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Issue 72
May 7, 2003
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet
Website: http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend

John Mac Carpenter Featured Speaker
"Texas Native Plants"

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club invites its member, guests, and the public to hear John Mac Carpenter of Ft. Stockton discuss Texas Native Plants.

Date: May 20, 2003
Time: 7 P. M.
Place: Room 309, Lawrence Hall on the Sul Ross State University Campus in Alpine

flower John recently conducted a workshop in Big Bend National Park on spring wildflowers. If the slides turn out well, we may see some recent pictures from the park. John said the cactus were particularly fine this year.

John is a charter member and past president of the Native Plant Society of Texas, a director of the Living Desert Garden in Ft. Stockton, and a published botanical author. He was born in New Mexico but grew up in Grandfalls where his father farmed. After many years of going to school off and on, getting married, and having children, he wound up at Sul Ross studying botany under Dr. B. H. Warnock, who became a good friend and mentor. John says, ³With his help, I learned a lot and had access to much of the Big Bend country, access that has pretty much shut down, largely because of the influx of city people to the area and the distrust of them by natives.²

John is also an environmental activist, having fought (and still fighting) disposing radioactive waste in west Texas. He has challenged exports of groundwater to El Paso and San Antonio, and has publicized air quality problems in the Big Bend. He testified on those problems at an EPA hearing in Washington D. C.

John says he looks forward to spending an evening sharing his knowledge of plants of the region.

The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club does not hold Summer program meetings but there will be Summer Events. The next Newsletter will be out in July.

Mr. Curiosity
by Jim Sage

towhee When I first moved to the South Double Diamond, I encountered a small, nondescript bird whose only color seemed to be a bit of buff under the tail. With the help of binoculars and the bird book, I determined it was a Canyon Towhee, then known as the Brown Towhee. My only thought was, surely no one will fly from the East Coast to see this plain Jane, even for the life list. Since then I have come to regard this little fellow as one of my favorite birds. And for several reasons.

First, the Canyon Towhee does not migrate. He is around the house all year and I find myself putting out birdseed in special places where he likes to scratch. I love to watch him scratch as he scratches with both feet at the same time, a feat that seems hard to do without falling on your face. But the primary reason he is a favorite is his demeanor.

While flight is the normal reaction to danger for most birds, with the towhee it is curiosity and self-confidence. He is not aggressive. He is not arrogant. He is not showy. But neither is he timid. He moves constantly with total self-assuredness. He will hop by Felina, (our cat) so close I hold my breath, and often he will perch on the back of a chair while the cat is under it. Felina has long since given up trying to intimidate him. Each day he hops by our glass windows and peers in, satisfying himself that the world is okay. And if I am working outside, he hops by as if checking on me.

Until recently the Canyon Towhee and the California Towhee were considered the same species and were called the Brown Towhee. I donıt know but I suspect that someone checked the DNA and found the difference.

The towhee is a resident from western Arizona, northern New Mexico, and southern Colorado to west central Texas and south. He prefers brushy and rocky terrain in arid country, a true western bird. The female lays three to four bluish green eggs with black or brown markings and nests in a low bush or tree fairly close to the ground. I regret to confess that I have never found its nest.

I suppose that if someone asked me why I get such pleasure from such a nondescript little bird, I would reply itıs because of his personality. His curious, non-assuming behavior makes him especially charming.

Don's Column
by Don Dowdey

The House passed a terrible radioactive waste bill yesterday. Rep. Gallego spoke against it, so I encourage you to thank him for his efforts. The battle now moves to the Senate, but the strategy isnıt worked out as I write this. If you arenıt on our email Alert List, this would be a good time to sign up ­ go to
http://texas.sierraclub.org/bigbend/alert.html. I promise you wonıt be overwhelmed with traffic, but you receive information in a timely fashion.

On to a more positive topic. In a settlement of a suit brought by Environmental Defense, Public Citizen, and Neighbor to Neighbor, Alcoa's Rockdale smelter will be required to reduce immediately its emissions of harmful pollutants, and make even larger pollution reductions over the next few years.

The settlement requires Alcoa to pay the U.S. Treasury a $1.5 million fine. Alcoa also must spend $2.5 million on two environmental mitigation projects in Central Texas: a land purchase project and a project to reduce emissions from school buses.

alcoa The smelter is the state's largest "grandfathered" polluter, spewing more than 100,000 tons of emissions annually. Because of recent requirements that grandfathered power plants reduce their emissions, smelters remained one of the largest unregulated sources of pollution in the state. The suit alleged that in the mid-1980s, Alcoa essentially rebuilt its three power generating units at the Rockdale plant without installing any new air pollution control equipment or obtaining a required Clean Air Act permit. Had Alcoa followed the law then, Texas would have been spared more than one million tons of excess pollution.

Using information from the suit, the EPA and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) cited Alcoa for violating the "new source review" provisions of the Clean Air Act. Under new source review, a grandfathered plant is no longer exempted from having to install modern pollution controls if it overhauls its facilities and emits more pollution than it did before. Unfortunately, the Bush administration is trying to do away with new source review ­ this case indicates why that policy is a mistake.

The settlement requires that Alcoa reduce SO2 pollution by June. It also requires Alcoa to install new pollution control equipment on its three power units or build new units with modern pollution controls. A third option available through the settlement calls for Alcoa to shut down the three units and rely on electricity from other sources, such as a fourth, less-polluting Rockdale power unit owned and operated by Texas Utilities. If Alcoa chooses to close the plants, it must do so by 2006.

Over the long-term, the settlement requires Alcoa to reduce SO2 by about 95 percent and reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate matter by about 90 percent. This is important to Big Bend because SO2 is the major visibility pollution in our area, and the BRAVO study found that particles from plants to the North, South, and West of Rockdale could be traced here. The Rockdale plant was not a specific site for BRAVO, however.

Radioactive Waste and the Andrews Site
by Richard Simpson

Problems with Selection of Andrews County

Richard Simpson, former BBRSC member and longtime environmental activist, has worked for years now opposing first the Sierra Blanca site and for the last two sessions the choice of Andrews County for disposing of radioactive waste. His knowledge of the subject is extensive. Following is an excerpt, from a longer article, on the physical problems with Andrews County as a radioactive waste disposal site.‹Ed.

Reliance on Andrews County as the answer to Texas' waste management needs is a problem. The physical site of the proposed facility is promoted as "ideal" by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and local boosters, but claims about site characteristics have not been subjected to scrutiny by more objective observers. There are conflicting opinions about whether the site could pollute the Ogallala Aquifer (largest in North America), and claims that it could not would have to be proved in a license hearing or court challenge. The "redbed" soil beneath the site has been assumed to be an impenetrable barrier to radionuclide migration, but similar conditions at other U.S. sites (e.g. in Kentucky and South Carolina) have demonstrated that redbed barriers are not reliable.

There is evidence that western Andrews County may also be above karst features (such as underground caves and channels) that would transport groundwater in unpredictable ways, making the area a poor candidate for a radioactive burial site. Water would travel through karst in pathways impossible to define and at rates of flow vastly different from flow in surrounding deposits. Surface water runoff could be channeled down Monument Draw (a few hundred feet west of the disposal site), running along the eastern edge of New Mexico, recharging groundwater in Texas to the south of Andrews County and flowing from Winkler and Ward Counties to the Pecos River. So the site may have hydrological problems both to the north (recharging the Ogallala Aquifer) and to the south (affecting groundwater and surface flow to the Pecos).

Another problem with the site is its proximity to oil and gas resources. Andrews County has been a prolific producer of oil and gas for many decades, and it still contains large deposits of petroleum yet to be produced. Not only are there thousands of wells that have been drilled in the area, but it is likely that production in the vicinity will continue indefinitely. The potential for radionuclide migration to both oil and water resources through pathways related to oil wells would also be a great concern in siting a waste facility. The Andrews/Eunice area has had many documented examples of unexpected well "blow-outs" due to waterfloods (a secondary recovery method) in widely separated wells.

A further problem with the Andrews location is the occurrence of frequent seismic events in the area. There have been over twenty significant (magnitude 2.0 or greater) earthquakes within fifty miles of the proposed site in the last twenty-five years, including a 5.0 earthquake in 1992 that was only a few miles from the WCS property. In sworn testimony for the Sierra Blanca LLRW license hearing, one of the world's leading experts on seismicity in the area referred to his recent study that had recorded "...something like 1300 small earthquakes" in the Permian Basin region (Dr. Randy Keller, 2/4/98). In addition, weather extremes, inadequate roads, and a primitive design for the proposed facility (e.g. the "bathtub effect" of concrete lined trenches) further jeopardize the chance for the Andrews County project to meet regulatory concerns. Ironically, a design which uses aboveground storage for Class B&C waste in a sparsely populated, poorly guarded, remote area might also make it an easier target for terrorists to steal the most dangerous waste products.

Legislative Update
by Fran Sage

Radioactive Waste: HB 1567 (Senate companion bill SB824) passed the House on Tuesday, April 22 (Earth Day!). Our Representative, Pete Gallego-D, played an important role in the debate, opposing the bill, helping make clear the issues. Several other bill opponents did also. The bill not only passed but all amendments proposed were defeated out of hand. They ranged from trying to have the state retain the license, prohibiting federal nuclear waste, down to insisting that the new waste site be as secure as the power plants are. There was a certain irony in that last one, as the supporters were claiming that it was dangerous to leave the waste at the power plants as they could be attacked by terrorists but then refused to insist that the new site of the waste be at least as secure as the power plants! At any rate, the process showed how effective the high money lobbying has been by Waste Control Specialists with their 16 lobbyists.

A last ditch effort was made to stop HB1567 on May 7th. We did not get the eleven votes needed against allowing the bill to go for floor debate. After most amendments to ameliorate the dangerous bill failed (including one by Senator Madla), the bill passed 23-6 and is now in a Conference Committee. As of May 9th the House conferees have been appointed but the Senate ones have not. We will now consider our options for post legislation action. Senator Madla opposed the bill all the way. Please Call his office at (512) 463-0119 or e-mail him at frank.madla@senate.state.tx.us to thank him. Please also thank Representative Pete Gallego at (512) 463-0566 or e-mail him at pete.gallego@house.state.tx.us. The bill action may be complete before you read this.

Selected Other Bills of Interest:

La Linda Bridge: House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 186 filed in the House by Representative Pete Gallego and Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 37 in the Senate by Senator Frank Madla (they are companion bills) urge state and federal officials to allow reopening of the La Linda Bridge on the Rio Grande. While the resolution is not binding, it would put the support of the state of Texas behind the effort. The House bill is in the Senate now.

Alternative Energy: Rep. Gallego has filed several alternative energy bills, namely HB 2910 and 3271. Senator Madla has filed SB1561, which is a companion to HB 3271. The House bills have had Committee hearings and 2910 (setting timelines on wind power and renewable energy use) and 3271 (dealing with photovoltaic and other renewable distributed generation technologies) have been left pending. They appear to be dead for this session HB2548 (dealing with additional transmission capacities) filed by King, Swinford and Baxter has been put on the major House calendar. It has some chance of moving forward. Regardless of their final fate it is good they have been filed and discussed.

tamarix Plants: Madla has filed SB 854 that would require a list of noxious plants (for example, salt cedar) to be created and would prohibit the sale, distribution and importation of such plants. This bill has passed the Senate and gone to the House and is assigned to the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee with a hearing scheduled May 8th. It was amended some in the Senate process.

Emissions Reduction: Since the Big Bend area gets some of its air pollution from east Texas, one issue that is working toward resolution could indirectly improve our air quality. It is the funding needed for the Texas Emissions Reduction Program. Such funding could help Dallas and Houston reduce their air pollution and comply with the plans approved by the EPA. A method outlined in HB1365 passed the House and a version has now passed the Senate. Some version will likely make it through the legislative process as Texas stands to loose hundreds of millions of federal highway dollars.

Park Acquisitions Authority: HJR 89 by Hilderbran-R would allow citizens of Texas to vote on a constitutional amendment to provide the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with $500 million in General Obligation Bonds that would be issued for the acquisition of new state parkland; and HB 2779 also filed by Hilderbran would simply give the TPWD the authority to issue the bonds if the constitutional amendment is passed. The bills are in the House Calendars Committee. It needs to be passed to the floor soon if it is to have time to be considered, approved, and sent to the Senate. Brian Sybert of the Lone Star Chapterıs office explains that a major problem is that the Calendars Committee has over 600 bills in it now. Many of them may die for lack of being placed on the House Calendar. The fate of these bills is uncertain.

Pollution Process: Four bills in various stages of consideration would change how the majority of environmental crimes are prosecuted and could hamper forcing companies to clean up pollution. The bills are opposed by environmental groups and local prosecutors. HB 3164 (filed by Capelo-D) and SB 1265 (filed by Armbrister-D, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee]) would require the state, which punishes most environmental crimes without filing criminal charges, to review evidence collected on companies it regulates and decide how it should be prosecuted. Local prosecutors now receive the evidence directly and choose how to enforce the law. HB 2875 (filed by Bonnen-R) would absolve companies from criminal prosecution if waste they disposed of later seeps further into the environment. Prosecutors are now allowed to file criminal charges against businesses well after the waste is dumped. SB 1361 [filed by Staples-R] would bar citizen-collected data from being used for enforcement.

There are also a number of important water bills, which I do not have the expertise to summarize and assess.

Sea Turtle Nesting

On April 15th, the Houston Chronicle reports that Tourists from Vermont spotted the yearıs first known nesting of an endangered Kempıs ridley sea turtle on the Texas coast. The 94 eggs the turtle laid were taken for safe incubation at a seashore laboratory and the hatchlings from the eggs will probably be ready for release into the Gulf sometime between May 28 and June 4.


In April STNP was forced to shutdown one of its reactors indefinitely due to signs of a tiny leak found next to tubes near the bottom of the reactor. A very small amount of radioactive boric acid residue was discovered when the reactor was shut down for scheduled refueling and maintenance. Last year there were several leaks in the vessel head at the Davis-Besse plant in Oak Harbor, Ohio, near Toledo. That plant is still closed. The Texas plant was built by Westinghouse. According to the New York Times, the South Texas leak is unexpected, and, so far, unexplained. The problem was revealed at a Conference in Washington D. C. early last month and was reported several days later by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Experts are concerned because they have never seen it before coming from the bottom of a reactor. According to the Houston Chronicle, ³the Commission has been advising nuclear plants using Westinghouse reactors--‹ the South Texas Project does‹about so-called Œthimble tube thinninı for 15 years. Thimble tubes run inside the incore guide tubes, where the residue was found.² Unit Two at the plant is running normally.

Big Bend National Park
Retirement Party for Supt. Frank Deckert

A roast and toast farewell dinner will be held on Saturday, May 31, 2003 at 6:00 p.m. at Panther Junction Community Room in Big Bend National Park. The Mexican Buffet dinner is $15 per person. For those needing overnight accommodations, try the Chisos Mountains Lodge (432-477-291), the Big Bend Motor Inn (432-371-2218) or other area accommodations. A book of letters, pictures, and memorabilia will be compiled for Frank and Gloria. Items may be submitted by May 20 to Claudia Arnberger, P. O. Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834. Please make dinner reservations by May 15th by mailing your check to Claudia. Checks may be made out to the Casa Grande Association. If you wish further details, contact Claudia at (432) 477-1108.

Book listings

Below are two of the recommended books from The Big Bend Paisano Volume 4, Number 2, Spring 2003, a publication of the National Park Service.

Northern Chihuahuan Desert Wildflowers, by Steve West. There are 270 color photos with descriptions of 261 species. $24.95. The reviewer considers the book as probably the best available book on Big Bend flowering plants.

Grasses of the Trans-Pecos, by Dr. Michael Powell. $27.95. Dr. Powell , a Professor of Biology at Sul Ross State University, has also written an earlier volume, Trees and Shrubs of the Trans-Pecos. The books are references for general readers as well as botanists.

Sierra Club News

New Members: Welcome to the following new or transferred members: Gail Munson, Big Bend National Park; Albert Bork and Thomas Strauss of Alpine; and Saarin Keck and Carolyn Evens of Marfa.

ExCom Meeting report: Our Executive Committee met April 24, 2003 in the Board Room of the West Texas National Bank. Among other topics of discussion were a series of dinner meetings to be held outside Alpine to meet with Sierra Club members and their friends. Lue Hirsch, Vice-Chair, will send postcards to the local members notifying them. There will also be posters in the local areas. Don Dowdey, Chair, will attend as many as possible. Following is the schedule:

Fort Davis, June 21 ­
Murphyıs Pizzeria and Cafe

Marfa, August 9 ­
Jettıs Grill

Marathon, October 18 ­
Marathon Coffee Shop

Presidio, January 17 ­
El Patio

An August social and fundraiser is also tentatively being planned. More information will be in the summer newsletter.

Contributions: As of April 23rd, the BBRSC has received $259 with thanks to Jim and Fran Sage, Carolyn and Jack Singley and Marilyn and David Shotwell, Thomas Reidy, Martha (Marty) Hansen and our pledgers Cliff and Luanne Hirsch, Ginny and Joe Campbell, and Jim and Fran Sage. That brings our year ıs total to date to $650.70.

Calendar Sales Wrap-up: $830.69 plus $107.98 credit with Random House for total earnings of $938.67. Hats off to all who sold and who bought calendars!

Sierra Club statement of Purpose:

To explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the Earth, to practice and promote responsible use of the Earthıs 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 those objectives.

Big Bend Regional Sierra Club 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, Texas 79830

Don Dowdey, Chair, 50 Sunny Glen, Alpine, TX 79830 ddowdey@wildblue.net

Fran Sage, Newsletter Editor, P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX. 79831


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