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BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB Newsletter

Issue 64
July 1, 2002


SUMMER SOCIAL SET FOR JULY 21ST

Barbara and Luc Novovitch invite all Big Bend Regional Sierra Club members and their guests to come to their home in Marathon from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 21st for a relaxed evening of visiting, eating, and music.

The plan is for a potluck dinner preceded by beer, wine, and soft drinks as well as iced tea. Jim and Fran Sage will provide wine. The BBRSC will provide tea and soft drinks, plates and utensils. Those preferring beer should bring some with them (or if anyone wishes to make a beer donation, please let Don Dowdey know at (915) 837-3210). Please bring a food contribution and bring chairs. Dinner will begin about 6 p.m. and Gary Oliver, Dan Keene, and Chris Cessae will provide music including some rousing environmental songs. The group is known as Slue-foot Sue, from Marfa. Gary plays the accordion and the guitar (though not at the same time!), Dan plays the bass and fiddle, and Chris plays the guitar and mandolin.

Directions to the Novovitches are as follows: Go through Marathon heading east through town, past the Gage and partially through Marathon to Avenue G and turn left. Go to Third Street and turn right going one more block to Avenue H (Avenue H does not go down to US 90 so be sure to turn on G), and then turn left. The Novoviches live on the Southwest corner of Avenue H and 7th Street. They have a brand new tall wooden fence around the house. Just enter the gate and you will find the party. If you get lost (and I trust that won't happen) the phone number in Marathon is (915) 386-4102. For anyone coming up from BBNP via 385, just turn left onto U. S. 90 in Marathon, go to Avenue G, turn right and then follow above directions.

CARPOOLING? Anyone who wants to carpool to the social, could go to the Sunshine House in Alpine (NE corner of Sul Ross and 4th) at 4:30 and make arrangements with anyone else that shows up.

UPCOMING PROGRAMS: While the entire fall program is not yet set for September, October, November, and December, the following programs are set-Dr. Matthew Shetrone, an astronomer at McDonald Observatory, will discuss air pollution as related to the Observatory at the October 15th meeting, and Rep. Pete Gallego will discuss legislative issues at the November 19thmeeting. We should have the complete fall program fully confirmed in time for the next newsletter the first of September.

LIGHT POLLUTION: THERE'S MORE TO IT THAN MEETS THE EYE
BY JIM WALKER

Light pollution is any artificial light visible where it is not wanted. A neighbor's yard light shining in your bedroom window is an all too common example of light pollution. Poorly shielded street lights often produce so much glare in the eyes of drivers and pedestrians as to be serious safety hazards. Many service stations are lighted far beyond the levels necessary for servicing vehicles.

Migrating birds die by the millions every year in collisions with tall buildings lit with floodlights. In coastal areas, hatchling sea turtles often move landward toward bright lights, instead of seaward - as they must, to survive.

Light escaping into the sky from unshielded fixtures is a serious source of light pollution, interfering with the work of professional astronomers, as at McDonald Observatory, for example. Visit McDonald for one of their star parties (Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings), and you will be able to see the sky glow from Alpine, 30 miles away in a straight line. Growing numbers of local amateur astronomers are also interested in preserving our dark skies, as are many other people who appreciate the night sky.

No one advocating better lighting wants to turn off all the lights. There are of course many situations where lighting is necessary. Better lighting, with appropriate wattage and proper shielding, can protect the sky and provide all the lighting necessary for safety.

McDonald Observatory claims they have the darkest skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States. Among American observatories, only Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, has darker skies. McDonald brings many thousands of visitors to our area every year. With the completion of their new Visitors Center, the largest in the country, we can expect to see more visitors in the future.

Light pollution wastes our money and irreplaceable natural resources. The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), an organization interested in protecting our night sky, estimates that light pollution wastes about $2 billion per year.

Visit the IDA website: www.darksky.org. Click on Quick Links at the top of the opening page. Then go to Satellite Imagery and choose High Resolution Image of the USA at Night with State Outlines. Work your way down to our area, and you will see the uplight from Midland, Odessa, Monahans, Ft. Stockton, and even Alpine and Marfa, all wasted. We can conserve energy and save money by using lower wattage-lights and more efficient fixtures, and we can have safer lighting at the same time.

Electricity sometimes gives the illusion of being a clean source of power, but power plants burning coal and natural gas are in fact huge sources of greenhouse gases and other kinds of air pollution. Generating the power consumed in a month by a modest household can release 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, and several pounds of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides, among other noxious things. Even in our area, the decline in our air quality over the last several years is obvious to the unaided eye.

For the last two years, the City of Alpine has had an Outdoor Lighting Ordinance requiring shielded fixtures for lighting installed after the effective date of the ordinance. Existing pole-mounted floodlights must be reaimed to reduce the light escaping into the sky; some of these lights have been readjusted, but many remain to be so adjusted. The state of Texas has a lighting law that applies to state-funded facilities. The states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Connecticut also have lighting laws. New York State recently passed a lighting law, which Governor Pataki vetoed.

Through the efforts of McDonald Observatory, there are now county-wide lighting ordinances in Brewster, Terrell, Pecos, and Presidio Counties. Jeff Davis County, the home of McDonald, has had an ordinance in effect for many years. Worldwide, several areas have enacted lighting ordinances. The Italian province of Lombardy, about half again as large as Brewster County, but with 9,000,000 people, has a new lighting ordinance. The Czech Republic recently enacted a country-wide lighting ordinance. Lighting ordinances are under consideration in other countries.

As Fran Sage pointed out in a recent newspaper article, we can save energy and money by using compact fluorescent lights instead of our customary incandescent bulbs. Compact fluorescents (CF) cost about 10 times as much as incandescents, but they last 10 times as long, so their purchase costs are comparable. The big advantage of CFs is their savings in the cost of power consumption, only about 1/3 as much as that of incandescents. The major cost of lighting, by far, is the cost of electricity - not the cost of the light device itself, whether a conventional light bulb or a CF. Don't balk at spending more for CFs, especially for the lights you use a lot, as in your living room, for example. Do it, and you will save a lot of money over the very long life of the CF.

Better security lighting can save energy and money for many homeowners. Using my electric rate, 9.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, a common configuration of twin 100-watt floodlights would cost $89 per year for dusk-to-dawn lighting. (Our rate may be higher than yours because we consume so little electricity.) Using 50-watt floods would reduce the cost of dusk-to-dawn lighting to about $45 per year and would still provide plenty of light. Operating 50-watt floods in the motion sensitive mode, as we do, would cost less than $1 per year, yielding further savings.

Of course, some people feel safer with lots of outside lighting. But have a look at the satellite images of the US at night, on the IDA Website noted above. Chicago's metro area is the brightest in the country, exceeding even New York City and environs. If bright lights promote greater safety, then Chicago should be the safest area in the world. Personally, I feel safer out here in the dark!

LOVE IN THE DESERT
BY JIM SAGE

On June 10-12, we had over four inches of rain on the South Double Diamond and two ponds that have been dirt dry for over a year were filled to overflowing. Starting the evening of June 11 and for the next two nights the air was swollen with the raucous calling of what I believe was the spadefoot toads, a sound that can be heard for miles. Then on the next night, there was absolute silence and I could not find a single indication that the toad had ever existed. The ancient belief that those creatures were simply born every year out of the mud and then disappeared through some miracle of the desert might seem to have some credibility. Where do they come from and where do they go?

The spade foot toad is a small amphibian about two inches across and is distinguished from other toads by a flange or spade on its hind feet used for digging and by its vertical pupils. The toad will force its hind feet into the soil, rotating its body while pushing first with one foot, and then the other, digging out of sight in seconds. The toads have been dug up from a depth of one meter.

Burrowing enables them to survive the cold and desiccation after the water is gone, and they will remain underground in a state of hibernation, with metabolic activities reduced to a barely detectable level until there is another rain the following year. They store almost a third of their body weight as diluted urine to prevent water loss through the skin.

A heavy rain and warm temperature creates the magic of the toad's reappearance and he comes out of the ground with one thing on his mind- sex. The tremendous sound we heard for three nights was the male calling to attract a female. He seems to be saying, "Come on lady, there is not time for coyness as we must meet, mate, produce young before this puddle of water dries up." There follows an orgy of mating reminiscent of ancient Roman times and then the toads go back underground. Because of the temporary nature of desert pools, all reproductive activities are accelerated and two days after the mating frenzy, the eggs hatch and the pond is full of tadpoles. The tadpoles usually leave the water before their tails detach and they complete their metamorphosis to a toad in just a few hours. Within forty days the young are ready to reproduce.

After the cacophony of sound from the ponds, a visitor from the east asked me what in the world caused all the noise. I smiled and replied that it was just one of the many miracles of the Chihuahuan desert.

DON'S COLUMN

Beyond Nuclear Power Conference April 27, 2002

Sponsored by Lone Star Sierra Club, League of Women Voters of Texas, Fund for Nuclear Responsibility, Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (SEED), Public Citizen, Peace Action Texas, the Peace Farm, US PIRG, and State Representative Lon Burnam of Fort Worth

About 45 people from throughout Texas (including Gary Oliver and me, with financial assistance from the BBRSC) and New Mexico gathered at Lake Whitney State Park to learn about national, state, and local nuclear waste issues. The afternoon sessions focused on strategizing ways to stop future nuclear waste dumps in Texas and replacing it with clean, sustainable energy sources.

For me, the most important thing about the conference was the formation of a continuing organization to coordinate Texans' efforts against a West Texas dump site, and in favor of the development of sustainable energy sources. A steering committee was formed, and another gathering will be held in September. The September conference will be funded by a donation from the singer Bonnie Raitt of the ticket sales of 10 front row seats from three of her Texas shows this summer. I feel like we are going into the upcoming legislative session in better shape than we have for years. Also, the first copies of a major Lone Star Sierra Club report on nuclear production in Texas were unveiled. See the review of this document elsewhere in the newsletter.

Presentations focused on a national overview on issues of uranium mining, low and high level waste disposal, and the status of Yucca Mountain and the compact system. The Texas Overview focused on Texas state agencies responsible for radioactive waste, uranium mining in the state, information on the two nuclear power plants in Texas, and activities at the Pantex Nuclear Power Plant, the nation's only assembly/disassembly site, located in Amarillo. Representatives from Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping (CARD) in New Mexico gave an update on the three main nuclear sites in their state: Los Alamos and Sandia national labs, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP). Since an Andrews dump would be on the Texas-New Mexico state line, this promises to be a fruitful alliance. Rep. Lon Burnam recalled the major victory in the last legislative session against a private national dump, which would have been located in Andrews, Texas. Because of redistricting, the leadership of the legislature will probably be very different in the next session, and Lon urged us to make sure that House and Senate candidates are aware of the issue during the campaign.

For me, highlights included the comments of Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland, against the nuclear industry's argument that nuclear power is somehow a "green" pollution-free power source. Rather, the nuclear power industry produces nuclear waste at every step, beginning with uranium mining. Indeed waste from uranium mining and milling comprises the largest volume of radioactive waste-measuring in the hundred of millions of tons. Since the United States imports uranium ore, some of the 2220 metric tons of waste generated by mining is not in the United States-our need for energy is polluting other countries. Depleted uranium waste piles have an average radioactivity of 300 nanocures/gram (nCi/g). This waste is unregulated, although transuranic (military) waste, which has a radioactivity of only 100 nCi/g is required to be disposed of in a geologic depository. The major danger to public health from uranium mining and milling is water contamination, which can lead to ingestion of cancer-causing materials.

I also learned that one of the proposed routes to carry high-level radioactive waste to the proposed Yucca Mountain dump in Nevada is the Union Pacific Railroad through Sanderson, Marathon, Alpine and Marfa. In an ironic twist, if the waste is going to be moved, it requires fewer train than truck trips, which would mean fewer targets for terrorists and fewer chances for nuclear accidents. Since each cask would carry more radioactivity than the Hiroshima bomb, and the casks are designed only to withstand a fire at 1475 F for half an hour, although real world gasoline fires burn at 1850 F. More information on the proposed routes is available at www.atomicroadshow.org. [see also www.mapscience.org/doe_eis_maps.php and www.mapscience.org/mapresults.php ]

Although the state of Nevada is opposed to the Yucca Mountain site for many scientific reasons, including the possibility of earthquake, hydrologic, and volcanic activity over the next 10,000 years, the Bush Administration and the US House have approved it. Sometime this summer, the US Senate will vote on the issue. When the vote is scheduled, we will put out an alert on the BBRSC email alert list. If you aren't on the list, you can sign up at http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend On June 14, 2002, a 4.4 earthquake, centered 15 miles from the dump site, shook Yucca Mountain. More information on problems with the site is available at: www.sierraclub.org/nuclearwaste/yucca_factsheet.asp.

Finally, I was very impressed by "Smitty" Smith's, of Public Citizen, presentation entitled "Can Renewables and Energy Efficiency Replace Nukes?" Texas leads the nation in potential for solar and biomass energy production, and ranks second, behind North Dakota, in wind potential. Also, study after study has indicated that the state could save nearly 1/3 of its daily energy usage through increased energy efficiency.

Current Texas law requires that 3% of the state's energy must come from renewable sources by 2009, but already 4.7% of the state's energy is from renewable sources. Since all of these sources have been put into service since 1995, it seems that the 3% target is too modest, and could easily be raised. In this context, I welcomed the opportunity to discuss with Rep. Burnam, who has served as the president of Citizens for Fair Utilities, the need for more transmission lines to carry West Texas wind power to the large cities in the eastern part of the state. He has interesting ideas on tying utility rate increases to the provision of transmission lines.

And finally, the social highlight of the Conference undoubtedly was the music Saturday evening. And Gary Oliver's anti-nuke songs, accompanied by his inspired accordion, was a crucial part of it. You can catch some of this fun at our summer social in July, where Gary will be part of a trio providing entertainment.

Although the date for the September follow-up conference has not yet been set, I hope others will be able to attend it. Watch the newsletter and the alert list for more information.

ENERGY BILL PASSES SENATE; MOVES TO CONFERENCE
By Fran Sage

As of July 1st it is not clear what will happen to the energy bill. The House finally appointed its conferees. It is all rather complex with 50 House conferees appointed. When it comes to final voting on the Conference bill, there will be 8 Republican and 6 Democrats who will vote on behalf of the House. There will be about 17 Senate Conferees, 9 Democrats and 8 Republicans. (It is not clear to me if only 14 of them will vote on the final version or whether all of them will.) At any rate give 67 people who will want to speak, discuss, and try to influence the final version, the bill may not move very fast. The debate started on the Thursday before the July 4th recess. It will probably resume after the Congress comes back in session. Congressman Billy Tauzin, (R) of Louisiana will chair the conference committee. He said that there are about 50 areas of similarity between the Senate and House bills, and about 56 of disagreement. It would appear that the most significant differences are drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ethanol subsidies, and tax credits. "Tauzin said he expects discussions on the controversial energy legislation to span through the fall, but a bill should be worked out this session. He did not expect conferees would pass out a bill that lacks all the major provisions." Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) have both promised to filibuster the Conference bill if it includes drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Nothing is clear on what will happen at this stage. In fact, according to a Houston Chronicle article of June 20, 2002, it is not clear that any bill will come out this session. The article suggests that the Bush governmental security reorganization may take up so much time that the national energy policy bill will not be completed along with some other bills. There will be an August congressional recess and there are still all 13 appropriations bills that must be completed and voted on by October 1st if the next fiscal year is to be funded on time. Well I will update you in the September newsletter.

MOUNTAIN OR MOLEHILL: Low Level Radioactive Waste in Texas
The truth about generation and storage of the waste in Texas
BY FRAN SAGE

At the nuclear waste conference discussed by Don Dowdey in his column, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club released a study on low level radioactive waste in Texas, entitled Mountain or Molehill. Project Director and Editor was Erin Rogers of the Lone Star Chapter, the author was Scott Henson, design of the report was prepared by Kathy Mitchell, and the study was paid for by a grant from the Magnolia Charitable Trust, in honor of Lucie Wray Todd. "This study clarifies the foundation for discussion of low level radioactive waste management policy: how much waste is actually produced in Texas by whom, how much space it takes up, and how this waste relates to the need for a new dump site."

You may recall how during the last session the figure continuously bandied about was that there are 1200 entities in Texas generating radioactive waste. But the study reveals that a source for this number does not exist. The report in its executive summary goes on to say, "The truth, according to the state agency that licenses and regulates radioactive materials and storage, is that:

  • only 46 sites in Texas actually generate low level radioactive waste;
  • medical waste constitutes just 1.4 percent of the annual amount generated in Texas;
  • industrial, medical and academic sources in Texas account for just 3.9 percent of the annual waste generated,
  • in total, that waste would fit into a small storage facility the size of a one-car garage."

"So who is producing the other 96.1 percent of all the radioactive waste in Texas? The two companies that own Texas's nuclear power plants-Reliant Energy and TXU."

Those figures come from the Bureau of Radiation Control of the Texas Health Department. How we could have heard over and over again that 1200 figure is incredible when a little research could have made clear the actual amount. The 46 sites that generate waste do not include the waste brokers (2) as generators as they bring in waste from out of state, process it, and then ship it to out-of-state dumps, for a fee. Even if one were to include them as generators the two Texas nuclear power plants would still generate 81.5 percent of waste among active license holders. So there are 46 generators and 53 storage sites. The truth needs to be made known to our legislators, as the effort to create a dump will, no doubt, rise again in the next session.

[If this upcoming session resembles the last in its attitude to radioactive waste, the reality should become clear that the issue is not whether Texas can handle its own waste or not. It is the desire of Waste Control Specialists to handle the Department of Energy waste and military waste. Texas alone (and the other compact states Vermont and Maine) would not be profitable. So don't let that 1200 figure be bandied about again. FS]

In addition to an elaboration of the above information, the study makes recommendations for non-utility waste and for utility waste. PLEASE REQUEST THE REPORT ENTITLED MOUNTAIN OR MOLEHILL from Fran Sage (P. O. Box 564, Alpine, Texas 79831 or sage@brooksdata.net) or from Erin Rogers, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, P. O. Box 1931, Austin, Texas 78767 or erinrogers1@earthlink.net .

ALASKA MELTING?

The last 30 years has seen a rise of 7 degrees in the average temperature in Alaska according to a June 16, 2002 article in the New York Times. The effects of that rise can be seen in the need to move the entire village of Shishmaref (on the Chukchi Sea just south of the Arctic Circle) inland. Point Barrow, the biggest of the villages in the far north, may also be faced with moving. High water is destroying houses and buildings. Another effect is the loss of a spruce forest eaten away by beetles, the largest loss ever recorded in the world according to Senator Stevens, one of the Alaskan senators. What happens is that the rising temperatures have allowed the beetles to reproduce twice as fast.

According to federal officials the "Mean temperatures have risen by 5 degrees in summer and 10 degrees in winter since the 1970's." Senator Stevens says no place is experiencing such change as rapidly as Alaska. The consequences are sagging roads, dead forests, castastropic wildfires, and possible effects upon the wildlife, not to mention the people. In addition the 800-mile long Trans-Alaska Pipeline is also having to adjust to the rising temperatures. Engineers are worried that the melting of the permafrost will make the pipeline unstable. That pipeline carries about one million barrels of oil each day, which represents 17 percent of the nation's oil production. Alyeska Pipeline Service Company manages the pipeline. "Curtis Thomas, a spokesman for the company says, 'If we see leaning and sagging, we move on it.'"

Another problem is the sea ice off the Alaska coast has retreated 14 percent since 1978 and thinned by 40 percent since the mid-1960s according the article. It goes on to say that "Climate models predict that Alaska temperatures will continue to rise over this century, by up to 18 degrees."

While it is not certain that the changes are all from global warming from increased greenhouse emissions, the changes are a harbinger of what we may all experience if global warming continues.

HEALTH REPORT
BY FRAN SAGE

On Friday, May 10, staff of the Texas Department of Health (TDH) Regions 9 & 10, came to Study Butte/Terlingua and Alpine to discuss the results of the TDH study on health issues in Brewster County (Marathon was not included in the study due to limited funding). The final report, whose centerpiece was the 1999 survey results, was presented to a very small audience, due to scheduling, I suspect, and little publicity. While there was much useful demographic information and useful information from the self-generated answers to the survey, the environmental issues were only lightly touched. The original impetus for the study, health effects from the area air pollution, was hardly discussed at all. The only recommendation on air quality was that the EPA and National Park Service "need to complete ongoing studies related to visibility in the Big Bend area." Since that study, the BRAVO study, is almost complete and is independent of the TDH its completion has never been in doubt. In fact the BRAVO study is on visibility not health effects. It would require a different kind of analysis than that of the EPA and NPS. The question is who is able and willing to do such an analysis. There were also some recommendations on water quality issues in south Brewster County.

In my opinion what is now needed is a non-survey approach to environmental health issues, one that includes advocacy in addressing pollution reduction. It is extremely difficult to link many diseases or illnesses directly to air pollution per se, as there may be multiple causes. In the case of water pollution, the task to find a direct link may be simpler. The local research needs to be expanded and continued. Perhaps we can educate ourselves and the public on environmental pollution impacts that are true regardless of where one lives. We know that pollution is NOT good for our health.

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB NEWS

Highway Cleanup Crew Needs Volunteers

We need volunteers for highway cleanup. Please offer to spend August 18 (a Sunday) from 7 p.m. to dark to help keep our stretch of US 90 clean. We will meet at the Y eight miles east of Alpine, where the rest stop is. Give Liz Hightower a call at 837-0100 and volunteer. We are understaffed for the cleanup. Anyone that can help out will be much appreciated and fill a need!

Contributions

Virginia Campbell announces that the BBRSC received $175 in donations and pledges for May and June. Year's contributions to date are $710.07. Thanks to Glen Perry for his donation as well as thanks to our pledgers.

Executive Committee Meeting

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will hold its quarterly ExCom meeting on July 25, 2002 at 1:30 in the Board Room of the West Texas National Bank in Alpine. All members are welcome to attend. While the agenda is not yet set, one item will be appointment of a nominating committee. Check with Don Dowdey (915) 837-3210 closer to the date for more information.

SIERRA CLUB STATEMENT OF PURPOSE:

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.

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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