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On October 8, 2001 The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club lost one of the greatest friends of the Sierra Club and the environment. Hal Flanders died of an injury sustained from a fall. FS

October 2001 BBRSC Newsletter

Issue 57

PROGRAM

The BBRSC will not hold its own program in October, but will urge its members to attend a meeting on BRAVO (study on air pollution in Big Bend National Park) sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency with help from the National Park Service and the TNRCC on Thursday, October 18th at 7 p.m. at the University Center, Conference Room A (same as the April 2000 meeting). We expect that we will learn what the BRAVO data is revealing. EPA plans to simplify the technical data and allow generous time for questions and answers. Please put this important meeting on your calendar. The tentative agenda includes a brief background about Big Bend air quality; what we have learned so far; next steps; recent Texas action that may affect Big Bend air quality, followed by questions and answers.

At a recent technical conference in Oregon, one session was devoted entirely to the BRAVO study. Topics were presented such as the physical, chemical, and optical properties of fine and coarse particles in BBNP, contributions of power plants to sulfite levels in BBNP, the composition of aerosol sampled at BBNP, source oriented regional scale transport analyses at BBNP, transport patterns associated with high and low sulfate concentration at BBNP, modeling regional haze in BBNP, and a number of other technical papers.

Do not worry!! The public meeting in Alpine will not be so technical and there will be plenty of time for questions and answers. We are not sure how much of the above material will have been prepared in an understandable format for the Alpine meeting. What BBRSC is hoping is that we will finally get some hard information on the BRAVO study prior to its much delayed final release next August. I urge you to put the date on your calendar and attend the meeting. We need to keep sending the message that we will not go away, we want to understand what is being learned, and we want to continue to try to speed the process for cleaning up the power plants and other polluters.

Upcoming programs: The November 20th program will offer a lively video entitled Wild by Law providing a history of the environmental movement, focussed upon the works of three men in the first half of the twentieth century: Aldo Leopard, Bob Marshall, and Howard Zahniser. The video is produced by Florentine Films and is made available through the Texas Council for the Humanities.

The December 18th program will feature Jim Glendinning offering nature/travel program. More details in next month's newsletter.

CHAIR'S COLUMN

By Don Dowdey

More on BART Activities

The BART hearings that I attended in Washington in August continue to create comment. The Big Bend Regional Sierra Club signed on to a letter circulated by the Clean Air Task Force, and the National Environmental Trust, which coordinated the hearings in Washington. The letter specifically mentioned Big Bend as a National Park where the visibility is actually deteriorating, despite the passage of the Clean Air Act and the Regional Haze Program established in 1999. Two specific points that effect Air Quality in Big Bend were emphasized:

"First, it's time to end the long history of broken promises and require BART-eligible grandfathered pollution sources to install modern pollution controls or retire. Any source required to install BART, but which claims it cannot meet best clean up levels because it will soon shut down must make a legally binding commitment to retire by a date certain, and must be required to abate its pollution levels in the interim.

Second, EPA should reject claims by power plant owners that they cannot achieve the best clean up levels and provide reliable sources of energy. EPA's proposal would give utilities more than 10 years to clean up and allows pollution cuts to be achieved through market-based mechanisms. The proposal, and the underlying haze rule, provides an extraordinary degree of flexibility. Claims that these pollution abatement measures are not manageable are not credible."

Although I haven't seen a final count, they were hoping to get 300 organizations to sign on, and were approaching that goal.

And finally, the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for National Parks, also endorsed a strong statement of support. In a letter to EPA Secretary Whitman they asserted that "We believe this is a giant step forward to preserving and restoring the resources in our Nation's protected areas. We feel strongly that applying BART to the older sources subject to BART will reduce a large quantity of pollution and have substantial visibility benefits to national parks and refuges under our jurisdiction." In addition, the letter said, " because the proposal relies on 'readily available and cost-effective control measures,' it would not affect economic development."

Big Bend National Park Named a Globally Important Bird Area

The American Bird Conservancy has recognized BBNP in its first list of 100 Globally Important Bird Areas. The designation recognizes the 450 species of birds protected in the Park, and the Park's significance in the ongoing efforts to conserve wild birds and their habitats. More information is available from their website: http://www.abcbirds.org/

Good Neighbor Day Scheduled for Oct. 20 in Big Bend National Park

I'd like to especially encourage folks to attend this year, as the San Antonio musician Tish Hinojosa will be performing. In the years I spent stranded outside Texas, her music helped remind me of why I wanted to come back.

BBRSC URGES CITIZEN EVIDENCE RULES AT TNRCC

Don Dowdey reports that he has sent a letter to the TNRCC urging adoption of the proposed rules that would allow citizen evidence to be used in prosecuting polluters. More to point he urges that TNRCC use such evidence. When the agency was renewed during the last legislative session, it was required to develop new rules to allow Texas residents to collect evidence of pollution, a practice that was not permitted under current TNRCC policy. Under the proposed rules that practice would change. The citizens would have to use strict protocols in collecting the evidence so that the case would stand up in court. The key question is whether the agency will use those rules when they are put in place. Don said in his letter, "Furthermore, we urge that when adopted the rules be widely promulgated and applied. No rule is any better than its enforcement. We hope that such rules will be used. It would be a travesty if the Commission adopted the rules and then did not apply them with vigor. The citizens of Texas will follow the work of the TNRCC in this regard, checking that their needs are given proper consideration."

RADIOACTIVE WASTE UPDATE

Exchange of Letters
Chisum Initial Letter

In a late August letter sent to the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club, Representative Warren Chisum, Chair of the House Environmental Regulation Committee, puts forth a proposal to build an assured isolation facility in Andrews County (for radioactive waste), designed and built under the supervision of the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission). He sees it as a temporary solution while the state is "embroiled in the search for a more permanent solution." Leading up to that position, he lays out in the letter problems with the current situation: storage of waste throughout Texas; access to Barnwell [the facility in South Carolina currently used for disposal] being reduced more quickly than expected; flooding in Houston demonstrating the dangers of the current situation, and the $50 million paid to date by waste generators with nothing to show for it.

He goes on to say "Experience has taught us not to put our hope in the next legislative session, and time and energy is being wasted on suspicion and blame for lack of progress." He continues by saying "It's time to find a responsible solution that will protect public health and safety, as well as meet the immediate needs of waste generators without throwing barriers in our progress to future permanent solutions"

He says that a NRC designed and built facility would have the waste "stored in condo-type vaults with individual generators . . . paying for the space they need." He concludes saying "This solution will not be the ideal answer for everyone, but it is a responsible step to take while embroiled in the search for a more permanent solution. An assured isolation storage facility would provide a facility for all generators to move their waste to a central management and storage facility. The generators' money would be funding something useful and tangible." Finally he asserts that his suggestion is not "a mandate or direction for agency action, but an idea around which conversations can begin."

Response by Organizations to the Chisum Letter

In mid-September, a group of organizations replied to Chisum by laying out basic facts and principles. (The letter was signed by the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club, Texas Campaign for the Environment, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Public Citizen, Peace Farm, Big Bend Regional Group of Sierra Club, Fund for Nuclear Responsibility, Big Bend Green Party, WE CAN, Working Effectively for Clean Air Now, El Paso Regional Group of Sierra Club, and one individual, John Rath of Grapevine.)

The letter included the following Management Policies with explanations in an attachment:

  • 1. INCREASE PUBLIC CONTROL OF WASTE MANAGEMENT DECISIONS

  • 2. REDUCE OR ELIMINATE GENERATION OF WASTE

  • 3. MANAGE WASTE ACCORDING TO DURATION AND HAZARD OF RADIOACTIVITY

  • 4. MINIMIZE TRANSPORTATION AND HANDLING OF WASTE

  • 5. EMPHASIZE MONITORING AND RETRIEVABILITY IN CHOICE OF METHOD FOR MANAGEMENT

  • 6. PROHIBIT IMPORTATION OF OUT-OF-STATE WASTE FOR STORAGE OR DISPOSAL/ASSURED ISOLATION

The letter begins by urging recognition that of the 43 entities in Texas that generate radioactive waste on an annual basis, only 3% of the waste (1,052 cubic feet) is generated by all the industrial, academic and medical sites put together, while the remaining 97.5% (32,903 cubic feet) is generated by three generators: South Texas Nuclear Project (STNP), Comanche Peak nuclear power plant, and Waste Control Specialists (WCS). (Much of the waste at WCS is from out of state.)

The letter continues with the need to separate the management of relatively small volumes of short and long-lived waste produced by the industrial, academic and medical generators from the management of the massive volumes of long-lived waste from the state's top three generators (see above). While waste from both sources could be managed at the same site the continued assumption that the small generators are equal with the larger generators is not conducive to a clear resolution of the problem.

The point is then made that "we strongly believe that long-term, above ground management facilities should be built at or near one or both of Texas 's existing nuclear power plants." "Although environmental and community groups have asked for an exploration of this on site/near site management concept for years, no cost-benefit analysis, health risks comparison, or other investigation has been made to determine the possible economic and health benefits of on or near-site storage."

The letter has a rejection of the proposed Andrews County site, pointing out that it is not a suitable site for the "long-term management of nuclear waste for many reasons, including the great distance between Andrews County and the majority of the waste generated (causing unnecessarily increased transportation risks), and risks to the underlying Ogallala Aquifer."

In summation, the signers state "Let us be clear. We agree that above ground management makes sense. We disagree most strongly on forcing the waste management into West Texas long distances from the power plant sources." The signers thank Chisum for his invitation to participate in the dialogue and conclude by saying, "We trust our suggestions will be given careful consideration and hope that your office will keep us informed as the dialogue turns to action within the various agencies and legislative committees."

The Chisum Reply

In his response to our letter, Chisum acknowledges that the power plants generate the larger amount of waste; however, he maintains that basing policy changes on this fact is not "conducive to a clear resolution." He believes that since the Compact requires us to take all waste, we must plan responsibly for such waste.

He considers management facilities at power plants problematic, rejecting the STNP [the nuclear power plant near Bay City on the Gulf, which he refers to as Houston] as unsuitable due to weather, and Comanche Peak [the other nuclear power plant located in east Texas, which he refers to as the Dallas area] a distance from the other plant. STNP would still have to ship its waste so that the transportation issue would still exist. He goes on to say that if our principle that "siting decisions must be approved by regional referendum in the host county . . ." the Dallas area might not be suitable [not clear what is being implied here-we think he means that the county and surrounding counties would never unanimously pass resolutions for the site to be there]. He goes on to say that Andrews County citizens appear to support a dump. [He does not mention the other nearby counties' opposition.] He concludes by again asserting that his initial letter was to start conversations among others, but then goes on this time to say he does not plan to take a lead role. He reminds us that his views are not intended as a mandate or direction for agency action.

It is worth noting that Chisum does not address either in his initial letter or in his reply the issue of who will hold the license and whether the state or a private company should manage the waste or whether non-Compact waste should be prohibited. A discussion of location issues still leaves other key issues unaddressed.

WATER PERMIT SOUGHT BY LAJITAS RESORT

I have learned that the Lajitas Utility Co., Inc. (owned by the same folks that own the Lajitas Resort) has asked the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) for a permit to allow 90,000 gallons per day of wastewater into the Rio Grande. (The same amount currently permitted.) Essentially the permit would allow a wetlands treatment of the treated wastewater. There is a current mechanical wastewater facility in Lajitas. The plan apparently is to use the treated wastewater on the expanded golf course. I do not know whether this is something to be concerned about. Usually wetlands treatment is good, according to Justin Taylor, water issues staff at the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. The wastewater treatment plant would be located approximately 900 feet below RM 170 and 900 feet east of the Rio Grande River in Brewster County (the same location as the current mechanical wastewater plant serving Lajitas). Written public comments may be sent to the Office of the Chief Clerk, MC 105, TNRCC, P. O. Box 13087, Austin, TX 78711-3087. One may also request a public meeting about the application. Such a public meeting is not a contested case hearing. The TNRCC will hold a public meeting if the executive director determines that there is a significant degree of public interest in the application or if requested by a local legislator. For more information call the TNRCC at 1-800-687-4040 and ask about proposed permit number 14282-001 or call Mr. Richard Hubble in Austin with Lajitas Utility, 512-261-5313, or view the application at the Lajitas Community Center in Lajitas. It is my understanding that the current treaty with Mexico does not require that Mexico agree with the state of Texas. In addition our federal government do es not control the permit process. One might note conversely that Mexico could build a resort if it so desired on the Mexican side that affected the river without United States or Texas agreement. I hope to learn if my understanding on treaty provisions is correct as well as learn more details about the proposal. FS

STATE WATER PLAN HEARINGS SCHEDULED

As an outgrowth of a regional and state water planning process initiated by the passage by the Texas Legislature in 1997 of what was known as Senate Bill 1, the first revision of the state water plan in five years is being finalized this fall. Regional water plans from sixteen regional water planning groups were submitted to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) in January of this year. Those plans were reviewed by TWDB in the spring and approved by the agency this summer. The regional plans have been aggregated by the state agency into a state water plan. In addition to the material from the regional plans, however, TWDB is also including in the draft state water plan a series of water policy recommendations that have been crafted with input from a "stakeholder process" this summer that involved representatives of a variety of groups with interest in water issues.

The policy recommendations, along with the rest of the draft water plan, was just released for public review and comment in October before final adoption by TWDB later this year. A series of twenty public hearings on the draft plan will be held around the state by TWDB during October. For more information visit the agency website at www.twdb.state.tx.us or call the agency headquarters in Austin at 512-463-7847. The information will also be posted on the Lone Star Chapter's website http://texas.sierraclub.org The agency will also provide opportunity for written comment for those not able to attend a hearing.

The one nearest us will be at El Paso, October 11 at 2:00 and 6:30 p.m. at the El Paso Community College-Transmountain campus, Treansmountain Lecture Forum, 9570, Gateway North. The State Water Control Board will adopt a final plan in December. According to information on the TWDB website, if you have comments concerning this draft of the Water for Texas 2002 State Water Plan please email Phyllis.Thomas@twdb.state.tx.us . Please note that the public comment period ends at midnight November 12, 2001.

You may mail your comments to:
Texas Water Development Board
Office of Planning - Attention Phyllis Thomas
P.O. Box 13231
Austin, Texas 78711-3231

While we are unable at this time to present a critique of the draft state water plan in regard to our Far West Texas Plan, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, in conjunction with the Texas Center for Policy Studies, Environmental Defense, and National Wildlife Federation have developed a position paper detailing some of the draft plan's shortcomings. Following is a section of the flyer:

State Water Plan Leaves Mother Nature High and Dry

Since water is vital to all aspects of our economy and environment, the State Water Plan-which directs state funding for water development-affects all Texans. Unfortunately, the Plan now under consideration by the Texas Water Development Board fails to balance human water demands with the needs of fish, wildlife, and the environment. A coalition of conservation groups encourages you to participate in the public process to develop a better plan.

Key Shortcomings of the State Water Plan
Lack of Water Conservation

. The Plan largely neglects pro-active water conservation as a means to reduce future demands on our water resources. Much of our water use now is wasteful; we can't afford to continue down that path.

Too Little Water for Fish & Wildlife

  • The Plan largely fails to address water for fish and wildlife, which are integral to our Texas heritage and economy.
  • The Plan ignores the fact that many rivers and streams could stop flowing if all water withdrawals were exercised.
  • The Plan fails to guarantee freshwater inflows to sustain the productivity of our bays and estuaries. Inflated Demands
  • For many cities, the Plan calculates future water demand using outdated information. Some cities are already using water more efficiently than the plan says they'll do in 30 years.
  • The Plan offers no realistic strategy for reducing water demand during a drought. Instead it assumes that peak human demands, like lawn watering, must be met during the worst drought, even if no water is left for fish and wildlife.

Unsustainable Resource Management

    .
  • The Plan allows for the eventual depletion of many large aquifers in the State.
  • The Plan includes projects that would reduce spring flows, which provide summer flows to many rivers and streams. Loss of spring flows could threaten wetlands and wildlife. Poor Economic Analysis
  • The Plan doesn't rank projects across the state to see which ones make the most sense.
  • The Plan doesn't even consider whether project costs exceed their benefits.

Summary: What you can do

The draft State Water Plan downplays pro-active conservation and calls for billions of dollars worth of new dams and pipelines. Unnecessary water projects could threaten our forests and farms and irreparably harm our rivers and bays and their wildlife. We shouldn't spend public money to implement a water plan that leaves the environment high and dry. . Speak out at a public hearing on the Water Plan in your area.

. Write to the Texas Water Development Board. Tell them that Texas needs water for people and the environment.

BIG BEND REGIONAL SIERRA CLUB NEWS

In Memoriam: We are sorry to announce that one of our members James Speer died on October 2nd. Jim was a good supporter of the Sierra Club work, and he was also a personal friend whom I will particularly miss. Our condolences to his wife, Dikki Speer, and his family. Jim worked all his life for good causes. FS

CALENDAR SALES

Ginny Campbell, treasurer, is in charge of calendar sales this year. Sales were brisk at the September 18th meeting. You can place an order directly to Ginny by calling (915) 386-4526, or sending her an e-mail at jokeambl@overland.net or dropping her a note at P. O. Box 474, Marathon, or

you can contact the following people:
Brenda Bell in Ft. Davis 426-2498
Brian Cassell in Alpine at 837-2169
Renee Mick in Presidio on weekdays at 229-2729 or on weekends in Marfa at 729-3988.

There will also be calendars at our November 20 meeting. There will be two calendars available this year: the wall calendar for $11.95 and the engagement calendar for $12.95. Either or both will make handsome gifts for Christmas as well as items for personal use and enjoyment. Calendar sales are one of several ways for the BBRSC to raise money. Sixty percent of the money from calendar sales remains with us.

CONTRIBUTIONS

Our treasurer reports that we received $10 in refreshment donations from the last meeting and $35 in pledge money. Thanks to all of you. Our total for the year is $1602. We hope to make $300 from our calendar sales. Our year' s total to date is $1602. Our year's budget was projected at $2300. We had hoped to have a fundraiser at the Railroad Blues but those plans have fallen through. Unfortunately Susan Curry who was making arrangements has not been able to continue working on the plans. We are looking for someone to help us work on plans for spring. Contact Don Dowdey at (915) 837-3210. So our projected $300 from that fundraiser will not materialize for this year's budget. We need to continue to raise money during October, November, and December.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING

The next ExCom meeting is scheduled for October 25th from 1:30 to 4 PM in the Board Room of West Texas National Bank. Any member is welcome to attend.

Survey results to be considered

Don Dowdey says one of the items on the agenda concerns results of the survey regarding Entrada al Pacifico (the proposed future truck route through Alpine and Marfa to Presidio) and development of a position paper on the issue. It is important to note that such a paper would be focussed on the proposed new route, not on the issue of Mexican trucks in the United States. Don says that if the ExCom wants to go forward we have a number of volunteers to work on such a committee.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER RESIGNS

Marilyn Brady, ExCom member for the last three years has resigned due to poor health. We all regret her having to do so but we understand. Marilyn will continue to work for the Sierra Club in whatever way she is able.

NEW EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER APPOINTED

The Executive Committee appointed Liz Hightower to complete Marilyn's term, which runs through 2003. Liz is a native of Arkansas but has lived in Texas for many years. She has degrees from several community colleges and a Bachelor of Music Education from Arkansas State Teachers College and a Master of Science degree from the University of North Texas. Her interests are in environmental science. At one time Liz taught in Lewisville but now she is looking for a new career.

She and her husband, Bob Brewer were married in Big Bend National Park in 1989 and moved to Alpine in 1999. Liz volunteers for Meals on Wheels, Hospital Auxiliary and Red Cross. In Sierra Club work she is chair of the Water Committee, as well as helping in such organizational tasks as meetings, and highway cleanup. Liz is a hard worker and a fine addition to the Executive Committee.

NOMINATIONS

The Nominating Committee, Brenda Bell, Marilyn Brady, and Fran Sage is completing its work. There will be two openings as we complete the size reduction from 8 to 7 to 5 members. Fran Sage, Susan Curry, John Bell, and Jim Walker's terms all expire at the end of the year. Continuing members are Ginny Campbell, Don Dowdey, and Liz Hightower. (Fran Sage is eligible to serve on the Nominating Committee as she does not plan to stand for re-election.) In addition petitions may be submitted for member candidates to be included on the ballot. The petition needs 15 members' signatures and consent of the proposed nominee, and is due by October 22nd.

ELECTION SCHEDULE

October 8 -- Nominating Committee report due
October 22 - Petition candidates submission due
October 25 -Executive Committee appoints Election Committee
November 12 -- Ballots go out
December 15 - Ballots return due
December 18 - Election results announced

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

Officers:

Chair: Don Dowdey (see above address) (915) 837-3210
Vice-Chair: Fran Sage P. O. Box 564, Alpine, TX 79831 (915) 364-2362
Secretary: Jim Walker HC65 Box 14 Alpine, TX 79830
Treasurer: Virginia Campbell P. O. Box 474 Marathon, TX 79842


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