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June 2001 BBRSC Newsletter
POTLUCK SOCIAL SCHEDULED
Members and guests, please reserve Saturday, August 11th, for a Big Bend Regional Sierra Club potluck social from 5-9 p.m. at Kokernot Lodge in Alpine. This will be a relaxed evening to just get to know each other and enjoy summer in the Big Bend region. We will supply plates, flatware, napkins, etc. as well as beer and soft drinks. You bring a dish with serving implement and folding chairs and we will be set. While you may decide at the last minute to attend, some sort of advance count would be useful. If you can, please let Marilyn Brady (915) 837-3210 know your plans. She can also provide more directions if you need help. Kokernot Lodge is on the west side of the Loop road as if goes on the east side of Alpine. It is a marked entrance a little before the turn to the west. You enter the loop road by Sul Ross State University and proceed past the Alpine Country Club.
NEW STATEWIDE COMMITTEE PLANNED
FOR RADIOACTIVE WASTE
Tentative plans are underway to form a statewide committee under the auspices of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club for planning and action on radioactive waste. The death of SB1541 in the recent legislative session in no way eliminates the need to work on sensible legislation to deal with Texas' obligations on low-level radioactive waste. As plans develop, we will keep you informed on our efforts to form a statewide organizational unit, dedicated to responsible handling of radioactive waste. This needs to be a team effort. If you are interested in working on this effort, contact Fran Sage at (915) 364-2362 (a local call from Alpine).
AIR QUALITY MEETING MAY COME AGAIN TO ALPINE
Gregg Cooke, head of the Environmental Protection Agency in Dallas, said in a letter to Don Dowdey, chair of the BBRSC, that tentative plans are being made to visit Alpine later this year with some preliminary information on the BRAVO study. Recent information indicates a major meeting will be held in the area in October. While it is still too early to have any definitive information, we want to alert you to this possibility. More information will be given in the next newsletter. It does appear that substantive information will be provided in October.
THANKS TO REPRESENTATIVE PETE GALLEGO
Area representative Pete Gallego, responding to a request of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, put a rider on the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission appropriation, requiring the TNRCC to develop a plan for treating air pollution in the Big Bend and starting implementation of it prior to the January 2003 legislative session. In a letter to Fran Sage, Representative Gallego said, "I have asked my staff to closely monitor this rider and the agency's implementation." We appreciate the addition of the rider to the appropriation bill and look forward to seeing whether the TNRCC will comply with it.
STATE EXCOM TO MEET
The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club will meet July 22 in Dallas for a state Executive Committee meeting. The meeting will be held in conjunction with the fifth annual state conservation meeting on July 21, this year focussed on habitat loss and sprawl. During the conference the Lone Star Chapter will launch its Wide Open Spaces Campaign, a two-year public education campaign designed to increase awareness of habitat loss and the need for protection of the open spaces still remaining in Texas. The Conference will be held on the campus of Southern Methodist University. While we still have plenty of open spaces in our area, the proposed Entrada al Pacifico (see below) may encourage sprawl along its path. Likely attendants from BBRSC are Fran Sage and Don Dowdey.
On November 17 the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club will sponsor a Legislative Awards Dinner to be held in Austin and the Chapter ExCom Meeting will be held the following day. Delegates from our area have not yet been chosen.
ENTRADA AL PACIFICO
We are getting mixed signals in the newspapers about the progress of Entrada al Pacifico, the proposed highway from Midland to Ojinaga, Mexico, and on to Topolobompa, a deepwater port on the west coast of Mexico, which receives the bulk of Mexico's Asian imports.. On the one hand glowing reports suggest work is proceeding at a fast pace in Mexico and plans are progressing in the United States. According to an article in the June 5, 2001 edition of the Odessa-American the state of Chihuahua is widening the roads that connect Chihuahua to the border town of Ojinaga, Mexico. The article says, "Although Mexico President Vicente Fox, a member of a rival political party that recently trimmed the La Entrada budget, Martinez's [the governor of Chihuahua] said the road to Ojinaga could be completed sometime in 2002. On the other hand reports also caution that it will be years before money is available in the United States/Texas. Buddy West, legislator from the Odessa area is quoted in an Odessa-American June 13th article as saying that Texas would probably not supply much funding for the Mexican trade projects soon. "This won't happen any time soon. These are very long term projects."
An article from June 10, 2001 in the San Antonio Express, discusses the various road segments in Mexico and Texas that would be needed to bring more trucking in through Presidio. According to the article "about 9,000 Mexican trucks a year enter the United States through Presidio . . . [as] compared to the 3.1 million for all border ports between Brownsville and El Paso." Chihuahuan Gov. Patricio Martinez wants to divert about half of the 730,000 Mexican trucks that enter through El Paso. Early next spring the new bypass between Ojinaga and Chihuahua City will make transportation easier. But in order to provide the western connection of Chihuahua through Sinaloa to Topolobompa, "funds must be approved by the Mexican government."
Alpine and Marfa could experience increased truck traffic right through the downtowns. While significant opposition exists in Alpine it is not clear what the citizens of Fort Stockton, Marfa, and Presidio think. And Mexican trucks may soon be part of the truck traffic upwards from the border. Long before any expansion in Texas, more truck traffic can be expected as Mexico finishes the upgrade and short cut south of Ojinaga and as Mexican trucks are allowed into the interior of Texas and the United States. No highway fund for bypasses around Alpine and Marfa are likely for some years. The center of Alpine and Marfa may become clogged with trucks and sprawl may increase as quick services businesses are created. Joaquin Barrios, the director of Chihuahua's highway planning, claims that the Ojinaga entry "has the long-term potential to be one of the border's largest." He thinks it will carry 4000 vehicles a day within 10 years. That would be over 1,000,000 trucks a year. Our representative, Pete Gallego is quoted as saying the truck traffic is coming but he goes on to say, "But I'm going to wait. I'm not convinced we'll see 100,000 trucks a year. I've asked TxDOT to study alternative routes around Marfa and Alpine. We'll build loops that will take the trucks outside of town." Area residents such as Gary Oliver, Susan Curry, Val Beard, and Kari Todd are all quoted as opposed to the route with its negative impact upon the area.
In addition to Entrada, the Portal to Plains federal program could be linked to Entrada at Midland. On May 31, 2001 an AP Wire story said that on June 28, 2001, the Texas Transportation Commission will make a final choice of that route. TxDOT has recommended a route from Laredo through Del Rio, San Angelo, Lubbock, Amarillo and Dumas. Robert Nicols, a commission member, suggested adding two segments to the route: Sterling City to Midland on State Highway 158 and Midland to Lamesa on State Highway 349, which would add another 130 miles.
There is an opposition grouped formed in Alpine called Tourists Not Trucks. Whether Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will put the Entrada al Pacifico on its agenda remains to be seen (we are a regional group encompassing Presidio, Marfa, Alpine, Marathon, and Ft. Davis. Whether there is consensus amongst those areas is not clear. Nevertheless it behooves us to stay informed as traffic plans proceed.)
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING
JULY 26, 2001
Members are welcome to attend the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club ExCom meeting scheduled for July 26, 2001 from 1:30 to 4 p.m. at West Texas National Bank in Alpine. Members are always welcome to attend.
Contribution and pledges totaled $210 from May 1 through June 15. Thanks to pledgers and to contributors Thomas Reidy and Glen Perry. We appreciate your help. In addition, we received $27 in cookie donations at our May meeting and $52 from the national Sierra Club for a total of $278. Year to date total is $1242.
As usual the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will hold meetings the third Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. in September, October, November, and December. They will be at Sul Ross State University in Lawrence Hall 309, though we may schedule one of the meetings out of town. Programs are still being arranged. We should have a firm schedule by the next newsletter.
Susan Curry is organizing a fundraiser for the fall. Tentative plans are for an event at the Railroad Blues in Alpine. It is not yet clear whether we will be able to have such an event but will keep you posted as plans proceed.
HIGHWAY CLEANUP IN PLACE
Susan Curry also reports that the state highway department has designated a two-mile stretch of Highway 90 just east of the Y eight miles from Alpine as a responsibility of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. A calendar is being developed for the four times per year effort to clear the area of litter. We are still awaiting the orange vests and trash bags that the highway department will send to us. Anyone interested in helping with this effort should contact Susan at (915) 837-2311.
NEW GROUP IN LUBBOCK
We are happy to learn that the Caprock group of the Lone Star Chapter has been formed in Lubbock. We welcome the group and are delighted with the growth into West Texas of the Sierra Club. The chair is Sarah Learmonth of Lubbock. We hope that in the future other groups will be formed in West Texas. (The El Paso group is affiliated with the Rio Grande Chapter in New Mexico.)
MERCO LOSES CONTRACT FOR SLUDGE
According to an AP story for June 19, 2001, MERCO has loss the contract for New York City sludge and it is expected to close down its operation at Sierra Blanca within a month. The sludge dump covered 128,000 acres. The pollution from the sludge will continue as West Texas winds sometimes blow pollution east from the area.
Following is a wrap-up on bills of environmental importance. There are many others, which we are not including.
SB 1541 Radioactive Waste Import Bill Stopped (Sen. Duncan/Sen. Bivins) The long, strange trip of SB 1541 ended with the House Calendars Committee voting 5-3 not to send the bill to the House floor. Sen. Duncan's bill would have authorized a for-profit low-level radioactive waste dump to handle waste produced by Texas, Vermont and Maine. The bill was "hijacked," in the words of one industry lobbyist, by Sen. Teel Bivins who amended the bill on behalf of Waste Control Specialists to establish a second dump to exclusively handle low-level waste produced by the federal government. Bivins said the importation of U.S. Department of Energy waste was necessary to make the dump "economically viable" for WCS, which spent a reputed $3 million on hired gun lobbyists to push the bill. While Texas Compact partners will produce 2.7 million cubic feet of low-level waste over the next 35 years, the DOE is looking to unload 93 million cu. ft. of waste by 2008. Bivins offered to make the DOE liable for waste it would send to Texas, but the DOE was shown to have a miserable track record on clean-ups. Almost every radioactive waste dump in America has leaked, and clean-up costs can run into billions of dollars.
Status: Stopped in House Calendars Committee, Sunday, May 20. (From the Lone Star Chapter, Capitol Report May 31, 2001) We in the Big Bend Region should be proud of our effort to defeat the bill. The statewide opposition, led by Erin Rogers of the Lone Star Chapter office staff, was an effective team effort. FS
HB 128 Big Bend NP Air Quality (Rep. West)
Rep. Buddy West of Odessa introduced a measure that would have severely curtailed the ability of Big Bend National Park managers and other federal land managers in Texas to participate in state regulatory decisions that impact air quality in national parks and forests in Texas.
Status: approved by House Environmental Regulations Committee on April 3, but left pending in House Calendars Committee.
(From the Lone Star Chapter Capitol Report for May 31, 2001)Thanks to the Lone Star staff in effectively blocking this bill. And thanks to BBNP Supt. Frank Deckert for his testimony against the bill. FS
HB 787 Brewster County Water District (Rep. Gallego) The governor has signed the bill creating a water district in Brewster County. Key provisions include: a confirmation election; all powers of the Water Code applicable to water districts; limitation power and fee powers for transfer of water (with certain guidelines to be met); no power of eminent domain; permission needed to enter private property except to inspect a permitted well and to insure compliance with district rules; seven appointed directors as selected by the County Commissioner's Court; three members to represent Alpine, Lajitas, Marathon, Study Butte, and Terlingua; three members to represent the rural areas excluding the above named towns; one member at large; three year staggered terms after initial directors; no salary but reimbursement for actual expenses to attend meetings. This bill has been signed by the governor and is effective immediately. FS
HB 164 Dark Skies legislation. (Reps. Olivo/Christian) While this bill did not impact the Big Bend Region (we already have dark skies protection), it does expand protection into East Texas for George Observatory. Understanding the need to decrease light pollution will ultimately help the entire state. Members of the Big Bend Astronomical Society helped support passage of this bill. It has been signed by the governor and is effective immediately. FS
Following are several complex bills which the Lone Star Chapter worked hard to amend and pass in the most environmentally sound form. It, with support from groups all over the state, improved the bills though some of them fell short of what we hoped.
HB 2912 TNRCC Reauthorization (Rep. Bosse/Sen. Harris) Environmental advocates won a number of significant reforms at the agency. At the heart of the bill is a new regulatory scheme that allows the agency to reward high performers with regulatory flexibility, while requiring tougher enforcement standards for chronic bad actors in industry. The two biggest victories in the bill are the closing of the Grandfather Loophole and controlling "upset" air emissions. These two victories will reduce air pollution relatively quickly.
At the beginning of the legislative session, the Sierra Club and the Alliance for a Clean Texas set out eight priority reform goals for TNRCC. More than half of the reforms were achieved or partially achieved in the TNRCC Sunset legislation, along with a number of additional meaningful reforms that will give citizens useful tools for protecting themselves from polluters. While we were unsuccessful in creating an independent Office of Public Interest Counsel (think of it as a public defender for the environment), establishing prohibitions on appointing TNRCC Commissioners with clear conflicts of interest, and removing air pollution fee caps that create pollution volume discounts, we were successful in the following areas:
Requiring TNRCC to take into account the cumulative impacts of pollution when issuing new permits or expansions. This is an important environmental justice provision that community groups have been advocating for years. New standards for "upset" emissions of pollution. Currently a small percentage of industrial facilities in the state take advantage of legal flexibility that allows plants to vent unexpected emissions in the case of emergencies. Some bad actors regularly emit vast quantities of air pollution under the guise of "upset condition." The bill requires that all emissions be reported within 24 hours and makes the responsible source come up with a corrective action plan in two weeks; provides a penalty for repeat violators (more than one upset from same source).
Strengthening public participation in TNRCC decision-making. The Sunset bill gives citizens access to information and a number of new avenues for influencing permitting and enforcement decisions: TNRCC must post advisory committee meeting minutes, pending permit and enforcement actions, compliance histories, violations by repeat violators, and emissions inventories on its website; TNRCC must keep better complaint files, accept complaints through the internet, and do an annual complaints analysis; and TNRCC must accept citizen-gathered evidence in enforcement cases.
Limiting the role of the TNRCC Executive Director in contested case hearings. The Executive Director, infamous for defending polluters and attacking citizens in permit hearings, is now restricted to participating in a limited number of cases, solely to provide administrative information for the record. The Executive Director is no longer allowed to help the polluters meet their burden of proof.
Changing the mission statement of TNRCC from one requiring TNRCC to "encourage" economic development to one in which the agency merely has to "consider" economic development. This language is a compromise between the House, which wanted economic development language removed altogether and the Senate, which wanted TNRCC to continue to prioritize economic development. Requiring TNRCC to develop a broad definition of compliance history and use this history in permitting and enforcement decisions, such as whether to use announced or surprise inspections.
In addition to these reforms that Sierra and the Alliance for a Clean Texas had sought, other positive changes were won by lawmakers who amended the bill in order to protect their constituents from local environmental threats. This includes a prohibition on the disposal of hazardous waste in salt dome caverns, a ban on sham recycling centers that are actually non-permitted junkyards, and a requirement that state permits be obtained before sludge (liquid sewage, usually from confined animal feeding operations) can be sprayed on agricultural fields or other land.
Closing the Grandfather Loophole (Sen. Bernsen)
Freestanding bills addressing the grandfather loophole were abandoned when the House adopted an amendment on the grandfather loophole to the TNRCC reauthorization bill. When HB 2912 was debated by the Senate, tougher provisions on grandfathers were substituted for the House provision. Conference committee negotiations on HB 2912 produced a provision for closing the grandfather loophole that essentially upheld the Senate version. As a result, grandfathered facilities east of I-35/I-37 will be required to install pollution control equipment by March 1, 2007. Grandfathered plants elsewhere ("west") will be required to install pollution controls by March 1, 2008. In all cases these plants will be required to install equipment that conforms to a 10 year-old standard of "Best Available Control Technology" (BACT). Additionally, the conference committee adopted tougher Senate language on grandfathered pipeline compressors. Grandfathered internal combustion engines along pipelines in the eastern half of Texas and El Paso will be required to cut smog-forming emissions by 50%; the TNRCC will determine which pipeline facilities in the west will be required to make cuts, and can order emission reductions up to 20%. Four years of sustained work by environmental and public interest groups on the issue paid off with a resounding victory this session.
Status: HB 2912 conference report approved by House and Senate on Sunday, May 27. (From the Lone Star Chapter, Capitol Report May 31, 2001) The bill was signed by the governor. The effective date is September 1, 2001 except for Sec. 26.0135 and Subchapter Q, Chapter 5, Water Code, which will be effective September 1, 2002. By January 1, 2004, the name of the agency will be changed to The Texas Department of Environmental Quality.
SB 2 -Water Resource Planning (Sen. Brown/Rep. Ron Lewis) This omnibus bill strengthens the authority of groundwater management districts and establishes an export fee on any water transported outside of district boundaries; it creates a water infrastructure fund BUT provides no revenue for the fund (thus avoiding a major state commitment to finance questionable water projects); it requires regional water plans to describe the water quality impacts of their proposed water management strategies, include water conservation practices and drought management measures in their plans, and report to the Texas Water Development Board on how their projects would be funded (which will allow for a more critical look at which projects are feasible and which are not); it sets up an interim study on water resources to address a broad range of water issues, including water efficiency, environmental issues, water marketing, water financing, and water conveyance systems. SB 2 also creates a sales tax exemption for equipment, supplies and services for rainwater harvesting, water reuse, and water conservation.
Status: SB 2 conference report approved by House and Senate on Sunday, May 27. (From the Lone Star Chapter Capitol Report, May 31, 2001 Signed by governor and effective September 1, 2001
SB 5 --Clean Air Incentives (Sen. Brown)
SB 5 provides an array of incentives for reducing air pollution. The bill establishes three types of incentive programs: Retrofitting or replacing diesel engines; Reducing pollution that results from cooling homes, offices, and government buildings; and Rebates for the purchase of the cleanest cars sold in the United States ranging from $1250 to $5000.
The program will be funded by fees on diesel equipment and an increase in the fees charged on newly registered vehicles. In the short term these programs will provide a set of tools to help Texas cities meet the EPA "one hour" ozone standard, while also preparing the state to meet EPA standards for "8 hour" smog readings and ultra-fine particles. Greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming will also be reduced if these programs are implemented successfully.
Status: approved by House and Senate. (From the Lone Star Chapter Captiol Report May 31, 2001) Signed by governor and effective 9/1-01
SB 305 Texas Department of Parks & Wildlife Reauthorization (Sen. Harris) A key provision in TPW sunset bill is a requirement for the agency to prepare a "Land and Water Resources Conservation" plan. The agency will inventory all land and water associated with historical, natural, recreational, and wildlife resources in the state that are owned by governmental entities and nonprofit entities that provide public access. The inventory will then be used to develop a conservation plan that will guide the agency's future decision on how it will meet the state's growing conservation and recreation needs. While it is unfortunate that land holdings of the School Land Board, the General Land Office, and the Permanent University Fund will be exempted from analysis and inclusion in the plan, the implementation of this policy is a significant gain for the natural environment and recreation in Texas. Status: conference report for SB 305 was approved by the House and Senate on Sunday, May 27.
(From the Lone Star Chapter, Capitol Report, May 31, 2001) Signed by the governor and effective 9/1/01 except one section, which will not go into effect until the voters approve a constitutional amendment. It deals with bonding obligations.
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