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Big Bend Regional Sierra Club
Regular Public Meeting
16 April 2002

MEETING OPENING AND ANNOUNCEMENTS:

With approximately 26 people in attendance, Chair Don Dowdey opened the meeting at 7:05 p.m. in room 204 of the Academic Computing Resources building on the Sul Ross State University Campus with the following announcements:

  • "The American Experience" on PBS will feature a documentary film on Ansel Adams 28 April 2002, 8:00 p.m. (per Direct TV schedule; check other satellite and cable listings).
  • The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dumpsite continues to be fought by the State of Nevada, although federal plans to develop the site are continuing.
  • Senate Republicans introduced an amendment to the Senate Energy bill today that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. An e-mail alert has gone out to Sierrans urging support of the Kerry/Lieberman filibuster by contacting the office of Senator Tom Daschle.
  • The "Beyond Nuclear Power" workshop is scheduled for 27 April 2002 at Lake Whitney State Park. Don Dowdey and Gary Oliver will represent BBRSC at the workshop.
  • Maine has officially withdrawn from the radioactive waste compact with Texas and Vermont since their nuclear power plant has been decommissioned.
  • Liz Hightower reports that Earth Day activities will begin at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday 20 April 2002 at the Brewster County courthouse and conclude at approximately noon. Ruth Wells will M.C. the event. Activities will include an Alpine Creek clean-up. Various booths and displays will be set up Entertainment includes folk songs by Lynn Cassell.

PROGRAM BY TOM "SMITTY" SMITH, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC CITIZEN OF TEXAS

As we know, BRAVO and other studies have shown that the source of Big Bend region air pollution come from sources as far away as the Ohio Valley, east Texas, and Mexico. In Texas, plants without emission controls are still operating; these "grandfathered" power plants have not voluntarily reduced emissions. The "Clean Skies" plan of President Bush reduces emissions on paper only and in reality will result in increased emissions. The Democrat's plan, however, which will be debated next month, calls for emission reductions of 75 - 90%. If adopted, such emission reduction standards would put the U.S. in a better bargaining position with Mexico. It is hypocritical for us to ask Mexico to install emission controls on their power plant stacks if we do not require the same on all plants in Texas, which is the current situation.

An important state senate race is stacking up in the 23rd district, where Democrat Henry Cuellar of Laredo is opposing incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla of San Antonio. Cuellar is strong on air quality issues. Would BBRSC or another organization in west Texas sponsor a debate between these two candidates to bring air quality issues to the forefront?

Mercury contamination around power plant lakes is a serious public health threat, particularly in north Texas.

The effects of NAFTA:

  • Trade between the U.S. and Mexico has doubled [$100 billion (1994)-$248 billion (2000)] under NAFTA.
  • In FY 2001, 4.3 million trucks crossed the border, 68% into Texas (250% increase since NAFTA).
  • Entrada al Pacifico is expected to generate 50-70,000 additional trucks per year through Presidio bridge, or 200 - 400 per day.
  • Clinton closed the border to trucks, but Bush opened the border effective June 1 2002.
  • Presidio--Midland will be a major transportation corridor; up to 43 trucks/hr are expected to pass through Marfa.

Mexican safety standards versus U.S. safety standards:

  • Mexico has not instituted a truck safety program 7 years after NAFTA went into effect.
  • Mexico has no requirements that its trucks be maintained, no weight limits, no requirement for safe brakes, and no limits on driving times.
  • The is no way to check on drivers' records in Mexico because database is under development.
  • Mexico's hazardous materials control system is much more lax than in the U.S.
  • Mexican truck carriers last year were 3X more likely to have safety deficiencies as U.S. carriers.
  • <1% of Mexican trucks entering U.S. are safety inspected; most are merely visually inspected .
  • TxDOT reported 36% of fully-inspected Mexican trucks were ordered off the road last year.
  • U.S. has neither facilities nor personnel to inspect every truck
  • Trucking industry in Mexico has never successfully monitored vehicle maintenance and repair nor drug and alcohol testing results.
  • Violators of safety rules in Mexico are given 20 days to fix problems; no Mexican agency is authorized to remove dangerous trucks from roadways
  • Inspected trucks will be given a 90-day certificate to operate anywhere in the U.S.
  • Oldest Mexican vehicles are currently used intra-border; under new plan, better trucks will be used.

Air Emissions:

  • Diesel exhaust is a likely carcinogen, much like cigarette smoke. There are definite links between exposure to diesel emissions and negative health effects in humans. High rates of lung cancer occur in people who experience lengthy exposure to diesel emissions. Unfortunately, most American school busses are diesel.
  • Mexican government does not enforce emission standards; Mexican emissions are 30% "dirtier" than in the U.S.
  • Under NAFTA, Mexican trucks are required to meet U.S. & Canadian emission standards, however they do not.
  • In the U.S., lower sulfur fuel will be in use by 2005 and by 2010 emissions will be 1/10 of 1995 levels, but there will be no similar reduction in Mexico.
  • These emissions affect Big Bend National Park, which is listed as one of the most threatened national parks in the nation due to increased level of pollution. Increased levels of pollution would not be allowed under Haze reduction provisions of U.S. clean air act. Solution = litigation and mitigation.

Long term - need to develop clean air corridor that includes...

  • Natural gas vehicles. Natural gas 1/2 as dirty as the highest quality diesel fuel.
  • Rail system in Mexico. Rail = 1/10 emissions per ton of freight compared to trucks. Hybrid locomotives are even more efficient.
  • Inter-mode transfer point at Alpine, with cleaner drayage vehicles. Alpine as a rail hub will result in increased emissions unless technologies such as natural gas and fuel cells are used. Freight needs to be taken off of trucks and placed on rail in a clean and safe manner.
  • Political pressure on elected officials and candidates. Clean air and highway safety issues should be important issues in political races - now is the time to plan strategy to bring these issues to the forefront.

The following arose out of the question and answer session that followed Smitty's presentation:

  • The "vast majority" of Mexican trucks expected on west Texas highways will be container trucks.
  • The Midland-San Angelo-Alpine rail corridor is unmaintained, has low tunnels, and requires slow speeds.
  • The new 4-lane highway from Chihuahua City to Presidio is nearing completion.
  • The "crisis de jour" is the opening of the border as ordered by the Bush administration on 1 June.
  • There is currently no money for bypasses around Alpine and Marfa.
  • It may be possible to lower the rail bed in Mexican tunnels in the Copper Canyon region by 18" to accommodate double-stacked container cars.
  • What can Alpine do to mitigate the effects of Mexican truck traffic? Set speed limits? Route truck traffic? Certain restrictions are in place that governs a city's setting of speed limits.
  • Most damaging airborne particles are <1/8 diameter of a human hair and fall closest to the point of emission.
  • The cost of freight transportation by rail is 1/16 that of highway transport.
  • Ric Williamson has been appointed by Gov. Perry to support rail and other visionary tools to clean our air.
  • Now is the time to begin lobbying the legislature for bypasses around Alpine and Marfa. Rep. Gallego is on board, although possible bypass routes have not been identified.
  • The economies of Juarez and El Paso will suffer if a trade route through the Big Bend region is developed. Members of these communities and their politicians may join in the fight. Currently, wait time on El Paso/Juarez bridges is a concern. Improvements are needed on the Juarez highway.
  • City zoning laws, establishment of a "city investment zone," restrictions against idling, and expansion of the city limits may give the city of Alpine more control over the effects of Mexican trucks. The county has little authority.
  • Are toll roads a possibility?
  • The air quality issue should be elevated to an important issue in the senate race between Bonilla and Cuellar and should be used as a "hook" to educate the press on the issue and to encourage press coverage.

BUSINESS MEETING

A motion was made and seconded to accept the minutes from the March BBRSC regular meeting. Passed.

Ginny Campbell presented the treasurer's report. Available funds total $5,742.66.

The Executive Committee will meet on Wednesday afternoon, 25 April 2002, at West Texas National Bank, Alpine.

At the May meeting, Dr. Barney Nelson will present a program on literature and the environment.

Meeting adjourned with refreshments.

Submitted by Linda Hedges, Secretary


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