Texas Legislature

Call for Action: U.S. Surface Transportation Act

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In the next few weeks, the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will consider reauthorizing the Surface Transportation Act. We need your help to tell Congress to use this opportunity to reduce stormwater runoff pollution from the nation’s 985,139 miles of federal highway.

These roads and highways, built with federal taxpayer dollars, have an enormous negative impact on water quality throughout the nation. Stormwater runoff carried from these roads impairs nearby lakes, streams, and rivers by dumping high volume, high velocity flows into waterways, which erodes streambanks and fills them with deicing agents, toxic metals, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria, and sediment.

Before Committee considers reauthorizing the Surface Transportation Act, it is important that Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) hear from Houes members that it is imperative to control stormwater discharges from our nation’s roadways. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has sponsored a Dear Colleague letter requesting that the reauthorization bill include language to control stormwater pollution from federally subsidized roads. Please call your U.S. Representative today and ask him or her to sign Del. Norton’s Dear Colleague letter in support of stormwater runoff mitigation on our nation’s highways!

For more information about this important issue, please visit the American Rivers website.


S.B. 2222: Worthy of Our Support

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Time is getting short to move important legislation onto the floor. Please take a minute to call or email your Representatives and Senators about S.B. 2222.

As you may know, intense development is increasingly impinging upon the critical military mission at Camp Bullis in northern Bexar County. As land surrounding Camp Bullis is developed, endangered Golden Cheeked Warblers are relocating to the base, thus limiting the land available to the military to conduct training. It goes without saying that the Army contributes immensely to the local ecnomony, but their presence has meant good stewardship of several thousand acres over the Edwards Aquifer as well.

In response to concerns about Camp Bullis, Senator Leticia Van de Putte has drafted S.B. 2222, which would create Regional Military Sustainability Commissions (RMSCs) and grant them the authority to regulate development in unincorporated territories located within five miles of the boundary lines of any military installation for which a Joint Use Study has been completed. (A draft JLUS for Camp Bullis is available online.) If passed, S.B. 2222 will help to ensure compatible development around a military installation. Developers and builders who oppose any sort of land use regulations are, of course, opposed to this bill.

As stewards of the Edwards Aquifer and the wildlife dependent upon it, we urge you to contact your Senators and members of the Veteran Affairs & Military Installations Committee and encourage them to support this bill. Those of you in Jeff Wentworth’s district, we especially need you to contact him and ask for his support. Please help us move this legislation toward passage this session!


It’s time Texas joins movement to stop the plastic-bag insanity

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While strolling along the quiet northern end of the River Walk on Sunday, I was reminded of my pre-plastic childhood. In those days, seemingly all containers were either recyclable or biodegradable. Empty cans became planters for seedlings, jars found new uses, and we kids picked up all discarded bottles to collect the deposits.

On Sunday, I saw a family of mallards dodging plastic bags floating in the river, and later I spied two more urban tumbleweeds tangled high in trees.

The River Walk is not poorly maintained. Workers regularly pick up garbage on the walkways and, from barges, pluck the water-borne detritus.

But here and globally, the use of plastics — most of which don’t biodegrade — has exploded. In 1960, plastics represented less than 1 percent of municipal garbage. By 2005, they were 12 percent.

A major global problem is the use of flimsy plastic bags by retailers. Globally, a half trillion are used each year. Precious few are recycled, or even properly disposed of. The gentlest breeze will give them flight, and they now routinely clog sewers and waterways, and kill off wildlife of all kinds.

In the Pacific Ocean, currents have formed a garbage patch that is now twice the size of Texas.The common plastic “T-shirt bags” make up much of this mass. Because the bags are everywhere, many governments are taking steps to curb their use.

Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania banned the flimsy bags by setting minimum-thickness standards. In 2003, Ireland slapped a 22-cent levy on each bag.

And last year, China — the world’s largest plastics exporter — cracked down on what is there called “white pollution” by ordering retailers to charge for the bags. Germany — the third-largest plastics exporter — ordered retailers to give customers the option of buying low-cost, reusable cotton bags.

New York City makes large retailers offer to recycle the bags, and San Francisco and 30 Alaskan towns have simply banned them.

In Texas, several large retail chains already offer recycling and reusable bags, and Whole Foods has stopped using plastic bags. But legislative action is also being considered.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van De Putte’s Senate Bill 338 would require retailers that employ 51 or more workers to verbally offer customers low-cost reusable bags at checkout stands. Her bill would also require that plastic bags be stamped with reminders to recycle them and that retailers supply highly visible recycling bins.

Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchía’s plastic bag bill takes another tack. It would require that stores collect a 7-cent fee on each bag and that the sum be listed on the receipt.

Exempt from the fee would be bags “used solely to contain a product with no other packaging, (like) bulk grains, fruit, nuts, vegetables or food products” and costlier “compostable” bags. Retailers would keep 3 percent of the bag fees collected and the rest would go to counties and cities to pay for recycling programs.

Given that even Third World countries are taking decisive action, it is time for Texas to follow suit, because increasingly our natural heritage is being spoiled by bags wafting along our roadways and getting snagged in trees, bushes and even barbed-wire in the loneliest places.

Carlos Guerra

To view this article on the San Antonio Express News site, click here.

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