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BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB Newsletter

Issue 61
March 4, 2002


West Texas: Isolated and Ignored? Or the Epicenter of the National Nuclear Industry's Attempts to Expand? (Or Both!)

The public and Sierra Club members are invited to a presentation by Erin Rogers of the Lone Star Chapter on West Texas' role in helping to thwart the nuclear industry's expansion plans and the ever-intensifying threats still facing the region. The meeting is March 19th at 7 p.m. in Room 204 of the Academic Computing Research Center on the Sul Ross State University campus.

NOTE THE CHANGE OF MEETING PLACES. The elevator in Lawrence Hall may not be repaired by the 19th and thus we have changed locations. The ACR is the building just to the west of Lawrence Hall.

While BBRSC members and other area residents have worked hard to block a waste dump in West Texas, we have rarely placed our action in the complex and broader issues of nuclear energy and alternatives. Rogers will help expand our understanding. Her presentation includes a national overview-specifically focusing on the Bush/Cheney Energy bill that encourages 50 new nuclear power plants to be built in the United States in the next 20 years. The waste from these new plants and existing waste at the currently operating reactors along with a decreasing number of dumpsites creates a pressurized bottleneck at the waste end. The presentation explains how West Texas fits into the national picture, what the most immediate threats are to the region, and how people can get involved in upcoming Sierra Club activities to not only stop future attempts to build private radioactive waste dumps in West Texas but also advocate for clean energy sources such as wind power.

Erin Rogers is the Grassroots Outreach Coordinator for the Lone Star Sierra Club. She has spent nearly 10 years working on nuclear issues, first with the women's organization-Foundation for a Compassionate Society, then as the executive director of the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund, next as a legislative aid and for the last two years as the grassroots organizer for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. Except for the session when she was a legislative aid, she has been active as a lobbyist for the various organizations she worked for. During the 2001 session, her particular responsibilities for the Lone Star Chapter were working on the Sunset legislation redefining the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission and the low-level radioactive legislation. Of course, Erin has been involved in other Sierra Club activities too, including water issues. The BBRSC is pleased to have her out here sharing her expertise with us. Please attend this meeting if at all possible and bring your neighbors and friends.

THE TURKEY VULTURES ARE RETURNING!

Put out the welcome mat. By the time you receive this newsletter, the turkey vultures will probably be back in the Big Bend Region. Out in my neck of the woods south of Alpine, friends and neighbors vie to see who spots the first vulture. If you want to know lots of information about vultures, check out the 4000+ Internet web sites. For today I just want to mention a few facts I gleaned from my web site research.

As many of you probably know, the turkey vulture has an acute sense of smell. According to a writer with the Turkey Vulture Society, they can "detect parts per trillion" and can discern the direction the scent has come from. They can track the stench of decaying road kill and other carrion to get food. They do not have strong claws and rarely kill animals. Hence their need to smell to lead them to their carrion food. I was interested to learn that humans have used the vultures' sense of smell to pinpoint leaks in an oil pipeline. According to an article in "Ask Audubon" on the Audubon website, "When ethyl mercaptan, a chemical redolent of rotting meat, was pumped through one 42-mile line, the hoodwinked scavengers congregated at the cracks."

I have always thought turkey vultures one of the most graceful, beautiful birds when soaring in flight but one of the ugliest up close on fences. It is the head that seems ugly to me. But I have learned that that smooth head is essential to keeping clean. The birds root around in carrion and their lack of head feathers allows the head to remain clean. They also, again according to The Turkey Vulture Society, spend several hours each day preening themselves. They go into water whenever they can. You may have seen them drying out on fences, raising and extending their wings.

I have often wondered why the carrion food does not make them sick. Apparently, they have a superior immune and digestive system. The Turkey Vulture Society is conducting a study to understand the birds' ability to disinfect rodent carcasses carrying Hantavirus. (I am not sure when the study of vultures' digestive system began or if it is finished yet.) Turkey Vultures are not unique in their ability to stay free of infection from the carrion meat; other carrion birds do also. But it makes them one of the greatest road-cleaning creatures around. So look for the beauty of the soaring birds and affirm their eating habits. Those habits allow them to clean up after us. --Fran Sage-

CHAIR'S COLUMN
By Don Dowdey

AIR QUALITY UPDATE

In documents leaked to the New York Times and other publications in late February, EPA staff harshly criticizes the Administration's review of and proposed changes to the Clean Air Act's New Source Review (NSR) program. NSR is the program that requires the oldest and most polluting "grandfathered" industrial facilities to install modern pollution controls whenever they make major modifications that would significantly increase pollution. As such, it is the most effective tool now available to help clear the air in places like Big Bend, where pollution comes from several states.

At the behest of electric utilities, refiners and other industries, the Bush Administration launched a review of the NSR program in May 2001. The President instructed EPA to study NSR's effect, if any, on energy production and prices. The EPA's preliminary report was issued in June 2001and found that NSR was not having an impact on energy production and prices, but that it was significantly reducing pollution. Since that time, the industry, the U.S. Department of Energy, and other Administration officials have lobbied to significantly weaken NSR in the final report.

In the recently leaked documents, EPA officials at the Air Enforcement Division (AED) complain that the draft NSR final report is "highly biased and loaded with emotionally charged code words" and "is drafted as a prelude to recommendations to vitiate the NSR program." In addition, EPA officials complain that several of the NSR changes being contemplated by the Administration would result in significant increases in air pollution.

Reacting to these reports, Clear the Air, a joint project of the Clean Air Task Force, National Environmental Trust and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, believe that this weakening or eliminating of existing portions of the Clean Air Act would allow at least 36% more nitrogen oxide, 50% more sulfur dioxide, and three times the amount of mercury to be legally emitted by power plants. Sulfur dioxide, of course, is a crucial component of the air pollution in the Big Bend. According to Clear the Air, the President's plan would delay pollution reductions by up to a decade from when they would occur if the Clean Air Act were simply enforced as written.

The current date for the release of the final report is sometime in March. Shortly after that, there will be opportunities for the public to respond. Watch this newsletter, and the BBRSC e-mail alert list for information on what you can do to help.

Some of this information came from Clear the Air's website: http://www.cleartheair.org , which is a good place to look for breaking information.

HIGHWAY CLEANUP CREW WORKING TO FREE HIGHWAY OF LITTER

While the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club did not duplicate the vultures' cleaning actions, Bob Brewer, Liz Hightower, Bennye Meredith, Audrey Painter, and Jim Sage spent February 9th, a Saturday morning, working to gather litter on the BBRSC's stretch of highway just east of the Y on Highway 90 going toward Marathon. We are all grateful for their work! What we need are a few more hands to help out. Five is really not enough. If you could volunteer to help (the work mornings take place four times per year), please contact Liz Hightower (915) 837-0100. The next cleanup will be in May.

NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR APPOINTED TO HEAD THE TEXAS PARKS AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT

On February 4, 2002, at a specially called meeting, the Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to accept the recommendation of their search committee and appoint Robert L. Cook, a veteran Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist, to head the agency. Cook succeeds Andrew Sansom who resigned December 31 after 11 years as director. Cook was chosen from a field of 90 applicants. Cook joined the department in 1965 as a wildlife biologist and ultimately served as deputy executive director under Sansom.

A Houston Chronicle article from late January quotes the newly appointed chairman of the commission as praising Cook's leadership abilities and saying Cook made "the right decision" in January when he chose not to increase fees at the agency. The TPWD is financially pressed for managing the state parks. Cook is quoted as explaining that when fees are raised, visitation goes down. It is, however, up since the September 11th terrorist attacks. Cook hopes to tighten expenditures by reexamining departmental budgets, using vehicles longer, and holding off on filling additional staff positions.

The Houston Chronicle reports that environmentalists support the appointment, quoting Brian Sybert of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club: "He [Cook] has shown he understand the various roles the diverse agency plays and understands the needs of the various constituencies its serves." "From the Sierra Club's point of view, we are very happy."

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE HEALTH STUDY FOR BREWSTER COUNTY?

After three and one-half years of the project, the Texas Department of Health (TDH) has not yet released the health study on Brewster County. The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club sought the study in 1998 initially and Representative Pete Gallego requested it and Senator Frank Madla supported doing one. The BBRSC supported and to the degree it could be helpful assisted the TDH. The BBRSC, which had wanted a study of the effect of air pollution upon residents' health, agreed it made sense to incorporate the air pollution issue into a broader study in the survey part of the study. One of the problems for TDH is the lack of baseline data on respiratory and cardiovascular illness. The survey forms were sent out in the summer of 1999. The remainder of the study was to include interviews with Brewster County health providers and testing of water wells in the Terlingua area. After a meeting in March 2001, TDH added compiling an asthma database by December 2001.

Fran Sage contacted by e-mail Dr. Miguel Escobedo, regional director of TDH Regions 9 & 10 in El Paso, on November 30, 2001, asking where the survey results were. Escobedo replied that the report was completed and he needed to talk with her, though he would be out of the office for a week. Sage heard nothing more from him. On January 30, 2002, the BBRSC instructed Sage to make an open records request of TDH. She sent one forward February 15. TDH replied with a form letter indicating the request was under review and outlining the process, which includes a TDH legal analysis, and, if needed, a review by the Attorney General's office. TDH will notify Sage when it reaches a conclusion. So where does this study stand? TDH knows but we don' t. We do not know the form the final results and recommendations take, nor do we know if interviewing the health providers and creating the asthma database have been done.

Sage says that from her point of view the progress of the project has been frustrating and discouraging. She hopes something useful will be revealed when the report is made public. Only time will tell.

TNRCC'S NAME TO CHANGE

Legislation passed last session changes the name of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), effective September first. The name change was one of a number of changes made as the TNRCC underwent sunset review and continuation. The Sierra Club strongly favored the name change because it more accurately reflects the mission of the agency. While the TNRCC will immediately begin to change agency stationery, vehicle decals, highway signs, and the Web site home page to reflect the change, the complete name change will be finished by January 1, 2004.

BEYOND NUCLEAR ENERGY
TEXAS CONFERENCE & DAY OF ACTION, APRIL 27-28, 2002

Organized by Erin Rogers of the Lone Star Sierra Club, "Beyond Nuclear Energy" expands the focus for anti-nuclear activists to include solutions to the pressing nuclear power problems and place them in a national context as well as the state context.

TOPIC: Nuclear issues

WHEN: April 27-28, 2002

WHERE: Lake Whitney State Park (60 miles south of Fort Worth

SPONSERS: The Lone Star Sierra Club, League of Women Voters Education Fund, Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (SEED), Public Citizen, Peace Action Texas, the Peace Farm, and Texas State Representative Lon Burnam of Fort Worth

CONFIRMED SPEAKER: National Expert Arjun Makhijani has agreed to participate in the Conference. He is President of IEER (Institute for Energy and Environmental Research) who holds a PHD in engineering (specialization in nuclear fusion) from the University of California at Berkeley. He has produced many studies and articles on nuclear fuel cycle related issues, including weapons production, testing, and nuclear waste, over the past fifteen years. He is the principal author of the first study ever done (completed in 1971) on energy conservation potential in the U. S. economy. He is the principal editor of Nuclear Wastelands and the principal author of Mending the Ozone Hole, both published by MIT Press. The April newsletter will list all confirmed speakers.

GOALS: To bring together activists from across the state to get to know each other, educate themselves on a range of nuclear and energy issues, plan action strategies, as well as have fun together.

PROGRAM: Both educational and strategy sessions are planned:

Educational Panels:

  • Nukes 101 Basics
  • National Overview: Nuclear Energy and Waste and Status of State Compacts
  • Texas Overview: 1) The Nuclear Industry in Texas (from uranium mining to waste disposal to nuclear weapons, 2) Texas Renewable Energy Potential
  • What's Expected to Happen in the Texas Legislature in 2003
  • Results of the Sierra Club report on nuclear waste generation and storage in Texas

Facilitated Small Group Strategy Sessions:

  • Organizing for action on nuclear waste disposal in Texas
  • Developing a Pro-Active Plan to Phase out Nuclear Power and Replace it with Clean, Renewable Energy
  • Forming a more structured statewide network and communications structure, and drafting a statement of principles on radioactive waste

Space is limited! RSVP by April 22 (call 512-477-1729). The conference is $5 per person (to cover lunch), plus the $2 park entry fee. For those of us from the BBRSC, expenses may be covered. The Executive Committee voted to allocate money so that members may go to the Conference. CONTACT DON DOWDEY (915) 837-3210 OR ddowdey@wildblue.net IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN ATTENDING.

SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS: The conference will be held in an air-conditioned room seating 70 with a kitchen and bathrooms. People may sleep in the room on a cot or sleeping bag, or camp Saturday night. There are also hotels and B&Bs in the area.

Volunteers to help with food preparation, puppet making, banner making, and outreach are needed-please contact the Lone Star Sierra Club (512-477-1729) to volunteer or e-mail erinrogers99@hotmail.com .

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB NEWS

WEBSITE CHANGES

Don Dowdey also writes that thanks to the hard work of BBRSC Webmaster Bob Patterson, our website (http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend) now features links to the Sierra Club's server with membership forms and a link to the Sierra Club Books (and more, at the Sierra Club store). Going through our website means that we get a percentage of anything you buy. Books are arranged in the subject areas of: Pictorial Books, Current Interest, Mountaineering, Hiking and Outdoor Activities, Women and the Outdoors, John Muir Library, Literature, Natural History, Gardening, Travel Guides, Sierra Club Totebooks, and Naturalist's Guides. Also, children's books, from picture books for pre-schoolers to books for young adults, are available. In addition to books, items such as Holiday cards (currently discounted), clothing (including organic cotton), bags and packs, watches (you can design your own), and gift memberships are available. Everything makes great gifts. Remember, if you go through our website, you are supporting BBRSC.

CONTRIBUTIONS

Virginia Campbell announces that the BBRSC received $212.07 in donations and $65 in pledges for February. Year's contributions to date are $337.07. Thanks to Jeff Smith and Tom Beard for their donations.

FLANDERS WEBSITE

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club has added a link to information on Hal Flanders. The website is http://www.texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend. Bob Patterson, webmaster formatted the tributes and put in the photo gallery. The site is now up to date.

DONATIONS FOR THE HAL FLANDERS MEMORIAL

The family has asked that anyone wishing to make memorial donations may send them to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club % Virginia Campbell, Treasurer, P. O. Box 474, Marathon, TX 79842, or to the Unitarian/Universalist Service Committee, 130 Prospect St., Cambridge, MA 02139-1845. At its October Executive Committee meeting, the ExCom decided to reserve the funds for a special project, not yet designated.

FLANDERS MEMORIAL FUND DONERS

In the December newsletter, the BBRSC published a list of donors. Since then we added two others listed in the February newsletter and two new ones in this newsletter: Patti and Roy Godbold in Marfa and Sandy Sage in Spokane, Washington. That brings the total to date to $1510. Our sincere thanks to all of you for your contributions to the Hal Flanders Memorial Fund. Below, I have copied a letter from Sandy Sage, our daughter, from Spokane, who contributed recently. Although Sandy did not know Hal, her letter illustrates how one's life and actions go on influencing others even after death. One can not easily assess the extent of that influence but I thought Sandy's letter perhaps illustrates it. She tells me she sent the link to his website on to other friends who said they too were impressed by his life and his friends. Sandy's letter was sent to our treasurer when she contributed; she never told Jim or me and I only knew of it because Virginia thought we might like to see her letter. I received Sandy's permission to print her letter:

February 11, 2002

To those who knew Hal Flanders:

I enjoyed reading the stories that others had written about Hal Flanders at his passing. He sounds like a wonderful person. I know my parents spoke highly of him and I am sure he could out hike me any day of the week and I am only 51. The stories shared in the website made me cry even though I never met Mr. Flanders. I guess I admire a person that is able to identify his/her passion and then follow it. It sounds as though he did just that with his love of the environment.

Best wishes for his memorial and to his family.


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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