Posts Tagged ‘Sierra Club’

Last Saturday dozens of Rio Grande Valley residents spent their morning showing their love for Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and World Birding Center. They gathered under the shade of beautiful Texas ebony trees to draw attention to the threat posed by the Trump administration’s border wall. This March Congress voted to pay for a levee-border wall that would split the state park in two, destroy acres of native forest, and wall off the state park’s entire trail system.

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At the center of the event were postcards sent by participants to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, who represents the district in which Bentsen is located. They asked the two officials to advocate for the state park and save it from the destruction of the border wall and from possible closure. The crowd generated 113 postcards for each leader, and the campaign is still ongoing.

You can print your own Save Bentsen postcards here!postcard color_edited-1

In addition, local artists donated original drawings of plant and animal species commonly found in the park to create a Bentsen State Park bilingual Lotería. Kids and grownups alike took tours of the park with local naturalists and returned to color in those species on the Lotería card that they had sighted. There was a lot of excitement when one group spotted a Western diamondback rattlesnake, and birders were thrilled to see an Olive-sided flycatcher, just one of the hundreds of species of migrating birds that use Bentsen for a waystation on their journey across two continents.

When the guided tours returned, participants gathered to hear local naturalist and Sierra Club member Tiffany Kersten recount the story of when brothers Lloyd, Sr. and Elmer Bentsen agreed to spare the park from the plow after they grew to appreciate the very ebony grove where the picnic was taking place, and how they donated the land to the state for the enjoyment of all Texans in 1944, with the state park officially opening in 1962.

Then Martha Garcia of the Environmental Awareness Club at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley talked about how her first experience at Bentsen on a school fieldtrip reminded her of her family’s first home in Tamaulipas, México and the importance of being able to connect with that natural heritage.

Border wall expert and Sierra Club member Scott Nicol explained how the levee-border wall would cut off the trails from the Visitor Center and how the plans called for chopping down the native forests 150 feet south of a levee-border wall to create a gravel-covered “enforcement zone.” He also spoke about the danger of the park being shut down for good, noting that the trail system connected to another World Birding Center—the one at Hidalgo Pumphouse in the City of Hidalgo–had been walled off in 2009 and was no longer accessible to the public.

The event wrapped up with families picnicking under the ebonies, whose beauty had compelled the Bentsen brothers to save the forest here for us. The question is, what will we save for future generations?


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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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We congratulate Julia Jorgensen and Mark Pena as the new co-chairs of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club.  By way of introduction, we’ll be running their stories about how they found their way into the Sierra Club.

Dwelling in a House of One Room

By Julia Jorgensen

How did I become an environmentalist?  This kind of thing is never a simple story.

I spent much of my childhood in a big yard and garden on the outskirts of a small town in Texas, but I proceeded to live in seven other states before returning to Texas.  I got graduate degrees in Cognitive Science and Anthropology, and I’ve taught for nearly thirty years.

One important thing I learned from Anthropology is that our early ancestors did not view their own lives as existing separately from the lives of the forests, grasslands, deserts, streams, and oceans that surrounded them.  As John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, said, “we all (men or beast) dwell in a house of one room – the world with the firmament for its roof – we are all sailing the celestial spaces without leaving any track”.  This ancient view of life was functional – it led to respect for nature’s limits and an appreciation that plundering would prevent the regeneration of the resources human life required.  This planet is our only possible home.

As a child living in rural Texas and playing every day under big trees and starry skies, I, too, felt this connection, deeply and strongly, and I was moved by the beauty of my green world.

I still believe that the non-human creatures living on earth are not only the source of our well-being, but they are our kin and almost persons in their own right.  I believe it is genuinely immoral to destroy a species or ecosystem.

After Anthropology I became a Psychology teacher.  Teaching teaches the teacher:  One of the most eye-opening courses I’ve taught is Environmental Psychology.  I first taught this around 1994, before climate change was a well-known issue, but the teaching forced me to learn my stuff.  I learned about the greenhouse effect,  and I was startled to discover that the basic theory of the effects of fossil fuel burning on climate had been worked out all the way back in 1895 by a Swedish Nobel Prize winner, Svante Arrhenius!

So I first got worried about climate ninety-nine years after Arrhenius did!  And it has continued, and my concern has expanded:  How have we gotten to be a species that has “overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord since the earth was born”? How is it that “the noise of the chainsaw will (now) always be in the woods”? Why does even the rain carry the debris from our cars, factories, and explosions? (Bill McKibben)

And why has our global atmosphere changed so much, putting our planet in “imminent peril” from climate change, a potentially mortal danger for all species on the planet? (James Hansen) Wasn’t Arrhenius’ warning in 1895 enough to get us to change our ways?

Bill McKibben’s succinct answer is that no, it wasn’t.  He says, “Over the last century a human life has become a machine for burning petroleum”.

The significance of this became vivid for me when I learned, from Alfred Crosby that: “Fossil fuels are the tiny residue of immense quantities of plant matter. An American gallon of gasoline corresponds to about 90 tons of plant matter, the equivalent of 40 acres of wheat—seeds, roots, stalks, all.  Coal, oil, and natural gas are the end products of an immensity of exploitation of sunshine via photosynthesis over periods of time measured by the same calendars used for tectonic shuffling of continental plates.”

Of course we can’t see the carbon dioxide produced by burning a gallon of gasoline, but maybe it would help if we at least try to imagine the smoke it represents. Imagine how a fire of 40 acres of wheat would look.  Imagine this multiplied by all the citizens of your state or country for all the gallons they burn over a period of many decades.   The US Energy Information Administration tells us that in 2012, about 133 billion gallonsof gasoline were consumed in the United States.*   Is it reasonable to believe this massive amount of burning would not affect our atmosphere?  At the very least we should figure that out!

We do not need to live this way.  As Dr. James Hansen says, “The tragedy is that the actions needed to stabilize climate…are not only feasible but provide additional benefits as well.”  The benefits include the end of much death and disease caused by air and water pollution, and the preservation of clean groundwater and natural habitat, farms, and homesteads scarred by coal mining, fracking, and pipelines.

These are some of the reasons I’m an environmentalist, and why I cared enough about the LRGV Sierra Club to become a co-chair this year.

The Sierra Club is the only US environmental organization that encourages grass-roots activism in local groups.   That means that the Club supports our efforts to do all we can in the LRGV to fight for clean water, clean air, habitat for our fellow creatures, green environments for humans to enjoy, and an end to the policies that promote fossil fuel use.

We are a core group of around twenty active and friendly people, surrounded by a lot of Sierra Club members who don’t join in our local meetings.  We wish you, out there, who care about the environment, would join our efforts, our hikes, and our parties!  We would love to meet you! With you we could do so much more.


Here are the books cited in my essay or recommended as background:

Anderson, E. N.  Ecologies of the heart.  Oxford University Press, 1990.

Christianson, Gale E.  Greenhouse:  The 200-year story of global warming.  Penguin, 1999.

Crosby, Alfred W.  Children of the sun:  A history of humanity’s unappeasable appetite for           energy.  W.W. Norton, 2006.

Hansen, James.  Storms of my grandchildren.  Bloomsbury, 2009.

McKibben, Bill.  The end of nature.  Anchor Books, 1989.

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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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The Army Corps of Engineers opened a public comment period until July 18 for the Baryonyx 500-turbine wind generation project offshore of Cameron, Willacy, Kleberg, Kenedy and Nueces Counties.   The Public Notice  states that “A preliminary review of this application indicates that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is not required.”  An EIS is legally required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when a project is likely to have significant impacts on the environment.

Despite denying the need for an EIS, the Army Corps Public Notice also states that “Threatened and/or endangered species or their critical habitat may be affected by the proposed work.”  This discrepancy, along with the many unanswered questions, such as the path of transmission lines and the types of turbines used has led environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society to call for an EIS.

Map of proposed offshore wind farm sites in Cameron County

When the Sierra Club met with Baryonyx yesterday in Austin, corporate officials claimed that they fully intend to go through the EIS process, regardless of what the Army Corps tells them that they must do.  At this point they are simply going through the normal Corps General Permitting Process.

They will be scheduling official public meetings in different locations later this year as a part of the EIS process.  The Army Corps comment period, then, is just to get basic information that can guide the EIS process as Baryonyx moves forward.  They would still need to hold public meetings and open an EIS comment period, as well as do some two years of studies on the impacts for bats, birds, mammals and sea turtles.

Baryonyx does not envision putting anything in the ground before late 2014 or early 2015 at the earliest, and the project would be built in stages over many years.

Also, Baryonyx was open to meeting with groups in the Rio Grande Valley, so watch this space for that opportunity.

It is important for Valley residents to get involved in this process.   Developing wind energy is critical if we are going to wean ourselves off dirty fossil fuels.  But if wind generation is going to be an answer to the environmental degradation caused by fossil fuels it needs to be a good answer.

You can send in your own comments and questions to the Army Corp address on the Public Notice form.  Audubon also has an action alert calling for an EIS that you can fill out and send.

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The State House voted to add two amendments to the Texas Council on Environmental Quality Sunset Bill that would curtail the rights of Texans to challenge permits that allow companies to pollute their communities.  You can read the details here:  http://www.texasobserver.org/forrestforthetrees/house-republicans-make-it-harder-for-citizens-to-fight-polluters

In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Reps. Gonzalez, Lucio, III, Olveira, Martinez, Munoz voted against this amendment. 

Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City who voted yes,  and Rep. Aaron Pena of Edinburg, who was notably absent during the vote.

This will be a Sierra Club vote of record: the way the representatives voted on these amendments will be used to analyze their environmental records as a whole.

The TCEQ bill strips Texans of their right to challenge polluters who want to move in to their communities

 Here is the statement of Ken Kramer, Director, Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, on the House Approval of the TCEQ Sunset Bill (House Bill 2694) on Second Reading and the Adoption of the Chisum Assaults on the Public’s Right to Contest Pollution Control Permits 

“The House floor action on the TCEQ sunset bill today was a historic low point in legislative activity on environmental issues. It represents a failure of the majority of state representatives to protect both public health and the rights of their constituents to a clean environment. 

“The TCEQ sunset bill as filed in the House represented a balanced piece of legislation that reflected the recommendations of the Texas Sunset Commission after a thorough and careful review of the state’s major environmental regulatory agency. Key amendments to the bill on the House floor today have undermined that balance and have given polluters the best present they could have asked for to celebrate Earth Day later this week. The most egregious changes in the TCEQ bill were those that undercut or in some cases eliminate the rights of Texans to contest proposed pollution control permits that pose a threat to their communities and their families.

“There is hope that the bill as it moves to the Senate will be cleaned up to make it the balanced legislation it started out to be. If the TCEQ sunset bill isn’t cleaned up in the Senate, neither will the state of Texas be cleaned up.”

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