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December 3, 2001 BBRSC Newsletter

Issue 59


The public is invited to hear Jim Glendinning present a travel/nature program on Copper Canyon in Northern Chihuahua, Mexico, sponsored by the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club at its December 18th meeting. The program will be at 7 p.m. in Room 309, Lawrence Hall on the Sul Ross State University campus.

Copper Canyon is one of the great scenic wonders in North America. It is another world in the heart of the Sierra Madres. According to the Mexican tourist bureau, the canyon system is four times larger than the Grand Canyon in Arizona and four of the six canyons are deeper. It is one of Mexico's finest attractions. In addition to the scenic beauty, another attraction is the Indian culture of the Tarahumara Indians.

Jim recently returned from leading two tours there and will show some slides from those trips. He first visited the Copper Canyon in 1987 on the "chicken train," the name for the second class train which travels the route. Since then, he has traveled through the canyon and to the bottom of it on various occasions, and in various ways, from deluxe to backpacker-style.

Jim is the author of several travel books, including Mexico: Unofficial Border Crossings from the Big Bend & Copper Canyon (Alpine Press, 2000) and his earlier From Big Bend to Carlsbad (Texas A & M University Press, 1995). He is also a seasoned traveler and tour guide and is prepared to answer questions on travel options in Copper Canyon as well as accommodations.

The meeting will also honor retiring Executive Committee members John Bell, Susan Curry, Fran Sage, and Jim Walker. The evening will conclude with a Christmas Party. Any refreshment contributions would be welcome. Please contact Marilyn Brady for more information. 837-3210.

Upcoming Programs: The next scheduled program will be February 19th and will feature John Karges, a well-known naturalist in West Texas, and a biologist for the Nature Conservancy. His program is entitled "Natural West Texas." The tentative March program will feature Erin Rogers, staff from the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, updating us on water and radioactive waste issues.


Don Dowdey

BART Update

While the regulatory wheels turn slowly on this issue, they do continue to turn. The proposal currently favored by the Bush administration is designed to help states implement a 1999 rule on controlling the haze that impairs visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas. It would provide guidance to states in setting best available retrofit technology (BART) requirements at older power plants and other major pollution sources to comply with regional haze standards. It also would help states decide which facilities need to impose controls. According to EPA, existing technology can reduce haze-forming emissions, such as sulfur dioxide, by 90 percent to 95 percent.

At the BRAVO hearing in Alpine in October, the contribution of sulfur dioxide to visibility impairment at Big Bend was made clear. This BART process is the only national effort to improve visibility in national parks. In written comments on the proposed rules, electric utilities submitted comments to the EPA questioning the legality of proposed guidelines for controlling regional haze in national parks. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents electric utilities, said the guidelines conflict with the Clean Air Act because they would impose federally dictated technology on utilities to reduce haze-causing sulfur dioxide emissions. According to Edison, the Clean Air Act calls for states, not the EPA, to determine which sources contribute to haze problems and what technology the source should use to reduce emissions.

In response, a coalition of 155 national and state environmental groups, including the National Environmental Trust, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, countered that the guidelines are "a crucial step" toward ensuring clean air. The environmental groups said EPA should make the proposed guidelines final and require power plants that say they cannot meet them to commit to "shutting down by a date certain."

In another response to the power plant's position, the state of Indiana Department of Environmental Management submitted comments in support of the BART proposal, saying "Indiana supports this proposal as an important element of a program to reduce emissions that not only contribute to visibility impairment in natural areas, but also affect the health of our citizens." Significantly, they claimed "The proposed guidelines are a step in the right direction, but do not go far enough." In fact, Indiana urged the EPA to perform an analysis of the 26 source categories covered under the proposal and to establish a presumptive BART determination for each category.

A recommendation

I've found an online environmental newsletter called DAILY GRIST to be very useful. Based on GRIST Magazine, a project of the Earth Day Network, their motto is: "Gloom and doom with a sense of humor. Impossible, you say? Nah. Visit GRIST MAGAZINE, a beacon in the smog". A recent article reminded me of Hal Flander's interests in Monarch Butterflies. While 60 percent of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico has disappeared in the last few decades due to logging, Mexican officials say they are getting serious about protecting the reserve. Two sting operations this year, in which authorities seized some 300 truckloads of illegally logged wood, were so successful that the government decided to make the official presence permanent. Not the kind of news you get in the mainstream press.

Visit their web site at http://www.gristmagazine.com


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, is working to format the tributes and put in the photo gallery. How to complete a useable website on Hal is more complex than anticipated. But please check it out. We hope to have it completed soon. DONATIONS FOR THE HAL FLANDERS MEMORIAL

In addition, the family has asked that anyone wishing to make memorial donations may send them to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club % Virginia Campbell, Treasurer, P. O. Box 474, Marathon, TX 79842, or to the Unitarian/Universalist Service Committee, 130 Prospect St., Cambridge, MA 02139-1845. Below is a list of contributors to date. FLANDERS MEMORIAL FUND DONERS

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club thanks the following persons for their contributions.

Ruth Albright
Victoria Bannister
Val & Tom Beard
Susan Berry-Fox
Joe & Ginny Campbell
Betty & Billy Cowell
Elaine & Hal Craig
Susan & Tom Curry
Robert Bruce & Ramona Flander
Col. R. C. & Precia Flanders
George and Martha Floro
Pam Gaddis
David M. & Maureen Garner
Juda A Garner . & Kenneth D. Konrad
Barbara Hazlewood
Richard H. & Kristen L. Jesse
Dr. Robert & Kristine Kinucan
Valerie Naylor
Darrell S. Parsons
Fran and Jim Sage
Barbara & Jim Walker
Joan B. Whayne
Geth Osborn White


Following is a report from Erin Rogers on the pro-nuclear power conference held at Texas A & M University. PLEASE READ THIS. WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT WE ARE FACING.

Summary of "America's Energy Challenge: The Nuclear Answer"

The conference on November 19 at the Bush Presidential Conference Center at A&M marked the 40th anniversary of A&M's Nuclear Engineering Department (the largest in the US). It also marked a sickening height of cooperation between members of Congress, the regulatory agencies (NRC and DOE), and the nuclear industry in the common goal of getting a new generation of nuclear power plants built and operating by 2020-a "nuclear renaissance." All speakers referred to nuclear power as green power--the environmental choice--and the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels.

About 10 wonderful people from Bryan/College Station came out to join 5 of us from Dallas and Austin to hand out information and protest the conference. We stood outside before hand and handed out our flyers. We then went inside to ask question and listen to the presentations.

According to Bill Magwood of the DOE (previously of Westinghouse), the DOE's goal is to get all of the existing 103 power plants relicensed by 2010, and 50 new plants built and on-line by 2020 (enough to generate 25% of the nation's power). He would like to see HALF the nation's power come from nukes by 2050. They wrote up a charter called "Generation IV" that has been signed by 8 other countries that agree to work together to develop the next generation of nuclear power plant systems.

NRC Commissioner Diaz spoke, saying that the NRC is prioritizing expediting applications for new nuclear reactors, facilitating power uprates at existing plants, and relicensing existing plants. "We must defend our way of life," he said threateningly, "not only from terrorism, but from those misguided interests that, even when well intended, could be harmful to our national interests." (Didn't mention that approximately 50% of the power plants recently tested by NRC had significant security weaknesses and in over 40 exercises mock terrorists were able to simulate sabotaging security equipment.)

Congressman Joe Barton said that he is working to make sure Congress reauthorizes the Price Anderson Act, overrides a gubernatorial veto of the proposed Yucca Mountain high level waste site, and encourage private nuclear power plants developers to submit requests to NRC to get new pebble bed power plants licensed.

Senator Domenici could not be there but his aid Pete Lyons said there are currently 14 license extension requests pending and 26 are expected within the next 2-3 years. (He did not mention that the NRC estimates that there will be 12 cancer deaths for each plant that is relicensed for 20 years.) He was satisfied with the $151 million in federal funding that went to support the nuclear industry this year, but hopes that the Bush energy bill will provide much more.

The panel was hosted by Earl Nye, the CEO of TXU (owner of the Comanche Peak nuclear plant) and also the head of the A&M Board of Regents. He told everyone (with a straight face) that if terrorists struck the country again, there is no place he'd rather be than at his nuclear power plant. He said TXU will participate in consortium to build new nuclear power plants.

Jerry Yelverton, CEO of Entergy, spoke about the shortage of nuclear engineering students, and how many in the nuclear industry would be retiring in the coming years.

Joe Colvin, CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute (the main PR front group for the industry) gave a presentation entitled "Expanding the Nuclear Energy Enterprise." His talk gives us a good view of the industry's PR message. He spoke about the need to return nukes to their "environmental roots." He said twice that they need Congress to "clear out the brush" (those pesky public participation and health and safety regulations) "and let the industry take over." (No kidding)

Nuclear Energy Institute's Vision 2020:

  • 50,000 megawatts of new nuclear power added to the grid
  • better publicity on the medical and commercial ("humanitarian") uses of radioactive isotopes, like desalination of water and creation of hydrogen for fuel cells.
  • Timeline for new plants: certified plant design, early site selection/application-early next year, decisions to order 2005 construction to operation (2 years)
Alan Walter, the head of the Nuclear Engineering Department at A&M was a gung-ho Nuclear Renaissance booster. He proudly announced the building of A&M's World Class Food Irradiation Center and proclaimed that nukes are sustainable global energy for humanitarian purposes with environmental stewardship. He said that the future market for hydrogen will be larger than the market for electricity (get to know this term now: "hydricity"). He invited folks over to his house afterwards to figure out how to start a pro-nuke grassroots movement.

Erin Rogers
Grassroots Outreach Coordinator, Lone Star Sierra Club


The complexity of nuclear power plants and waste disposal issues means all of us need to learn about a variety of issues in order to respond to actions which could impact our area and state. Much of our political action has focussed on the Texas Legislature. But some issues are national in scope, in particular the energy bill and the Price Anderson reauthorization bill (the deadline is August 2002). While most of us know about the proposals to increase the number of nuclear power plants and reauthorize existing ones, we may not be familiar with the Price Anderson legislation, which limits the liability of the nuclear power plant industry. (See also Erin Rogers' article above entitled "Nuclear Power Conference at Texas A & M University."

The Price Anderson reauthorization bill allows the nuclear industry to avoid liability for its actions (HR 2983). Michael Mariotte and Cinder Folkers of NIRS (Nuclear Information and Resource Service), a Washington D. C. based group explain: 1) The bill provides a $3.4 billion annual insurance subsidy to the nuclear power industry, a developed, mature industry, which should be able to hold its own in a supposed free-market economy. 2) Current reactors are covered by Price Anderson whether or not it is reauthorized. The only incentive for voting to extend Price Anderson coverage is for a NEW generation of INHERENTLY UNSAFE reactors such as the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, which are designed and can only function without a containment building. Because of public opposition to nuclear power, "new" reactors will most likely be built on existing reactor sites. Even Vice-President Cheney admits that without Price Anderson there would likely be no new nuclear reactors in the United States because of liability concerns. 3) Terrorist attacks on nuclear power facilities are a glaring concern in light of September 11, 2001 and a reactor with containment is an unnecessarily tempting target, no matter how well-guarded. 4) Price Anderson would cap nuclear liability at $9.5 billion while the United States government estimates a reactor accident can cost from $24 billion to $590 billion.

What is quite interesting is the manner in which Price Anderson passed the United States House of Representatives. We turn this time to a press release of November 28, 2001 by Safe Energy Communications Council on the vote. Here is what the report said: (Washington, DC) With virtually no debate, the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday passed major energy legislation crucial to the future of nuclear power. Under suspension of the rules--a legislative tactic normally used only in non-controversial situations such as naming a federal courthouse--the House passed H.R. 2983, the Price-Anderson Reauthorization Act of 2001. Avoiding personal accountability, the House passed the Act by voice vote by which the "yeas" and "nays" are not individually recorded. As a result, no amendments were allowed and debate was limited to 20 minutes per side.

For more information on the Price-Anderson Act and nuclear power and the terrorist threat, go to www.safeenergy.org or contact SECC at (202) 483-8491.

What Happens Next on the Bill? According to NIRS, the Price Anderson reauthorization is likely to be attached to the Democrats' energy bill (though there are likely to be changes from the House version). Furthermore Senate Republicans have attached Price Anderson to an energy bill of their own, and they continue to press for an early vote on it-they may try to attach it as an amendment to the Farm bill which is coming up any day. Senate Majority leader, Tom Daschle, has said clearly he doesn't want a vote on the energy bill until early next year, but it is not 100% clear he can stop the amendment approach. While it is not clear whether the issue will be undecided by the time you get this newsletter, we urge you to OPPOSE Price Anderson reauthorization and to OPPOSE any effort to attach energy legislation. Contact our Texas senators: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison - 202-224-5922, fax: 202-224-0776 email: senator@hutchison.senate.gov and Senator Phil Gramm - 202-224-2934, fax: 202-228-2856. Fran Sage or Don Dowdey will send out an alert when we receive information.

What's Missing in the Nuclear Power Discussions?

Newsletter readers should note that neither at the Texas A & M Conference or in the Price Anderson discussion do proponents discuss the waste disposal problem. There is no dump for the high level radioactive waste (such as the reactor rods). Yucca Mountain in Nevada is being pushed by the industry but the State of Nevada and anti-nuclear critics maintain it is an unsafe location. There is no alternative under consideration. All the low-level sites leak and the main one for taking waste, Barnwell in South Carolina, will no longer be taking waste from other states in the near future. That has made Texas look attractive to other states and to the federal government. The building of more reactors will create even more waste, none of it with any place to be sent. It will only make the pressure to pass legislation even greater next session.

Note also the discussion of the danger of terrorism attacks at the power plants. We read all the time in the news about efforts to secure the safety of the plants, though we are also assured they are safe, but the industry insists on limiting the liability of the industry. Furthermore, the power plants will incur even more debt, which will be passed on to us, the ratepayers. Remember the argument in 1999 about stranded costs under electricity deregulation. We all get to pay for the incurred debt. More plants might very well increase that debt.


Following is a report from Erin Rogers on the charge to the House Environmental Regulation Committee chaired by Rep. Warren Chisum. It outlines the issues that the Committee should exam during the interim period.


  1. Examine problems related to lost and stolen radioactive material, including sources abandoned downhole in drilling operations.

  2. Study the production, transportation, use and disposal of hazardous and radioactive materials that could be used in terrorist actions. Review the management and security of public drinking water systems. Review government regulations and business practices to determine whether legislation is needed to protect life and property and to detect, interdict and respond to acts of terrorism.

  3. Identify and prioritize environmental issues on the Texas-Mexico border, including air quality and solid waste.

  4. Examine the progress of programs related to vehicle inspection and maintenance and low-income repair assistance.

  5. Actively monitor agencies and programs under the committee's oversight jurisdiction, including specifically, implementation of H. B. 2912, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission Sunset Legislation, and S. B. 5, 77th Legislature, to ensure compliance with federal Clean Air Act standards and deadlines.


Ginny Campbell, treasurer, is in charge of calendar sales this year. Sales have been brisk. You can place an order directly to Ginny by calling (915) 386-4526, or sending her an e-mail at jokeambl@overland.net or dropping her a note at P. O. Box 474, Marathon, TX 79842, or you can contact the following people: Brenda Bell in Ft. Davis 426-2498, Brian Cassell in Alpine at 837-2169, or Renee Mick in Presidio on weekdays at 229-2729 or on weekends in Marfa at 729-3988. There will also be calendars at our December 18th meeting. There will be two calendars available this year: the wall calendar for $11.95 and the engagement calendar for $12.95. Either or both will make handsome gifts for Christmas as well as items for personal use and enjoyment. Calendar sales are one of several ways for the BBRSC to raise money. Sixty percent of the money from calendar sales remains with us.


Our treasurer reports that we received $168 in pledges and donations. Thanks to Glen Perry, Fred and Elaine Harmon, and refreshment donations at the November meeting. That brings the year's total to $2070. In addition, we hope to make at least $600 from our calendar sales, possibly more. We will have the money donated in Hal's memory for a special project. We are looking for someone to help us work on a fundraiser for spring. Contact Don Dowdey at (915) 837-3210.


December 15 - Ballots return due
December 18 - Election results announced

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


Chair: Don Dowdey (see above address) (915) 837-3210
Vice-Chair: Fran Sage P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX 79831 (915) 364-2362
Secretary: Jim Walker HC65 Box 14 Alpine, TX 79830
Treasurer: Virginia Campbell P. O. Box 474 Marathon, TX 79842


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