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BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB Newsletter

Issue 62
April 1, 2002


NAFTA, TRUCKS, AND THE GOVERNOR'S TRANSPORATION CORRIDORS

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club invites members and the public to come to its April 16th meeting at 7 PM in the Academic Computing Research Center Room 204 [the new location] to hear Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen of Texas (headquartered in Austin), talk about NAFTA, the impact of Mexican trucks upon the United States (including diesel emissions) and Governor Rick Perry's transportation corridor. (You may recall that Perry's plan proposes amongst many others, running a highway parallel to Texas 17 through the Davis Mountains.) Smitty says he'd also like to spend a few minutes talking about the federal power plant cleanup bills that are being debated in Congress-how they would impact air quality in the Trans Pecos/Big Bend area and what citizens can do to help.

Smitty hails from Illinois, graduated from Valparaiso University in northern Indiana and became a Texan by choice in 1974. Smitty is rather a "renaissance" environmentalist. He is currently state director of Public Citizen since 1985 and serves on the boards of Clean Water Action, the Texas Renewable Power Coalition, Texans for Public Justice, Campaigns for People, the Clean Energy Project and a solar energy company. Public Citizen is a consumer and environmental group active in issues concerning energy, environment, ethics and campaign finance reforms, trade agreements with Mexico and other countries, and urban sprawl. During his tenure at Public Citizen, Smitty has served on four commissions that looked at the future of the utility industry in Texas and has testified on more than 100 occasions on environmental and energy policies. He has helped pass laws requiring Texas to develop 2000 megawatts of renewable energy and creating the Texas Emissions Reductions Plan. The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club has always been grateful to its speakers, some of whom travel vast distances to speak to us. We appreciate that Smitty is due in Washington, D, C. the next day and is still willing to present his program to us.

Please attend and ask your friends to come to.

Upcoming Program: We will complete our spring program series with a talk by Dr. Barbara "Barney" Nelson on May 21st (also in the ACR 204) on Literature and the Environment. Details will be in the May newsletter.

THE UNEXPECTED PLEASURES OF MY BACKYARD BIRDING: MONTEZUMA QUAIL

By
Jim Sage

While there are a great number of reasons for enjoying living in the mountains south of Alpine, one of my special pleasures is having a family of Montezuma Quail come in twice a day for the bird seed I throw on the ground. These beautiful little birds, averaging eight to nine inches in length and weighing five to seven ounces, will come every day for months. Then one day they disappear and are gone for several months before returning.

When they are gone, they seem to have left the area, but the literature says they have a range not much over 400 yards. They are just seldom visible in the tall grass. One has almost to step on them before they explode into flight. I have even read of one hunter who suggested he be allowed to use snowshoes as a hunting tool!

In the United States the Montezuma Quail is found only in West/Central Texas and in central and southeastern New Mexico and Arizona. Bird watchers come from all over the world in hopes of sighting this elusive bird.

The quail are found in dense, tall grasses, foraging almost exclusively where the grass cover is at least one foot tall. The birds' nests are depressions scratched in the ground at the base of trees, under shrubs, or in the tall grass meadows. The depressions are lined and covered with dry grasses. The average clutch is eleven eggs and incubation takes 25 or 26 days. Young birds forage independently in only two weeks and they are fully-grown in ten to eleven weeks. Montezuma Quail are monogamous and nesting does not occur until June to late September, to coincide with summer rains, which increase plant growth and insects.

The Montezuma Quail share the feed I throw out with the scaled quail (as well as mourning doves and white-winged doves) but unlike the scaled quail who fly away at the slightest motion, the Montezuma quail are not skittish. If you are lucky enough to have this beautiful little bird make your yard its haven, and if you have the patience, you can get it to eat out of your hand.

ACTION ALERT
ENERGY BILL BEFORE THE SENATE

By Fran Sage

As I write this action alert, the U. S. Senate is in recess due to return April 8th. At least now, plans are to move immediately to conclude debate and vote on the energy bill within a few days. What has happened to the bill is that a fairly decent bill has been amended and compromised away. You may have read that the portion of the bill increasing fuel efficiency on SUVs and pickups has been removed and proposals for renewable energy have been substantially reduced. Other actions have been taken. What remains is a poor bill. While there will be an attempt to amend the bill to provide for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that is likely to fail, the only plus note in the whole depressing energy bill process. Whatever passes will then go into Conference Committee with the House. It passed a truly bad bill last year. What we are apt to get then is a bad bill and a weak bill compromised together. A no-win situation for those of us who care about the environment.

If the bill has not been restored to something environmental organizations can affirm, then the whole bill should be defeated. Please call Senator Tom Daschle, S. D. - Democrat and Majority Leader of the Senate. His number is 202/224-2321, Fax: (202) 224-7895, e-mail tom_daschle@daschle.senate.gov. (Note that it is Tom_Daschle, etc. The underline between "Tom" and "Daschle" may not show up in the copy you receive) Tell him you want a good energy bill, one that is the product of commitment to the environment and not the special interests. Tell him you are one of the many citizens in this country that want a good energy/environmental bill and not one crafted by all the special interests.

Below are what the Sierra Club regards as minimum energy legislation. It should:

  • safeguard the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and our other natural treasures,
  • reduce America's oil consumption by 1 million barrels a day,
  • guarantee that at least 10% of our electricity supplies come from renewable energy resources,
  • ensure that electricity consumers cannot be ripped off by more Enrons, and
  • reduce rather than increase pollution of our air, water and land.

While I did not see anything about nuclear plants in the SC position, you might mention that you are concerned about expanding the number of nuclear power plants.

We don't believe there is much point in contacting our Senators Gramm and Hutchison, as they support the Bush/Cheney plan. Daschle is key. If you want you might also contact Senator John Kerry, Massachusetts - Democrat (202) 224-2742 Fax: (202) 224-8524, E-Mail: john_kerry@kerry.senate.gov . He has worked in supportive ways to have a good energy bill. He has promised to filibuster to keep the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge free from drilling. He also tried to get good fuel efficiency standards (though that did not happen). Please thank him for his work and ask him to work to defeat the bill if it is not improved.

PLEASE CONTACT DASCHLE AND KERRY RIGHT AWAY. TIME IS RUNNING OUT

CELEBRATE EARTH DAY APRIL 22, 2002

Since the inauguration of Earth Day in 1970, April 22 has been a day to celebrate the earth and to commit to nourishing practices to enhance it rather than destroy it. Senator Gaylord Nelson had been active from 1962 onward in trying to bring attention to the environmental degradation taking place and the lack of attention being focussed on the issue. It was in the summer of 1969 that he had the idea to organize a huge grassroots protest over what was happening to our environment. It culminated with Earth Day 1970 and has continued since.

Perhaps we could do a few things at home to help make Earth Day 2002 meaningful. Following are some ways to conserve energy at home (Source Earth Day Network Home www.earthday.org/howto/home.stm .

Check the settings on your refrigerator. The settings should be between 38 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer between 0 and 5 degrees. If you keep it colder than necessary you will be wasting energy. Check the seals for cracks and dried-on food. Keep the condenser coils underneath the fridge clean.

Don't let your money go up in steam. Try setting your water heater on "low" - about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature is more than adequate to meet all home uses.

Are you heating the outside of your house? Insulating your home is similar to using a thermos instead of a glass jar - insulation keeps warm air warm and cool air cool. Caulking and weather stripping are a good start. Insulating your attic, walls, and crawlspaces will also make a huge difference.

Look for the Energy Star label on home appliances, office equipment, and other items. The United States EPA and the Department of Energy award the Energy Star label to products that are ahead of the curve on energy efficiency.

Use a low-flow, energy-efficient showerhead. You can save both on water and on electricity.

Recycle by proper disposal of nasty chemicals, such as paints, solvents, pesticides, wood finishers, and non-biodegradable household cleaners. If disposed of improperly, they can seep into the ground or enter the water supply.

Replace incandescent light bulbs with subcompact fluorescents. You can cut your electric bill by using the low wattage subcompact fluorescents. A 100-watt incandescent can be replaced by a 26 watt fluorescent. The cost of electricity for that bulb is 75% less. While the initial cost is higher for the fluorescent bulb, it lasts about 11 times longer; so it is not significantly more expensive over the long haul. And even better, in the lifetime of the fluorescent bulb, there will be at least 400 lbs. less of carbon dioxide emission from coal-fired electric plants. (Source is Westinghouse.) In the tri-county area such bulb are available at True Value Hardware (check with Norm) and in Ft. Stockton, Wal-Mart carries them (McCoy's does too but only in the 15 watt/60 watt incandescent equivalent.

HIGHWAY CLEANUP CREW WORKING TO FREE HIGHWAY OF LITTER

We still need volunteers for highway cleanup. Please offer to spend a Saturday morning in May to help keep our stretch of US 90 clean. Give Liz Hightower a call at 837-0100 and volunteer. More information on date and time will be available in May. But please consider making the commitment now.

WILDFLOWER HOT LINE

The Texas Department of Transportation (TDOT) will be maintaining a wildflower hot line from now through early May. Dial 1-800-452-9292 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and follow the menu choices. Persevere. Eventually you get to regional choices. It is a little early for much to be mentioned in the Trans-Pecos area but that should change as the spring progresses. If you are travelling in other parts of Texas now, you will find more extensive information.

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK WILDFLOWER WEBSITE

Although this is a poor year for flowers in the park, there are still a number blooming. Check www.nps.gov/bibe/dailyreport/flowers/flowershots.htm for current possibilities. On that site, click on photo gallery for good shots of flowers and of scenic views. Be sure to click on any picture that you want to see enlarged. (There are particularly nice photos of a mountain lion.) Also on that site click on the update link for current wildflower possibilities.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE HEALTH STUDY FOR BREWSTER COUNTY?

We did get a speedy response on our open records request from the Texas Department of Public Health. Mary Bell Lockhart and Fran Sage are looking at the materials sent and will report in the next newsletter. It would seem, however, that we are some time away from this much needed health study 's final report. We'll keep you posted.

HEALTH NOTES FROM THE NEWS

In case you missed it there is news on lung cancer and fine particulate matter. The NYTimes for March 6, 2002 reports that "Prolonged exposure to air tainted with tiny soot particles significantly raises the risk of dying of lung cancer or other lung and heart diseases" The information came from a new study of 500,000 people in 116 American cities as discussed in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

There is also news from the March Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in a report prepared by Harvard University researchers. The study discusses the side effects of carbon dioxide. More allergens of ragweed were produced when more carbon dioxide is in the air. So those of us that suffer from allergies can expect even more if we don't reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The story was reported in UniSci for 3-21-02.

ANTARCTIC ICE SHEET COLLAPSES--MORE LIKELY TO COME

The AP wire carries a story datelined March 25th saying that the ice shelves in Antarctica have more trouble coming. You may recall that the Larsen B Ice Shelf (the size of Rhode Island) collapsed recently and with a speed that surprised climate scientists. Now another report out of New Zealand quotes Tim Naish, a senior researcher at the government-owned Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, as saying that more collapses would have "a dramatic effect on global climate" by disrupting ocean currents. Ted Scambos of the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the U. of Colorado believes that other ice shelves are closer to collapse than previously thought. There are fears that the Ross Ice Shelf, which is as large as France, is in trouble. Naish says that even a partial collapse would have major effects upon ocean circulation and climate.

As I [Fran Sage] think about such information, I think about the people who believe that global warming has not been proven and that we should wait to act until it is. Although a majority of the world's scientists believe that global warming is underway, absolute proof is not in. But it seems to me we must act before all evidence is in. By the time coastal cities are going under water, it will be too late. It seems prudent to reduce greenhouse gasses now on the likelihood of global warming and not wait until it is too late to act.

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB ADDITION TO ITS WEBSITE
See the Nuclear slide show prepared by Erin Rogers

Below is a report on the information given us by Erin Rogers, Lone Star Chapter Grassroots Outreach staff. But first let me report to you that thanks to Erin for the power point slides and Bob Patterson, our webmaster, you can now click on our site, www.texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend/nukes.html and then click on nuclear slide show on the menu and see the graphics presentation. There is also an accompanying text, which must be read line by line but has much additional useful information.

Following are some of the main points that Erin made.

  • What is the nature of nuclear waste? As uranium fuel rods undergo fission to produce nuclear energy, radioactive byproducts in the form of new elements are produced. These byproducts can be radioactive for centuries or even millennia: for example, plutonium is radioactive for 25,000 years, nickel-59 for 1 million years and iodine-129 for 320 million years. Low-level radioactive waste contains these elements, but in lower concentrations than high level nuclear waste (spent uranium fuel rods). Exposure to even minute amounts of radioactive waste can cause genetic mutation, cell damage, and cancer in humans.

  • There are currently 103 nuclear power plants whose reactor waste goes into only two existing dumps in Utah and South Carolina, resulting in a tremendous bottleneck at the waste end of the production cycle. The Bush/Cheney energy plan calls for recommissioning 100 existing nuclear power plants and construction of 50 new plants by 2040, a plan that will put even more pressure on the system unless more nuclear waste dump sites are built. New dumpsites equal new plants.

  • The Bush/Cheney energy plan funnels billions of dollars in perks to the nuclear industry, promises taxpayer bailout for accident clean up over an $8-billion cap, and relaxes safety and environmental regulations.

  • There are currently 130 contaminated sites across the country resulting from nuclear weapons waste. President Bush has cut clean-up funding for these sites.

  • There are two nuclear power plants in Texas, one near Bay City and one near Ft. Worth. Waste is currently held on-site.

  • There are 40+ institutions (hospitals, industrial plants, etc.) in Texas which produce and store small amounts of nuclear waste, most of which has a very short period of radioactivity (minutes to days to weeks to months versus years to millions of years) Those facilities generate 1136 cubic feet per year as contrasted to the nuclear power plants in Texas which generate approximately 37,000 cubic feet per year.

In conclusion, Rogers offered three solutions:

  1. Support phase-out of nuclear power plants with replacement by clean, safe, renewable, affordable energy (e.g., wind power at 3 cents per kwh, or solar). Greater efficiency is a key in making this transition. We could attain 20 - 30% energy savings from increased efficiency.
  2. Stop legislation that will turn west Texas into a nuclear waste dumping ground.
  3. Advocate measures to require nuclear power plants to keep waste on site, which will help stop construction of the next generation of plants as proposed by the Bush/Cheney energy plan.

(Thanks to Linda Hedges, BBRSC secretary, for her extensive and detailed notes on the meeting.)

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB NEWS

BBRSC Executive Committee Schedules Meeting

All members are welcome to attend the upcoming ExCom meeting to be held April 25 from 1:30 to 4:30 in the Board Room of West Texas National Bank in Alpine.

Contributions

Virginia Campbell announces that the BBRSC received $198 in donations and in pledges for March. Year's contributions to date are $535.07. Thanks to Glen Perry, Joel Gormley and Thomas Reidy for their donations as well as thanks to our pledgers.

Flanders Website

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club has added a link to information on Hal Flanders. The website is http://www.texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend. Bob Patterson, webmaster formatted the tributes and put in the photo gallery. The site is now up to date.


Big Bend Regional Sierra Club
50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, Texas 79830

Officers:

Chair: Don Dowdey (see above address) (915) 837-3210
Vice-Chair: Luanne Hirsch, HC 65, Box 37, Alpine, TX 79830
Secretary: Linda Hedges P. O. Box 2103, Ft. Davis, TX 79734
Treasurer: Virginia Campbell P. O. Box 474 Marathon, TX 79842


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