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April 2014 Newsletter

One Year After the West Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Little has Been Done to Fix Regulatory Issues

Last week marked one year since a deadly fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas killed 15 and injured nearly 180 people, causing an estimated $100 million in damages to local homes, schools and businesses. The accident was an example of a preventable, industrial incident, according to comments filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by Neil Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Lone Star of the Sierra Club.

Sierra Club’s Big Bend Grassland Restoration Trip

Last week, Sierra Club volunteers from across the state converged on Big Bend National Park to assist with the park’s ongoing grassland restoration efforts.   Grasslands in the low-lying flats of the park were devastated by over-grazing in the late 1800’s and early twentieth century when the park land was nothing more than ranch land on the border of Texas and Mexico. In recent years, park officials have been supporting a renewed effort to bring those grassland areas back, along with the flora and fauna that once inhabited it.

An Electric Car Company Makes a Proposition to the Big Oil State

Tesla, the electric car manufacturer led by Silicon Valley billionaire, Elon Musk, is considering four locations for what would become the world’s largest battery factory, producing 30 gigawatt hours of energy per year. Among the prospective hosts for the gigafactory are Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. The factory is projected to provide $5 billion in direct investment and create approximately 6,500 jobs to the lucky community chosen to host the site.

Earth Day 2014: Keep the celebration going!

Happy (belated) Earth Day! Some celebrate the entire month of April as Earth Month, but we at the Lone Star Chapter would like to think that we work to protect the environment every day of the year (minus holidays and weekends, of course.)   In an effort to educate the public how each one of us can lessen our impact on the Earth’s resources every day of the year, the EPA has released its list of tips to act on climate change. Here’s a sampling of their tips, with some our own staff picks added to the mix for good measure:

Multiple New Reports Show Energy Efficiency Can Save Texas Businesses and Families More — Much Less Costly Than New Electric Power Sources

Photo by Cassandra Coriolan

This past month, Texas’ investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities filed their annual energy efficiency reports with the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) reporting on the savings produced through the state’s energy efficiency program. The results demonstrated that the programs are reaching their potential, but much more can be done.

Regional Round-up

The Half Moon Reef Project

Key environmental topics from across the Lonestar state.

  • Dallas and Houston Recognized for Building Efficiency: In a top ten list published by the EPA for metropolitan areas with the most ENERGY Star certified buildings, Dallas placed seventh and Houston placed tenth.

  • Three Texas cities rank in EPA's top five local governments using renewable energy: The EPA just released its 100 top organizations using renewable energy.  Among local governments, Houston ranked first, Austin third and Dallas fourth.

  • Matagorda Bay Oyster Reef Restoration Project Completed: The US Army Corps of Engineers and the Nature Conservancy finished a $5.4 million project to restore the oyster reefs in Matagorda Bay this month. The Half Moon Reef has been rebuilt to attract oysters, who filter and clean water, back to their habitat while also reviving the ecosystem for fish, shrimp, clams, crabs and other sea creatures.

  • The Brazos gets a Watermaster:The Brazos River basin, which flows west of Baylor, down through Waco, and out to the Gulf, has been assigned a watermaster by the TCEQ due to water fights in recent years. The watermaster is meant to prevent disputes over water, however many are skeptical about putting the power into the hands of a single individual and worry that the watermaster will side too often with powerful industries.

  • San Antonio Group Punished by TCEQ for Publishing Fracking Report: Funding for a San Antonio based environmental agency was cut after the group released a study that showed the harmful effects fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale has on San Antonio air quality. The TCEQ claimed that the Alamo Area Council of Governments was in violation of their contract.

  • Arlington Provides Public Transportation for First Time: For the first time in history, Arlington has opened up to public transportation and has launched a two-year pilot program for a bus system. So far the system has been successful and supporters are optimistic it will outlive the pilot phase.

  • Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed named to Austin's Austin Generation Resource Planning Task Force: Austin city Council member Sheryl Cole named Reed to a city task force that will guide Austin Energy as it looks at how it well meet Austin's energy demand over the next 10 years. The Task Force will make recommendations regarding the city's 2024 efficiency and renewable energy goals, and will be looking at retirements of Austin Energy's oldest and dirtiest resources, including Austin's share of the dirty Fayette coal-fired power plant.


Join Us to Keep Texas Rivers Flowing [UPDATED]

The Lone Star Chapter is co-hosting a three-part series of webinars discussing strategies to protect the flow of rivers, bays, and estuaries. The first webinar, Keeping Rivers Flowing: Innovative Strategies to Protect and Restore Rivers, will be held Wednesday April 30th from 2-3pm. Speakers from The Nature Conservancy, The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, and National Wildlife Federation will consider what is being done to protect and restore rivers internationally and how these approaches may be tailored to encourage river flow in Texas. To reserve a seat, RSVP at

Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek Online Screening and Live Chat | Tuesday, April 29 at 8p ET


How far would you go to save your community? On Tuesday, April 29th at 8/7c, join WORLD Channel for the broadcast premiere and live chat of Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek. Afterwards, engage in the conversation with the panelists: filmmaker Leah Mahan, Turkey Creek native Derrick Evans, journalist Brentin Mock and Sierra Club director of Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships Leslie Fields.

Message From Director Scheleen Walker

Happy Earth Day, everyone! We hope you all are enjoying the beautiful Spring weather.

As you may have read in this newsletter, our recent Big Bend trip was a great success. By all accounts, the volunteers all enjoyed their time, and it sounds like we were able to help out the park quite a bit with their grassland restoration efforts. We may make the trip an annual event, so stay tuned.


Scheleen Walker, Director
Lone Star Chapter