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Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Minutes April 17, 2001

Minutes of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Meeting, April 17, 2001
by Jim Walker, Secretary

Don Dowdey, Chair, opened the April meeting of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club about 7:00 PM in 309 Lucas Hall, Sul Ross Campus. The room was nearly filled with members and visitors. About 90 people were present.


  1. Don Dowdey announced that we have an outing scheduled for Pine Springs, May 4-5.

  2. Susan Curry announced that TxDOT has assigned a 1/2 mile stretch of Hwy 90E to us for trash pickup just east of the 67 turnoff, going toward Marathon.

  3. Liz Hightower: Earth Day, city cleanup, meet at Veterans' Memorial Park, City Hall.

  4. Susan Curry said we still have about 36 T-shirts for sale.

  5. Karen Haddon brought postcards and handouts on Texas' coal burning power plants. She noted that mercury levels in fish were such that pregnant women shouldn't eat fish more than once a month.

  6. Bish Tweedy reported that a group of Alpine HS students, under the auspices of the Clean Air Alliance, traveled to Ojinaga and met with Ojinaga HS students. Alpine School Superintendent Jim Marshall also made that trip.

  7. Fran Sage, Vice Chair, reported an action alert on the radioactive waste bill. She didn't know if the bill was out of committee. Senator Madla has been "overwhelmed" by calls, but is not yet ready to commit. Senate bills are considered in order, except by a 2/3 vote. Fran asked us to do the following: (a) ask Madla to vote against sending bill to floor; (b) support Zbranek's HB356; (c) ask Rep Gallego to oppose HB128, already on calendar, and not to allow this bill to be tacked on to other legislation.

Frank Deckert, Big Bend National Park Superintendent, presented a program on air quality in the park. Mr. Deckert posted several contacts for information:

The following pollutants, with their sources, are the primary contributors to visibility impairment in BBNP:

  • Sulfates Biggest problem in BBNP, from power plants
  • Nitrates From cars
  • Organics From solvents, paints
  • Dust Traffic, wind
  • Elemental carbon Diesel engines, fires

The Regional Haze Rule (RHR) was adopted 1999 by the EPA for Class I national parks, as designated by the Clean Air Act. These rules were promulgated in the Shenandoah Valley NP. Guadalupe NP and BBNP are the only Class I national parks in the state of Texas.

Mr. Deckert showed a video of air visibility in BBNP. Clean air offers many environmental and health benefits. Visibility is the best indicator of clean air impairment. The best natural visibility in BBNP is 240 miles, which is reduced to 120 miles with some pollution, and greatly reduced with greater levels of pollution. Another short video outlined the application of the RHR.

Deckert noted that he cannot do all the necessary work himself to reduce regional haze, that the national parks need help from the public. The RHR has a "60-year glide path" before the air will return to a natural level of visibility.

Several people asked questions after the presentation.

Eve Trook asked if the RHR has any teeth: Is there a carrot and a stick? Deckert doesn't know, but thinks funds might be withheld to promote compliance..

Bish Tweedy, noting the 1996 date on the video, said we were talking then, and we are still talking today. Deckert said we should encourage legislation in the right direction and discourage other legislation

Marilyn Brady asked about the role of Texas legislation. Deckert said he had just had his first contact with the Texas legislature.

Joe Thompson asked about the new Mexican President, Vicente Fox. Deckert doesn't yet know how Fox may become involved in clean air issues. Joe also asked if there were any health studies on mercury in Del Rio. Deckert was not aware of any.

Another person asked where mercury and sulfur come from in coal, and whether these wash out of the air. Deckert said these are naturally present in coal, and they do indeed wash out of the air, making the soil more acidic.

Someone else asked if we could put economic pressure on polluters. Deckert said yes, and then pointed out the demise of Union Carbide after the horrific accident in Bhopal, India.

Joe Thompson said that the high-sulfur coal burned in Mexican power plants comes from Mexican mines. American coal is lower in sulfur, but the Mexican economy depends on using their coal. Deckert said the cost of implementing the regional haze rule through 2017 will be $1-$4 billion. The cost of cleaning up the Navajo Power Plant, a major source of pollution near the Grand Canyon, would amount to 1 cheeseburger per month per customer.

Martha Floro asked how effective is cleaning up a power plant. Deckert said very.

Fran Sage asked if 25% cleanup would help. Deckert thought it would.

Robert Schmitt asked what is a deciview, mentioned in the video on the regional haze rule. Deckert said it was a measure related to the decibel, and that larger deciviews meant lower visibility.

John Bell asked if Deckert was concerned about further development near the park. Deckert said yes, he was concerned about gateway communities near the park.

Someone asked if there was a connection between pollution and drought, noting that if there were, more conservative people might become interested. Deckert said there may be a correlation on the east coast, but he didn't know the details.

Someone else asked how BBNP compares with other western parks. Deckert said BB is often the worst in the west.

Marie Blazek asked if BBNP currently has pollution measures available. Deckert said yes, visibility camera pictures can be seen online every 15 minutes.

The meeting adjourned for refreshments and visiting.


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