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February 2001 BBRSC Newsletter


Two years after he spoke to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, Mr. Tom Beard, Chair of the Far West Texas Regional Water Planning Group, will be our featured speaker at the February 20th meeting. The meeting will be held on the Sul Ross Campus in Lawrence Hall, Room 309, starting at 7 p.m. and will be open to the public. Beard will update us on the completed plan, what happens next, and the proposed water district. The Regional Planning Group was formed under the provisions of Senate Bill One from the 1997 Legislative Session, to provide the state with a water management plan for our region.

Mr. Beard, a well-known area rancher, has been on the Group since its inception and served as its chair. The Regional Group encompasses El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio, Brewster, and Terrell. (See copy in the Alpine Public Library as well as libraries in Presidio, Jeff Davis, and Terrell Counties. It was also sent to the county judges and clerks.) You may view it on the web at TexasWPG.htm.) You will need to have Adobe Acrobat to read it (which can be downloaded free at http://www.adobe.com/Acrobat/readstep.html)

Mr. Beard and Judge Val Beard have also been involved with the development of a legislative bill to create a Brewster County water district, filed by Representative Pete Gallego, HB 787, which can be viewed at www.house.state.tx.us/ (and then click your way through the links to HB787). Last session Senator J. E. "Buster" Brown, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, pulled a number of water district bills, including the one Gallego had filed for Brewster County. Word from Austin is this session may see a repeat. In order to be prepared in case that happens, the Beards have drawn up two petitions to the TNRCC. In order for a> permit to be approved by TNRCC for a Water Conservation District, there must be a Groundwater Management Area (GMA). The two petitions are for the GMA and for a Water Conservation District. Tom Beard explained in a recent guest opinion in the Alpine Observer that "What is known is that a water district gives us another tool because the regional water plan has to be in compliance with the plans of all water districts within the region." Both Jeff Davis County and Presidio County have water districts as well as Terrell County. Beard said he will take petitions when he speaks to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. Or anyone wanting to read the petitions and/or sign them can go to Judge Val Beard's office.

March 20th Meeting will feature Texas Parks and Wildlife Conservation Biologist Jackie Poole of Austin speaking on "Seldom Seen Plants of West Texas." Details in the March newsletter.


SC member Aggie Hambly says that the word from her daughter Kathy at Big Bend National Park is that this year should be a wonderful year for the Big Bend Bluebonnets. Kathy says that she can't guarantee them but that the bluebonnets should be coming out full force about the time members receive this newsletter. Thanks to Aggie and Kathy for a piece of good news. See you all in the Park.


In conversation with Dr. Miguel Escobedo, Director of Region 9 & 10 of the Texas Department of Health (TDH), Fran Sage learned that the health study prepared by TDH is virtually complete. Sage had seen a copy of the survey results in December and had responded by asking that the study include interpretation of the results and include recommendations based upon more than the survey, including interviews with health professionals in the area.

Dr. Escobedo said he would like to meet with Sage in Alpine toward the end of February or early March to discuss the study. He also is willing to meet with Ramon Alvarez of Environmental Defense in Austin if Alvarez can not come to Alpine. (Alvarez was present and contributed to the initial meeting with TDH in August 1998 and contributed to the response to the draft study last December.) Sage will brief the membership after her meeting with Escobedo.


Rumors are still circulating on the threat to sell off Big Bend Ranch State Park and we expect, if they translate into anything real, we will need to mobilize to fight such a proposal. The Lone Star Chapter's state office will keep us posted as the legislative session continues.


Entitled "The Changing Law of Water Rights in Texas", the continuing education workshop for lawyers sponsored by the State Bar of Texas will be at the Joe Thompson Conference Center in Austin April 26-27, offering sessions on Texas surface and groundwater law. The latter includes discussions on rules of capture, ground water districts, and the role of the Texas Water Development Board. This is a video repeat of a February 1-2 Conference in San Antonio. In addition there will be a session on conveyance and marketing of water. Eve Trook, member of BBRSC's water committee will be attending as part of updating her law license. It may be possible for non-lawyers who do not need credit to attend. They would need to request permission to attend with a fee ($350) waiver. For more information, one may call 1-800-204-2222 x 1574. Mention interest in the Water Law Conference.


It's now official. Both Envirocare of Texas and Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in separate announcements say that Envirocare of Texas is pulling out of Texas right away. While it may have been part of a settlement of a lawsuit by WCS against Envirocare (that has not been revealed), the work of Friends of Ward County has, no doubt, helped make the decision. They, and all others who fought Envirocare's attempt to build a low-level radioactive waste site in Ward County, are to be congratulated. I am sure they and the rest of us can breathe a sigh of relief. That is the good news. But the bad news came in Envirocare's January 31st letter to the Texas Department of Health and the TNRCC, withdrawing the requests for permits. The letter also reports that that Envirocare has sold its facility site in Andrews County and the right to purchase such lands in Ward/Loving counties to Waste Control Specialists. (Emphasis added.) So the news is mixed news. Ward County is still not free of the threat though it has certainly been reduced.

It remains to be seen what moves Waste Control Specialists will make in Andrews and in Ward County. One ominous note in the Monahans News, February 1st, Envirocare's owner and founder Khosrow B. Semnani said they will still be 'working and doing business' with Texas. Waste Control Specialists is now free to pump all their efforts into getting a facility in Andrews County, and acquiring a license.

Senator J. E. "Buster" Brown, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, carried the bill for the private radioactive waste companies last legislative session. According to Erin Rogers Harold Simmons, the owner of Waste Control Specialists (WCS) has been the top campaign donor to Brown. That company currently operates a hazardous waste dumpsite and radioactive waste processing and storage facility near the New Mexican border in Andrews County. Rogers and Oliver say that WCS has spent millions of dollars trying to force Texas and the United States Department of Energy (DOE) to allow it to open a national nuclear dump there. In addition to Brown, Senator Robert Duncan of Lubbock, Vice-Chair of the Committee, is expected to file a privatization bill and to rewrite the law on a number of regulatory statutes. He supposedly said that many of us would not like the bill. In the House, Gary Walker of Plains (of the district that includes Andrews) I expected to file a bill putting a box around Andrews. Remember Sierra Blanca /Hudspeth County? The Legislature drew a box around it. So much for science.

In Hudspeth the scientific problem was potential earthquake fault lines in the area. In Andrews, it's the Ogalalla Aquifer. We can expect to hear a lot about how safe it all is. Well be prepared for action alerts. We all need to be prepared to fight this one. Don't let anyone tell you we suffer from the NIMBY (not in my backyard) syndrome. Remember no one will entertain siting the waste near the power plants that generate the great bulk of it. It has not even been studied. Ask yourself who has it now in their backyard and wants to ship it elsewhere.


Some good news possible on this front. Many legislators are conceding the failure of the voluntary pollution reduction program. While nothing is certain, there is more and more talk about doing away with the program and bringing the remaining grandfathered plants under regulations. It is useful to remember that when talking about grandfathered plants in the voluntary program we are not talking about power plants per se. The deregulation bill of the last session mandated that the power plants must reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions 50 percent and their sulfur dioxide emissions 25 percent by 2003. (Sulfur dioxide is the one out here causing air visibility problems.) The other polluting plants may not produce power but they do produce pollution. Bill Dawson, environmental reporter for the Houston Chronicle, quotes Ken Kramer, state director of the Sierra Club, as saying "The chances are really very good. . . . It's not a slam-dunk but signs are increasingly good for the Legislature to end the loophole." One reason for the turnaround is that the voluntary program is not working. Dawson says that only one major grandfathered facility has obtained a voluntary permit.

He says that 42 applications are pending, and that 166 facilities have pledged to apply by the Sept 1st deadline. There are 550 others whose intentions are not know. Time will tell whether lawmakers this time face up to the regulatory need.

Mexican Environmental Secretariat: In January 23 Borderlines UPDATER, Talli Nauman writes an article on Victor Lictinger taking over as the new Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources under the administration of Mexican president Vincente Fox. She says that he is promising to pay special attention to United States- Mexican border issues, bolster NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), and support Mexico's participation in other international conservation efforts. But she outlines the difficulties of doing so in the article. Those interested should check out www.irc-online.org/bios/ and then click on updaterezine.


Last session a rider in the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission's (TNRCC) appropriation required plan be sent to the Legislature outlining its plan to reduce air pollution in the Big Bend region. Unfortunately the TNRCC will await results of the BRAVO study before developing that plan. Those study results keep being pushed further away and are now projected for summer of 2002. Thanks to Representative Gallego for attempting to get some action on the problem but so far everyone is just waiting. Perhaps if the voluntary program is done away with, the grandfathered plants will have to move on reducing emissions and something will be done in spite of the TNRCC delays and the ever delayed BRAVO study of the EPA.


by Liz Hightower

While Susan Curry and I were attending the Sierra Club legislative workshop in November, I participated in three of the sessions: Water Supply & Management, Air Pollution, and Funding Environmental Programs.

During the "water" session Ronald Gertson, a rice farmer from Wharton County, described how he and 28 other farmers, lawyers, industrialists and environmentalists worked together to plan management of Texas groundwater. Funded by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB), the committee recognized that any management plan is constrained by groundwater law, the workings of groundwater districts and by attempts to define the groundwater problem. During the committee meetings from May through August 2000, six issues were studied and received statutory or policy recommendations. These six issues are the rule of capture, groundwater district boundaries, well exemptions, export limitations, export fees and regulatory takings. For a complete copy of the group's recommendations visit the TWDB website at: www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/newsletters/ConsensusDraft/NoticeAgenda.ht m

In the discussion of Texas air pollution problems, George Smith, Air Quality Chair (SC/LSC), and Mark MacLeod, Special Projects Director, Environmental Defense, presented an analysis of the TNRCC's report on the success of SB766, 76th Legislature, 1999. SB766 set up an alternative voluntary permitting program for non-utility facilities built before 1970. The analysis of TNRCC's own data shows that SB766 has not produced enough emission reductions to benefit public health or the environment. Actual emission reductions attributed to un-mandated facilities which were permitted after SB766 became effective represent less that 1% of the grandfathered emissions from non-utility sources. Furthermore, only 5% of these grandfathered facilities have been motivated by SB766 to receive a permit for all of their grandfathered emissions. In other words, TNRCC's information for the 77th Legislature admits failure, yet doesn't tell the whole truth about the results of SB766. You can read TNRCC's information at www.tnrcc.state.tx.us/grandfathered/scorecard/766score.htm

The House Research Organization, TX House of Representatives, has published a focus report, "Clean Air: Texas' Response to Federal Mandates" which can be read at www.capitol.state.tx.us/hrofr/hrofr.htm

Mary Kelly, Executive Director of Texas Center for Policy Studies (TCPS), and Cyrus Reed, Project Director of TCPS, discussed a paper prepared by TCPS, "Adequately Funding State Environmental Protection Programs . . . ." The report recommends changing the fee structure in three areas-air, water and wastewater-so that fees are more equitable and more money is raised to fund regulatory, permitting and inspection programs. Caps on all fees would be removed, and the $/ton for air emissions would be lowered. A simple flat rate fee for Public Water Systems would replace the current complicated formula. Alpine probably would benefit from these changes, as it now pays $0.96 for each drinking water connection, compared to Houston's $0.09. Likewise, all changes should benefit the business or utility that uses or pollutes less. To read more on this Pollute Less, Pay Less System, check www.texascenter.org/feeproj If any cited document is no longer available on the WWW, I can photocopy it for you.


Be on the alert. The push is on to open up the last pristine land in the arctic, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil exploration and drilling. Do not be fooled by arguments that we can decrease our dependence on foreign oil or that somehow California will be helped. We'll have more on that in the coming issues. But remember that the desire to open up the Refuge has been there for over 20 years, and the current effort represents the most serious threat in years.


A piece of good news. The Air Force announced, two days before the change of administration that it will not turn over Homestead Air Force Base in Florida (within several miles of the Everglades and Biscayne Bay National Parks) for use as a commercial airport. Instead, the Air Force turned it over to Miami-Dade County to develop a commercial plan within 90 days (but not an airport) or it would revert to the Department of the Interior. A lawsuit has been filed to try to change that decision. We will all need to be vigilant in the coming days.


At its first meeting, January 25th, the Executive Committee elected Don Dowdey, chair; Fran Sage, vice-chair; Jim Walker, Secretary; and Virginia Campbell, Treasurer. The ExCom meeting calendar was set for April 26th, July 26th, and October 25th, the fourth Thursdays in those months. Time and location will be set later. In other business the Committee adopted a budget for 2001 of $2400, including a travel budget to provide two trips to the legislature as well as some attendance at the Lone Star Chapter's Executive Committee Meetings. Money will be raised through donations, pledges, calendar sales, and a fundraiser.

Dowdey takes over the chair position from Sage who has served as chair since the founding of the BBRSC in 1996. Dowdey is starting his third year on the ExCom and is a long-time Sierra Club member, active in environmental issues. He announced the formation of a Water Committee, chaired by Liz Hightower with members Brian McMurray and Eve Trook.


All of us extend our sympathies to Virginia (BBRSC Treasurer) and Joe > Campbell upon the loss of Virginia's son Mathew Todd Coleman on December 27, 2000, when he was struck by a truck while walking near his home in Knippa,> Texas. Mathew was a special education teacher at Uvalde Junior High School.

In his memory, Joe and Virginia have created the Mathew Todd Coleman Scholarship Fund at Sul Ross State University. Anyone wishing may send a contribution to the Fund at the Office of Development, Box C114, Alpine, TX 79832, Attn.: Leo Dominguez.


Legislative Lobby Days

See enclosed flyer for information on February 25-26 lobby day in Austin. All are welcome-both Sierra Club members and others interested in environmental issues.

Leadership Conference

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club will hold Network 2001, its annual Leadership Conference, on March 24th in Austin. It is an all day affair, culminating in the awards dinner. Last year, Jim and Fran Sage, Don Dowdey, and Marilyn Brady attended. Anyone interested in attending should get in touch with Fran Sage (sage@brooksdata.net) or (915) 364-2362 (a local call from Alpine). Aileen Truax of the state office says there may be financial help available. Next month's newsletter will have more details.

Contributions: December pledges and contributions totaled $35. Thanks to Bob Patterson for his contribution. The 2000 total was for pledges and donations was $1279. Thanks to Bob Patterson. January's pledges and contribution come to $415. Thanks to John and Brenda Bell, Tom Beard, and Lanelle Turner.

Web Sites for Multiple Use: You can access the Texas legislative process and have access to all state agencies by going to www.state.tx.us/Government/. You can also do the same for the federal government by going to www.firstgov.gov/.


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