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LRGV Sierra Club’s Jim Chapman reading the letter before the Hidalgo County Commission

Valley organizations have presented a letter to Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling asking them to rescind their support for levee-border walls in Hidalgo County. The letter comes as a response to letters that both men sent to federal officials suggesting that, although they were opposed to the border wall, Hidalgo County would welcome a combination levee-border wall. The full text and signators of the letter are below.

If you would like to add your name to a petition against the levee-wall plan, you may do so at http://bit.ly/2niBHOH

Dear Judge Garcia and Mayor Darling:

We the undersigned urge you to reconsider your support for the levee-border wall plan, to withdraw your offer to Congress and the Department of Homeland Security to help build them, and to actively and vocally oppose all border walls, including border walls built into levees.

As you have acknowledged numerous times, border walls do not make our communities here in Hidalgo County more secure. The crime rates in Texas border cities are already among the lowest in the nation. Most of the people who cross the border without documents are immigrants and refugees who do not pose a threat to us. Furthermore, walls do not stop people from crossing. The Government Accountability Office recently reported that Customs and Border Protection has never shown that border walls have any impact on rates of smuggling and immigration. But they can push migrants into crossing at more dangerous points along the border where too many suffer tragic deaths from dehydration and exposure.

We have been advised by International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) that all of the flood-control levees along the Rio Grande in Hidalgo County have already been repaired and certified.  They have been or will soon be submitted for certification by IBWC. We do not need the levee-walls that you are proposing in order to keep us safe from floods. The County does have real drainage challenges, including many colonias with localized flooding, but those will not be addressed by building extraordinarily expensive border walls into the river levees.

The map created by Dannenbaum Engineering does not take in account the homes, farms, and nature parks which would be impacted by the levee-wall. It simply draws a levee-wall along every section of the river levee where there is not already a wall. Therefore, you are proposing a plan without determining how Hidalgo County residents’ access to their homes and lands would be affected and how this would impact their property values.

The proposed levee wall also slices through the most visited nature parks in the County: Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park. Santa Ana is an ecotourism hotspot and the heart of the wildlife refuge system in the Rio Grande Valley, and Bentsen provides outdoor recreation opportunities for residents and tourists alike. Both parks are major hubs in our $460 million per year nature tourism industry. We already lost some of our parkland to the levee-wall when the Hidalgo Pumphouse hike and bike trail was walled off. Proposing a plan that could cut off these special places is irresponsible.

Levee-walls are especially devastating for wildlife and will strike a blow to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Wildlife Corridor that we have been working for almost 40 years to piece together. Terrestrial animals can move freely up and over levees, but an eighteen-foot solid concrete wall is an insurmountable obstacle. It will block them from access to habitat, water sources and mates. For this reason the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said that levee-walls are not compatible with our wildlife refuge lands.

Our organizations and the Hidalgo County residents we represent are very concerned about what the Trump Administration’s border and immigration policies could mean for our home. We do not want border walls. We do not want to see our communities and nature parks cut off and militarized.

Please respect the concerns of your constituents.  Rescind your letters and resist, not promote, Trump’s border walls.

Sincerely,

Jim Chapman

Executive Committee Member

Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club

Juanita Valdez-Cox

Executive Director

La Union del Pueblo Entero

Josué Ramirez

Lower Rio Grande Valley Co-director

Texas Low Income Housing Service

Karen Boward

President

Frontera Audubon

Sharon Slagle

President

Friends of the Wildlife Corridor

Lourdes Flores

President

A Resource in Serving Equality (ARISE)

Gerald Brazier

Chapter Leader

Call to Action-Rio Grande Valley

Martha Garcia

Secretary

Environmental Awareness Club at UTRGV

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billOver 70 people attended the Save RGV from LNG kickoff campaign on Monday, April 11 to learn more about the  liquefied natural gas export terminals proposed for the Port of Brownsville and the negative impacts they could bring to the Rio Grande Valley.

            Sierra Club member Stefanie Herweck presented a dispatch from Lusby, Maryland where people are fighting the Dominion Cove Point LNG export terminal (currently being litigated by Sierra Club).  Stefanie visited the community last month and was able to interview many residents and activists, as well as see the terminal under construction. The Cove Point terminal is being built in a densely populated area, across the street from residential homes, even though the industry standard has required that LNG export terminals be built at least three miles from populated areas.  Despite the dangers of long term pollution from the gas-fired generators and catastrophic vapor cloud explosions, the agency in charge of permitting LNG export terminals, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), went ahead and approved Cove Point LNG and put thousands of people at serious risk.
           Stefanie made the point that if FERC would rubberstamp such an egregious project, they would certainly ignore the health and safety issues posed by the Port of Brownsville projects.  Those proposed export terminals don’t meet the long-time industry standard for remote siting either.  Texas LNG plans to build its terminal within two miles of Port Isabel and within three miles of Laguna Vista, putting those towns in the evacuation zone.  A three-mile evacuation zone would also close Highway 100, which is the only route off of South Padre Island.
          Stefanie said that the health and safety risks of the LNG industrial complex would be unacceptable and urged the audience to fight them.
           Afterward, Sierran Bill Berg presented a timeline of the Save RGV from LNG campaign with some great photos of many of our events and victories so far, and LRGV Sierra Club president Jim Chapman went over the regulatory process and discussed the effort to recruit people who could file motions to intervene with FERC.  Filing a motion to intervene makes you an official stakeholder.  People who may suffer materially from the LNG export terminals and pipeline may file for intervenor status.  We encourage people who are concerned about how LNG will impact their businesses or property values to file online with FERC as intervenors.  (For more information contact rebekah.hinojosa@sierraclub.org)
            Finally, our new organizer Rebekah divided people into groups for a brainstorm about how we can participate in the Earth Day festivities in Brownsville.  The consensus that developed was to have a No LNG March.  Stay tuned for an invitation for Saturday, April 23!
            The campaign kickoff was a great momentum-building experience for everyone involved, and it will be exciting to see what the next stage in the Save RGV from LNG campaign will bring.

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fast-track-tpp

By Scott Nicol

The White House has been pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which it calls “the most progressive trade agreement in history.”  But rather than increasing protections for working Americans and the environment, the TPP undermines U.S. labor and environmental laws.

The U.S. Senate, including Texas Senators Cornyn and Cruz, recently voted to give President Obama “fast track authority” to negotiate the Trans Pacific Partnership in secret, with no public or Congressional input.

The Rio Grande Valley’s U.S. Representatives Hinojosa and Vela have said that they oppose fast track, and they deserve applause for taking that stance.

But Representative Cuellar recently penned an op-ed arguing in favor of TPP, saying “I have been a strong supporter of this partnership.”  And when fast track came up for a vote Cuellar was one of just a handful of Democrats who voted for it.

Instead of shilling for multinational oil and gas corporations, Representative Cuellar should stand up for the working men and women who elected him, and air they breathe and the water they drink, and work to defeat “fast track” in the U.S. House.

More than 600 “corporate advisors,” representing multi-national corporations, have been involved in writing the TPP, but the general public has not been allowed to see what they have written.  Members of Congress who read it can be prosecuted if they reveal its contents to the American public.

If this is such a great deal why aren’t we allowed to see it?

Last year a draft version was leaked, and its provisions would undermine workers, the environment, and the rule of law in the United States.

The TPP would allow private foreign corporations to sue sovereign nations for cash compensation, and to overturn any law that they claim would cut into their “expected future profits.”

For example, the Clean Air Act limits the amount of mercury, benzene, and other hazardous pollutants that a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal can emit upwind from an elementary school.  But if that proposed LNG terminal is owned by a company from a TPP country, that company could sue the United States to overturn the law rather than limit its emissions.

Texas LNG, which wants to build an LNG export terminal less than two miles outside of Port Isabel, is partly owned by Samsung.  Samsung is headquartered in South Korea, and South Korea will likely sign on to the TPP.

Multi-national corporations could also sue to overturn worker safety regulations that were intended to prevent their employees from being injured or poisoned on the job on the grounds that they incur cost, and therefore cut into “expected future profits.”

The ability of locals to have a say in whether an LNG export terminal is built in their community would also be curtailed.  Currently the Department of Energy must determine whether or not a proposed LNG export terminal is in the public interest before it can be built.  TPP would grant them automatic approval if their owners claim that the gas was destined for a country that has signed the treaty.

This is why Representatives Hinojosa and Vela have said that they oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and why Representative Cuellar should as well.

Under current law the deck is already stacked in these facilities’ favor.  We should strengthen protections for workers and communities, not allow foreign corporations to overrule U.S. sovereignty and sweep away U.S. laws.

Representative Cuellar should reverse course and oppose “fast track” and the larger Trans Pacific Partnership, and fight to preserve laws that protect workers from injury and children from pollution.

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By Scott Nicol

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

Border wall through the LRGV National Wildlife Refuge

I intend to tear this wall down and pass an immigration reform bill that’s an American solution to an American problem.”

Unfortunately, when Senator Lindsey Graham uttered those words a few days after the presidential election he was talking about the metaphorical wall between the Republican Party and Hispanic voters, not the physical walls that tear through the U.S. – Mexico borderlands.

Last summer the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1505, waiving environmental laws in National Parks, Monuments, Forests, and Wilderness Areas within 100 miles of both borders for walls or anything else the Border Patrol could dream up.  In the run up to the election Republicans from Mitt Romney at the top of the ticket down to candidates for state offices called for making immigrants’ lives so miserable through measures like Arizona’s SB 1070 that they would “self-deport.”

 

Following the election, in which an overwhelming majority of Hispanic voters rejected Mitt Romney and Republican candidates, these same politicians feel a sudden sense of urgency to pass an immigration reform bill.

That bill will probably look a lot like the proposal that Senators Graham and Schumer were working on a couple of years ago, linking temporary work visas and a pathway to citizenship to increased border militarization.  That may sound familiar because it is the same formula that was used in 2006, when the US House and Senate passed competing immigration bills.  When the two bills could not be reconciled Congress pulled out the border security section and passed it as the Secure Fence Act.

Since then 649 miles of border wall have gone up, slicing through sensitive habitat from California’s Otay Mountain Wilderness Area to Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

As border walls went up in urban areas like San Diego and El Paso, crossers were “funneled” into the remote and fragile ecosystems of the Arizona desert.  Thousands have died there.

In south Texas border walls now roughly parallel the Rio Grande, ranging from a few hundred yards away to as much as two miles north of its banks.  These walls repeatedly bisect Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife refuge tracts and cut off the last vestiges of sabal palm forest protected by Audubon and the Nature Conservancy.  By blocking movement along the wildlife corridor, border walls may prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the ocelot in the United States.

Just this year the US section of the International Boundary and Water Commission caved in to pressure from Customs and Border Protection and unilaterally approved new walls in the Rio Grande floodplain, despite objections from Mexico.  If they are built these walls could have serious flood impacts on the communities of Roma, Rio Grande City, and Los Ebanos in the United States, as well as their sister cities on the southern bank of the river.  They will also carve up more fragile refuge habitat.

This is why the Lone Star chapter continues to support the Sierra Club’s national Borderlands Team’s efforts to head off new damage, ensure that environmental laws are obeyed, and get mitigation for the harm that has already occurred.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform could either be a blessing or a curse for the borderlands.  Allowing immigrants to enter through the “front door,” paying the federal government  instead of a coyote and passing through a port of entry instead of climbing the wall and trekking through the desert, would reduce both the impacts of traffic on fragile ecosystems and the number of immigrants who die attempting to cross.  But if it repeats the old formula, adding more border walls and boots on the ground, it will exacerbate the damage to our borderlands.

We need a clean immigration bill, without more of the walls or waivers that do tremendous damage to border ecosystems year after year.

 ###

To learn more about the environmental impacts of border walls and the work of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Team visit www.sierraclub.org/borderlands

 

 

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by Christina Hill Alvarez

We are at an intersection in our nation, and that intersection is the topic of climate change.  We must choose to strengthen our economy and our environment. We must find the will to politically organize against what is occurring in Congress. We are going to beat them, and we’re going to beat them by recruiting everyone, regardless of partisan affiliation. It does not matter if you are a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent. What matters is that our planet is seriously at risk, and the time to decide what we are going to do about it is now. We have reached a point where simply purchasing environmentally friendly products is not enough. We must find our voice as a nation again, and we must speak up. Congress’s inaction has caused thousands of people across the United States to lose their jobs. We have begun to put money and politics above the well being of our neighbors, which is truly unconscionable.

“What’s more, reasonable policies designed to make America more energy secure have been shunned by the Right under purely partisan rationale,” said Dave Cortez of  BlueGreen Apollo Alliance.

To quote Blake Farenthold, “Right now the wind power industry is getting a huge tax credit. That  is taxpayers’ money. I think they should be treated like anyone else.”

“These are the same men and women whom deny climate change and refuse to do what’s best for our economy,” Dave continued,  “Instead, they dole out billions in subsidies and tax breaks to big oil, coal, and natural gas developers.”

The Production Tax Credit is a key topic in the election this year. Politicians seem to be nonchalantly playing foosball with it while 2,299 Americans have lost their jobs in the wind industry due to Congressional inaction. According to Jeff Clark of the Wind Coalition, 67% of the wind components utilized in wind farms are manufactured here in the United States.  “The PTC is exactly what it says it is. It is not a giveaway, you cannot use the credit if you do not have income to credit against. This is a credit for economic development and performance. It pays for performance. We stand to lose about 37,000 jobs if we don’t extend the PTC. We risk losing jobs and technology. Wind development will not stop but it will slow down and increase in other areas of the world. We risk losing the markets where wind energy is making a big difference.”

If the PTC is not renewed and incentivized we stand to lose a plethora of opportunities, as well as our grid stability. Jeff Neves of American Shoreline Inc, “It’s scary what our back up power reserve is currently and what it is for the future. We’re at a 14% margin right now but it will reach -.8% by 2022. We are a growing state…we need more power…we’re getting to a point where we’re going to use up our power and begin seeing the rolling blackouts that other people experience in other states.”

We as Texans must apply pressure in the place that matters, and that place is on the desks of our Congressmen Blake Farenthold and Francisco “Quico” Canseco. You can comment on their Facebook page, tweet to them, call their offices, or send them good old fashioned “snail mail”.

Blake Farenthold

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BlakeFarenthold

Twitter: https://twitter.com/farenthold

Phone- Corpus Christi, Texas: (361) 884-2222

Phone- Brownsville, Texas: : (956) 544-8800

Phone- Washington D.C.: (202) 225-7742

101 North Shoreline Drive

Corpus Christi, Texas 78401

Francisco “Quico” Canseco

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RepCanseco

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RepCanseco

Phone- Washington D.C: (202) 225-4511

Phone – South San Antonio, Texas: (210) 922-7826

Phone – North San Antonio, Texas: (210) 561-8855

Phone – Del Rio, Texas: (830) 774-7257

Phone – Fort Stockton, Texas: (432) 336-8314

Phone – Eagle Pass, Texas: Phone: (830) 758-0398

1339 Longworth HOB,

Washington, District of Columbia 20515

Sample Script:

“I’m calling in support of the Production Tax Credit (PTC). Id like to urge representative ________ to support it and urge speaker Boehner to bring it to the floor.”

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By Stefanie Herweck

They drift in the breeze like white, yellow and blue parachutes and look almost lovely, until they are caught and shredded by a fence, tangled in a tree, or stretched wet and filthy over a drain grate.  They are plastic bags, and they have become a part of the scenery in the Rio Grande Valley, accumulating everywhere, even in rural and natural areas far away from the nearest stores.

Plastic bags have become such an everpresent eyesore that citizens are increasingly willing to trade their small convenience for bag-free streets, sidewalks, and parks.  Dozens of U.S. cities have banned single-use plastic bags or imposed fees for them.  Our own Valley communities of Brownsville and South Padre Island have been at the forefront of the effort to stop the plastic bag blight in Texas, with each passing an ordinance that charges consumers a fee for their use.

These ordinances are gaining traction in part because plastic bag litter is so visible and so unsightly.  Discarded bags blowing around set back efforts to keep our cities clean, and they trash our pristine natural areas.  But plastic bags also have negative impacts that we don’t see—impacts that are far more threatening to the environment and human health.

Every year countless animals die from encounters with plastic bags.  They become entangled in the bags, like the raptor that I witnessed trying desperately to disentangle its talons on a South Padre Island beach a few years ago.  Animals also ingest the bags.  One of the Valley’s premier species, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, can mistake plastic bags floating on the tide for jellyfish and eat them, causing intestinal blockage and even death.

And millions upon millions of bags are floating out there.   They drift on the currents, where exposure to sunlight makes them brittle, causing them to crumble into smaller and smaller pieces.  The plastic does not break down into its component elements; it just fragments into more and more pieces of plastic that are smaller and smaller.  These plastic bits float just below the surface of the water and collect in high concentrations in the mid-ocean gyres, where currents spiral together and the world’s plastic waste accumulates.

This plastic soup is made more poisonous because plastic is oliophilic, meaning that it attracts oil.  Thus it absorbs other oily pollutants that it encounters such as PCBs, pesticides like DDT, and motor oil.  When the now highly toxic plastic bag fragments reach a small enough size, they are consumed by zooplankton and filter feeders, and the bag enters the food chain along with the deadly toxins that it absorbed.  Fish eat the plankton, bigger fish in turn eat them, and the plastic and chemicals climb the food chain.  Trace amounts of these chemicals are found in humans, suggesting that we are ultimately consuming the toxin-laden plastics that we so carelessly threw away.

The landfill and the recycling bin are not much more appealing options.   It is costly to get the bags to the landfill.  A study in Austin found that the taxpayers of that city pay $850,000 a year to put plastic bags in landfills and clean them up as litter.  Plastic bags are more likely than other trash to escape from landfills on the wind.  Since the bags do not biodegrade, they remain intact for 500 to 1,000 years, ever threatening to contaminate surrounding lands and streams.

The cost to recycle plastic bags outweighs their value, so often they are not recycled, even when placed in bins set aside for this purpose.  It is estimated that only 1 to 3 percent of plastic bags are recycled, and few new bags have recycled content.

Single-use bags, like all plastic, are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource.  Fourteen plastic bags contain enough petroleum to drive a car a mile.  We throw away 380 million of them each year—equivalent to dumping 12 million barrels of oil.  Plastic bags give us the pollution of petrochemicals, but none of the energy.

Plastic bags in a field across from Bicentennial Park in Edinburg

Recognizing the harm that single-use bags bring with them, McAllen is the latest city to propose a bag ban.  The Texas Retailers Association and its members oppose the ban.  This week McAllen City Commissioner Scott Crane announced that McAllen’s ban would be put on hold for 90 days while retailers like HEB and Wal-Mart create a voluntary education program.  Just such an outreach effort took place in Austin in 2008 and 2009, but it fell short of its goals.  So, in March Austin is expected to pass an ordinance to first impose fees for, and then ban outright, single-use plastic bags.

As in Austin, McAllen’s voluntary effort is unlikely to succeed.  In the meantime a delay in banning single-use bags will mean that their pollution continues to pile up.

It’s time to stop thinking of single-use bags, as “disposable.”  The fact is that the plastic bag you carry groceries home in today will outlive you.  Your great-grandchildren won’t be able to see it, but its pollutants will still be in the soil that they walk on and the water that they swim in.  Along with their great-grandmother’s eyes or their great grandfather’s smile, they will inherit the plastics and toxins that we bequeathed them, just so that we wouldn’t have to remember to bring along a reusable bag.

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The McAllen City Commission will decide Monday whether to provide matching funds so the Valley Land Fund can begin restoring the McAllen Botanical Garden and eventually reopen the park and permanently protect the old growth forest within it.  Here’s what you’ve been missing while it’s been closed. 

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