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BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB Newsletter

Issue 68
December 1, 2002


CHRISTMAS PARTY TIME

All members and guests are invited to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Christmas Party, December 17th, at 7 p.m. in room 309 Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross State University in Alpine. While Don Dowdey will have materials from and answer questions on the Legislative Workshop he attended in November in Austin, the main point of the evening will be good fellowship. Please come, bring a friend, and bring some sort of food or beverage contribution. We will put it all together for a good time. Given the prospects in the new year for environmental damage and the state budget shortfall, it may be our last chance for a while to get together in good cheer!

Upcoming programs: As always, there will be no meeting in January. The first 2003 meeting will be February 18. Program arrangements are not yet complete for spring.

THE RED RACER
Jim Sage

Just outside from my backdoor, I built a small, circular flower garden. I covered the garden with mesh netting, not to keep the birds away, but because my cat looks upon it as her personal litter box. Late last summer I looked out and there was a red racer snake about five feet long lying along the edge of the flower garden with his head raised in the air. I watched for a few minutes and he seemed absolutely frozen in this position. This was so unusual that I went out to see why he didn't move and found he was tightly enmeshed in the netting. I got the scissors and he was so firmly wrapped in the netting that I had a difficult time getting the scissors under the webbing without cutting the snake. I kept an eye on his raised head as the snake will strike quickly, often at the face or body, but he never moved until I had severed the last piece of netting and then he was gone like a racer out of the starting blocks.

I have known about the red racer since the early eighties when I saw one crossing the highway in Big Bend National Park. I did not know, however, that the red racer is actually a Western Coachwhip and is not red in most of his range. Only in West Texas has he adapted the red coloration. One herpetologist that I read states that west of the Pecos the snake has adapted its color to blend with the reddish rhyolite rock.

Alan Tenant in A Field Guide to Texas Snakes (Houston: Gulf Publishing Co.) says that the racer is one of the most numerous large terrestrial serpents in its range. The racer is quite common on the South Double Diamond. All of the racers that I have encountered are about five feet in length but the record is six foot, eight inches. Two other characteristics of the red racer are its crosshatch patterns on the tail, which look somewhat like a braided whip, and its ability to function out in the sun on the hottest summer day. Most snakes will die if exposed for any length of time to the midday summer sun, but the racer has a distinct advantage being able to hunt when the lizards are out. Of course, hunting during the day also exposes the snake to the predation of hawks and other carnivorous birds.

We have in addition to the Western Diamondback a number of other snakes on the South Double Diamond, but it is always a genuine pleasure to meet the beautiful, non-venomous red racer as he slithers rapidly along at four miles per hour, a fast walking pace even for a human being.

CHAIR'S COLUMN: WIND POWER, PART II
Don Dowdey

As I concluded in last month's column, based on the Renewable Resources: The New Texas Energy Powerhouse report from Public Citizen and the SEED Coalition, Texas' nationally and internationally recognized policy of combining required targets for renewable energy with tradable Renewable Energy Credits has been the driver behind the tremendous growth of wind farms in West Texas. While some policymakers argue we should just let the market work to develop renewable energy, the Texas experiment shows that a renewable portfolio standard can be much more effective than relying solely on the market. Indeed, only 233 megawatts of renewable energy have been sold through the voluntary green power markets, but 912 megawatts have been built as a result of the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard.

It is also important to note that wind power in Texas has generated jobs throughout the state. For example, Trinity Structural Towers, in the DFW area, is the nation's leading manufacturer of wind industry towers and has hired as many as 310 workers, and the Port of Houston handled nearly $1 billion worth of wind equipment in 2001.

But for this success to continue, Texas needs to think about ways to expand its promising start in the renewable energy field. For example, setting a ten percent target for renewables by 2020 is an achievable goal that would require fewer new windfarms to be built annually than was done in 2001. This would create over 17,000 direct and indirect jobs, $216 million in local taxes, and $1.4 billion worth of energy. And this target is not unreasonable - California recently set a goal of 20%, and several European countries have set targets of 10% or more. One way Texas can take advantage of this growing demand for clean energy is to develop a statewide comprehensive greenhouse gas and emissions reduction registry. The registry is an important piece for traders to have to fully verify emissions reductions as well as make new investment decisions.

Also, Texas has a transmission line problem. In McCamey, only about 50% of the currently produced wind power can be transmitted. To address this, we need a Statewide Wind Transmission Plan that anticipates development of these resources and times the construction to match the startup of renewable plants.

Texans should make sure young people get the training and education opportunities they need to enter this field. Employment candidates with background in mechanics, hydraulics, electronics, and computer maintenance will have advantages in the hiring process for the renewable energy industry. Much as Texas universities have career tracks for the oil and gas industry, the state could develop and support programs in certified wind turbine technology, renewables engineering and other curricula.

And federal policies, such as a national renewable standard, approved by the Senate last session, and a long term extension of the Production Tax Credit, are also needed to help Texas be a world leader in renewable energy for the next century.

And so I've reached the end of a column, without even mentioning any of the environmental benefits of wind energy. If you want more, the report is available online at: http://www.citizen.org/cmep/energy_enviro_nuclear/electricity/renewables

GALLEGO DISCUSSES STATE BUDGET SHORTFALL
Fran Sage and Linda Hedges

Photograph by Alpine Observer

In a wide-ranging discussion, Representative Pete Gallego, speaking at the November 19th meeting of BBRSC, laid out his assessment of the upcoming Texas legislative session. He discussed the new political dynamic of the makeup of the House and its implications, the budget shortfall and its consequences, other issues, and answers to questions on specific issues, particularly environmental issues.

Political Dynamic

For the first time since Reconstruction, the Texas Legislature and top elected officials are all Republicans. The Republicans now control the house with an 88-62 majority and have increased their majority in the Senate. With a Republican governor, Lt. Governor (exerts major power in the Senate) and now a likely Republican Speaker of the House, the Republicans are firmly in control. With the new speaker, almost certainly Rep. Tom Craddick-R of Midland replacing Pete Laney-D of Hale City, we can expect leadership changes for Committee chairs. While we do not know who will head the committees, the familiar faces will probably be gone. [What is not clear if whether some bipartisanship will continue. It may be more partisan, though the Speaker's race has even divided some Republicans against each other. Ed.]

Gallego stuck with Laney all the way, but expects still to be a fairly major player, serving on Appropriations, on the Sunset Commission, and through the Mexican-American Caucus. Gallego has 12 years of legislative experience.

He mentioned that along with the new leadership there are 33 new members as well as new heads of a number of state agencies (e.g. Texas Commission for Environmental Quality [TCEQ, formerly TNRCC], Texas Department of Transportation [TxDOT], Health and Human Services Commission, and the Commissioner of Health). Gallego said, "A fascinating time to be in government."

Budget Shortfall

The projected $8 billion plus state budget shortfall overrides all other legislative concerns, impacting all areas of state funding. Gallego pointed out that the $8 billion would be needed just to maintain current funding levels and not include any new programs. [A recent NY Times article, reporting on the National Governor's Association's meeting, points out that the budget crises are national, and the worst since the end of WWII- Ed.]. Gallego reminded us that much of state funding is already earmarked, about 80%, leaving few places to make cuts. He said the Governor is expected to ask all state agencies to make a 7% cut.

Gallego said revenues are down, expenses up, and Republicans are committed to no new taxes. The challenge will be finding a consensus on where to cut. In response, Gallego has organized a group of Democrats to oppose budget cuts related to programs for children, Medicare/Medicaid, education, and infrastructure along the border. He said he supports no new taxes. Texas could impose a franchise tax on corporations, but there is no tax on limited liability corporations. For example, Southwestern Bell is registered as a limited liability corporation and the state looses million in tax dollars. This loophole should be closed. He supports raising the cigarette tax to support public health programs. Gallego said his intent will be to re-establish budget priorities. Education is a huge priority. He asks, "Where is there a problem out there that cannot be solved through education?"

Other Issues

In addition to the budget shortfall, Gallego said the insurance crises (homeowners, medical, medical malpractice), campaign financing, Sunset reviews (including the Ethics Commission), and many other special interests will be on the agenda.

Environmental Issues

Gallego expects that not much environmental work will take place over the next biennium, that we may be entering a period of " environmental deregulation." In answer to specific questions:

Wind Power

1) He supports wind power but says there's a transmission problem. He said the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc. (ERCOT) is working to improve grid access.

Radioactive Waste

2) He opposes private companies holding the license for managing radioactive waste, and thus opening the state to Department of Energy (DOE) waste. He said "yes" that he is categorically opposed to radioactive waste in West Texas.

Air Quality

3) He thinks borderlands air quality issues have pretty much fallen off the table-the only issue with Mexico now relates to water.

Entrada al Pacifico

4) While Gallego believes the "trucks are coming," he said that Entrada al Pacifico is just signs now, it has never been funded and no funding is pending. Highway 67 from Marfa to Presidio will be widened-it is currently unsafe and Gallego has been working with TxDOT on at least providing climbing lanes in some areas. The Mexican economy is weak and the Mexican government has little money to invest in infrastructure. Railroad development is an important alternative to highway truck traffic; a viable rail line would significantly reduce truck traffic. Gov. Martinez of Chihuahua has made completion of the Mexican portion of the Entrada highway a priority and the highway will probably be finished during his term.

GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NP PLANNING
Marilyn Brady

The Guadalupe Mountain National Park has issued three planning drafts outlining the future of the Park. Despite pressure from Carlsbad businesses, none of the alternatives includes roads into the high country, which would break up the wilderness area already established there. We need to express our gratitude to the Superintendent for this.

One of the alternatives is to make no major changes. The second is to expand and enhance wilderness in the Park. The third is to expand day-use options for visitors to have a "wilderness experience" of the mountains without climbing into the high country--assuming that is not a contradiction in terms.

The second option best reflects an appreciation of the unique Guadalupe Mountains natural resources and is in closest accord with the traditional goals of the Sierra Club.

Please write and thank the superintendent for preserving the wilderness in all the plans and comment on the alternatives presented. Those who would sacrifice the fragile environment of this mountain island will be continuing to push for a road crossing the mountains.

Letters should be sent to Superintendent, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, HC 60. Box 400, Salt Flat, Texas 79847-9400 or email gumo_Superintendent@nps.gov.

REGIONAL HAZE IMPERILS ASTRONOMICAL RESEARCH
Barbara Novovitch

From the Marathon Gazette

ALPINE - Regional haze, the culprit blamed for reducing daytime visibility in the Big Bend to levels as low as 10 miles at its worst, is now in danger of reducing scientific research at McDonald Observatory, astronomer Matthew Shetrone told a recent meeting of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club.

Shetrone, who has compiled preliminary data for more than a year on how haze affects visibility and light in the nighttime skies over Mount Locke near Fort Davis, said his research indicates regional haze can reduce by half the reflective power of the world's third largest telescope, the Hobby-Eberley Telescope, which is the observatory's pride instrument.

Shetrone, who is in charge of science operations at the HET, said that despite McDonald's location under the darkest nighttime skies in the continental United States, the observatory's ability to collect light and color spectrum analysis from the stars - which is what McDonald astronomers do - has been diminished by a factor of two.

The effects of regional haze on astronomy appear to be worst at McDonald when carried to the Davis Mountains site by southeast winds. He said the phenomenon of haze obstructing astronomical research has not yet been studied at other observatories in the U.S.

There has been research on light pollution but astronomers had not yet been made aware of the potential for air pollution to limit scientific research in the skies, Shetrone said.

Shetrone plans to seek research from other sources and to back up his research at Fort Davis with more analyses, he said. His preliminary findings indicate that the largest and most particles captured by particle collectors at McDonald from the haze are sulfates, which he suspects come largely from sulphur gases emitted from the Carbon I and II energy plants near the Mexican-U.S. border.

He added that samples of Alpine air taken by Sandra Parks, a graduate student at SRSU, for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality seem to further validate his analyses. Parks is doing her graduate thesis on air quality.

Preliminary results from the Environmental Protection Agency's "BRAVO" study indicate that "grandfathered" power plants in East and Central Texas are also culprits.

Fran Sage, of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, said the final results of the BRAVO study on regional haze and air pollution are expected in December.

Shetrone told the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club meeting that after he gathers more data he plans a paper on the reduction of visibility for astronomical research. He hopes his analyses will stimulate action by the National Science Foundation,

"If haze reduces astronomical throughput by a factor of 1.3 to 2, it's bad!" he said. He said the NSF and other tax-supported federal agencies that support astronomy should be aware of the limitations placed on research by regional haze.

[For a discussion of a related pollution problem for astronomers , see Jim Walker's article, "Light Pollution: There's More to It Than Meets the Eye," in the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Newsletter, July 1, 2002, available on our website at http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend/ .-Ed.]

EPA REGIONAL DIRECTOR RESIGNS

We have learned that Gregg Cooke, director of the EPA Region 6 office in Dallas, has resigned, effective December 31, 2002. We do not know whom the Administration will choose to replace him. He had told us the last time EPA was in Alpine that the BRAVO study would not just be one more study to be shelved but would be used in addressing our air quality issue. That may still be true, time will tell, but the attacks upon environmental regulations by the Bush Administration makes one nervous that BRAVO recommendations will not be as compelling as we would hope. Stay tuned.
Fran Sage

SIERRA CLUB NEWS

Contributions: As of November 28th we have received $94.53 in donations and pledges. Thanks to Jeanette Scott, Carolyn and Jack Singley, and Fran Sage for donations and to our pledgers. That brings our year to date total to $1090.87.

New Members: Following are persons who already belong to Sierra Club but who are new in the last 12 months to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. (It turns out gathering that data was no problem for Lue. I was the one who thought it couldn't be done.) Donna and John Ehrke, Dr. and Mrs. J. W. Dieckert, David and Naomi Friedman, Jeanette Scott, and Peter Smyke of Alpine; Scott May and Jeanne Sinclair of Marfa, and Martha Hansen of Ft. Davis.

Calendars: We have a second shipment of calendars and would like very much to sell them. Ginny Campbell, our treasurer, is the force behind the calendar fund-raising project. Please call or e-mail her with your orders. The calendar pictures are particularly lovely this year! Ginny Campbell: (915) 386-4526 or jokeambl@overland.net . Let's make this fundraiser a success.

Welcome to Jeanne Sinclair: We are happy to report that member Jeanne Sinclair of Marfa will be taking over the newsletter formatting from Lue Hirsch. THANKS, Jeanne.

A Personal Note: I am finally through my knee replacement surgery and am recuperating at home, a very good place to be. FS

To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the Earth, to practice and promote responsible use of the Earth's ecosystems and resources, to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment, and to use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.


Don Dowdey, Chair, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830
ddowdey@wildblue.net

Fran Sage, Newsletter Editor, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX. 79831
sage@brooksdata.net


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