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Big Bend Regional Sierra Club
Regular Public Meeting
19 March 2002


With approximately 15 people in attendance, Chair Don Dowdey opened the meeting at 7:15 p.m. in room 204 of the Academic Computing Resources building on the Sul Ross State University Campus with the following announcements:

  • A paper has been published in The Journal of the American Medical Association linking exposure to air pollution containing particulate matter <2.5 ml with a significant increase in the incidence of heart and lung disease, based on a study involving one-half million people. Sulfates and sulphur dioxide gas were also implicated in increased heart and lung disease risk. Power plant emissions and diesel exhaust were identified as two primary contributors. These small particles are a major component of air pollution in the Big Bend.

  • Eric Shaeffer, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement, tenured his resignation recently in protest of the Bush administration’s policy on the New Source Review and Best Available Retrofit Technology (BART) provisions of the Clean Air Act, feeling that the administration’s policy makes it easier for polluters to pollute rather than reducing emissions. Enforcement actions are essentially on hold currently at the EPA. His resignation is the strongest sign yet that a major fight will be required when Congress considers these regulations.

  • Clean Air in Parks, a coalition with over 300 member organizations, is putting together a national organizational plan aimed at structuring strong BART rules. Acadia National Park in Maine (the most polluted national park in the east) and Big Bend National Park (the most polluted national park in the west) are covered in Phase II of the plan. During this phase, which will take place in June, Clean Air for Parks is looking for letters to the Bush administration urging them to support strong action to clean up these parks.

  • Carl Pope, executive director of Sierra Club, issued a strong statement condemning the failure of Congress to set minimum gasoline mileage standards. In particular, he criticized auto industry lobbyists who admited that much of their opposition was based on a decision that they could not compete with the Japanese auto makers.

  • Tom "Smitty" Smith, Director of Public Citizen – Texas and a noted environmental issues expert will be our speaker at the April BBRSC meeting, talking about several border issues including increasing truck traffic and diesel emissions likely to occur if La Entrada al Pacifico becomes a reality.

  • Fran Sage announced that the Open Records Act request to Texas Department of Health was almost instantly successful and she now has now a mass of unorganized material from TDH. Fran is in the process of comparing these documents against previously received material and will report further at the April meeting.


Don introduced our speaker, Erin Rogers, Grassroots Outreach Coordinator for the Lone Star Sierra Club. She has spent nearly 10 years working on nuclear issues for several organizations and as a lobbyist, and was Executive Director of the Sierra Blanca Legal Defense Fund. Erin’s presentation included an overview of national nuclear energy policy and the Bush/Cheney energy plan, an explanation of the pressurized bottleneck that exists at the waste end of nuclear power production, and how people can get involved to stop attempts to build private radioactive waste dumps and concurrently advocate clean energy sources such as wind power.
  • Erin began by thanking west Texans for their support in stopping six nuclear waste dumps in west Texas at the grass roots level, without governmental funding. She could entitle her talk, "West Texas: Throwing Stones at the Nuclear Goliath and Winning."

  • What is the nature of nuclear waste? As uranium fuel rods undergo fission to produce nuclear energy, radioactive byproducts in the form of new elements are produced. These byproducts can be radioactive for centuries or even millennia: for example, plutonium is radioactive for 25,000 years, nickel-59 for 1 million years, and iodine-129 for 320 million years. Low-level radioactive waste contains these elements, but in lower concentrations than high level nuclear waste (spent uranium fuel rods). Exposure to even minute amounts of radioactive waste can cause genetic mutation, cell damage, and cancer in humans.

  • There are currently 103 nuclear power plants whose reactor waste goes into only two existing dumps in Utah and South Carolina, resulting in a tremendous bottleneck at the waste end of the production cycle. The Bush/Cheney energy plan calls for re-commissioning 100 existing nuclear power plants and construction of 50 new plants by 2040, a plan that will put even more pressure on the system unless more nuclear waste dump sites are built. New dump sites = new plants.

  • The Bush/Cheney energy plan funnels billions of dollars in perks to the nuclear industry, promises taxpayer bailout for accident clean-up over a $8-billion cap, and relaxes safety and environmental regulations. President Bush has recommended Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the site of a long-term high-level nuclear waste dump. The site is on sacred Shoshone land atop an active earthquake fault zone. The Nevada legislature and environmental groups are fighting the Yucca Mountain Plan.

  • There are currently 130 contaminated sites across the country resulting from nuclear weapons waste. President Bush has cut clean-up funding for these sites.

  • Waste Control Specialists is a private firm attempting to set up dumps in west Texas to take all but high-level nuclear waste.

  • There are two nuclear power plants in Texas, one near Bay City and one near Fort Worth. Waste is currently held on-site.

  • There are 40+ institutions (hospitals, industrial plants, etc.) in Texas who produce and store small amounts of nuclear waste, most of which has a very short period of radioactivity (minutes to days to weeks to months versus years to millions of years). Those facilities generate 1136 cubic feet per year as contrasted to the nuclear power plants in Texas which generate approximately 37,000 cubic feet per year.

  • Loving, Ward, and Andrews counties in Texas are targets for establishment of low-level nuclear waste dumps. In the House of Representatives, Pete Gallego represents Loving and Ward counties and Buddy West represents Andrews County. In the Senate, Frank Madla represents Loving and Ward counties and Teel Bivens represents Andrews County. Winning the continued support of Representative Gallego and Senator Madla is essential to the fight against nuclear waste dumps in west Texas. Erin impressed upon us the fight should not be only about stopping dumps, but also about shutting down existing nuclear reactors.

  • In conclusion, Erin offered three solutions:
  1. Support phase-out of nuclear power plants with replacement by clean, safe, renewable, affordable energy (e.g., wind power at 3 cents per kwh, or solar). Greater efficiency is a key in making this transition. We could attain 20 – 30% energy savings from increased efficiency.
  2. Stop legislation that will turn west Texas into a nuclear waste dumping ground.
  3. Advocate measures to require nuclear power plants to keep waste on site, which will help stop construction of the next generation of plants as proposed by the Bush/Cheney energy plan.

The following came out of a question and answer session following Erin's presentation:

  • Energy efficiency starts with the use of products like Energy Star appliances and fluorescent lights.
  • Solar energy technology is currently not well enough developed to be a viable option, and there are problems with transmission lines in wind power systems (i.e., getting wind-generated power onto the grid).
  • We need more information on alternative power sources in the Big Bend region.
  • We need to prepare a list of counter arguments to the rhetoric of the pro-nuclear movement being fostered at Texas A&M University as well as succinct letters to the editor for distribution to statewide newspapers and perhaps op-ed pieces.
  • Don strongly encourages attendance by BBRSC at the Beyond Nuclear Power workshop scheduled for 27 – 28 April 2002 at Lake Whitney State Park and reminded members that travel funding is available.


Don opened the business meeting following the program.

Ginny Campbell presented the treasurer’s report. Available funds as of 19 March 2002 total $5,623.14.

The minutes from the 19 February 2002 regular meeting were accepted as distributed.

The meeting was adjourned with refreshments.

Submitted by Linda Hedges, Secretary


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