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Archive for the ‘Human Health’ Category

oil-train-blast-zoneBY JOHN YOUNG

The Port of Brownsville is bringing more health problems our way, along with more safety risks and more damage to local businesses and economies.

Centurion Terminals began construction on terminals in the port that will process a form of crude oil called condensate into diesel and naphtha, which will then be exported.

Centurion expects to receive two train loads of condensate a day. Each will be 120 rail tanker cars full of highly flammable condensate long. The emissions from the trains’ diesel engines will damage human health all along the line.

They carry no liability insurance, and if there is a derailment or fire they will need to clear an area ½ mile in every direction.

The condensate trains will run through neighborhoods in Raymondville, Harlingen, San Benito, Olmito, and Brownsville. None of these communities were given any prior notice. None of them have any say in any of this.

Centurion, the Port, the American Railroad Association, and Union Pacific don’t want to be bothered. They’ve provided the public with false reassurances and misleading answers.

Centurion claims that there will be only one train a week. But it is supposed to offload 160,000 barrels a day, an amount that translates to two trains a day. Centurion originally said about 120 cars per train but now says only 100. Operations were originally to start the 3rd Quarter of 2016, but now not until the summer of 2017.

They’re basically telling us that it’s not that big deal. Relax. The summer of 2017 is over a year away.

The American Railroad Association says railroad accidents have declined 45 percent since 2000. Fine. That says nothing about the health problems the diesel engines cause or the acceptability of the present rate of railroad accidents, and the lives lost, bodies broken, homes demolished, and so on, when accidents occur.

Union Pacific says it’s replacing wooden railroad ties with stronger concrete ties “in many areas” of the country. Here? Before the condensate trains start rolling through?

Union Pacific says it “regularly holds crude oil accident training for fire crews across the United States.” But here? Not yet.

And who’s supposed to pay for the training, special equipment, and public preparedness programs that should be put into place before the trains start rolling?

The Port and Centurion claim the operation will meet all federal rail safety standards. Those standards are inadequate. For example, they 1) don’t require the rail lines to carry liability insurance; 2) set no maximum length on trains (which can run a mile long); 3) don’t require regular rail line maintenance; 4) don’t speak to the increase in childhood deaths before age one from lung problems along diesel train routes or the increase in cancer rates along these routes; and 5) are to be phased in slowly over a ten year period.

Centurion says it will be using the newest, safest tanker cars. But even those experience side punctures at 12.3 mph, bulkhead breaches at 12 to 18 mph. The track speed limit is 50 mph.

Don’t we get to judge those standards ourselves to see if we want better here in the Rio Grande Valley?

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The Sierra Club has learned that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will host a scoping hearing on August 11 regarding the liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities that have been proposed for the Brownsville Ship Channel.  The hearing will run from 1pm until 8pm at the Port Isabel Event and Cultural Center and is open to the public.

It is critical that concerned South Texas residents attend the August 11 meeting and submit comments.

In a highly unusual move, FERC has decided to hold a single scoping meeting for all three of the LNG facilities that have filed so far – Annova LNG, Texas LNG, and Rio Grande LNG (formerly called Next Decade LNG).  Normally separate projects would go through the FERC permitting process separately, and FERC has said that each will be required to develop its own Environmental Impact Statement in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.  The three projects will have different sized footprints (though all will be in sensitive, irreplaceable ecosystems); they will handle and export different amounts of natural gas; they will use different technologies to purify and super-cool the gas; and only one has discussed plans for the pipeline that will bring gas to it.  Holding a combined meeting for all three is certain to sow confusion in the general public.

Map showing the basins and approximate locations of LNG leases.

Map showing the basins and approximate locations of LNG leases.

The Sierra Club has submitted pre-filing comments laying out some key concerns about these three projects:

Sierra Club – Annova LNG FERC comments

Sierra Club – Texas LNG FERC comments

Sierra Club – Next Decade LNG FERC comments

 

While these are three separate projects, the Sierra Club identified a number of negative impacts that are common to all of them.  As pointed out in its comments on Next Decade LNG, these include:

“[All three LNG export facilities] will receive via pipeline from the Eagle Ford fracking wells will only be around 91% or 92% pure methane.  To supercool it for export they need to get that gas to well over 99% pure.  So they will be refining the gas before they refrigerate it, taking out impurities including carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds, and mercury.  Some of these toxins will be released into the environment.  VOCs such as benzene and toluene are powerful carcinogens and neurotoxins. The only safe level is zero. It is therefore critical that residents know the quantities of these toxins that will be emitted, should the plant be approved, and an air monitoring regime be established.  The prevailing wind will carry the emitted carcinogenic compounds, along with substances that trigger asthma attacks, straight to nearby Laguna Heights, and to Port Isabel’s schools.”

“[All three LNG export facilities] will be built less than 3 miles from the Wal-Mart in Port Isabel, and about 3 miles south of the Port Isabel Junior High and High School.  If there is a breach of either the LNG facility or an LNG tanker there is the potential for the release of a vapor cloud, which in the proper concentration could travel for miles before igniting and burning too intensely for first responders to extinguish.  For this reason Sandia National Laboratories has recommended a 2.2-mile outer hazard zone LNG tanker ships.  Chemical engineer and LNG safety expert Dr. Jerry Havens recommends a 3-mile hazard zone.”

“[All three LNG export facilities] would fill wetlands and destroy mangroves to prepare the site for its export facility.  Wetlands are critical nurseries for fish, shrimp, oysters, crabs, and other aquatic life that are important both ecologically and commercially.  They also filter runoff and prevent coastal erosion, which reduces turbidity and improves the cleanliness of the water.”

“The industrialization and pollution that [all three LNG facilites] will bring could erode important economic drivers such as commercial fishing, shrimping, and beach and nature tourism. Thousands of jobs here in the Rio Grande Valley depend on clean air, clean water and high quality fish and wildlife habitat.”

There are many, many more impacts, and the scale of the damage varies from project to project.  If one or all of these are built they will inflict tremendous, permanent damage upon the Lower Rio Grande Valley, transforming not only the area around Port Isabel and South Padre Island from places that focus on commercial and sport fishing, beach and nature tourism to polluted industrial zones, but with the dramatic increase in frack wells and pipelines that will feed them transforming the entire region for the worse.

This is why we must all come out and express our concerns about the severe impacts that these projects will have, and ensure that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission does not rubber stamp them.

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Putting Port Isabel in the Evacuation Zone

Texas LNG’s liquefied natural gas plant will be built less than 2 miles from Port Isabel. This is within the 2.2-mile outer hazard zone developed by Sandia National Laboratories for LNG tanker ships.[1] And it violates the 3-mile hazard zone recommended by chemical engineer and LNG safety expert Dr. Jerry Havens.[2]  A March 2014 explosion at a smaller LNG plant in Washington State forced an evacuation of hundreds of people within a two-mile radius. Luckily the fire burned itself out and the LNG did not ignite, but a local fire chief noted that if it had, everyone within three-quarters of a mile would have been killed.[3]

LNG Processing and Transport Is Inherently Risky

Texas LNG’s storage tanks will be holding enormous quantities of natural gas, so in the event of an accident or intentional breach, the results could be catastrophic.  When LNG is spilled it quickly converts back into a gas and forms a flammable vapor cloud that can drift for some distance. If the cloud encounters an ignition source it will burn back to the LNG spill.  LNG fires burn so hot that first responders cannot approach.[4]  The LNG refrigeration process also uses fuels such as propane and ethylene to cool the gas, and these are even more volatile than methane.

Fouling the Air of Our Coastal Communities

Because the pipeline quality natural gas requires further refining before undergoing the liquefaction process, the Texas LNG will produce emissions such as cancer-causing volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide.  The prevailing winds in the area blow out of the south southeast.  This means that more often than not, any released will be blowing across the homes, businesses and schools along Highway 100.

No Economic Boon for South Texas

South Korea will get the bulk of the skilled construction jobs not South Texas, because Texas LNG intends to build the liquefaction facility in South Korea and ship it to the Port of Brownsville on a barge.[5] The Cameron County Commission is also expected to grant a ten-year tax abatement for all LNG companies, ensuring that all of Texas LNG’s profits will go to distant shareholders instead of local schools, fire departments and roads.

 LNG Threatens Our Existing Jobs

The massive industrialization and pollution that LNG will bring could erode important economic drivers such as commercial fishing, shrimping, and beach and nature tourism. Thousands of jobs here in the Rio Grande Valley depend on clean air, clean water and high quality fish and wildlife habitat.

Texas LNG will build two storage tanks that will each be 150 feet tall, sitting on a 15 foot high foundation.  These will be lit up all night long, and the flare stack that rises above them will periodically belch flames.  This will be visible for miles around, including the causeway and South Padre Island’s hotels.  People travel from all over Texas and the Midwest to visit our island paradise.  Will they continue to do so when the area is as industrialized as Corpus Christi?

Loss of Critical Habitat for Fish and Wildlife

The Texas LNG site contains numerous wetlands that will be filled in, as well as starkly beautiful coastal prairie and dense brush that will be bulldozed and paved over.  Its pollution, bright lights and heavy traffic will also degrade Bahia Grande, the largest wetlands restoration project in North America and an important aquatic nursery.

More Dangerous and Dirty Fracking

The Energy Information Agency estimates that 60 percent to 80 percent of U.S. gas exports will come from a ramp-up of production.[6] Three-quarters of that new production would come from shale through horizontal drilling and fracking. Building LNG terminals in the Port of Brownsville would therefore lead to a tremendous increase in fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale region, with devastating consequences. Already rural south Texas is being transformed into an industrial zone. Scarce Texas water resources are being depleted, and in some instances permanently contaminated, and the pollution associated with fracking is making people sick.[7] Increased seismic activity has followed the expansion of fracking, and is increasingly being linked to fracking in general and injection wells in particular.

[1] “Guidance on Risk Analysis and Safety Implications of a Large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Spill Over Water.” Sandia National Laboratories, Dec 2004.

[2] Ted Sickinger. “Gas explosion at LNG facility in Washington prompts concerns about proposed export terminals in Oregon.” The Oregonian, 1 Apr 2014.

[3] Kristi Pihl, “Evacuation Area Near Plant to Be Reduced.” Tri-City Herald. 31 March 2014.

[4] “Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Import Terminals: Siting, Safety and Regulation.” Congressional Research Service, 27 May 2004.

[5] “Texas LNG Overview Greenfield Barge-based LNG Liquefaction & Export Project” Slideshow.txlng.com. Dec 2013.

[6] U.S. Energy Information Agency, “Effect of Increased Natural Gas Exports on Domestic Energy Markets,” Janhttp://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/fe/pdf/fe_lng.pdf

[7]  Jim Morris, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer, “Big Oil and Bad Air: Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale of SouthTexas,” Center for Public Integrity and the Weather Channel, 18 Feb 2014.

Printable Version of this factsheet

Texas LNG Comment form

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BY STEFANIE HERWECK

IMG_7283The first thing we noticed was the smell, slightly sulphur at first, as we were driving into town.  As we got closer the air took on an acidity that we could feel in our eyes and taste on our tongues.

When we arrived on the west side of Port Arthur we didn’t just smell the pollution, we saw a sickly brown stripe across the sky streaking its way over the marshes and beach to the south.

There are refineries here, including Motiva, the largest oil refinery in the nation, smack up against neighborhoods. There are piles of coke and coke-fired power plants belching black smoke.  The Veolia incinerator is here burning, among other things, toxins which were manufactured for Syrian chemical weapons.

The combined emissions from these sources mean that cancer mortality rates in Port Arthur are 25 percent higher than the state average.  Long-term exposure to a stew of chemicals punctuated by intense individual releases that trigger warnings has wreaked havoc on the families who live in West Port Arthur.  And the oil and gas industry here hasn’t been an economic boon to the residents—more than a quarter live in poverty.

This is a sacrifice zone.

Like many other areas along the Gulf Coast, and inland in the shale gas frack zones, Port Arthur has been given over to the fossil fuel industry.  The air and water, along with the health and safety of the residents, have all been sacrificed for big oil and gas.

Petrochemicals and profits are shipped out.  Pollution and poverty remain.

As we passed over the ship channel bridge, the latest industry conquest loomed on the horizon.  Across the Sabine River which divides Texas from Louisiana, cranes moved like an insect’s legs around Cheniere’s Sabine Pass LNG facility.  The plant was originally built to be an import facility, but when the practice of hydrofracking increased domestic gas supplies and drove prices down, Cheniere began the process of converting Sabine Pass into an export terminal.

trains

The Sabine Pass LNG refrigeration “trains” under construction. When construction is complete six trains will purify and liquefy up to 3.6 billion cubic feet per day of fracked gas that is piped to the facility. You can see the 377-foot flare in the center of the photo.

The five Sabine Pass storage tanks hold the equivalent of 17 billion cubic natural gas.  That's a quarter of what the U.S. uses each day.

The five Sabine Pass storage tanks hold the equivalent of 17 billion cubic natural gas. That’s a quarter of what the U.S. uses each day.

tanker

We found the LNG tanker Methane Rita Andrea already berthed at Sabine Pass.

The best view of the 1,000-acre Sabine Pass LNG facility is from the Texas side of the river, as tall impoundments obscure much of the plant on the Louisiana side.  They look like the levees that line the Rio Grande, but instead of blocking the advance of flood waters they were raised to corral a pool of liquefied natural gas or other flammable liquids should there be an accidental release.  LNG is extremely hazardous, because once ignited, it burns so hot that firefighters cannot approach, and people a mile or more away must be evacuated due to the risk of deadly thermal radiation.

When construction is completed later this year, the plant will purify and then liquefy fracked gas by cooling it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, which condenses it down to 1/600th of its volume.  The liquefied gas will be loaded onto ships for export to countries where gas prices are higher.  When all six of its refrigeration “trains” are complete, the facility will be capable of exporting 3.6 billion cubic feet per day of LNG.

Mercury, carbon dioxide, sulphur and water will be removed from the gas in these scaffold-like “trains.”  Propane, ethylene, and the methane itself will be used as “cryogens” to cool the gas.  Because natural gas is continually warming and “boiling off,” Cheniere will relieve pressure by intermittently burning excess gas from a flare tower 377 feet tall.

Cheniere is not the source of the toxic soup that Port Arthur’s residents currently breathe, of course, because the facility is not yet online.  But when it begins shipping gas it will add smog and carcinogens to the mix.  In fact, in its environmental assessment documents, Cheniere reports that the facility will be a major source of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, particulates, and greenhouse gases.

The Brownsville Navigation District is currently courting 5 proposed liquefied natural gas export facilities that, if built, would line the Brownsville ship channel just outside of Port Isabel.

Together their expected output could be as much as or greater than Sabine Pass LNG, which means that they could emit similar levels of toxins, including 5,790 tons of nitrogen oxides, 8,837 tons of carbon monoxide, and 305 tons of volatile organic compounds each year.  All three of these will have serious impacts on human health.  They could also emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases, and pump ton after ton of smog-causing, asthma-attack-inducing particulates into the air.

By inviting these LNG facilities into the Rio Grande Valley, we are sacrificing the very air that we breathe.

We may also be sacrificing our existing economy.  Imagine how the sight of burning flares amid a brown cloud will impact tourism on the island.  Will people still come here to go birding when the air burns their throat?

And when those “clean” economic drivers decline, will we, like Port Arthur, court dirtier and dirtier industries to fill the void?

We have seen in Port Arthur that fossil fuel companies do not make good neighbors.  They will transform Brownsville, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island, both through direct emissions of toxins and smog, and indirectly, as our economy and quality of life come to mirror Port Arthur’s.  And as fracking to feed these export facilities ramps up in South Texas and Northern Mexico, they will have a similar, devastating effect on our region.

Valley residents have a choice: we can stand up for our clean air and reject the LNG export facilities, or we can become the next sacrifice zone for big oil and gas.

Concerned citizens are meeting regularly in Brownsville and in McAllen to fight LNG. Find out more at Save RGV from LNG on Facebook or email lrgvsierraclub@gmail.com. 

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corpus-christi-petroleum-natural-gas-processing-plant-new

BY STEFANIE HERWECK

The first thing you notice are the roiling orange flames spewing out of slender pipes, creating a black smoke that dilutes into the brownish air above. Tall, soot-covered silos shoot skyward out of a maze of dirty pipes. In the foreground, squat tanks are marked with rust stains and posted with warning signs which you can just make out. There’s an acrid, chemical smell in the air, and your breathing instinctively becomes shallow.

You’re in Beaumont. You’re in Port Arthur. You’re near the Houston Ship Channel. Or you’re driving through Corpus Christi. And you’re trying to get out of there—to get past the unhealthy industrial hellscape of petrochemical plants as soon as you can.

If you’ve traveled through Texas’ other coastal cities, you’ve had this experience.   And if you’re like me, you probably thought to yourself, thank God I don’t live here.

Unfortunately, petrochemical plants like these could be coming to us here in the Valley. The Brownsville Navigation District has leased land for four liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals which are now awaiting permits.  A fifth lease is reportedly in the works.

The terminals proposed for the Port of Brownsville would first remove impurities from the gas and then supercool it to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, so that it liquefies and condenses to 1/600th of its volume. The liquefied gas can then be loaded onto tanker ships bound for Europe and Asia.

These refining and refrigeration processes release harmful emissions that will pollute our air and water and put our most vulnerable populations—children and the elderly—at risk.

Although none of the LNG companies coming to the Port of Brownsville have released estimates of their expected emissions, we can calculate rough amounts of the pollutants they will emit by comparing them to a recent report on the expansion of Louisiana’s Sabine Pass LNG facility. Sabine Pass LNG’s expansion will allow it to process 1.4 billion cubic feet per day. Together, the four Brownsville LNG facilities awaiting permits have stated that they will process 5.6 billion cubic feet per day.

Sabine Pass LNG reports that with its expansion in place it will produce 1,820.83 tons per year of nitrogen oxides (NOx). If we assume similar emission rates for the Brownsville LNG projects, we can expect 7,296.33 tons per year of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen oxides make up the poisonous “brown cloud” that you see in large cities like Houston. They worsen asthma symptoms and damage lungs. They also contribute to acid rain and harm marine life. The amount the Brownsville facilities will emit is approximately equivalent to the total NOx emissions produced annually by all the vehicles in Cameron County.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2)is another contributor to acid rain, and the refineries can be expected to emit more than 24 tons per year, a 9% increase in the total Cameron County emissions of SO2.

Based on the Sabine Pass LNG expansion, the four LNG projects at the Port of Brownsville can also be expected to emit 362 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals that contribute to smog and pollute water. Some, like benzene and toluene, are carcinogens. Indeed, a possible cancer cluster being investigated in the Barnett Shale region of north Texas has been linked to benzene emissions from nearby natural gas drilling.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poison produced when fossil fuels do not burn completely. It can be particularly harmful to pregnant women, fetuses and babies, and people with heart conditions. Using the Sabine Pass expansion as a guide, we can estimate that the Port of Brownsville operations will add 11,222 tons per year of carbon monoxide, an approximately 20% increase in Cameron County’s total annual CO emissions.

We can also expect the proposed LNG plants to emit 455 tons per year of particulate pollution, consisting of particles small enough to be inhaled. These cause respiratory problems and aggravate heart problems. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to particulates.

The Port of Brownsville’s LNG refineries will also pump out an estimated 10.1 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To put that in perspective, the EPA lists only two large-facility sources of GHG in Cameron County, the Silas Ray Power Plant and the Municipal Waste Dump. Together they produced 130, 815 tons of GHG in 2012. As a region that is on track to suffer potentially catastrophic impacts of drought, stronger storms and sea level rise from global warming, we should work to minimize, not supersize, our carbon footprint.

Politicians like Congressmen Vela and Cuellar have called LNG a windfall for the Rio Grande Valley. What they don’t talk about are the toxins that that wind will bring.

Instead of silently accepting their LNG sales pitch, we need to speak up and initiate a community conversation about what the coming of LNG could mean. Are we ready for the smoky flares and the brown clouds? Are we comfortable living and raising our children where poisons and carcinogens blow in the wind? Are we really willing to sacrifice our clean air and water?

It’s a momentous decision that we should all be involved in.

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Aerial View South Hook January 2009The 5 proposed Port of Brownsville LNG plants are among 40 natural gas export operations being advanced across the country.  If these proposals are approved the United States may become the world’s largest exporter of natural gas.  This in turn will raise domestic natural gas prices and expand the dangerous and destructive practice of fracking.  It will have serious implications for public health, the environment and climate change.
For this reason, the Sierra Club has taken the following actions:
  • The Sierra Club has developed a report entitled “Look Before the LNG Leap.”  The report demands that the Department of Energy undertake an environmental study that includes the cumulative impacts of ALL of the proposed LNG export facilities rather than allowing them to go through environmental review as individual projects.   READ IT HERE>>>
  • The Club has filed Motions to Intervene, Protest, and Comment for each and every LNG plant filing with Department of Energy.  In these motions they ask the Department of Energy to require an environmental review before granting the application, and they argue that the Department of Energy should find the application inconsistent with the public interest.  You can read the motions for 2 of the 5 Brownsville LNG projects HERE>>> and HERE>>>.
  • Along with other environmental organizations, the Sierra Club has petitioned the Department of Energy to revise the nearly 30-year-old policy guidelines for approving natural gas exports. You can read the press release and petition HERE>>>

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Children were given free t-shirts at a 2011 Earth Day event sponsored by Shell Oil at UTPA.

By Stefanie Herweck

Every year more Texas communities add an Earth Day festival to their calendar.  But among the presentations on household energy efficiency, the wildlife on display, the recycled fashion shows, homemade birdfeeders, and festival food, something critical has been lost: the political action of the original Earth Day.

Earth Day began as a serious bid to bring environmental issues to our politicians’ attention.  In 1970 Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and Republican Representative Paul McCloskey helped create the day as a way to counter the fact that, “The state of our environment was simply a non-issue in the politics of the country.”  

The first Earth Day events were not festivals, but grassroots protests.  After years of fighting in isolation, and with little national attention, against polluting factories in their communities, against power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, oil spills, pesticides, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife, 20 million Americans banded together on April 22, 1970 to make their voices heard. 

This movement didn’t stop when people left the streets.  Capitalizing on the networks created by the protests, student organizers released a “Dirty Dozen” list of U.S. House members whose voting records ran counter to the goals of protecting and preserving our nation’s natural resources.  When the next election cycle rolled around, thousands turned out to educate voters about the “Dirty Dozen.”  Two of the representatives lost their primaries.  Five more were defeated in their re-election bids. 

The environment quickly became an important national issue in the eyes of Congress.  As a result, in 1970 Congress amended and strengthened the Clean Air Act.  The Environmental Protection Agency was born in December of that year, and the National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law soon afterward.  The Marine Mammals Protection Act was passed in 1972, along with legislation which came to be known as the Clean Water Act.  In 1973 Congress passed the Endangered Species Act.

These were historic advances, but in the intervening years Earth Day has moved away from propelling legislation and holding politicians accountable, and has become a superficial celebration.  We nostalgically don our tie-dye t-shirts and visit festivals, complete with corporate sponsors and fast food vendors, while our country’s commitment to environmental protection erodes away.

The first Earth Day featured teach-ins to educate people, not just about interesting wildlife and how to be a “green” consumer, but about how industrial practices and the extraction and use of fossil fuels were destroying ecosystems and threatening human health. 

In the new millennium, Earth Day is failing to teach these things.  Even as Earth Day festivities have spread, public understanding about issues such as climate change has decreased.  A recent Gallup poll shows a decline in the percentage of people who are concerned about global warming, down to 55 percent this year from a high 72 percent in 2000.

Earth Day has also lost its original political edge.  Under the influence of industry lobbyists, and with campaign coffers filled with money from polluters, the environment has become once again a “non-issue” for our politicians.  They are working for polluters instead of for the people and the environment that we depend on. 

Our Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison are doing their part for the fossil fuel industry by consistently supporting legislation that goes against science and blocks the EPA from regulating pollution.  They also support extremist cuts proposed by the Ryan budget that would leave us without any funds whatsoever to protect our environment.   

At the state level, Governor Perry and his appointed commissioners at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) are waging a legal war on the EPA, insisting that Texas’ pro-polluter, anti-community regulatory process is better for business than a science-based process that protects human health.

Earth Day has been successful at getting people to stop and think about our environment.  But if we truly want to preserve our planet, its diversity of life, and ourselves, we need to educate ourselves about the environmental threats we’re facing and use concrete political actions to address those problems.

What can you do to recapture the political activism of the original Earth Day?  Hold policymakers accountable, by keeping up with the impacts their proposed policies will have on the environment and the health of our communities and natural areas.  Call or write Senators Cornyn and Hutchison and tell them to support the EPA in their mission to protect public health and the environment.  Contact your state elected officials and let them know that Texans deserve a voice when it comes to allowing polluters into our communities.  If your elected officials are consistently voting against the environment or champion destructive, pro-pollution policies, work to get them voted out of office.

Keep tabs on corporations and educate yourself about their practices.  When a corporation proposes a development in your community, find out everything you can about the plan.  If you have concerns take them to your elected officials and regulatory agencies. 

Your actions will have greater impact when you work with others who share your goals.  Joining a national environmental organization will allow you to be a part of a political force to turn the tide and make the environment a political issue once more.  Become active in a local group or simply come together with people in your community around local projects like protecting a park, cleaning up a body of water, preserving native habitat, or lobbying city officials to shift to renewable energy, establish bike lanes, and plant trees.

When the Earth Day festivals are over, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to protect our environment.  Life literally depends on it.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Rio Grande Guardian in April 2011. 

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