Tag Archives: sierra club

Unusual coalition of opponents of proposed Marvin Nichols Dam join together and tell Texas Water Development Board: No Dam Way!

It’s not often that representatives of the Texas House of Representatives most associated with the Tea Party join with large timber companies, homeowners and the Sierra Club for a common cause. But that’s exactly what happened in and outside a hearing in Arlington this week, where the Texas Water Development Board and local water utilities hosted a Water Planning public hearing. At issue was the process for adopting the regional and state water plans, and in particular, whether or not a water strategy favored by one region — Region C — basically the Dallas area — which is vehemently opposed by Region D – could be put in the Water Plan without even a reference to the other group’s opposition. The water strategy in question has been on the back burner for some 15 years and is called Marvin Nichols Reservoir. The gigantic reservoir would be placed in Northeast Texas along the Sulphur River and in the process destroy important habitat, homes, businesses and part of the river itself.

James Presley, veteran environmentalist from Texarkana, said the possible mandatory deletion of any reference to Texas’ bitterest water fight struck him as particularly heavy-handed.

“I call this the Chinese solution to a Texas problem,” he said, according to an article by the Dallas Morning News.

Speaking on behalf of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club was former director Dr. Ken Kramer, who decried any process where the TWDB would allow one region’s desired strategy to trump another’s. He asked the TWDB to carefully consider the implications of such a water planning process, pitting one region against another.

If there was a bright spot in the proceedings, it was the unusual coalition of opponents, which included Rep. David Simpson (Rep-Longview), Andrea Williams, staff for Rep. George Lavender (Rep.- Texarakana), Bill Ward of Ward Timber, International Paper, and the Cass County elect judge, Mayor of Douglassville, a big bus of East Texans interested in protecting their homes and Rita Beving, representing the Dallas group of the Sierra Club and a member of the Executive Committee of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Stay tuned for more on this issue.



Sierra Club’s Rita Beving joins Rep. Simpson and others and tells TWDB exactly what they think about Marvin Nichols!






Victory! Austin City Council Votes 6-0 In Favor of Generation Plan Task Force

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March 6, 2014

Contact: Dave Cortez, David.Cortez@SierraClub.Org, 512-736-7600

Austin City Council Votes to Create Austin Energy Task Force

AUSTIN, TX – Today, in a 6-0 vote, city council members voted to create the Austin Energy Resource Generation Task Force as part of the 2014 update process to the city’s existing energy plan.

The task force is directed to provide recommendations to council members for how Austin Energy should meet existing goals for renewable energy by 2020, as well as opportunities for strengthening and expanding those goals through 2024. Task force members will include one member from the Electric Utilities Commission and one from the Resource Management Commission, as well as seven other members appointed by city council.

Sierra Club Beyond Coal Organizer David Cortez
issued the following statement in response:

“Public participation is always a win-win in our book. Today, the people of Austin and Central Texas communities impacted by climate disruption won a major procedural victory for clean energy, transparency and good governance. This task force will provide environmental, low-income, renewable energy and industry stakeholders their best opportunity to review Austin Energy’s approach and set a clear path for making Austin a leader in the clean energy economy.

Austin Energy ratepayers have made it clear that they want this process to expand our clean energy goals, phase out our over-reliance on dirty coal and fracked gas, as well as preserve our affordability targets. We see this task force as the best way to ensure those demands are met.

The Sierra Club and our 4,500 Central Texas members and supporters applaud City Council for their leadership in making this process more accessible to all Austin Energy ratepayers.”





November 21, 2013                                         Luke Metzger, Environment Texas 512-743-8257

Neil Carman, Sierra Club 512-288-5772

Josh Kratka, NELC 617-747-4333




Shell Deer Park and Chevron Phillips Cedar Bay ou Cut Major “Upset” Emissions by 95%


$7.8 Million in Penalties Funded Local Environmental Health

and Pollution Reduction Programs



                HOUSTON – Sierra Club and Environment Texas announced today that Shell Oil Company and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company have each cut illegal air pollution from major “upset” events at their Gulf Coast plants by about 95%.  Those reductions are even more than was required by their settlements of federal Clean Air Act lawsuits brought by the environmental groups, and have contributed to recent efforts to improve air quality in the Houston metropolitan area.


Motions to officially mark the successful completion of the consent decrees in each case are being filed this week in federal district court.


                At issue in the cases were illegal air emissions arising from so-called “upset” events – equipment breakdowns, malfunctions, and other non-routine occurrences – at Shell’s Deer Park oil refinery and chemical plant and Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown. The illegal emissions included carcinogens, smog-forming chemicals, and other hazardous air pollutants discharged in excess of limits in the facilities’ Clean Air Act permits.


       ;          “The results achieved through these settlements show that polluters can make dramatic reductions in air pollution if someone requires them to make the effort,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas.  “Shell and Chevron Phillips are to be commended for moving quickly to achieve compliance with the Clean Air Act after being sued, rather than choosing to pay armies of lawyers to drag things out in court.”


                “Houston’s air is cleaner today because of the reductions in illegal emissions at these two large Harris County plants,” explained Dr. Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter.  “Many other large industrial facilities in the area have yet to upgrade their operations to prevent upset events, but have escaped meaningful enforcement by state and federal regulators.”


                The Clean Air Act contains a “citizen suit” provision that allows private citizens affected by violations of the law to bring an enforcement suit in federal court if state and federal regulators do not.  In addition to the two cases against Shell and Chevron Phillips, Environment Texas and Sierra Club filed a similar Clean Air Act citizen suit against ExxonMobil’s Baytown refinery and chemical plants.  That suit is scheduled for trial early in 2014.


                The groups’ lawsuit against Shell, initially filed in 2008, was resolved in 2009 by a first-of-its-kind settlement mandating emission reductions, extensive physical and operational upgrades, and imposing a citizen suit-record $5.8 million penalty. The penalty payment was used entirely to fund environmental, public health and education projects in Harris County, including a solar energy demonstration project by the Houston Advanced Research Center and the replacement of scores of polluting school buses with cleaner burning engines. The Houston-Galveston Area Council implemented the school bus project, which benefited the Pasadena, Goose Creek, Sheldon, Pearland, Clear Creek, and Humble Independent School Districts.


                In 2010, the environmental groups negotiated a similar settlement with Chevron Phillips, requiring stringent emission cuts, operational upgrades, and a $2 million penalty.  The penalty provided essential seed money to start a multi-year environmental health project in the Ship Channel area, in which Baylor College of Medicine is collaborating with existing clinics and hospitals to provide clinical services (including a mobile health clinic) to underserved populations.


                More specifically, both settlements required and achieved:


  • Mandatory emission reductions:  Shell cut its emissions from large upset events – those releasing enough pollutants to trigger the State’s public reporting requirements – by about 95%, from an average of approximately 1 million pounds per year before the lawsuit to about 45,000 po unds in the third year following the settlement.  Chevron Phillips cut total upset emissions from nearly 200,000 pounds per year before the lawsuit to less than 9,000 pounds for all of 2012, more than a 95% reduction.


  • Plant upgrades that improved performance and safety:  Shell Deer Park went from 67 reported upset events per year before the lawsuit, to just 19 three years later.  At Chevron Phillips’ Cedar Bayou plant, annual reported upsets dropped from about 30 per year before the lawsuit to just 6 in 2012.


  • Enhanced monitoring of dangerous pollutants in key areas of each facility to detect leaks and other releases.  Unpermitted emissions of the carcinogens benzene and 1,3-butadiene have dropped to almost zero at Cedar Bayou and to a few hundred pounds per year at Deer Park.


                Shell and Chevron Phillips are filing motions in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas certifying that they have fulfilled all requirements of their respective consent decrees. 


                Additionally, the groups’ lawsuit against Shell triggered scrutiny of the facility by the U.S. Environment al Protection Agency.  That scrutiny resulted in a separate EPA enforcement action, which was settled this past summer and mandated additional upgrades and pollution reductions at the Deer Park complex.  



                Sierra Club has approximately 24,000 members in Texas who are dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting Texas’ environment and natural resources.

Environment Texas advocates for clean air, clean water, and preservation of Texas’s natural areas on behalf of approximately 5,000 members statewide.

                The groups are represented by the Boston-based non-profit National Environmental Law Center, attorney David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts, and Houston attorney Philip Hilder.



Apply (or share the link) for the best internship in Texas!


The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club is looking for its next group of fall interns! If you’re in Austin and interested in protecting the environment, gaining valuable career skills, and networking with folks in the environmental community, this is an excellent opportunity for you.

Interns with the Sierra Club will work with a professional staff-person as a mentor in order to learn how to effectively create change in multiple environmental sectors. Interns are paired with a staffer based on specific mutual interests, so they are able to work on (and learn about) issues that are important to them. Interns will have the opportunity to help organize a grassroots campaign, work in communications, and conduct policy research, among other projects and tasks. Interns will learn real skills through professional training workshops and apply their new knowledge to their work at the Club and beyond.

Internship duration: 9/9/13 – 12/6/13

To Apply:

Before applying, please review the job description here.

If you are interested in applying, please email your resume and cover letter to our Internship Coordinator Diego Atencio at texas.internship@sierraclub.org and CC Staff Adviser Dave Cortez at david.cortez@sierraclub.org by Monday, Aug. 26.

Teaching Kids to Care

The Beyond Coal project is the top topic in the Lone Star Chapter, and rightfully so. With the Rally for Renewables last Thursday, I had planned on blogging specifically about the Fayette Coal Plant and the potential follow-up options after its future closing. Yeah, sure, why not? It seemed the obvious choice. Until some youngster indicated otherwise.

While filming the rally, I ran into a kid who, despite his fatigue from the heat, readily answered my questions on the state of the environment. I’m afraid that I cannot upload any video here yet, but to provide a quick summary, this little guy said he thought coal is bad for the environment and that people shouldn’t have to breathe the chemicals and ash it pumps into the air. He also said he would want wind and solar energy instead. And he has hardly entered the first grade.

The fact that the kid didn’t have to stop and think about his answers (and that his dad wasn’t prompting him) impressed me most with this interview. His readiness made me recall the importance of raising awareness of the environment in students in primary education. As part of UT Austin’s Club for Environmental Outreach, I have focused on this issue for some time. So, I think the time has come for me to shed some light on this issue.

We at the Sierra Club understand the significance of educating the public on the environment, and we pursue that end tirelessly – just as global conditions tirelessly worsen. The millennials will have the greatest challenge yet in confronting this mounting terror. Should we not focus on involving them in the future of the environment, for their own safety if not for anything else? Many have leapt up in an effort to do this, but not before many sprung up to prevent America’s failing education system from crashing altogether.

I came across a recent NPR article about the popular new “Common Core” standards that have been adopted in 45 states. They might not address scientific educational standards that would include environmental curricula, but these changes at least show some desire to redirect the US education system. It would seem that some hope lay in sight for the nation’s posterity.

But for the generations of future Texans, such hope is about as visible as Rick Perry is credible. Just look to this map of the 45 continental states that have given the green light to Common Core (credit goes to corestandards.org); it probably won’t surprise:

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Yes, Texas stands alone in the South as one of the 5 stubborn states opposing Common Core. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that a step forward for Texas education will come soon in science, of all things; I still fear that my nephew will ask me for help with drawing a venn diagram comparing Evolution and Creationism (all eyes still on the Texas State BoE).

On the subject of young students, however, I return to the importance of educating future generations about their environment and how to be eco-friendly. Clearly, the public education system at large cannot commit to this, especially in Texas. So, it is the duty of environmentalists – as members of our local and state communities, as teachers, as big brothers and sisters, as parents, aunts, and uncles – to inform future generations of the looming (and melting) obstacles ahead. If we do not, they might run into calamities of titanic proportions.

Still, the full force of environmentalism cannot inform these students if their core educational principles do not change. So let us take a step back: if public schools cannot educate students on such important issues as the environment, what can it do? Well, for a start, it might better learn how to teach future voters how to form a caring opinion. The voter turn out in the US is increasingly deplorable, and that is no secret. Perhaps this stems from the education system’s paranoia of politics and appearing to take a particular stance. Sorry, Everytown ISD – time to grow a backbone.

No need to herald some political leaning or endorse a candidate here. Just teach kids the importance of forming their own opinions – it’s part of teaching citizenship. More importantly, teach students to inform themselves of their own free will. I do realize that environmentalism ideally would not be considered a “political” issue, since it concerns forces that affect all humans and that no government can control or alter. However, with that in mind, the ideal result of teaching students the value of seeking information in earnest would generate general support for environmentalism. Even more ideally, the US Government would run far more smoothly and voter turn-out would improve as citizens rushed to provide their involved, informed consent at the polls.

I salute the aims of Common Core, but the true goal may be missed here: the time has come for the public education system  to start teaching students how to choose and how to inform themselves with care. Once such values are in place, then we environmentalists can truly turn these millennials into little green men and women by involving and informing them. Perhaps then the government that all too often slows the will of the people, would drive us to a more agreeable – and hopefully, greener – future.

– Harry Watson, Conservation Intern