Please come join us Thursday August 25th, from 7-9 pm. as we celebrate 100 years of National Parks with our friends at Patagonia Austin. We’ll be there with the latest information about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline and other recent developments at BBCA, as well as letters on hand for residents from Travis, Bastrop and Williamson counties, asking their Sunset Commission Senators to make changes in the Railroad Commission of Texas.
Fantastic music provided by Dana Falconberry!
316 Congress Ave, Austin, TX 78701
Water management is often poorly understood. In order to better educate the public, the BBCA has recently established water committees in Brewster and Presidio Counties, with others to follow. Each committee has already met twice.
These committees will be working to educate area citizens about their local Groundwater Conservation Districts (GCDs) and the role that each of us can play in ensuring our water future. Established less than 20 years ago, most GCDs are chronically underfunded and thus ill-equipped to perform their duties. This comes at a time when rural areas, such as West Texas, are coming under increasing pressure from large cities and industrial interests to acquire water.
The Texas Water Code provides authority to GCDs to establish workable Groundwater Availability Models (GAMs) and define Desired Future Conditions (DFCs) in order to sustainably manage local water resources. However, as mentioned above, our Groundwater Conservation Districts currently lack the resources and data to effectively accomplish these goals.
GCDs have a variety of means to cover their operating expenses, including taxes, fees, and appropriating existing county funds; the most agreeable of these options is to institute fees on new wells, large agricultural users, and commercial water customers. Such fees would not affect small agricultural users or residential customers.
Another hurdle is the collection of the data necessary to establish GAMs and DFCs because some municipalities are exempt from the rules of the Groundwater Conservation Districts. This so-called “Midland exemption” is a mechanism that allows a city to sell water outside the authority of its county Groundwater Conservation District, which greatly distorts the available data on water use. A helpful analogy here would be a family that is trying to create a budget (GAMs) in order to save for the future (DFCs). Now imagine that one or more members of that family opts out of the budget. The available money could disappear more quickly than expected. And it would become impossible to effectively track how much money the family will have in the future.
Reliable GAMs and DFCs are critical to securing our water future. We are fortunate to have many knowledgeable local experts to help us. With our small population and relatively low water use, our water future could easily remain bright for generations to come. But this could change quickly, if our towns continue to sell water outside the planning process of the Groundwater Conservation Districts. It’s in everyone’s best interest to participate in a single water budget to ensure that we are saving for our shared future.
The good news is that there is no immediate threat. Unlike other regions of Texas and the country, our counties are well positioned to meet our short- and intermediate-term needs. The challenge lies in reaching a common consensus now, before the next big city or corporation comes along and upsets that delicate balance. According to Sarah Schlessinger, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Groundwater Conservation Districts, a robust and transparent Groundwater Conservation District is the single-best way for rural communities to remain viable in the face of inevitable growth in the state-wide demand for water.
Q&A with BBCA legal advisor Jim Bradbury about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline and eminent domain
Below is a Q&A with BBCA legal advisor Jim Bradbury, conducted by Nicol Ragland of Wolfbird productions. Nicol is presently in production on the Trans-Pecos documentary.
Nicol: Can you tell us your main concern in the legal system in relationship to the Trans Pecos Pipeline as well as similar infrastructure projects?
Jim: We in Texas have become so enamored and accustomed to the various elements of infrastructure that come with progress that we have given up the necessary obligation of managing those projects and how they play out on a local level. The Trans Pecos project may well be one of the penultimate examples of this reckless vacuum. The familiar refrain that we “need pipelines, transmission lines and highways” is of course true. But that’s a hollow way of looking at the issue. What’s more important is having a legal and governmental structure that ensures such projects take place at the right place, at the right time for the right reasons. Those questions can only be answered through a robust governmental process that enables citizens, landowners and interest groups to have a meaningful role. With pipelines, that process is entirely absent. That’s what concerns me most about the daunting consequences faced by the people in the Trans Pecos region. This pipeline and the route, was apparently drawn in a room in Mexico City. No one really knows for sure. The project was awarded on a bidding system to a private company and now it’s all too real for a large group of landowners who spend their days and nights worrying, angry and talking to lawyers about how much they will be paid for something they never wanted to lose. And there never was any time, place or meeting where the State of Texas considered whether this project was needed, whether the route was appropriate under all factors and why the project was taking place. A project of this magnitude and impact should have been the subject of studies, meetings, hearings and a determination by the State. We do this for school board decisions, highways, transmission lines and almost everything we encounter. But by law, Texas pipelines are immune to such process. And that leaves communities and landowners with no place to participate and address their views. Every landowner that is confronted with eminent domain has to go through a very difficult process that cannot be well understood by someone that hasn’t. But here with the Trans Pecos that scenario is compounded. The people that live in the Trans Pecos have a deeply rooted connection with the land and vistas in that region. They are unlike any Texans in other portion of this diverse state, because they are bound by place, not by heritage, food, religion or language. And that single thing that binds them-place is being removed from them as a function of a meeting somewhere by a handful of people looking to make money. And that reality is hard to take.
Nicol: Can you tell us what you’ve learned from the Texas Senate hearing addressing eminent domain reform?
Jim: Eminent domain has been a growing source of tension in Texas for many years. Citizens have grown very vocal about the imbalance that exists under the law between landowners and entities taking property for infrastructure projects. The main focus of the hearing in the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs was the inadequate compensation being afforded to landowners. The offers that are made to landowners are well below the values that landowners would consider a balanced transaction. Even one legislator commented that she had been through an eminent domain proceeding and left it wanting to chain herself to a tree that was to be lost. There is a tremendous concern over the state of eminent domain law in terms of its fairness to landowners and the leveraged process for taking property that it has become. Several legislators voiced the strong concern that many landowners have to the proposed high speed rail project between Dallas and Houston. That may well be the hottest political issue in Austin right now regarding eminent domain. I expect that when the Legislature begins in January that we will see multiple attempts to change and reform various aspects of the condemnation process.
Nicol: What is your opinion on the real value of the Boerschig case and his interest in taking this to the Supreme Court?
Jim: This case is very well drafted and obviously took significant time and effort to prepare. The arguments are novel but they have a great deal of truth in them. The suit raises the claim that the State of Texas has in essence handed the complete right to take private property to private pipeline companies without setting any real or meaningful standards. The state in essence gave the power away unchecked. And that I believe is a very powerful claim. Right now as I understand it the denial of the injunction is being appealed but the main case remains pending. If the suit proceeds to collect evidence on how this pipeline project came to be developed, who is involved and also the relative lack of role by the State of Texas, I think that it will pose a very significant issue for the federal judge hearing it. That is a question that very much needs an answer.
Nicol: How have you been witness to a group of citizens who have made a difference in legal reform?
Jim: I have seen this occur on numerous occasions. They key is whether the citizen groups can remain connected through the ups and downs and maintain a consistent and sustained message for change. Often in such efforts, there will be negative results early on and difficult days. But the ones who make it work through these times, keep their eye on the goal and continue to communicate to newspapers, interested citizens and policy makers. I saw this through the early days of fracking in the Barnett Shale. People were overwhelmed with the world around them changing so fast. But leaders emerged and they organized and began to set out what they wanted and how they went about it. And they began to see changes occur. Even on a small level, a group of citizens in central Texas concerned about the state leveling a set of ancient live oaks, they put countless hours into social media, news articles and letters and those trees are still there now. It can happen. But it takes a crafted set of messages and a commitment to stick with the goal for change even if it does not benefit you, but helps another group in the future.
Jim Bradbury is an environmental attorney serving as a strategic legal advisor to BBCA in order to preserve the pristine landscape of the Big Bend region and the unique people that live within it.’ http://bluewindpartners.com/
Clean Out your Closet for Big Bend
July 16, 2016
1200 Windsor Rd., Austin 78703
Details about donations:
“Clean Burning Natural Gas” For Mexico?
In recent conversations with journalists, and published in various media outlets, the topic of “Clean Burning Natural Gas” for Mexico has often arisen.
The consortium proposing the Trans-Pecos Pipeline project, suggests in various outlets, that the project represents an environmental benefit:
“[The Trans-Pecos Pipeline] Will benefit air quality in the region by replacing Northern Mexico’s fuel source with clean-burning natural gas. Northern Mexico’s power generation plants currently produce harmful greenhouse gases from burning diesel, coal and wood.”
Let’s take an opportunity to analyze, and debunk this, and similar statements and misconceptions.
This graph, from the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (“CFE”), shows the relative percentages of fuels used for generating electricity in Mexico:
Fossil-fuel, non-renewable sources include Natural Gas (47%), Fuel Oil (21%), and Coal (4%).
Mexico’s coal-burning facilities, Carbon I, Carbon II (northern Mexico), and Carbon III (South Central Mexico) include:
• Jose Lopez Portillo (Carbon I, Rio Escondido) Coal Power Station is located at Nava, Coahuila, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 28.486194675435, Longitude= -100.69278717041. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 1200 MWe. It has 4 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1982 and the last in 1982. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
• Carbon II Coal Power Station Mexico is located at Nava, Coahuila. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 28.46250406485, Longitude= -100.69398880005. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 1400 MWe. It has 4 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1993 and the last in 1993. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
• Plutarco Elias Calles (Petacalco) (Carbon III) Thermal Power Plant Mexico is located at La Union, Guerrero, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 17.982570118573, Longitude= -102.11603164673. This infrastructure is of TYPE Coal Power Plant with a design capacity of 2100 MWe. It has 6 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 1993 and the last in 1993. It is operated by Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).
Mexico’s coal-fired generating units account for approximately 4% of the total generating capacity. They are all undergoing expansion of the coal bunkering (storage) facilities, expansion and modernization of their generating systems, and to date, the CFE has made no statement, or telegraphed in any way that Carbon I, III, or III would be, or are planned for decommissioning or reduction in operation as a consequence of expansion of the natural gas infrastructure.
Mexico’s waste (Renewables) generating facility is currently limited to a single unit, which burns pelletized agricultural and wood product waste:
• Golfo/Penoles Thermal Power Plant Mexico is located at 10 km NW of Tamuin, San Luis Potasi, Mexico. Location coordinates are: Latitude= 22.069096135144, Longitude= -98.846654891968. This infrastructure is of TYPE Waste Power Plant with a design capacity of 520 MWe. It has 2 unit(s). The first unit was commissioned in 2004 and the last in 2004. It is operated by Termoelectrica del Golfo (TEG) and Termoelectrica Penoles (TEP).
One of the more misleading statements made by the consortium suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s generating capability is derived from burning “wood” – this is specious, at best. In reality, the Golfo/Penoes facility is a renewable energy project, which uses pelletized agricultural waste, including fiber, wood waste, and similar sources, in a controlled-combustion process that generates low emissions.
While it is true that in rural Mexico, individual energy consumers burn wood in cook-stoves, and for heating purposes, it is not true that natural gas will replace, reduce, or otherwise augment the use of wood – the infrastructure cost to deliver end-consumer natural gas is significant, and there are substantial barriers, including terrain, economic, and capital, precluding use of natural gas for this purpose.
So far, the evidence is incontrovertible – the proposed Trans-Pecos Pipeline project delivers no benefit environmentally, as it does not eliminate, reduce, or make a substantial impact on the use of coal-fired sources of generation, and the claim with respect to use of “wood” is deliberately misleading, and entirely false.
There are numerous (twenty-two) oil-fired generating units depicted here, all of which are in current service:
This map depicts Mexico’s combined-cycle, natural gas fired generating units:
We know from CFE resources that Mexico plans to convert seven oil-fired systems to combined-cycle, natural gas-fired units, and add five new combined-cycle generation plants.
There are twenty-two (22) oil-fired generation systems, and based on the CFE’s published plans, that total reduces from twenty-two to fifteen (15) after the completion (in a decade) of the conversion projects. That leaves the remaining fifteen oil-fired units in operation. This is a rough reduction of 30% in the oil-fired segment – recall that represents only 21% of Mexico’s current total generating capacity – reducing that fraction from 21% to about 15% of the total generating capacity, in about a decade.
With respect to oil-fired (which includes the misleading use of the term “diesel”) generating capacity, it is clear that the impact of additional natural gas capability is relatively small – a reduction of 30% of the nominal 21% component of Mexico’s generating capacity.
Summarizing to this point, we see that the consortium’s claims are at best wholly specious – with no net reduction in the use of coal, and no significant reduction in the use of fuel-oil generation systems, and discounting the consortium’s wholly false claims with respect to use of wood-fueled systems, the use of natural gas is making no significant contribution to improving air, or environmental quality in Mexico, or the neighboring United States.
Now consider the following:
- natural gas, or methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas some 20X (by conservative estimates) to 84X (by most estimates) more potent than CO2
- fugitive emissions of methane at all stages, from exploration and recovery (drilling), treatment, transmission, and distribution are significant: “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that more than 6 million metric tons of fugitive methane leaked from natural gas systems in 2011. Measured as CO2-equivalent over a 100 year time horizon, that’s more greenhouse gases than were emitted by all U.S. iron and steel, cement, and aluminum manufacturing facilities combined.”
- The addition of five new combined-cycle generation plants is additive to the CO2 contribution to the overall emissions load associated with Mexico’s electrical generating infrastructure, and has an associated, direct fugitive methane emissions component
The consortium’s claims fly in the face of this evidence, and logic – there is no environmental benefit associated with this project, either for Mexico, or for the United States – in terms of air quality, and many other significant environmental impacts, in large part the United States bears significant environmental harm. As we are the source of the exported natural gas, the U.S. must absorb the greenhouse gas impacts of fugitive methane emissions associated with exploration, production, and transmission, as well as environmental harm from contamination of groundwater, the impact of groundwater consumption associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), and toxic emissions associated with flaring, processing, and transmission.
Before buying into the consortium’s claims that “[The Trans-Pecos Pipeline] Will benefit air quality in the region by replacing Northern Mexico’s fuel source with clean-burning natural gas. Northern Mexico’s power generation plants currently produce harmful greenhouse gases from burning diesel, coal and wood.”, consult the freely available resources here, and verify the facts for yourself:
In Gratitude to Dallas Morning News for furthering our message even deeper than our paid advertising of an open letter to Kelcy Warren.
“Almost 100 celebrities, landowners and environmentalists are asking Dallas energy mogul Kelcy Warren to change his company’s plans for a natural gas pipeline that will link Texas and Mexico.
Their names are on an ad set to run in Saturday’s Dallas Morning News. They include actors Owen Wilson, Peter Coyote and Tommy Lee Jones and musicians Ray Wylie Hubbard, Randy Jackson, Sara Hickman and Gurf Morlix.”
Please join us a screening of a documentary trailer about the Trans-Pecos Pipeline and a discussion of the project and its ramifications.
We will have a video booth on site to capture your love of and thoughts on the Big Bend region, why it is special and what it means to you. It will be broadcast via a live channel and captured for YouTube. Come share your experiences!
RSVP through our Facebook Page
Sunday, June 5
Doors at 5pm, discussion from 5:30pm-7:30pm.
Hosted by Patagonia Austin, the Big Bend Conservation Alliance, and Wolf Bird Productions.
Thank you for helping us spread the word! We looking forward to seeing you there.
(photo by Vicki Gibson)