frank Deckert will be speaking to us. I hope we have a good turnout and that those of you who are free will consider coming. Fran Sage

BBNP SUPERINTENDENT TO SPEAK TO BBRSC

Frank Deckert, Superintendent of Big Bend National Park, will speak on "The Regional Haze Rule and Big Bend National Park" to the BBRSC on April 17th at 7 PM in Room 309, Lawrence Hall, on the Sul Ross State University campus. The public is invited. He will show a video in conjunction with his talk. The regional haze rule is a new regulation issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on April 22, 1999, which calls for state and federal agencies to work together to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas designated as Class 1 areas under the Clean Air Act. In Texas that is Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe National Park. The rule requires the states, in coordination with the EPA, the National Park Service, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Forest Service, Tribal Nations, and other interested parties to develop and implement air quality protection plans to reduce the pollution that causes visibility impairment.

Deckert is a Californian by birth, where he earned his CA, B.S. in Forest Management from Humboldt State College. Before he came to BBNP, he was superintendent at Carlsbad Caverns NP in New Mexico and before then at Petersburg Nat'l Battlefield in Virginia. Earlier he worked in the Alaska Regional Office, in BBNP (as Chief of Interpretation), in Lake Mead Nat'l Recreation Area in Nevada/Arizona, in Isle Royal Nat'l Park, in Michigan, and in Shenandoah Nat'l Park in Virginia. He is author of an award-winning book, Big Bend - Three Steps to the Sky.

This will be an opportunity to visit with the Superintendent and learn more about plans to address the air pollution problems in the Park.

DON DOWDEY REPORTS ON THE LEGISLATURE AND ACTION

The last month has been a busy one for anyone watching the Texas Legislature. One of the problems of having your state government meet only every two years is that so much happens in a hurry, and it's hard to keep up.

One of the best ways I know to do that is to sign up for the Lone Star Sierra Club Alert list. You can subscribe by sending an email message stating that you would like to be added to the e-mail alert list to: scls@igc.org. You won't be overwhelmed with information, but you will be informed and given specific things to do to help. So far this year, there have been eight, on topics including TNRCC reform, HB128 which limits the authority of Park Superintendents to take action to stop visibility problems caused by pollution while undermining the Federal Clean Air Act, reforming the TNRCC, closing the grandfathered plants loophole, and stopping Sen. Duncan's radioactive waste bill SB1541.

Many of these issues are discussed elsewhere in this newsletter, and those with computer access can view all the Alerts at http://www.sierraclub.org/chapters/tx/Alerts/index.html.

It's not too late to contact legislators on any of these issues.

If you can only do one thing on the Legislative front this year, contact our Senator Frank Madla, and urge him to oppose SB 1541, Senator Duncan's Radioactive Waste Bill. You can write him at: The Honorable Frank L. Madla, P.O. Box 12068, Capitol Station, Austin, Texas 78711; call him at (512) 463-0119; or send an email to: Frank.Madla@senate.state.tx.us . If you call, ask to speak with Jason Anderson, his aid for environmental issues. Senator Madla is a swing vote on this issue, and he has received lots of letters already. It's cheap, it's easy, it's democracy in action -- and it just might keep nuclear waste out of West Texas.

THANKS TO THE LONE STAR CHAPTER OF THE SIERRA CLUB
AND TO THE NATIONAL SIERRA CLUB

Many thanks to Lone Star Chapter staff for its dedicated efforts to protect and improve the environment in Texas. We have worked in particular with Ken Kramer, director of the staff, Erin Rogers, and Brian Sybert, as well as other staff people, trying to contribute to their efforts. Their dedication far outruns their salaries. Given the highly paid lobbyists from industry, it is good to know that such hard workers are working on our behalf. One unpaid worker that we are particularly thankful for is Richard Simpson, longtime environmental activist, and experienced and knowledgeable member now living in Austin. You may remember him as a member of the BBRSC Executive Committee when he lived in Alpine.

We are also grateful to the national Sierra Club for its campaign mounted on many issues to defend the environment as it suffers a frontal assault from the Bush administration.

Action Alerts: Many of you are receiving alerts from Big Bend Regional Sierra Club as the session progresses. If any of you with e-mail are not on the BBRSC alert mailings and wish to be, please contact Fran Sage (who maintains the list) at sage@brooksdata.net and your name will be added. There will be some duplication with the state list but both are often useful.

WILDFLOWER REPORT

If you did not make it to Big Bend National Park in February or March, check out the website http://www.nps.gov/bibe/dailyreport/flowers/flowershots.htm for daily updates on the flowers, and see the beautiful pictures. After all a virtual tour is better than none. Even if you went down, you may want to relive the experience.

GLOBAL WARMING UPDATE

Only two things are infinite-the universe and human stupidity and I'm not sure about the former. Albert Einstein

Any questions about how the Bush administration will respond to global warming have been partially answered. Requiring emitters of carbon dioxide (a source of greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming) to clean up their emissions have been eliminated. The United States will not try to workout the changes required by the Kyoto agreement (a treaty signed by President Clinton but not ratified by the United States Senate, nor any other industrial country). Rejecting the treaty represents a major step backward, dismaying U. S. allies around the world and criticized in Congress by many Democrats and some Republicans and even by some of the polluters, who wanted to make changes to their plants all at once and not have to revisit the issue later. As of today, the United States has no plan developed in place of the Kyoto agreement to address global warming. The Bush administration's decision was a major blow to environmentalists and others as it is a reversal of President Bush's campaign pledge.

On a state note, the BBRSC learned good news from Larry Freilich, Sierra Club Representative in the Southeast Field Office, Texas/Arkansas Branch Office in Austin. The Sierra Club is hiring a Global Warming, Conservation Organizer to help plan and implement a Texas statewide global warming education campaign. Freilich's number is (512) 472-9094 ext. 10.

OUTING SCHEDULED MAY 4 & 5

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will have an outing on May 4 &5. We will car camp in the National Park on Friday evening and share a meal. The next morning Don Dowdey will lead a hike into Pine Canyon for those who are interested and Marilyn Brady and the others will birdwatch at Rio Grande Village. Plans are still developing. Call Marilyn Brady, 837-3210, if you are interested, or check our website for updated information.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

Politics would be a helluva good business if it weren't for the people. Richard Nixon

Radioactive Waste Bill Under Consideration

SB1541/HB3420 are undergoing consideration in Committees of both houses. A Committee hearing was held March 29th at the Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting. The bill (100 pages long) as filed is a dangerous bill: 1) It would not limit waste to that mandated under legislation that formed a compact among Texas, Maine, and Vermont. The compact was intended to prevent waste from coming from all over the United States. In order to limit the waste the state needs to retain the license and this bill allows a private contractor to hold the license. 2) It would allow the contractor to make the profit but the state would retain the liability. 3) It would allow additional sites for waste disposal even though there would be no need for such a provision if only Compact waste would be handled. 4) It allows below ground disposal with all the hazards associated with such, including leaking into the soil and the groundwater. In addition to the dangerous bill, citizens should be concerned, as waste from all over would be shipped on our interstates. As we go to press, we do not know what changes may be made in the Senate bill or what action will come out of the House Committee on Environmental Regulation on April 3rd . Fran Sage will try to keep the area residents informed through the newspapers over the next few weeks with an update at the next meeting on April 17th.

Action Needed: We all need to keep informing Senator Frank Madla (512) 463-0119 and Representative Pete Gallego (512) 463-0566 of our opposition to the bills. Madla's aide Jason Anderson says that Madla's office is getting overwhelming mail on the issue. He went on to say that Madla still has not taken a position on the SB1541. It is hard to understand why he has not yet committed to opposing the bill. You may send an e-mail message to him at Frank.Madla@senate.state.tx.us or write him at Texas Senate P. O. Box 12068-Capitol Station, Austin, Texas 78711. Rep. Gallego may be reached at Pete.Gallego@house.state.tx.us or at Texas House of Representatives, P. O. Box 2910, Austin, Texas 78768. This is a crucial and difficult fight. We are fighting big money.

Texas Lobby Watch: Erin Rogers sent us a report published by Texans for Public Justice in its Lobby Watch. Texans for Public Justice is a non-partisan, non-profit policy and research organization that tracks the influence of money in politics. It seeks to protect citizen rights and enforce corporate accountability in Texas. Craig McDonald is its director. The article makes clear how much money and influence is at work on this bill.

The Lobby Watch article explores the effort by Harold Simmons, owner of Waste Control Specialists as well as many other businesses, for a Texas nuclear dump. In the article Texans for Public Justice assesses the clout that Dallas corporate raider Harold Simmons brings to nuclear dump proposals before the Texas Legislature.

"Simmons' empire moves on hundreds of thousands of dollars of political grease," said Craig McDonald, director of Texas for Public Justice. "It will be the ultimate leveraged buyout if he gets our politicians to swallow this radioactive lemon." Check out the article at http://www.tpj.org(Click on Lobby Watch.)

Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Actions: Our actions have been focussed on convincing Senator Madla and Representative Gallego to oppose the radioactive waste bills. To that end Don Dowdey spoke to them in Austin on Legislative Lobby Day the end of February. Susan Curry visited 11 senators' offices in Austin on March 13th when she was in Austin to testify on the TNRCC legislation (the sunset bill). We have sent out several e-mail alerts. Dowdey sent a statement outlining BBRSC opposition to the bill to the Committee hearings and Sage sent a press release and letter to the editor in the name of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club to 19 newspapers in west Texas.

In addition, Fran Sage, writing in her own name devoted a column in area newspapers to the radioactive waste legislation. She and her husband, Jim, organized a quick petition campaign and sent off petitions to Sen. Madla and Rep. Gallego. The petitions were signed by non-Sierra Club people and Sierrans who oppose the bill. Thanks to Beulah Kokernot and Barbara Novovitch for their help in gathering signatures quickly.

The Big Bend Democratic Women's Club also passed a motion and sent it to Sen. Madla and Rep. Gallego urging opposition to the bill. There may be other activities that we are not aware of. Opposition to the bill is broad. People who are aware of the bills are opposed.

Please ask your friends and neighbors and family both in our area and elsewhere to contact their senator and representative.

Other bills:

(Keep updated by checking the Texas Legislature Online at www.capitol.state.tx.us/ or the Lone Star Chapter's website at www.sierraclub.org/chapters/tx. Go to Newsletters and click on it.)

HB 128 on air quality at BBNP and Guadalupe National Park left pending in committee

Since the March newsletter came out a hearing was held March 13, on Representative George "Buddy" West's (Odessa) bill, HB 128, on protection of air-quality-related values of certain federal lands. Many persons testified against the bill, including Dr. Ramon Alvarez of Environmental Defense, Ken Kramer of Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Superintendent Frank Deckert of Big Bend National Park. Opponents pointed out that the bill's provisions actually decrease protection of air-quality-related values.

Alvarez said that the bill "would seriously constrain federal land manager (FLMs) from exercising their responsibility to protect visibility and other air quality related values in Class 1 areas such as Big Bend National Park." He listed several problems including omission of visibility from items to be considered, a reduced review period, and unreasonable criteria for the TNRCC to concur with the FLM. Frank Deckert, Supt. of BBNP, also expressed these concerns, saying "new source permitting programs, such as those covered under HB128" could undermine efforts to reverse the deteriorating trend of air quality in the BBNP. He also mentioned that "continuing degradation of visibility at Big Bend National Park could have a severe economic impact on Brewster County." Deckert concluded by saying that he believes that the bill "constitutes bad public policy." The bill was left pending in Committee and could be called up at any time. We hope that bill will remain in Committee but that may not happen. Rep. West is vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee and as such can exert pressure. We will continue to watch this bill and if it moves forward to oppose its passage. Air pollution in the Big Bend is hard enough to fight without having further obstacles raised.

TNRCC Sunset Review: Susan Curry went to Austin recently to testify on the TNRCC Sunset bill HB2912. While Sierra Club believes that improvements in the bill are good, it advocates further reform. A number of other TNRCC reform bills were considered and left pending.

Water Bill 2: The recently filed SB 2 by Senator J. E. "Buster" Brown, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee is running into opposition on several fronts. The Sierra Club has assorted reservations about it. In the tricounty Big Bend region, major opposition has formed, particularly since the bill decreases the power of Water Conservation Districts. Brown has dropped several controversial sections as the bill undergoes revision.

Grandfathered Plants: Hearings on a variety of bills dealing with the grandfathered power plants were heard in the House Environmental Regulation Committee on March 27th. The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club submitted a statement to Committee members explaining in text and pictures about the air pollution in the Big Bend and its sources. It urged that plants no longer be exempted and the voluntary program end and that plants regardless of whether they are in an attainment or non-attainment area (i.e. meeting or not meeting the requirements of the Clean Air Act) be brought under permit requirements.

Brewster County Water Conservation District: HB 787 (Gallego) Changes were made during House committee consideration. It now sits in the Local and Consent Calendar, awaiting action. (Local and Consent is reserved for bills that are not expected to have opposition. If they do they are taken off that calendar and go through the regular process. The problem for the bill is not apt to be in the House but rather in the Senate when it reaches it.

NEWS ON MEMBERS' ACTIVITIES

Website: Many, many thanks to member Bob Patterson who recently designed and got running the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club website. While additional materials are being added and some minor changes made, the website will be pretty much what is available right now. You can access it directly at . or through the national Sierra Club's website at http://www.sierraclub.org/ which will take you to the Lone Star Chapter's site and then to the Big Bend group 's site. Please visit the site. We are sure you will find it handsome and useful.

Earth Day 2001: The Alpine Creek Alliance (ACA) is planning an Earth Day Celebration on April 21st at Veterans Memorial Park (the small grassy area at City Hall) from 10AM - noon. Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will participate in the celebration, which includes creek clean up. Sierra Club will have a booth. We will need volunteers to staff the table, collect materials to share and provide snacks for those cleaning up the creek bed. Call Marilyn Brady at 837-3210 to volunteer.

Border XXI Planning Meeting in El Paso: Susan Curry and Liz Hightower attended a Border XXI Planning meeting in El Paso on March 13th. They contributed to discussions on such issues as air pollution and water problems. Fran Sage also sent a statement of concern on how long it is taking to get any results of the BRAVO study and urged attention to the problem. It is possible that the Border XXI planning discussions will come to Alpine later this year, perhaps late summer. We will keep you informed if scheduled by EPA.

Eve Trook attended the "Water and the Future of Rural Texas" on March 30th in Austin. She will update us at a later date.

Executive Committee Meeting: Big Bend Regional Sierra Club ExCom will meet April 26th from 1:30 - 4 PM in the Board Room of the West Texas National Bank in Alpine. Any member is welcome to attend.

Contributions and pledges for March totaled $95. Thanks to Joel Gormley and Bennye Meredith for their contributions. In addition we received $6 in donations at our last meeting. The total for the year to date is $704.

BREWSTER COUNTY HEALTH STUDY

On March 19th, Fran Sage met with Dr. Miguel Escobedo, head of the Texas Department of Health (TDH) Regions 9 & 10, and staff . Dr. Escobedo went over the results of the survey conducted in Alpine and South Brewster County in the summer 1999 as well as demographic information on the area. After discussion, Dr. Escobedo said that the TDH would get private well testing in the Terlingua area and would survey health providers in the areas on asthma. The last two items may be published separately from the Survey data. Ambient air quality issues and overall health status and the availability of quality health care in each community were identified as the major issues. While the study reviews existing information on air quality visibility issues, it did not go beyond them except in the self-reported issues from the survey. The need to talk about air pollution and health needed further work and hence the health survey of medical providers. The main body of the study should be out in the next few months.

Respondents identified what they considered the most important health problem. Following are the answers starting with the highest number of responses: few doctors; alcoholism; cancer; allergies; few specialists; air pollution; diabetes; hospital; drug abuse, pulmonary/respiratory lung problems; water; heart, expensive cost of medicine/doctors; no preventative illness programs; distance to medical providers; asthma; lack of health awareness education. When the final report is out, more information will be provided.

UNITED STATES-MEXICO BORDER HEALTH COMMISSION

The Commission is a newly functioning binational organization created in July 2000 by an agreement signed by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Mexican Secretary of Health. Its first meeting was held November 27, 2000 in El Paso. Its mission is "To provide international leadership to optimize health and quality of life along the U. S. - Mexico Border. The Commission members are 26 individuals. Each section, one for the U. S. and one for Mexico, has 13 members. The chair of each section is the Secretary of Health of the respective country. In addition, the four border states in the U. S. and the six border states in Mexico make up the remainder of members. The chief state health officer from both countries is a statutory member of the Commission and the remaining state members from each state are leading community persons nominated by the respective state Governor, and appointed by the respective president of each country. One of the Commission's activities is identifying and promoting model programs and best practices that are working in various border communities. Other communities can then learn from these experiences and adopt and enrich these models as they apply them in their own communities. Health promotion and disease prevention will be important activities. Although their website is being updated, you may want to check it out at www.borderhealth.gov.


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