About Air and Water

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bush's Appalachian War: Bombing Ancient Mountains

by Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse - Daily Kos - Sat Oct 27, 2007
Click on the title. This journal is a MUST READ.

Railroad Commission maintains some key turf

By CLAY ROBISON - Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle - Oct. 14, 2007
AUSTIN — Although the last train chugged out of the Texas Railroad Commission's regulatory station long ago, the panel still occupies some prominent turf on the state's political landscape.

Its main function, of course, is to provide oversight of the oil and natural gas industry, but it also can be a staging and money-raising arena for restless politicians waiting for a shot at higher office.

Quite naturally in the money-driven world of Texas politics, the three commissioners (the regulators) get much of their campaign funding from oil and gas interests (the regulated), a long-standing tradition that the Republicans in power inherited from their Democratic predecessors.

In preparation for his re-election race, Michael Williams, the only commissioner and one of only a handful of state officials on the ballot next year, raised $322,045 during the last 11 days in June, his first opportunity following the ban on raising money during last spring's legislative session.

More than 70 percent of the money came from oil and gas executives, employees or political action committees or from law firms representing oil and gas interests.

And you can bet that in the upcoming 12 months before the 2008 general election, the foxes will shower Williams' share of the regulatory henhouse with much more moola.

"I make my decisions based on the record (of each case)," Williams said.

That may be, but the perception of a monied, insider coziness at the commission will remain as long as the industry's generosity continues and there aren't any legal limits on donations.

The last commissioner to spring into a higher, elected office was Carole Keeton Strayhorn (she was known as Rylander then), who was elected comptroller in the middle of a Railroad Commission term in 1998.

Williams, who succeeded Strayhorn in 1999, already is eyeing 2010. That's when Gov. Rick Perry's anticipated departure — depending on who runs to succeed him — could open up a U.S. Senate seat, the lieutenant governor's office or the attorney general's post.

Williams could run for any of the above without having to resign his commission seat, if he wins a new six-year term next year.

A Texas rarity
The Republican lock on statewide offices and his strong financial support from the oil and gas industry favor Williams' re-election, although his race could be affected by the presidential and U.S. Senate races at the top of the ballot.

Two Democrats — former San Antonio City Councilman Art Hall and retired petroleum engineer Dale Henry of Lampasas — already are running for the post.

Henry has lost two previous, underfunded Railroad Commission races.

Hall has enlisted former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros and former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro as honorary campaign co-chairmen and apparently has some ambitious fundraising plans.

It will be his first statewide campaign.

Although not unprecedented, a Williams-Hall race would be a rarity in Texas politics — a statewide race between two black candidates.

"I am heartened by the fact that a young brother is interested in presenting himself to the people of Texas. If he wins the nomination, it could make for an interesting conversation among Texans," said Williams, 54. Hall is 36.

Potential conflict?
Hall's wife, Stephanie, is a lawyer for Valero Energy Corp.

Hall said that wouldn't pose a conflict because she doesn't practice before the Railroad Commission. But it's a small world.

The Valero political action committee has given Williams $21,000 during his tenure on the commission, including $10,000 in June. And guess who is among the hundreds of Valero employees contributing to the PAC?

Stephanie Hall.

Preserving the name
Since the Texas Railroad Commission no longer regulates railroads — the Legislature transferred the last of its rail safety oversight to the Texas Department of Transportation two years ago — commissioners have lobbied for a name change.

So far, the Legislature has resisted, perhaps out of nostalgia.

But there is another way to preserve the name, and, in the eyes of criminal defense lawyers, a worthy candidate.

Given the continuing controversy over Texas' record in death penalty cases, some lawyers believe "railroad" belongs on the letterhead of the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Read more in the Houston Chronicle

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vote Yes on Proposition 4 - Action Alert from Environment Texas

It is that time of year again. The leaves are falling, pumpkins are wilting on our doorsteps and there are important decisions to be made in the upcoming election.

There are 16 constitutional amendments on the ballot, one of which -- Proposition 4 -- includes funding for critical repairs and maintenance for our state parks. The small percentage of dedicated voters who actually get to the polls determine whether or not these propositions pass, so vote early, vote often and vote "yes" on Proposition 4.

To see early voting polling places, click here.

Information about all 16 propositions.


Texas deserves a world-class parks system, but for years our state parks have been starved of the necessary resources they need. This has caused park ranger lay-offs, reduced access and dilapidated facilities. The state has even considered selling off part of Big Bend Ranch State Park to a private developer.

However, the tide is beginning to turn. Last session the legislature tripled funding for our state parks. Now, voters need to authorize $52 million of that money for essential repairs and maintenance of our parks.

Some of our most cherished state parks like Enchanted Rock, Palo Duro Canyon and Garner State Park will be able to take advantage of these funds. These natural areas are true Texas treasures that all residents should have a chance to visit. They include historic structures, like the Garner Pavilion, where Texans have been two-stepping since the 1930's. Decades of neglect have left these facilities in disrepair. Proposition 4 will ensure that these structures are upgraded and preserved for the future. Battleship Texas will also get $25 million for long-term preservation.

Proposition 4 also includes funding for many other state agencies. This includes money for asbestos abatement, courthouses, historic sites, mental-health hospitals and schools, emergency response centers, the Texas School for the Deaf, Camp Mabry maintenance, new prisons and maintenance of existing prisons (the legislature would need to approve the contruction of new prisons), crime labs, among other things.

Here is how Proposition 4 reads:

"The constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in bonds payable from the general revenues of the state for maintenance, improvement, repair, and construction projects and for the purchase of needed equipment."

We have a lot of work to do to ensure that Texas gets the park systems it deserves. We are working to get the legislature to provide permanent funding for our state parks, so we don't have to fight for their survival every two years. We also need the state to initiate a major land acquisition program so we have more open spaces to explore and enjoy. But before that becomes a reality, we need to pass Proposition 4 on the November ballot.


Luke Metzger
Environment Texas Director

Bluedaze.: An Injection Well, Up Close and Personal

By TXSharon - BlueDaze - Oct. 23, 2007
Bluedaze.: An Injection Well, Up Close and Personal

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ex-Dallas mayor Ron Kirk to help lead lobbying group

By ELIZABETH SOUDER - The Dallas Morning News - Monday, October 22, 2007

Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk will help lead a lobbying group that stumps for deregulation of electricity markets.

Mr. Kirk, a partner with law firm Vinson & Elkins who ushered the TXU Corp. buyout through the Texas Legislature, will be co-chairman of the Compete Coalition.

The coalition said in a press release Monday that former Oklahoma Republican senator Don Nickles will also be co-chairman of the group.

People in several states have begun debating whether deregulation is such a good idea, in light of higher prices. In Texas, a few policy makers have said they worry that the state’s deregulated market could be in jeopardy, though no one has used the R-word here: Re-regulate.

The coalition also said Monday it launched an advertising campaign supporting deregulation.
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Monday, October 22, 2007

State's decision on gas blast questioned

By BRETT SHIPP - WFAA-TV - NEWS 8 Investigates - Part III Oct. 22, 2007
The safety of many North Texans was called into question last week during a News 8 investigation into a deadly natural gas explosion in Wylie last year.

As a result, the state agency that oversees pipeline safety in Texas is under increasing scrutiny for allowing 100,000 potentially deadly pipe fittings to remain in the ground.

One year after a natural gas explosion killed Benny and Martha Cryer of Wylie, the Texas Railroad Commission is taking some action to ensure that some of the potentially deadly couplings are removed.

Now there is new evidence that the Texas Railroad Commissioners may have suddenly backed off a proposal last spring to force Atmos to remove the dangerous couplings.

In Ramsey, Minnesota, three people were killed and one injured on December 28, 2004, which was when a natural gas pipe pulled out of its coupling, leaked gas and sparked an explosion. It was the same style of coupling that federal regulators and industry experts had warned for two decades posed a deadly potential for pullout.

The Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety conducted an exhaustive and detailed investigation including a forensic examination of the failed coupling and determined the pipe "pull-out occurred" because of "thermal contraction of the soil."

The response was swift. The fittings were deemed dangerous and state pipeline officials ordered nearly 30,000 of them immediately pulled from the ground, which cost the gas company nearly $40 million.

Fast forward to October 16, 2006 in Wylie. Benny and Martha Cryer were killed when an Atmos pipe pulled out of its compression coupling, leaked gas and caused an explosion.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the pipeline industry, conducted the investigation.

Its preliminary finding stated that a line that separated from a compression coupling "possibly due to shifting of soil" and "natural ground movement."

Just as was the case in Minnesota, a recommendation was drafted, which was dated April 25, 2007, from Safety Director Mary McDaniel directing gas companies in Texas to establish a "replacement program to phase out" the questionable couplings.

However, that memo was never sent.

Another memo, also dated April 25 from Mary McDaniel, was greatly modified. The demand for a "coupling phase out" was gone and replaced with a request for information regarding the "installation, maintenance and leak history" of the compression couplings.

McDaniel denied a "phase out" was ever considered.

So, the potentially deadly couplings, an estimated 100,000 of them, remain in the soil while the Railroad Commission conducts a survey.

At a recent meeting in Austin, Commissioner Elizabeth A. Jones congratulated McDaniel for her fine work.

"You all are doing such a great job in getting so deep into this study," she said. "I really appreciate it."

Then amid mounting questions from News 8, Commissioners ordered gas companies to "repair or replace" the dangerous couplings if they are leaking or discovered during routine excavations.

Instead of ordering the couplings removed as in Minnesota, Railroad Commissioners have opted to study them and revisit the issue in January.

"We are taking every effort we can to make sure that we can provide to people in this state the safest natural gas transporting system in the country," said Commission Chairman Michael L. Williams when asked if he thought it would be possible someone could die before the compression coupling leaks are discovered.

"This order would not have saved Benny and Martha Cryer's lives," said Bruce Scrafford, an Austin attorney who represents the Cryer family in a lawsuit against Atmos Energy.

He called the Railroad Commission directive meaningless, mainly because federal safety regulations already say "each segment of pipeline that becomes unsafe must be replaced or removed from service."

Scrafford said Railroad Commissioners are, in effect, doing nothing.

"The Railroad Commission has not done anything to follow up, to make sure that they take those couplings out of the ground in applications where they are not appropriate and where they are unsafe and where more people are going to die if they don't do something to fix this problem," he said.

So, why isn't Atmos aggressively removing the 100,000 non-restraint couplings still in their system? That question was recently posed to an Atmos engineer in a videotaped deposition.

"I don't know," said the engineer when asked if he thought there was any other reason besides cost that Atmos would not replace the fittings.

Atmos Energy's official position is another utility disrupted their gas pipes causing the Wylie explosion. Atmos officials also said that they are complying with the Railroad Commission's directive and insist their pipeline system is safe.

Atmos officials also once assured Wylie residents who reported smelling gas hat everything was fine.

"In some cases, there was no leak found," said Rand Lavon, an Atmos spokesperson. "In other cases, it might have been something inside the home like a hot water heater."

But everything in that Wylie neighborhood was not fine. A compression coupling with s deadly reputation failed, killing Benny and Martha Cryer. It was a style of coupling too dangerous for Minnesota, but not the state of Texas.

In response to News 8 reports, Atmos officials have released a statement. They said safety and reliability are their highest priorities and that they welcome any discussion about safety and maintaining their natural gas system.

More importantly, they ask anyone who may smell gas to contact Atmos.

And for those who live in an older home and have a meter that looks unattended to, contact Atmos and tell them you want your system checked for bad couplings.




Saturday, October 20, 2007

Texas awards rights for offshore wind farm

'Wind Rush is on,' official says; state leads nation for wind power
By MSNBC staff and news service reports - Oct 3, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announces the wind farm leases. A Louisiana company was awarded leases to four tracts Tuesday in Texas' first open bidding for offshore wind power in the Gulf of Mexico.

Wind Energy Systems Technology, already developing a wind farm eight miles off of Galveston, Texas, was the only bidder for the tracts. A British company had expressed interest but later indicated it wasn't prepared to make an offer, said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

"The Texas Wind Rush is on, and the pioneers are staking their claims," Patterson said in a statement. "And wherever there are pioneers, the settlers soon follow."

Two other offshore wind farm leases were previously awarded by the state of Texas, but not through competitive bidding. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said he decided this time to treat the wind farm leases like an oil or gas lease sale and allow the market to place a value on the tracts

Next round expected in a year
Patterson said he expects to hold bidding for more offshore wind power leases in about a year. The Texas General Land Office oversees development of territory up to 10 miles from the state's coastline.

"If you're in the wind business, whether it's onshore or offshore, Texas is the place to be," Patterson said.

Though it's not clear why more companies didn't bid on the offshore tracts, it may be that many are busy with wind power projects on land in Texas, said Christine Real de Azua, spokeswoman for the American Wind Energy Association.

Texas is now the nation's top producer of wind power, according to the association. The state had 3,352 megawatts of wind-generating capacity installed by the end of June, ahead of California's 2,376 megawatts.

Wind Energy Systems, based in New Iberia, La., will pay $21,000 per tract for development rights.

Schools to get revenue
When the wind farms are operating, the company will pay the state's Permanent School Fund a minimum of $132 million over the 30-year life of the leases. The state is to make even more money from a percentage of the company's energy production revenue.

The research and development stage will last approximately four years.

Patterson dismissed the idea that offshore wind turbines will hurt flocks of migrating birds or be an eyesore for coastal visitors. Birds tend to fly higher than the wind equipment and, at eight miles offshore, the giant turbines can't be seen by tourists on land, he said.

And if they are in view, he said, "I don't think it looks all that bad."

“This was the first, but won’t be the last,” Patterson said of the tract bidding. “The future of offshore wind power in the U.S. is right here in Texas, and the Land Office is open for business.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read more on MSNBC

Environmental Scorecard for Legislators - How NCTCOG Reps Voted on the Environment

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Oct. 20, 2007
Snapshot from Texas League of Conservation Voters Scorecard for 2007 Texas Legislature

A look at the scores Average House score: 56%
Avg. Republican score: 32% F
Avg. Democratic score: 84% A
Perfect 100s: 11
Overachievers (A+): 36
Failures (F): 56
House Republicans over 50%: 2
House Democrats below 50%: 3
Highest Republican score: Kirk England (69%)
Lowest Democratic score: Joe Pickett (37%)
Now that Kirk England has switched parties, that means the highest scoring Republican got less than 69%.

At the top:
Burnam, Lon (D) 100% A+
Coleman, Garnet F. (D) 100% A+
Dunnam, Jim (D) 100% A+
Gallego, Pete (D) 100% A+
Howard, Donna (D) 100% A+
Miles, Borris (D) 100% A+
Naishtat, Elliott (D) 100% A+
Oliveira, Rene O. (D) 100% A+
Rodriguez, Eddie (D) 100% A+
Thompson, Senfronia (D) 100% A+
Bolton, Valinda (D) 96% A+
Davis, Yvonne (D) 96%
Escobar, Juan Manuel (D) 96% A+
Farias, Joe (D) 96% A+
Escobar, Juan Manuel (D) 96% A+
Herrero, Abel (D) 96% A+
Hochberg, Scott (D) 96% A+
Hodge, Terri (D) 96% A+
Leibowitz, David McQuade (D) 96% A+
Martinez, Armando (D) 96% A+
Noriega, Richard "Rick" (D) 96% A+
Olivo, Dora (D) 96% A+
Vaught, Allen (D) 96% A+
Veasey, Marc (D) 96% A+
Vo, Hubert (D) 96% A+
Pierson, Paula (D) 95% A+
Allen, Alma (D) 93% A+
Anchia, Rafael (D) 93%
Ortiz Jr., Solomon (D) 93% A+
Strama, Mark (D) 93% A+
Castro, Joaquin (D) 92% A+
Hernandez, Ana (D) 92% A+
Lucio III, Eddie (D) 92% A+
Martinez Fischer, Trey (D) 92% A+
Raymond, Richard (D) 92% A+
Chavez, Norma (D) 91% A+
Gonzalez Toureilles, Yvonne (D) 89% A
Alonzo, Roberto (D) 88% A
Garcia III, Juan (D) 88% A
Mallory Caraway, Barbara (D) 88% A
Moreno, Paul (D) 88% A
Cohen, Ellen (D) 88% A
Farrar, Jessica (D) 87% A
Villarreal, Michael (D) 86% A
Dukes, Dawnna (D) 85% A
Flores, Ismael "Kino" (D) 82% A
McClendon, Ruth (D) 80% A
Quintanilla, Chente (D) 80% A
Giddings, Helen (D) 79% B
Eiland, Craig (D) 78% B
Dutton Jr., Harold V. (D) 77% B
Menendez, Jose (D) 77% B
Frost, Stephen (D) 72% B
England, Kirk (R -switched to D) 69% B
McReynolds, Jim (D) 69% B
Puente, Robert (D) 68% B

Here are NCTCOG (DFW REGIONAL) Incumbents scores which are lower than B:

Hill, Fred (R) 44% D
Mowery, Anna (R) 37% D
Keffer, Jim (R) 35% D
Laubenberg, Jodie Anne (R) 35% D
King, Phil (R) 32% F
Geren, Charlie (R) 31% F
McCall, Brian (R) 31% F
Miller, Sid (R) 31% F
Paxton, Ken (R) 31% F
Patrick, Diane (R) 30% F
Goolsby, Tony (R) 30% F
Harper-Brown, Linda (R) 30% F
Jackson, Jim (R) 30% F
Solomons, Burt R. (R) 29% F
Hancock, Kelly G. 28% F
Zedler, Bill (R) 27% F
Orr, Rob (R) 26% F
Madden, Jerry (R) 27% F
Brown, Fred (R) 26% F
Smith, Todd (R) 26% F
Truitt, Vicki (R) 23% F
Crownover, Myra (R) 23% F
Branch, Dan (R) 22% F
Pitts, Jim (R) 22% F
Hartnett, Will (R) 21% F

See the Scorecard and examine the votes by issues ranked to determine the scores.
Look at previous session's scores.

When examining votes on toll road, there was less difference by party than was reflected by donors. The votes on the environment do reflect distinct party differences. This is sad. Republican voters also need clean air. Republican voters also have to breathe dirty air and children of Republican voters suffer from asthma and allergies at the same rate as children of Democratic voters. We do not know how distinct a difference will be shown when campaign donor bases are examined on a per vote basis by Legislator.

MUST READ: TxSHARON confronts Sen. Craig Estes on Water

Click on title. It will take you to Sharon Wilson's Texas Kaos journal: "I Channeled David Van Os this week!"

Friday, October 19, 2007

Environment Texas Action Alert: Christmas Mountain should be part of Big Bend National Park and not privatized

By Luke Metzger - Environment Texas - Oct. 19, 2007

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson won't let the National Park Service protect the Christmas Mountains as part of Big Bend National Park because he doesn't agree with their policies on guns.

If Patterson wants to change those policies, he should call his Congressman, not hold the Christmas Mountains hostage just to spite the Park Service.

The good news is that Patterson is only one of three votes on the School Land Board, the body which will decide what to do with the Christmas Mountains. The other two members are appointees of Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Please join more than 2,000 Texans who have signed our petition to Gov. Perry and Attorney General Abbott asking them to direct their appointees to stop the sale of the Christmas Mountains. SIGN PETITION

Also, listen for a story about the Christmas Mountains this afternoon on NPR's All Things Considered. Below is an editorial from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that does a great job clearing the air about the Christmas Mountains and guns.

"Not a gun issue"
Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial - Oct. 18, 2007

The National Park Service is an ideal candidate to acquire a pristine, undeveloped site adjacent to Big Bend National Park in West Texas, but Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is foolishly opposing such a move.

Patterson, a fervent gun rights advocate, opposes selling the park service the 9,269-acre Christmas Mountains site because it would not allow public hunting or possession of firearms on the property.

Patterson, who appears determined to proceed with a state sale of the property to a private bidder as soon as Nov. 6, believes that the Park Service's policy is "an unconstitutional ban on the personal possession of firearms," according to Jim Suydam, a spokesman for the commissioner.

Say what? We're unaware of any legal rulings that prevent government agencies such as the park service from banning public hunting and the use of firearms on properties that it supervises.

This isn't a Second Amendment issue. Patterson should give the park service adequate time to evaluate the property for possible acquisition, as requested by William Wellman, superintendent of the Big Bend park.

If the park service rather than a private buyer bought the site, it would ensure public access to the land and help protect the cherished natural "view shed" from the Big Bend park. That also would honor the wishes of the Virginia-based Conservation Fund and Pennsylvania-based Richard King Mellon Foundation, which donated the Christmas Mountains property to the state in 1991.

An officer for the Mellon Foundation said that if the property is sold to a private bidder "the state [should] not look to the R.K. Mellon Foundation for any future help."

Foundations and land conservation groups have played an enormous role in purchasing and preserving prized natural spaces in Texas. It's foolish to needlessly alienate them.

However, it appears that Patterson is intent on doing just that.

Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

4 parks in Texas eligible for funding

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Oct. 16, 2007
AUSTIN -- Four Texas parks are eligible for special funding from the National Park Service, first lady Laura Bush told a group of parks supporters here Monday.

The funding would come from the U.S. Centennial Challenge, which mixes public and private funding for national parks. It marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. Bush said the Centennial Challenge projects will help enhance large national parks, improve local wildlife habitats and improve the national environment for humans.

"Already, the park service has identified more than 200 projects that will be eligible for Centennial initiative funding next year," the first lady told a gathering of the National Park Foundation, the main charitable arm for the National Park Service. "Four of them are right here in Texas. These resources would add a multiuse hiking and biking trail to Big Bend National Park. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park would add a trail reconnecting Mission San Jose with the San Antonio River. Big Thicket National Preserve would be part of a huge nationwide biodiversity study. And Padre Island National Seashore ... would re-establish a nesting colony for the Kemp's ridley sea turtle -- the world's most endangered sea turtle species."

During a keynote address to a gathering of the organization, the first lady also called on Congress to support the fund.

"Giving citizens a sense of responsibility for our shared national treasures is central to the National Park Foundation's mission," she said. "It's vital to the health of our national parks, because even though all parks receive federal funding, they've always relied on the support of private citizens."

Speaking before the same group, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne also called upon Congress to support the Centennial Fund. He said that President Bush has proposed the largest operating budget and the largest one-year increase in that operating budget in the history of the park service.

"The budget will put 3,000 more seasonal rangers in our national parks," he said.

Kempthorne said that Bush had proposed spending $100 million on the park service for each of the next 10 years that would be mandatory if matched by equal amounts of philanthropic dollars.

The National Park Foundation was chartered by Congress in 1967.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

UPDATE ACTION ALERT: 9200+ acres of Texas Public Land to be offered to private bidders Nov. 6th

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Oct. 17, 2007
Crossposted on Texas Kaos and Epluribus Media and Daily Kos and Burnt Orange Report.
Nov. 6th (ELECTION DAY) the Texas Land Commission will meet to receive bids from private bidders for 9200+ acres of land in Brewster County (Christmas Mountain) which were deeded to the permanent school fund in the hope that they would be preserved for use by the citizens of Texas and managed environmentally.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson favors selling them to private bidders. Environmental groups such as the Environment Texas oppose selling the land to private bidders. Commissioner Patterson sent me an e-mail earlier this week with his reasons for favoring private ownership. He did not mention "hunting" in that e-mail. He stated that the National Park Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife had refused to accept the land. His email, sent on Oct. 15th, is misleading.

Last Friday (Oct. 12th) the National Park Service notified the General Land Office of Texas that they will consider making Christmas Mountain part of Big Bend National Park. Environment Texas reports that Commissioner Patterson objects to this plan on the basis that Federal Park lands are not open to hunters.

Commissioner Patterson's e-mail stated that the land will be offered for bid on Nov. 6th. It appalls me that this important hearing will occur on ELECTION DAY. Usually those most committed to our political life are "otherwise engaged" on election day!

Luke Metzer, Director of Environment Texas, wrote:

On Friday, the National Park Service announced they would like to add the Christmas Mountains to Big Bend National Park. Big Bend's superintendent asked Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson to delay the sale of the Christmas Mountains to private interests in order to give them time to put together a proposal.

Unfortunately, Patterson turned the park service down, saying he didn't want them to manage the property unless they changed their policy that prohibits concealed hand guns on the property. This is a completely unrelated issue and shouldn't stand in the way of the protection of the Christmas Mountains.

The good news is that Patterson is only one of three votes on the School Land Board, the body which will decide what to do with the Christmas Mountains. The other two members are appointees of Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Please sign our petition to Gov. Perry and Attorney General Abbott asking them to direct their appointees to stop the sale of the Christmas Mountains.

If the link won't work, please paste this into your address bar:

For more information, see the article below.

Official won't sell land to National Park Service
By R.A. DYER - Fort Worth Star-Telegram

AUSTIN -- Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says he's going forward with a controversial plan to auction off the pristine Christmas Mountains to wealthy private interests despite renewed interest in the property by the National Park Service.

Patterson says he won't allow a delay of the sale, which could come as early as November, because the National Park Service will not allow hunting on the property in far West Texas. Patterson is a strong Second Amendment advocate who sponsored the state's concealed-handgun law.

"As he has stated in the past, Commissioner Patterson ... would not be willing to sell the Christmas Mountains to the National Park Service if it would mean that there would never be public hunting allowed on the property," Jim Suydam, Patterson's spokesman, said in a statement.

Controversial sales

Patterson's insistence on selling the 9,269-acre tract follows other controversial attempts by the state to sell public land to private interests. Last year the General Land Office presided over the proposed sale of 400 acres at Eagle Mountain Lake in Fort Worth, and in 2005 the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department tried to sell 46,300 acres at Big Bend Ranch State Park to a wealthy developer.

Those properties ended up staying in government hands after public outcry. But the Christmas Mountains deal continues to go forward despite an outcry from conservationists and statements from those who donated the Christmas Mountains land to the state that they intended that it remain in public hands.

The School Land Board, of which Patterson is a member, was set to complete the Christmas Mountains sale last month. But it delayed completion until this month because of a glitch in the official maps of the property.

The state parks department and the national parks system had declined to buy the property, which is part of the Permanent School Fund Inventory. But on Friday, Patterson received a letter from William E. Wellman, superintendent of the U.S. Interior Department, saying the National Park Service wants to re-evaluate its position.

Wellman acknowledged in his letter that the National Park Service had earlier said that adding the Christmas Mountains to its inventory would not be feasible, but said it now wanted Patterson to delay the sale so the agency could reconsider acquiring the tract, which abuts Big Bend National Park.

"The National Park Service ... requests that you postpone the sale until we have time to finish our evaluation," Wellman wrote.

Nothing doing, Patterson responded.

"The National Park Service prohibits hunting and enforces an unconstitutional ban on the personal possession of firearms," Suydam said. "Commissioner Patterson's message to Superintendent Wellman was simple: No hunting, no firearms, no deal."

A 'pet issue'

Luke Metzger, director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, said the state will have broken its promise if the sale goes through to private interests. He said that it was "grossly irresponsible" of Patterson to take the property out of public hands and insist that only a few wealthy individuals have access to it.

"The original intent [of the donors] was that the land be made available to the National Park Service or the [state parks department]," Metzger said. "For him to stand in the way of that for some pet issue is grossly irresponsible. Some of the buyers have said that under no circumstances would they allow the public on there. ... It'll be owned by one rich guy who lets wealthy elites go hunting on it. This is far from the vision of the original donation."

The Christmas Mountains are at the northwest corner of Big Bend National Park. The property was donated to the state in 1991 by the Virginia-based Conservation Fund and the Pennsylvania-based Richard King Mellon Foundation on the condition that it remain protected from development.

Then-Land Commissioner Gary Mauro told the donors that the state agreed to restrictions that would allow transfer of the land only to the National Park Service or the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

The General Land Office has said it had agreed to hold the property but cannot invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to fence it and protect it from poachers. The agency also has a fiduciary duty to earn money on state land for the Permanent School Fund, Suydam said.

Residents of the area say the Christmas Mountains are about 6,000 feet high. The terrain is mostly desert. The encumbrances on the land restrict almost any development, including road construction.

According to the Land Office, the School Land Board intends to make an award to the winning bidder as early as the School Land Board's Nov. 6 meeting.

Please sign our petition to Gov. Perry and Lt. Gov Dewhurst asking them to direct their appointees to stop the sale of the Christmas Mountains.

On Oct. 15th, I emailed Commissioner Patterson:
from: dfwrcc
10/15/2007 7:20 AM

Dear Commissioner Patterson,

Please don't auction off the Christmas Mountains Ranch. The sale is an insult to the land's donors, who intended the land to be used by the general public for recreation, and could cause future donors to think twice before donating land to the state. It's also unclear how the development restrictions on the property will be monitored and enforced and whether the public will have access.

I see your action as irresponsible and detrimental to the welfare of Texans. The very people you say you are targeting to help with this sale, children, will be harmed by auctioning off public land.


Jimmie Chatham
Arlington, TX 76011

His response arrived sent on Oct. 15th:

from: Commissioner Patterson
Oct 15 (2 days ago)
to: dfwrcc
date: Oct 15, 2007 1:55 PM
subject: Re: Don't sell the Christmas Mountains!
mailed-by: glo.state.tx.us

Thank you for your concern regarding the sale of the Christmas Mountains Ranch in Brewster County. I would like to take this opportunity to provide some background information that may enlighten your opinion on this issue.

The conveyance of the 9,200+ -acre Christmas Mountains tractproperty to the state s Permanent School Fund in 1991 was intended to protect this land and restore it to its natural state, and while ensureing limited public access. For 16 years now, this these goals hasve not been fully met. I believe private stewardship of the Christmas Mountains will result in both better protection and restoration forof the land and allowunprecedented limited public access.

Since 1991, attempts by the Land Office to open the Christmas Mountains to limited eco-tourism were frustrated by the many encumbrances placed on landit by the Conservation Fund. Over the years, poachers, trespassers, and invasive plant species have infiltrated the Christmas Mountains.

In a further attempt to conserve the land via government resources, the Land Office offered it to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the National Park Service on multiple occasions, as outlined by the gift deed restrictions.

Both government entities declined this offer. Yet, private, conservation-minded interests have expressed an interest in purchasing the land and spending substantial sums to care for, preserve, and maintain the area s environmental and ecological treasures.

In the case of the Christmas Mountains, government management is not necessarily the best solution. Transferring the Christmas Mountains to private interests could not only better achieve the conservation goals set forth by the Conservation Fund, but generate revenue for the benefit of Texas school children.

On September 18, the School Land Board met for a public meeting to evaluate the proposed sale of the Christmas Mountains. The Board listened to about 17 concerned Texans, most of whom expressed legitimate issues that we discussed at length. I believe the communication was very beneficial and hope the participants agree. Furthermore, during the meeting, the Board rejected all six bids for the purchase of the property because an error was found in the map that delineated the property in the original bid specifications. The Board will now offer the tract for re-bid and consider those bids at the November 6 meeting.

Transferring the Christmas Mountains to private interests could not only better achieve the conservation goals set forth by the Conservation Fund, but generate revenue for the benefit of Texas school children.

I know many are concerned that selling this property to a private party will lead to its commercial development. However, by law deed restrictions, the Christmas Mountains can never be developed, no matter who owns the land. When the property is again offered for sale, all bidders will be required to submit a proposed management plan that ensures that the intent and goals of the conservation easement reservedthose restrictions in the gift deed will be fulfilled. The plan must reflect prior experience and other qualifications in land management and address the bidder s intended uses of the property. The plan must also include provisions for wildlife management and for limited public access.

If you have any further questions about this issue, please contact Hal Croft, Deputy Commissioner of the Asset Management Division, at (512) 463-2785.



Commissioner, General Land Office

Before posting this, I attempted to reach Deputy Commissioner Hal Croft. I was referred to Jim Suytam, Press Secretary for the General Land Office. He was unaware that this letter had not been revised. He stated that the National Park Service has not made a formal offer for Christmas Mountain. He said that the Oct. 12th letter "merely states that they are willing to reconsider their refusal and that is far from being a concrete offer."

I told him that I was appalled that the meeting of this importance is scheduled on November 6th, which is election day. Mr. Suytam said: "The Nov. 6th meeting was set over a year ago when they made up the calendar." My response was: "Whether last week or a year ago, it is unconsciousable for state agencies to set meetings on Election Day. Citizens in Texas most active in the political system are engaged on Election Day. When making up calendars, agencies should not schedule meetings on Election Days. It minimizes citizen's participation in the process."

The Texas Observer has a good article on this same subject.

Seems Brewster County doesn't want it to become Federal Park land because they don't want to lose tax revenue.
Minutes of the Big Bend Regional Sierra Club Meeting,
September 18, 2001
Jim Walker, Secretary

Brewster County does not want to see the Park expand because of the tax issue. Federal payment in lieu of real estate taxes is now about $300,000 per year. The Harte Ranch, now State owned, does not pay taxes or payments in lieu of taxes.

From those same minutes are some facts about Big Bend National Park:
There are about 325-350 thousand visitors to BBNP every year. About 65-75% of the visitors are Texans year after year - indeed, Texans gave the park to the National Park Service. By and large, visitors follow the park regulations. As our population ages, our use of the Park will change.

At that meeting Ranger Lou Good, Management Assistant, Big Bend National Park said:
Service and Resource Management functions are the most underfunded. The park needs trained professionals, for example, to research dinosaur finds. Furthermore, BBNP is on the list of the 10 most threatened national parks, needing more construction, and better water and sewage facilities.
Wild and Scenic Rivers Plan. This plan and the Management Plan were worked on simultaneously, which was not a good idea as the plans were very different. Attempts to craft a WSR Plan 20 years ago were not successful, resulting in much hostility from landowners. The landowners thought a plan was in place, but it wasn't. Thus, the landowners had been misled, and they have long memories.

The Park Service decided to form a partnership plan with landowners, environmental groups, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and commercial and private "paddlers." People were suspicious and hostile, so efforts were made to alleviate these feelings. It was pointed out that the government has no control over private lands, unless condemned. Land will not be condemned.

The Park Service agreed to three things:

1. There will be no new access sites. Heath Canyon and Dryden Crossing in Terrell County will remain the only access.

2. No increase in visitor numbers (about 2,200-2,600 per year)

3. No condemnation of land.

An article titled "Christmas Mountains Selloff" in the The Alamo Sierra Club's newsletter V OL. 41 NO. 9 OCTOBER 2007 (http://texas.sierraclub.org/alamo/pdf%27s/Sierra%20NL0710P1234.pdf }

Many Texans are outraged at this attempt to privatize the Christmas Mountains, located 12 miles northeast of Terlingua near Big Bend National Park. Over 3,000 people have written in protest, and many attended a hearing in Austin on September 18 to condemn the plan.
The land was donated to Texas in 1991 by the Richard King Mellon Foundation through the Conservation Fund with the intent of providing public access and protecting the Christmas Mountains as a viewshed of Big Bend National Park. The Mellon Foundation has publicly opposed the proposed sale, which would set a terrible precedent.

Future donors will think twice before offering land to the people of Texas if it could end up in private hands so easily.

Funding constrictions on the state and federal park services seems to be the reasons they initially refused to accept the land. The article continues:

Both the National Park Service and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department refused the parcel when originally approached by the General Land Office, but that may be understandable given the funding limits under which both have been forced to operate.

The General Land Office views the property as a liability, and Commissioner Patterson has gone so far as to say "You can't have a public park and a pristine environment on this tract of land." He believes that private owners would do a better job of managing it than the state has. (Not a good reflection on the quality of our state government!)

For narrow technical reasons the School Land Board rejected the six bids received, which ranged from $10,500 to $652,000. John Poindexter, who almost got part of Big Bend Ranch State Park recently, was one of the highest bidders. Commissioner Patterson said that despite objections he hopes to reopen the bidding process and sell the land in November.

The bids range from only about a dollar an acre to about $65 dollars an acre. Patterson's claim that it is more prudent to sell so that it will generate revenue for the school children of Texas is a "thin argument" at best. Judging from the six bids received thus far, the price per acre will generate much too little revenue to "help" the school children of Texas substantially. However, the natural riches of experiencing the desert and the rare opportunity to be able to expand a National Park with this much adjacent land is of greater value to children and adults in Texas and the rest of the USA.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Firefighters battle processing plant fire near Keene

By ELIZABETH CAMPBELL - Fort Worth Star Telegram - Oct. 15, 2007

A worker at a salt water injection plant near Keene was injured today when equipment ignited a blaze inside a large pit.

Keene Fire Chief Matt Gillin said the worker was taken to Parkland Hospital by air ambulance, but he didn't know the extent of his burns.

"When I arrived, it was a complete ball of fire," he said. "We were lucky it wasn't any worse."

When firefighters arrived at the Bridgeport Tank Trucks LTD plant at the U.S. Highway 67 bypass, workers said a gasoline pump used in the process of separating a mixture of oil, sand and gravel from the salt water backfired, which caused the pit to erupt in flames.

The blaze also destroyed a tanker truck and a service vehicle parked near the pit.

The plant takes salt water used to fracture gas wells and stores it in containment wells, Gillin said. Part of the process involves separating oil, sand and gravel from the water. The oil was pumped into the pit before being transferrred to storage tanks. The pit is 100 feet wide and 10 feet deep, he said.

Firefighters were concerned that the fire would spread to several tanks where heavy oil is stored. They kept water on the tanks to keep them cool.

Several departments responded including Keene, Cleburne, Liberty Chappel, Joshua and Blue Water Oaks.

The fire was out by 4 p.m.

Read more

Read coverage on WFAA Channel 8

Save Texas Parks

By Environmental Texas -
What's New
On November 6, Texans will vote on Proposition 4, a billion dollar bond that includes funding for badly needed repairs at Texas state parks. Environment Texas is working to pass Proposition 4 and make sure our parks get the funding they need to survive and thrive. Read information on Prop 4 here.

How You Can Help
First, make sure to vote for Proposition 4 during early voting or on November 6. If you're not registered to vote, you can download a form here. In order to vote in this upcoming election, you need to be registered by Oct. 9. If you need help finding your polling place, go here.

You can also take action here to help with another preservation priority: stopping the state from selling the Christmas Mountains to private interests.

Brief Summary
From the wetlands and beaches of the gulf coast, to swimming holes filled with children, to the breathtaking beauty of Big Bend Ranch, our state parks are a vital part of what makes us Texan. Hiking, camping, fishing, or just relaxing in these diverse and unique parks has been a Lone Star tradition for generations.
But for decades, our elected officials have starved our state parks of necessary funding.
Years of budget cuts left many parks in disrepair, lay-offs reduced access at some parks, and protection of ecologically sensitive land threatened with development has been at a stand-still.

That neglect is starting to change. This spring we convinced the Legislature to triple funding for our state parks. However, $52 million of the funding will only go forward if a bond is approved by voters this November. That’s why we need your help to pass Proposition 4 and make sure our parks get the funding they need to survive and thrive.

Texas leads nation in number of water polluters

By R.A. DYER - Star-Telegram staff writer - Fri. Oct. 12, 2007
AUSTIN -- Texas led the nation in the number of facilities discharging pollution at levels exceeding federal clean water guidelines, according to a new report from an environmental watchdog group.

The Austin-based Environment Texas said that in 2005, 318 facilities in the state reported 1,340 incidents in which they discharged more pollution than permitted under the federal Clean Water Act. The group also reported that more than 53 percent of Texas' industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution in 2005 than permitted under the law.

"With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that more than half of Texas waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing -- but we should be outraged," Environment Texas Citizen Outreach director Brad Hicks said in a statement.

See http://www.environmenttexas.org/

Travel to other worlds ... UTA Planetarium

Immersive full-dome 3-D Digital planetarium show narrated by Ewan McGregor (Obi wan Kepobi from Star Wars) - Astronaut takes you exporing the worlds of inner and outer space. The movie is projected all around you. You recline in specially constructed chairs which enables you to comfortably view the immersive full-dome planetarium show. Astronaut! (produced from the National Space Centre in England) goes beyond the stereotypical space movie. Experience a rocket launch from inside the body of the astronaut. Float around the international Space Station moving thorugh the microscopic regions of the human body! Discover the beauty and perils as "Chad", the test astronaut experiences everything thrown at him.

Summer Schedule (June 2-August 26):


shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Wed. through Saturdays at 11 a.m.
and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

Cosmic CSI

shows at the UTA Planetarium 3-D Digital Dome.

Wed. through Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Rock Hall of Fame 1 (The Original)

shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Thursday at 8:00 p.m.

Read more (Warning their flat dull website doesn't give much of a glimmer of the multi-dimensional experience you'll have once you enter the dome of the UTA Planetarium!)

Admission: Adults: $5.00

Seniors, Students, Children: $4.00

UTA Faculty, Staff & Alumni (with ID): $3.00

UTA Studens (with ID): $2.00

Groups of 10 or more with reservation: $3.00

Call 817 272-1183 or e-mail planetarium@uta.edu