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May 2001 BBRSC Newsletter

Big Bend Regional Sierra Club concludes its spring program with the May meeting. The next program meeting will be September 18, 2001. The next newsletter will be the later part of June. I am sorry to say that CBS did not come to Alpine; but they did go to the Park and they did talk to Supt. Frank Deckert. I have been told the program may be aired the third week in May but that is not confirmed yet.

May 15th Program Features Eve Trook

Big Bend Regional Sierra Club will sponsor a program on water and the future of west Texas at 7 PM in room 309 of Lawrence Hall on the Sul Ross State University campus. Eve Trook, attended a conference March 30th in Austin on the future of water and Texas. She says, "The gathering, a wonderfully polyglot mixture of rural Texans and the urban advocates of equitable water policies, made it clear that the future of West Texas and, specifically, the high Chihuahuan Desert, was perhaps more at stake than any other part of Texas." Members and the public are invited.

Trook goes on to say, "Consider the scenario: few of us live in the desert, relative, say, to El Paso or San Antonio; the urban dwellers enjoy a culture in which lawns, for example, play an important role in evaluating quality of life; water quantity and water quality are diminishing for both rural and urban dwellers; and, in that most sacred of American valuations, we in West Texas have water we 'aren't using." The conference, organized to offer an alternative to urban v. rural interests, sought to communicate a vision of water as a resource requiring an informed electorate to make some hard choices. Trook's talk is designed to offer a summary of the conference notions of 'new' water and what that might be in West Texas. In addition Trook, who has attended another meeting on water law will outline the rudiments of water law, particularly the Rule of Capture, groundwater management, and 'prior appropriation." She says, "These concepts, based on a history of efforts to sustain life in the dry regions to the west of the 100th meridian, differ from the 'riparian rights' which easterners know. Because West Texas is a land, increasingly, of immigrants from many different climates, we need to share the knowledge of the legal rules applied to our water." She says, "The program will include pricing water (a commodity like oil? will the pup fish become the ranchers' best friend?), conservation and 'new water, surface water v. groundwater, 'local' control water (which locals?), stewardship initiatives in other geographic areas, urban bias in development practices, federal grants to create riparian buffers, water ranching (e.g. T. Boone Pickens), water trusts, conflict resolution among water users, and tribal water rights relative to those of municipalities, states and the federal government."

Trook's professional training and teaching experience (MA in Early Childhood Education, JD in law, PHD in Criminal Justice was not suited to rural living. (She came to the Big Bend to alleviate her husband's respiratory allergies.) Her commitment to living in the area after her husband died in 1999 is demonstrated in her developing organic market garden, her weaving studio and her growing rural elder law practice. Her interest in water law comes from a semester at the American Indian Law Center in Albuquerque, NM during 1980's

In addition to Eve's presentation, Liz Hightower, chair of the BBRSC water committee, will update us on the work of the committee. Trook and Brian McMurray are also members of the Committee.


Politics would be a helluva good business if it weren't for the people.
Richard Nixon

Radioactive Waste Bill, SB 1541: The BBRSC has made an intensive effort to kill this bill in the Senate. Through May 1st the bill has not come to the Senate floor, though it has been on the intent calendar since April 25th. It must pass the Senate and be out of the House Committee no later than May 19th . It would then be eligible for House consideration. Duncan, bill sponsor, amended it in Committee and then Bivens amended it. Bivens' amendment drops all pretenses: there would be two sites within mile, with one for Compact waste and the other for federal waste. Its passage would assure that Texas becomes the national radioactive waste dump. BILL PASSED SENATE AND HAS GONE TO THE HOUSE. BE PREPARED TO FIGHT IT IN THE HOUSE. THANKS TO SENATOR MADLA WHO VOTED AGAINST THE BILL ALL THE WAY. SEE STORY ON LONE STAR CHAPTER WEBSITE (see above for address). PLEASE CONTACT MADLA AND THANK HIM. THAT IS IMPORTANT! (512) 463-0119; FAX: (512) 463-1017; E-MAIL: frank.madla@senate.state.tx.us ;
Honorable Frank Madla, Texas Senate,
P. O. 12068, Capitol Station,
Austin, TX 78711

You should now contact Representative Pete Gallego, asking him to vote against the bill in any form.

Please contact his office right away as the bill will be on the fast track: (512) 463-0566; Fax: (512) 463-5896; pete.gallego@house.state.tx.us ;
Honorable Pete Gallego,
Texas House of Representatives,
P. O. Box 2910,
Austin, Texas 78768.

Grandfathered plants: The weaker of two bills dealing with the grandfathered plants was passed as an amendment to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission Sunset Review bill, HB2912. The bill has passed the House and is in the Senate Natural Resources Committee as we go to press. The Lone Star Chapter will work to get stronger requirements for the grandfathered polluting plants. Under the bill as passed by the House a good amendment by Rep. Zbranek's to close the grandfather loophole was itself amended by Rep. Chisum with a provision that would allow grandfathered polluters to continue polluting for years, if not forever. Chisum's amendment requires grandfathered polluters to obtain permits by 2005 in 15 counties and by 2007 for the rest of the state. It does not require pollution control equipment to be installed by a date certain. It allows 10-year-old BACT (Best Available Control Technology) for any plant that applies for a permit by 2002 and it caps the emissions reductions for natural gas pipelines at up to 20%. Chisum's bill continues the failed voluntary program for another year. The attempt to vote down Chisum's amendment failed 45-98. There was a record vote to adopt Chisum's amendment, which passed 91-22.

As far as the Sunset Review bill Provisions for the TNRCC, HB2912, a number of strengthening provisions for the agency were passed. Following are some of the positive amendments passed by the House as outlined by Lone Star Chapter staffer Erin Rogers:

  • Establishes the independence of the TNRCC Public Interest Counsel. Gives Counsel right to appeal commission decisions to courts. Allows Counsel to make recommendations to Legislature and participate in advisory committees. Adopted by the narrow and dramatic margin of 74-70.

  • Requires the TNRCC to develop and implement policies to protect the public from cumulative risks and to give monitoring and enforcement priority to areas with a concentration of regulated facilities.

  • Changes the mission of the TNRCC by excluding economic development in the mission statement.

  • Requires TNRCC to receive complaints via the Internet.

  • Allows people to file anonymous complaints if they specifically request it.

  • States that in determining whether the TNRCC Executive Director should act as a party in a contested case hearing, the commission shall consider the technical, financial and legal capacity of the parties to the proceeding.

  • Prohibits storage, processing or disposal of hazardous waste in salt domes.

  • Requires timely TNRCC response to complaints received during non-business hours.

  • Requires TNRCC to do annual complaint review and analysis based on certain categories of complaints, assess the impact of changes in TNRCC complaint policies, and work with local officials in investigating complaints.

  • Some industrial facilities in the state take advantage of a loophole that allows plants to vent excess emissions in the case of "accidents." Some industries regularly emit vast quantities of air pollution under the guise of "upset conditions." This amendment codifies reporting requirements for unauthorized emissions events and requires operators to take action to reduce unauthorized emissions of reportable quantities. Requires development of a database for electronic reporting accessible to the public.

  • Requires TNRCC guidelines on use of compliance history in permitting and enforcement to specify the circumstances in which the commission shall revoke the permit of a repeat violator and establish penalties for repeat violators.

Following is Rogers report on current practices that are unchanged as amendments to correct them were not passed"

  • Polluter Volume Discounts will still continue unless that practice can be changed in the Senate. Under Texas law pollution fees ($26 per ton) are capped at 4,000 tons for each pollutant. The largest sources of pollution in Texas effectively get volume discounts, while the average small business pays the full fee on all emissions. Sixty-five of Texas' largest polluters enjoy this discount while more than 1800 pay the full $26 per ton. The failed amendment would have dropped the fee to $20 across the board. While increasing fairness, it would also have increased funding for badly needed air quality programs by roughly $7 million per year.

  • Currently persons from a regulated industry can be appointed to the Commission. The failed amendment would have required that persons must be disqualified from being appointed to the Commission if they have received significant income from a regulated entity within two years of appointment.

  • Another failed amendment would have prohibited those who have been required to register as a lobbyist for a regulated entity during the two years preceding appointment from being appointed as TNRCC commissioners.

  • Another failed amendment would have awarded a $500 reward to citizens for reporting pollution incidents that are investigated and deemed violations by TNRCC.

HB 128, an air pollution bill affecting BBNP. This bill by Odessa's Buddy West would limit the role of federal land managers (in our case the federal park superintendents) to analyze permits impacting air pollution in the parks. The bill is in House Calendars and is not at this time moving forward.

Groundwater District Bill: HB 787, the Brewster County Water District Bill, passed the House on April 20th and now goes to an uncertain fate in the Senate. It will be assigned to Senate Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Senator J. E. "Buster" Brown. Brown pulled down all the water district bills last session. Nevertheless, he may not oppose it this time.

SB 2, the water bill, is up for consideration May 2nd in the House Natural Resources Committee. The bill is almost 200 pages dealing with surface and groundwater regulation. Sec 2.58 is of particular interest to us as it would not allow a water conservation district to deny a permit requesting transfer of water out of district solely on the basis that the water would go out of district. Ken Kramer, Lone Star Chapter executive director, says that amendments will be offered in the House throughout the bill. He goes on to say that it is not even certain that the bill will pass the House in any form, though it is probable given that a number of controversial provisions of the original bill were dropped.



As we move into the summer months, I'd like to focus this column on some of the organizational details of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. This month, I'll discuss finances; in the next issue I'll discuss growing leadership in a volunteer organization.

To join the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club, you pay dues to the National organization. Many benefits flow from this, including subscriptions to Sierra magazine, (which recently won a Maggie Award: Best Public Service Award for its May 2000 Lewis & Clark issue), and the Lone Star Sierran, the informative newsletter of the State Organization. To me, one of the most important things that my national dues support is the time and expertise of hard working and informed staff members at the State level like Ken Kramer, Chapter Director; Brian Sybert, Natural Resources Director; Neil Carmen, Clean Air Program Director; Fred Richardson, Communications Director; and Erin Rogers, Grassroots Outreach Coordinator. Each of these individuals has worked long and hard on issues important to the BBRSC.

But almost none of your national dues go to support the efforts of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club. In order to meet this year's budget of $2300, the Executive Committee is hoping for $1100 in donations, $600 in pledges, $300 from calendar sales, and $300 from a fund-raising event. Based on past experience, we believe that these are realistic figures. But they clearly indicate that without your support, we wouldn't be able to meet our budget. Expenses include our newsletter, which at $1100 is our largest single expense. The second largest category of expenses is $750 for reimbursing members for travel or phone expenses involved in attending Sierra Club meetings in other parts of the state, gathering information, arranging programs or, in legislative years, lobbying for causes important to us. The rest of the budget is devoted to $100 for membership development (mostly brochures and mailings), $50 for miscellaneous office supplies, and $300 to advertise and otherwise support our programs.

As these budget figures show, every contribution to the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club underscores a commitment that makes the Club possible. If you have donated this year, know that your funds have been put to good use. If you haven't, I urge you to do so if you can. If you can make a monthly pledge, that helps us plan a bit more confidently. In each issue of the newsletter, we try to thank everyone who has given us a pledge or a donation (of course, you can choose to remain anonymous). But when I look at how important that financial support is, sometimes I wish we could do more.


The Executive Committee decided at its April 26th meeting to plan a summer social sometime in July or August. We will have more details in the next newsletter. Members who would like to volunteer their home should contact Marilyn Brady (837-3210). We would have a potluck dinner and informal social evening.


Jim Yarbrough of the EPA-Region 6 office in Dallas has told Fran Sage that there is a good chance that EPA will come to Alpine in August and bring us current with the BRAVO study as understood at that time. Yarbrough also told her that a preliminary report will be out in December. Modeling, which will show what difference a reduction in pollutants at a source would make in the amount of pollution into Big Bend, will not be done until March/April of next year. BBRSC will bring you up to date as more is learned.


Don Dowdey, chair of BBRSC, sent a letter to the EPA expressing our concern on the lack of information made available from the BRAVO study. He says, in part, "The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission said in its long overdue Texas Visibility Plan update in February 2000 that it will not develop a plan until the results of the BRAVO study are out. That would mean we would have to wait much longer before the state will even have a plan to begin correcting the problems." He goes on to say, "For those of us whose health and concerns about visibility depend upon information in a timely manner, the delay is unacceptable." He concludes by asking, "When will we get some timely information to work with and when will EPA press the TNRCC to develop a plan to address the problem?"

by Fran Sage

(abridged from a column in The Alpine Avalanche and The Alpine Observer and a letter to the editor in the Jeff Davis County Mountain Dispatch)

With all the talk about not becoming dependent upon foreign oil, relaxing environmentally cleaner air standards, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, drilling in protected areas of the Rocky Mts., building new nuclear power plants (ducking, of course, the question of what we will do with the waste), relatively little is heard about an abundant source of energy, at least not heard from the Administration.

It is true that the source is a negative source. It isn't more energy being supplied; it is less energy needed. It is conservation. According to the Department of Energy, the United States uses 25%o the world's oil supply. But we have less than 5% of the world's oil reserves. So think about that. Suppose we had all our oil reserves available. We would still be dependent on other countries as long as we consume 25% of the world's oil supply. But if we reduce our consumption, we could increase our independence-and contribute to the well being of the planet in the process.

The Sierra Club, citing the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, estimates that California could save enough electricity for one million homes-1000 megawatts of electricity-by replacing outmoded air conditioners with modern efficient ones and, citing Appliance Recycling Centers of America, Sierra Club says that California could also replace old refrigerators to save another 1000 megawatts. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council's A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century, the United States, by requiring tire companies to sell replacement tires as fuel efficient as the tires installed on new cars, could save 5.4 billion barrels of oil (more than geologists expect to find in the Arctic.) We could insist on fuel-efficient cars. In its final reference, Sierra Club cites the Council in "Policies for Reducing US Oil Imports" that by increasing the fuel economy of new cars and light trucks to 40 miles per gallon the United States would save three million barrels of oil every day-more than the Arctic, Persian Gulf imports, and off-shore California combined. You get the idea. We do not have to destroy our environment to avoid a California disaster.

In Texas, we are requiring more energy to come from wind power and other renewable sources, including a new effort on fuel cell technology. Other possibilities could be right over the horizon if we would not let ourselves be distracted by projects to explore for oil in environmentally sensitive areas. There is no one quick (or even slow) fix. It will take a variety of approaches. By seeking renewable, alternative, non-polluting approaches we can look toward true solutions, solutions that do not create clean-up costs.

One final source: our own behavior. We need to stop expecting that the world's resources automatically are ours. We need to cut our consumption. Let's all analyze our own lifestyle and ask what we can do to be less energy consumptive. Then let's ask what our communities, our state, and our country should do. The other alternative leads us to wars, misery, poor health, and ultimately the end of the resources.


Lone Star: www.sierraclub.org/chapters/tx (you can access the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club web site by going to that web address, clicking on regional groups, and then clicking on the Big Bend).

National Sierra Club: www.sierraclub.org


Earth Day 2001: Big Bend Regional Sierra Club members participated in an Earth Day celebration , Saturday, April 21st, at Veteran's Park in Alpine. The celebration was held along with the Alpine Creek cleanup. Liz Hightower, coordinator of all groups, 0 reports that 67 people participated, of whom 58 volunteers picked up trash in the creek. They collected about 1500 pounds of bagged trash as well as a refrigerator, washing machine, two stock tanks and a mattress. Donations of goods and services were received from the City of Alpine, Big Bend Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Duncan Disposal, One-Way Nursery, Alpine Community Center, Alpine Creek Alliance, Friends of Alpine Parks, Sierra Club, Purple Sage Women's Club, Main Street Program, Keep TX Beautiful and SRSU Greenhouse. Other groups participating included Freshman Leadership Program (SRSU) Boy Scout Troop 41, Friends of the Library, Big Bend Birders, Chamber of Commerce, Alpine High School Student Council, High Frontier "Falcons," Main Street Program, USDA/NRCS, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Susan Curry, Don Dowdey, and Hal Flanders represented BBRSC with flyers, bumper stickers, and a petition to Senator Frank Madla, urging him to vote against SB1541 (radioactive waste bill). In addition Martha Floro helped with the table set-up. "radioactive" tumbleweed graced the BBRSC booth with a story about the problems getting rid of radioactive tumbleweed in Washington. Kudos to all, and in particular Liz Hightower, whose work underpinned the entire event.

Thanks for refreshments: Marilyn Brady sent this item of thanks. "Volunteers are responsible for the refreshments that we have had at our meetings this spring and for those provided at Earth Day. Those who have contributed cookies and snacks include Bennye Meredith, Eve Trook, Jim Sage, Ginny Campbell, Audrey Painter, and Martha Floro. Don Dowdey and Marilyn Brady have contributed juice. If you are interested in helping with refreshments in the future, contact Marilyn at 837-3210.

Highway cleanup: Thanks to Susan Curry for making arrangements for the BBRSC to be responsible for keeping the highway clean on a 1/2 mile strip of road between Marathon and Alpine, just to the east of the landfill. If we get the paperwork back in time, we will have our first clean-up day on June 2. Contact Susan Curry at 837-1477 to get more information and be part of this project.

Executive Committee Meeting: At its April 26th meeting, the ExCom voted to support HB 787, the Brewster County Water Conservation District bill sponsored by Rep. Pete Gallego. Don Dowdey, Chair, will be in touch with Rep. Gallego to see if we can be of assistance as the bill goes through the senate. It is now in the Senate Natural Resources Committee. It passed the House on the Local and Consent calendar (which means it had unanimous support).

The ExCom also reiterated its opposition to the proposed expansion by the United States Air Force of bomber training in our area.

Fran Sage gave a legislative update on air, water, radioactive waste, and sunset legislation as they move through the legislative process. Don Dowdey discussed the continuing implementation of the by-laws approved last year. With the next election the ExCom will drop to five. The Executive Committee discussed having the Secretary and Treasurer as appointed members of the ExCom (as allowed under the bylaws), leaving five elective positions. The ExCom also discussed ways to involve more members in the work of the organization. Don Dowdey discussed inviting committee chairs and other members to the ExCom meetings for their reports and ideas. Any member is always welcome at the meeting and could participate in the discussion though not in the votes. Dowdey said he will address the issue in the next newsletter. In a final item of business members agreed to send an ExCom member to the Lone Star Chapter ExCom meeting in Dallas July 22. Dowdey also reminded ExCom members that the next BBRSC Executive Committee meeting will be the fourth Thursday in July.

Contributions and pledges for April totaled $201. Thanks to Glen Perry, Pam Gaddis, Sandy Sage, Rick Norman, and Johnnie L.Chambers for their contributions. In addition we received $32 in donations at our last meeting and made $20 from tee-shirt sales. The total for the year to date is $953.


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