Tag Archives: pollution

Concerned San Antonio Residents Call for Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic bag banning reusable bag picSan Antonio’s economy has remained steady and prosperous by successfully attracting new businesses and helping existing companies grow. The City has focused on creating new employment opportunities in 21st century industries, maintaining a great quality of life, and facilitating business growth at the local and international level.  This is a city working to improve itself. San Antonio has made great strides in terms of supporting clean energy, investing in the SA River Improvements Project (SARIP), and expanding its public transit system. However City officials are lagging behind when it comes to protecting the city’s beauty by fighting plastic bag pollution. 

One very serious and expensive environmental problem that San Antonio is facing at the moment is pollution from plastic bags.  Single-use checkout bags have harmful impacts on the environment and drain tax dollars as well.  Even more, San Antonio residents use more than 1.6 billion plastic bags every single year.  At least 80% of these end up in landfills or as litter. While stores don’t charge for the bags, city taxpayers pay for a variety of pollution impacts. They cause damage to recycling facilities, and despite the fact that they are about 1% of the waste stream they cost recyclers as much as 30% of their labor time. They cost local residents as much as 1.3 million a year to control their pollution, and they disproportionately affect low income communities who have fewer resources for pollution control, less recycling and more fragile infrastructure. That 1.3 million could be helping lower income neighborhoods, but instead is being wasted on plastic bag pollution. Even more money is spent on state and federal clean-up efforts, and it is impossible to put a dollar value on the impacts to wildlife killed by plastic bags. It’s clear that convenient plastic bags are not worth the damage that comes with them.

San Antonio’s City Council is now considering a ban on plastic bags at retail checkouts. Several cities across the state have already taken action against single-use bags. The cities of Brownsville, Fort Stockton, Austin, South Padre, and three others in Texas have seen dramatic decreases in bag litter since they passed local ordinances on checkout bags. Because of this supporters and members of the Sierra Club Alamo Group, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Environment Texas joined with residents of San Antonio to soundly express support for a full ban on single-use plastic bags in San Antonio.   Residents testified during the “Citizen’s to be Heard” portion of the June 12th City Council meeting, and no action was taken by council.   However efforts are still being made, on June 21st the Blacknote Galleria showed a screening of “Bag It!”, an insightful documentary on the overuse of plastic, to help increase awareness and support for the issue.  Here at the Sierra Club we are asking supporters of a ban to contact their city council members and to express their support of a ban at City Council meetings. The City Council Governance Committee will likely hear the issue sometime in August or September, so be sure to contact your council person before then.  San Antonio residents deserve a clean city and so they must press their City Council to pass an ordinance ensuring that action is taken to solve this problem.

Plastic bags are a hot topic, not just in Texas but all over the country and in a few others. The main topic of conversation seems to be the paper vs. plastic debate.  There are a lot of interesting sides to the argument but I believe this one has a winning conclusion. Ultimately the real fight isn’t against plastic bags but rather doing what is right for the environment. Banning plastic bags is one step towards protecting the environment and protecting our future. It’s rare that we recognize a problem from the very start. Rivers used to be dumpsters until we realized that polluting was harmful to our drinking water.  Fields used to be ours for the taking until we realized over-farming was damaging to the integrity of soil. And plastic bags will be used for our convenience until we realize they are hurting our environment.

Written By:  Christina Farrell

Stripping the Earth for Coal

Imagine ripping out the top layers of your skin to extract a layer underneath.  That is essentially what strip mining does to the earth.  Strip mining is the process used to extract coal and other minerals that lay close to the surface, a process which is extremely harmful to the earth, which is why we need to move away from coal energy.

The Process:

First, all the flora on the land is bulldozed, and taken to a dumping pit along with the sandy soil under it. To reach the minerals underneath, little holes are drilled into the ground and filled with explosives. The broken land post-explosion is removed to reveal the mineral underneath. Trucks and other heavy machinery proceed to break the mineral into chunks and transport it away.  This process is repeated in the adjacent strips of land: this is why the process is known as strip mining.  The waste and dirt from each strip is used to fill up the next mined strip, so all the strips from which ore was extracted are re-filled with the rest of the land that was removed.

The Effect:

This process obviously destroys the land’s eco-system and fertility, but it has a number of other adverse effects as well.  The waste that is left on adjacent lands to the mining area erodes and contaminates the land around it, as well as the water.  Run-off water from these areas soaks into the ground, contaminating the ground-water that so many people use, and flows into streams, contaminating the wildlife’s water supply as well.  Wildlife is driven away by strip mining; the process leaves no resources for wildlife to reclaim their home and destroys important regions such as breeding grounds and migration paths.

Soil and the organic matter it contains are the sustenance of life on earth; this vital layer functions as the earth’s skin and is only 8 feet deep.  Industries such as strip mining devastate the thin layer that sustains all life.  These destructive processes need to be ended-why have we kept them in use?

Plug it in and Grin!

National Plug-In Day was an awesome experience! If you missed it, after you read this I doubt you miss the next one because it was AWESOME! Ok ok, I know you are thinking, “Icye, can you just tell me about it already ?”

On September 23rd, in our beautiful city, supporters and proud owners of plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars gathered to mark the progress and draw new fans to more energy efficient technology. National Plug-In Day featured vehicle test drives, opportunities to get involved with environmental justice movements and a chance just to have a flat out great time. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon, great for family and mingling with new people. The bonus was that it just happen to have cleaner energy cars, scooters, motorcycles, bikes and even a converted Jeep Wrangler! That was the best part!

 

Juicing Up!

So why am I so excited about plugging it in? Because you save money! Granted, I am a college student, still I know my first purchased car will be a hybrid or EV. Plug in America says, “A plug-in car uses clean, affordable, domestic electricity for some or all of its energy. An all-electric vehicle (EV) stores all its energy in batteries. Plug-in hybrids (PHEV) store some energy in batteries, and have a gas engine to extend range. Conventional hybrids have batteries, but all their energy comes from gasoline. They cannot plug in to cleaner, cheaper, domestic power!”

Jealous yet?! Being able to see all the new technology and hearing about the new developments for future transportation was almost surreal.  I enjoyed so much of my time there and it gave me so much joy in knowing that I was helping out in the growth of clean cars, as well as clean air. So now that you know the scoop, where will you be on National Plug-In Day next year?

– Icye Walker

Sierra Club Intern

Hill Country River Rats Taking On a Whole New Storm in 2012

When getting ready for a river trip to New Braunfels this summer make sure you leave a few things off your checklist, starting with beverage cans and cups. The most recent controversial splash in New Braunfels, forty-five miles south of Austin, has been the ban of disposable containers on the Comal and Guadalupe rivers within the city limits. Last November, supporters and residents in New Braunfels passed the disposable container ban, with 58 percent of the votes in favor of the ban. Since then, there have been many issues stirring around with both sides making strong valid points and accusations.

In certain parts, there are mounds of garbage covering the bottom of the Comal River in New Braunfels.

The German influenced city, New Braunfels, has attracted millions of tourists over the past decades. With cold-water springs flowing through the city, and home to one of the most renowned waterparks in the country, New Braunfels is an ideal place to visit during the sizzling Texas summers. With that being said, many locals have become fed up with all the trash and garbage that a lot of the tourists and irresponsible residents leave behind.  Many people in the community have always pointed out that all the accumulated trash in the rivers could potentially put their sources of drinking water as well as habitats for endangered species in jeopardy. It just took the city some time, but New Braunfels finally put their foot down and addressed this issue and is now taking steps to project their community for future generations.

Something had to be done in order to eliminate the amount of garbage in the Comal and Guadalupe rivers.

On the other side of the spectrum, the disposable container ban has put fire in some people’s eyes. By taking away their rights to have canned and cupped beverages in the river, people feel like the city is also taking away from their river experience. Many people are also claiming that the ban is in place to indirectly attempt to eliminate alcohol on the river, which the city attempted and failed to do in 2000. Another large drawback people have with the disposable container ban is the economic effect that will come with it. River tourism is a huge portion of the cities earnings and if people decide to take their money elsewhere, New Braunfels could take a big hit. According to sources, if the ban even spooks off just five percent of the cities’ river rafters, businesses in the area could lose about $20 million this year.

There are still mixed opinions about the ban.

Ever though the ban was passed last November, the battle seems to have just begun. Bryan Miranda, New Braunfels city councilman, will be headlining a recall election next month in result of voters signing a petition to remove him from office. The petitioners needed only 150 signatures and wound up with a whopping 279. On top of that, a handful of residents and businessman are suing the Texas Land Commissioner as well as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for managing municipal solid waste in an illegal manner. It appears like it’s been a rough ride on where to draw the line with this issue. Nonetheless, something had to be done in order to preserve nature and keeping it intact for generations to come.  Hopefully both sides can come together and see eye to eye in the mere future.

Related Links : One can ban backer will face recall, Container ban on river passes, Comal River tubing, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Guadalupe River Clean-up Page

– Jarred Garza, Sierra Club Intern

Haze, Haze, Go Away!!

Have you ever stepped outside and felt like it was hard to breathe? Or as you entered the city, have noticed a blanket of “fog” covering it? Well what you are feeling and seeing is haze. Haze is caused when sunlight encounters tiny pollution particles in the air. Some light is absorbed by particles. Other light is scattered away before it reaches an observer. More pollutants means more absorption and scattering of light, which reduce the clarity and color of what we see. Haze occurs everywhere but surprisingly, lately the amount of haze has increased particularly at our National Parks such as Big Bend National Park and the Guadalupe Mountains.

Haze causes health problems and degrades visibility in American cities and parks. The majority of Haze comes from coal plants and refineries. These power plants emit huge quantities of pollution into the air creating Haze.

The Clean Air Act requires the State of Texas and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce and eliminate this haze. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule, however Texas’s oldest and dirtiest power plants would be exempted from installing readily available, modern pollution controls under the proposed rule. The EPA’s proposed rule would not only jeopardize the Regional Haze Rule, but it will also continue to put our national parks such as Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains and the health of all Texas at risk of suffering from Haze.

The EPA’s proposed rule is currently on hold and is being reviewed. The Sierra Club’s campaign to “Save Big Bend and the Guadalupe Mountains” has been putting friendly pressure on the EPA. As part of the campaign the Sierra Club has sent a record number of 7,400 comments to the EPA about this issue. The EPA has said that it will announce its decision on the haze rule in November.

In the meanwhile, the Sierra Club is having a retreat to Big Bend National Park on May 11-13, 2012.  At the retreat, people will be able to see the beauty and treasure of the park while also learning some useful grassroots skills and meeting some other environmental enthusiasts. Everyone is welcome to come! If you are interested or simply have further questions you can email Stephanie Cole at stephanie.cole@sierraclub.org or call (512) 477-1729.

Haze has become a serious issue. With your help we can make sure our health, livelihood, and national parks are protected.

Like the song goes, “Haze, Haze, go away. Please don’t come back another day”

–Lauren Fedele, Sierra Club Intern

Going Green, Literally?

With today marking the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, its time to dig through your drawers and pull out your green attire in celebration of the holiday, but also to avoid those pinchers on the prowl. To me, St. Patrick’s Day is one of those holidays that’s clearly not on the same tier as Christmas, Thanksgiving, or even Halloween but more of a day that is excusable to sit back and enjoy the televised parades or reach for that Jameson or Bailey’s bottle and enjoy a drink or three. On the other hand, I know people with Irish blood pumping through their veins will disagree and say that there’s a lot more to it. Each year, March 17th strikes the day of celebration of Saint Patrick, who many centuries ago brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle, also known as Ireland. It’s said to be told that St. Patrick used the shamrock to break down the Christian fundamentals of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity, which refers to the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. One of the largest celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day in our home country is taken place in Chicago, Illinois. As a matter of fact, every Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day the city dyes the Chicago River green, which many decades ago was fused from an environmental issue.

The Chicago River is dyed green every Saturday before St. Patrick's Day.

Up until the 1960’s, all the industrial garbage the Windy City had produced over the years heavily polluted the Chicago River. Eventually, environmentalist put their foot down and got the city to pass pollution regulations protecting the river.  A man named Steve Bailey was one of the business managers of the Plumbers Local Union for Chicago at this time. Bailey, nonetheless, was also a voice for the St. Patrick’s Day plans for the city.One day in late 1961, a plumber walked into Bailey’s office with splashes of green all over his overalls. Amused and curious about these green stains, Bailey was eager to hear the story behind it.  As it turned out, the stains were from dye that had been put into waste lines to see whether or not buildings were still dumping out into the river. In other words, the plumber placed the dye into these building’s waste systems and observed near the end of the river for the emerald green dye in the water. It was suddenly then when a tradition had been born.

The White House fountains were also dyed green last year. The idea came from Chicago native, Michelle Obama.

Over the years, people have made pushes to make the dye substance more environmentally friendly.  They now use vegetable dye instead of the original outdated fluorescein dye that was also used during WWII to find soldiers in the ocean after their plane had been shot down. Water pollution issues in the U.S. have been addressed for over fifty years and in certain cases can indirectly aid other causes such as St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago. Here’s to a wonderful and safe St. Patrick’s Day, cheers.

Related Links : 2012 Chicago St. Patrick’s Day Parade, St. Patrick’s Day history, St. Patrick’s Day clothing, Chemistry World Blog, The City of Chicago’s Official Tourism Site, Dying of The River

– Jarred Garza, Beyond Coal Sierra Intern

Weather Forcast at Big Bend: 100% Chance of Haze!

If you’re like most born-and-raised Texans, you’ve visited Big Bend National Park at least once in your lifetime. My first experience with Big Bend was at five years old, when my parents took me over the summer. We hiked Panther Park and all through the Rio Grande Valley. My parents still talk about how I couldn’t get enough of that park. I would demand we go just a few more feet on the trial so I could find a new plant or catch that roadrunner. Big Bend called me back for many more trips, including one Spring Break where my friends and I climbed South Rim and Emory Peak.

We felt like we were on top of the world.

Unfortunately, Big Bend is being threatened in a very serious way. Nearby coal plants are causing a severe amount of haze pollution that is not only obscuring visibility in an area that thrives off of its breathtaking vistas, but is causing a health hazard to visitors.

Haze is the visible pollution emitted from the smokestacks of coal plants. It is caused by fine particulate matter made up of sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxide (NOX) and ammonia; you know, the same stuff found in cigarettes and cat pee. Haze can be responsible for serious respiratory illnesses and can trigger asthma attacks, something that is not particularly fun when hiking in the middle of an arid national park.

Apart from the health side effects that we experience and the encroachment on our scenery, haze is also responsible for acid deposition and eutrophication, when minerals and nutrients build up to unnatural levels and can kill animal life.

In short, haze pollution is not only killing us, it’s killing our park!

What can be done about this serious problem? How can we preserve Big Bend for our children and grandchildren? First, we have to understand the emissions rules set in place for these coal plants.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently in a transition process of determining the best method of reducing pollution from these power plants.

Most pollution from coal plants had never been regulated until this past year, when EPA finalized its landmark mercury health protections and set targets for reducing pollutants like soot and smog. With EPA’s proposal for haze pollution, ALL coal plants within a certain proximity to national parks like Big Bend must reduce their haze emissions. Requiring these plants to reduce their pollution is extremely important. The degree of reductions is also important – EPA must ensure that the pollution reductions are meaningful.

The alternative to CSAPR (In actuality, some are considering CSAPR  alternative to this) is BART, or Best Alternative Retrofit Technology. BART would require ALL coal plants within a certain proximity to Class 1 National Parks to reduce their haze emissions down to a specified degree. Sound like a good idea? That’s because it is. BART will ensure the haze factories near our state park will be required to eliminate a certain amount of haze emissions from our sky.

Here’s how you can help. The EPA is taking comments on these standards until February 23rd. Submitting a comment to the EPA is fast, easy, and meaningful. Tell the EPA that we want to keep our national park as beautiful as the day we first visited.

I want Big Bend to remain as beautiful as when I was five years old, as aw-inspiring as when I felt on top of the world that one spring. I’m betting you feel the same way.

 

 

 

 

Here’s how you can help:

  • Go online and send in a comment to the EPA telling them that you don’t stand for lax haze pollution standards. Be sure to personalize your message!
  • If you want to send pictures of your trips at Big Bend to the EPA, here’ the snail mail address. Show them how important this landmark has been in your life

EPA Docket Center, Environmental Protection Agency, Mailcode 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington DC 20460

  • Tell your friends! Get others to send a comment to the EPA, share the comment link on facebook or twitter and get everyone you know involved!