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March 2001 BBRSC Newsletter

March Program: Seldom Seen Plants of the Trans-Pecos

Jackie Poole, conservation biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department from Austin, will present a slide and discussion program to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club entitled "Seldom Seen Plants of the Trans-Pecos."

The program is open to the public and will be offered on March 20th at 7 PM in Room 309, Lawrence Hall, Sul Ross State University.

Poole has an extensive background in biology, with a B. A. and M.A. in botany from the University of Texas at Austin. She conducted a taxonomic study of angel trumpets (Acleisanthes) for her master's thesis. She worked one summer for Texas Parks and Wildlife, compiling a flora of the then new Lost Maples State Natural Area. She also worked for the Nature Conservancy as a botanist with the Texas Natural Heritage Program. She says that until this point she had done just general floristic work or systematic studies of a particular genus. "Now I had to know several hundred of the rarest plants in Texas and the world." Eventually the Heritage Program was transferred to the General Land Office and then to Texas Parks and Wildlife. In addition to her ongoing Austin and field reports and recovery plans, she has published several articles in various professional journals.

Come join Poole to learn more about the seldom seen plants of the Trans-Pecos.

April 17th program will feature Superintendent Frank Deckert for Big Bend National Park speaking on Regional Haze and the Big Bend.

Dowdey Reports on Legislative Lobby Day, February 26th in Austin

Starting this month, Don Dowdey, chair, Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, will write a monthly column for the newsletter. Following is his report on his recent trip to the capitol.

Environmental Lobby Day

I spent two days in Austin last month, participating in the Alliance for a Clean Texas (ACT) Environmental Lobby Day. Over twenty Texas environmental organizations, including the Lone Star Sierra Club, belong to ACT. The program was a huge success, with over 100 people attending training on Sunday and nearly 100 converging on the capitol on Monday to meet with every member of the Senate and every member of the House Environmental Regulations and the House Natural Resources committees as well as many other Representatives. I met with Rep. Pete Gallego, Senator Frank Madla, and with Annette Glass, clerk of Rep. Warren Chisum's Environmental Regulation Committee.

I had a great time meeting old friends like Erin Rogers (of Sierra Blanca fame) and Fort Worth Rep. Lon Burnam (who I first met in high school). But it was also exciting to see so many newcomers to the Texas environmental movement, especially during the scheduled dinner at Threadgill's. The energy generated by such a gathering is contagious. But I did regret that I was the only representative from the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. Among other things, that meant that I could only attend half the Sunday workshops.

Many of the Lobby Day issues are important to those of us living in the Big Bend: ending the failed voluntary emissions reduction plan for grandfathered plants, keeping radioactive waste out of West Texas, reforming the TNRCC, funding parks and natural resource conservation, and removing fee caps that create pollution "volume discounts." On this last issue, ACT had prepared a chart showing that the current permitting fees for public water systems means that Houston households pay $0.09 per water connection, while the cost in Alpine is $0.96.

I took advantage of the opportunity to educate as many folks as I could about issues in the Big Bend. It still surprises me to meet people who don' t know of our air quality problems, or who think that with the defeat of Sierra Blanca our worries about nuclear waste are over. But once people learn, it is clear that they care passionately about Big Bend and want to know what they can do to help. Statewide events like Lobby Day are great opportunities to spread the word.

Help and the Surveys:

Many persons responded to our surveys and some have been contacted. One of the areas we need help with is in the formatting of the newsletter. While many people are willing to assist with the mailings, none expressed interest in working on the newsletter (maybe because it was not an item on the survey.) Would anyone be interested in working on formatting please contact newsletter editor, Fran Sage (364-2362)? Lue is willing to do formatting part of the time but would like to work out a method to share the work in alternating months or in alternating periods during the year or???

We could also use help in exploring getting a postal permit, alternate printing arrangements and the like. Please help!

YOU'RE NEVER TOO OLD! New member Agnes Davis of Marfa is also our oldest area member. At 93 Davis has volunteered to be part of the activist alert network of the Sierra Club. With the help of her daughter Laura Belkin, Davis will respond to e-mail alerts, writing letters and sending e-mail as the quick turnaround alerts come from the state office and the local organization. We thank Davis for helping Sierra Club in its environmental work.

Davis may also be our oldest hot air balloonist, having helped her younger sister (herself 90 years old) celebrate her birthday last fall with a hot air balloon ride. Davis and daughter Belkin drove to Pennsylvania last fall for the celebration. Congratulations to Davis for her inspiration to the rest of us.

Contributions and pledges for February totaled $175. Thanks to Glen Perry and Valerie Naylor for their contributions. In addition we received $13 in donations at our last meeting. Monies received to date are $603.

Donations Continue to be Needed

We are grateful to our contributors and pledgers for their help. Many of you may not know that we do not get assistance except in the most minute amount from the national Sierra Club. This year we are getting some travel help from the Lone Star Chapter, which is much appreciated given the distances in Texas. But the cost of the newsletter and other ongoing work requires that we raise money out here. We are not allowed to levy local dues; so we are dependent upon all of you for ongoing support. We are grateful for past contributions and hope you will all continue to support our environmental work in the Big Bend Region of Texas

Water Conference Scheduled in Austin

Mary Kelly of the Texas Center for Policy Studies has alerted us to a water conference put together by her organization for Friday, March 30, 2001 at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. It will be an all day conference starting at 8:30 a.m.and ending at 4:30 p.m. The registration fee is $35, which includes lunch.

The Conference, "Water and the Future of Rural Texas," is sponsored by a variety of organizations including the Christian Life Commission, the Texas Association of Regional Councils, the Sportsmen's Conservationists Association, the Texas Rural Communities, the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts, the Hill County Groundwater Alliance, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense, the Texas Rural Development Council, and the Texas Wildlife Association. The diversity of participating organizations suggests an attempt to bring a variety of points of view together. The final panel in the Conference is entitled Finding Common Ground.

Panels will be offered on Water and Rural Life; Water for Fish and Wildlife; What Can Texas Learn from Other States?; and Water Marketing and Groundwater Management . Several participants familiar to the Big Bend Region are Tom Beard, Michael Davidson of Far Flung Adventures, Susan Combs, and Ken Kramer of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club from Austin.

Anyone interested in attending should contact Mary Sanger or Laura Brock at 512/474-0811 or e-mail them at lb@texascenter.org .

. Graduate Course on Thoreau will be offered by SC member Barney Nelson this summer. The course is an intensive weekend course. Looks like a good chance to study Thoreau for credit from a scholar on literature and the environment. Call Barney at (915) 837-8151 for more information.

TEE-SHIRTS FOR SALE: Susan Curry will be selling our Clean Air Tee-shirts designed by Tom Curry at the monthly meetings or by calling her at (915) 837-2311. They cost $10 and are available in sizes medium, large, and extra-large. We added $40 in tee-shirt sales to our coffers in February.

Health Survey Meeting Scheduled

On March 19th representatives from Region 9 and 10 of the Texas Department of Public Health will meet with Sierra Club Vice-Chair and others in Alpine to discuss completion of the TDH study for Brewster County.

Membership has risen as of February 28th to 116. That is 3.7 times our membership of 31 when we began in the fall of 1996.

Tom Beard Outlined Water Issues at February Sierra Club Meeting

In a clear, concise presentation Tom Beard focused on the conservation of water resources in the Far West Texas Region. He briefly discussed the state history arising out of drought that led to SB 1 of 1997 requiring regional water planning. The resulting document is a work in progress. Although the Water Development Board will put together a state document from the 16 regional water plans, the reality is that the result is not binding but is a planning document. Beard discussed the problems to water planning presented by the Rule of Capture water law that allows property owners to do as they wish with the water on their land. (The Rule of Capture comes from the time of Henry IV in England, which allowed property owners to keep wild animals captured on their property.) He told of the Texas Supreme Court decision from almost a century ago that found water resources mysterious and unknowable. He spoke of their impediment to addressing fair and prudent use of water resources.

Beard explained that our Regional Water Plan lists 83 unprioritized strategies for water management. They had to be included in order to allow applications to be made down the line for Water Development Board grants for study. Beard reiterated that the Far West Texas Regional Plan is a work in progress to be refined and revised over time.

Beard concluded his talk by discussing the need for Brewster County to create a Water Conservation District. Although Rep. Gallego has introduced such a bill, there are indications that political problems may keep it from being passed through the Senate. Petitions are being collected that would allow the County to petition the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for a district in case the bill fails. In answer to a question on why the District would not regulate any wells that produce less than 25,000 of gallons per 24 hours, Beard explained that that is state law.

El Paso Water Supply Study

An article in a recent issue of the El Paso Times highlighted a number of findings from a study done by Hunt Building Corp. for the Public Service Board. Among a number of findings, the report said that Wild Horse Ranch near Van Horn, where the city bought 25,000 acres for $1.5 million in 1995, does not warrant study because of poor water quality. It said that Antelope Valley-Ryan Flat near Valentine, where the city paid $2 million for about 25,000 acres in 1992 could provide 15,000 acre-feet of water a year but recharges at a rate of only 1,600 acre-feet a year.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Under Siege<
by Fran Sage

The threat to the pristine nature of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues. Senator Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, recently filed his energy bill, which includes opening up the Refuge to oil exploration and drilling.

I thought it might be useful to lay out some of the information on the Refuge and the problems. The Refuge lies in northeastern Alaska and is the most northern and one of the largest refuges in the system. It is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency within the Department of the Interior. In 1980 the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (known as ANILCA) was passed and named the area the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Its primary mandate is to protect the wildlife and habitats of the area for the benefit of people now and in the future. This remote refuge is home to the wandering Porcupine Caribou herd, packs of wolves, hardy muskoxen, lone wolverines, flocks of snow geese, and other species dependent on the wilderness. The coastal plain in it is the nation's most important polar bear denning habitat on land. The Arctic Coastal Plain, which is only five percent of Alaska's North Slope, is the only area of the entire coastal environment not available to the oil industry. In total, there are over 160 bird species, 36 kinds of land mammals, nine marine mammal species and 36 types of fish. Furthermore it is home to local Inupiat Eskimo and Gwich'in Indian communities. All in all it is one of the most complete, pristine, and undisturbed ecosystems on earth.

William Cronon, an environmental historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pointed out in an opinion piece recently in the NY Times that we should not think of it as remote and disconnected. He says, "Migratory birds in all but one state of the union-Hawaii-spend important parts of their lives in this northern breeding ground." He goes on to explain that "Among the 180 bird species that use the refuge is the tundra swan, once more familiarly known as the whistling swan. After raising their young, these birds migrate thousands of miles across the continent to their winter homes along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Maryland. From the perspective of a tundra swan, Washington, D. C., and the homeland of the Gwich'in are part of a single ecosystem."

By definition an industrial area and a wilderness cannot occupy the same area. It is hard to see how the Refuge can be both a refuge and an industrial development area. The Arctic Wildlife Refuge will be a test of our stewardship. Let us move to conservation. The sooner we see the good in conservation, including economic good, the sooner we can turn around the mad rush for development no matter the consequences. Contact your representative and senators to tell them to protect the Refuge rather than opening it up to development.

Environmental News Roundup
Trips to the Wildlife Refuge

A recent Associated Press story said that a number of groups will be taking members of Congress, policy-makers and journalists to visit the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. According to the article when you take them depends on how you view the Refuge. "For some, it's a flat, barren, inhospitable expanse of tundra, covered with snow and rimmed with ice." Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and sponsor of the bill that would open up the Refuge to oil exploration and drilling, "plans to lead a group there at the end of March, when the coastal plain is an icy moonscape." On the other hand some groups view the Refuge as Alaska's Serengeti, "braided with rivers and teeming with life-caribou, musk ox, migrating birds and polar bears." The Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the Alaska Wilderness League think the time to see the Refuge is from late May to mid-July, "when the caribou herd migrates from western Canada to the calving ground of the coastal plain." Those groups plan to take visitors again during the July Fourth recess this year. The article goes on to say, While those on both sides of the debate can find little or no common ground, they agree that visits to the refuge win supporters."

Global Warming

Back in the 15th century the French poet Francois Villon penned the famous refrain "Mais ou sont les neiges d'tanan?" (But where are the snows of yesteryear? )in his Ballade of the Ladies of Bygone Times. Villon was talking about the fleeting nature of life and time. However, his refrain may have literal force in another 15 years. Two recent reports from UN scientists project the potential dire consequences of global warming. The most recent, that the snows of Kilimanjaro will be melted by then. That is symptomatic of the worldwide concern that severe climate changes will result if the trend is not reversed.

The major question today is what will be the United States' stance on global warming. We are the greatest contributor to the industrial part of global warming. As Bob Herbert pointed out in a recent NYTimes opinion piece, quoting from the most recent report, "The worst effects of global warming will probably not be felt by those most responsible for the pollution of the atmosphere by heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The great industrial societies, which have benefited so long from the rapacious devouring of resources and the indiscriminate release of pollutants, are also the societies best positioned to cope with the treacherous forces of global warming."

Where will the new administration stand in upcoming meetings? It is not clear at this point. In a recent opinion piece, the conservative commentator Robert Novak quotes EPA administrator Christine Whitman as saying "George Bush was very clear during the course of the campaign that he believes in a multi-pollutant strategy, and that includes CO2 [the source of global warming]. Novak also says that U. S. Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill has taken a firm position warning of global warning. But the President's speech to Congress did not make any mention of global warming though, according to Novak, an earlier draft did. Novak goes on to say that on the Monday before the speech, "word leaked that Bush's planned address contained a single sentence advocating carbon dioxide emission controls. . . . That sent conservatives into a frenzy that apparently resulted in losing the sentence from the speech. But the issue is far from settled." Though the US will apparently be attending key talks in Bonn in July, exactly what our position will be is not known at this time. Where will be the snows of yesteryear?

The Supreme Court and the Clean Air Act

In a 9-0 decision, the U. S. Supreme Court held that EPA does not have to take cost into account as it sets standards for air quality and that it had not usurped legislative powers. It did hold that EPA must develop "a reasonable interpretation" of the ozone standards. The industry challenge (American Trucking Associations, the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Nat' l Assoc. of Manufacturers) to the Clean Air Act was according to many the most serious challenge in its 30 year history and the decision is a major victory for environmentalists. Ed Hopkins, Director of Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program said that the decision protects the "more than 100 million Americans who continue to breathe unhealthy air." He went on to say that the "1997 soot and smog standards upheld by the Court today will provide greater protection to children and people with asthma and other lung diseases, who are particularly vulnerable to dangerous soot and smog."

Radioactive Waste: Recent (March 1, 2001) word from Erin Rogers out of the Lone Star Chapter office is that the radioactive waste bill will probably be filed by Senator Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, sometime during the week of March 5th or March 12th. Everyone is concerned about what the content will be. Duncan is vice-chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and will carry the ball for the chair, Senator Buster Brown-R, Lake Jackson. The great fear is that some compromise with the House will be made that will allow privatization of the license as well as Department of Energy waste to flow into Texas. Since the hearings may start before the next newsletter is out, please be alert to calls for action as what happens in the next month may determine whether Texas will, in fact, become the national radioactive waste dump.

HB 128, filed by Rep. Buddy West-R of Odessa, would undermine the ability of the federal land managers (superintendents of national parks, for example) to deal as effectively with air pollution as is currently possible. That analysis comes from Environmental Defense. Word from around the capitol is that it is model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national organization which bills itself as a "bipartisan, individual membership association of state legislators, with nearly 2400 members across America." ALEC is a very conservative organization that has produced such "model" legislation as bills that allow polluters to keep information about their pollution secret from the public if the information is developed as part of a company's audit of environmental operations.

Several environmental groups are watching this legislation. As of March 2nd no hearing has been scheduled on the bill.

LATE BREAKING NEWS: A hearing has been set for March 13 in House Environmental Regulation Committee. Please contact your representative in opposition to this bill. FS


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