Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yes We Have No Bananas

Dr. Ben Brown (right) with Jim Tolbert (left) and Dave Webster (center)

["Conkey's Tavern" was my first blog. It dealt with local and organic food issues and the environmental destructiveness of industrial farming and monocultures. This past September my friend, Ben Brown, sent me "Yes We Have No Bananas". It is a privilege and honor to publish it. It's food for thought (yes, the pun is intended) that our eating habits contribute to monoculturism and, thus, to more environmental destruction. For more information, there are links to some articles below.]

Yes We Have No Bananas


Although the impact of the mid-XIX century potato famine is still a hot topic of discussion, few ask if it could happen again.  The answer is a dramatic yes!   Bananas, a major source of protein for a large segment of the world’s population, are under siege from the Panama fungus [Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense]  which attacks the root system.   For over 50 years, horticulturalists have been designing strategies to combat this plague.  But just as the strategies evolved, so has the fungus and today it has done an end run. Not only does it destroy the plant, but it impregnates the soil with chlamydospores or spores which can remain dormant for many years. Consequently, the chlamydospores destroy any potential to replant.  So, you may ask, how did we come to this? 

In the beginning, there were bananas:

In spite of popular wisdom, not all plants were domesticated in the Fertile Crescent or Central Mexico.  The archaeological evidence suggests that bananas were first grown in special terraces in or around the Kuk Valley of central New Guinea some ten thousand years ago and spread throughout the island archipelagos that lie between Asia and New Guinea.   From these humble beginnings a wide range of varieties developed, each with its particular ecological requirements and each with its own taste and texture.  By 5,500 BP, bananas were firmly established as a major food source. 

In conjunction with pre-Islamic and pre-European colonialism and trade, the more hardy varieties spread around the world and settled in most tropical climates producing a dependable abundance of fruit.  Containing any where from 90 to 110 calories per banana, bananas became an important food source. On average they contain more than 10% of the daily value of a number of beneficial elements and vitamins such as potassium and manganese, and vitamins B6 and C.  Although they contain very little fat, what fat they do contain in high in Omega 3 and Omega 6. High in fiber with a low Glycemic Index, who’s gon’a complain?

But there was a catch.  Or maybe two.   They no longer produced pollen and so required the help of the human hand to produce fruit. In other words bananas were, and still are, clones.  Their inability to cross pollinate meant that most plants were clones with a reduced resistance to the external threats found in their new environments.  Slowly but surely these threats reduced their vigor. The natural impact of these weaknesses was multiplied by the introduction of mono-cropping: extensive plantations of just bananas.  Diseases could gallop across a property, and all too often, jump from one plantation to another, even before the disease could be identified and the appropriate action taken.  

In the case of Fusarium oxsporum the plant dies from dehydration.  The fungus enters the plants’ roots from whence it is transported into the xylem vessels and disrupts the vascular system by cutting off the circulation of foods and liquids. 

Minor problem you might say:  Banana splits haven’t been popular for years! But that is just first world view.  While Americans yearly import and consume just short of 12 kilograms per capita, Ugandans are at the other extreme.  They eat more than 20 times as much.
Although Uganda is the world’s second largest producer of bananas, relatively few are exported.  Most bananas are needed for the home market.  At 0.7 kg. per day, it has the highest per capita consumption. Burundi and Rwanda follow suit also consuming anywhere three to eleven bananas a day per capita.  This comes out to about 250 to 400 kg per annum.  Bananas are so important to the diet that in some places the words for food and bananas are synonymous.  The hyper dependence on bananas could lead to a crisis similar to mid-nineteenth century Ireland. 

While this crisis will be most poignant in central Africa, there are many other countries, such as Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras, where bananas are the food of the poor and any short fall will be catastrophic. 

Can anything be done?

Science in it’s full glory is striving to find the appropriate solution but money and means are far away.  At the moment the biologically the best solution would seem to be bananas with seeds, but it is not clear if seeded bananas would win Mark Twain’s approval.  But in the meanwhile biologists are continuing their research and attempting to create new hybrids and GM varieties that are marketable and resistant to both the known and unknown challenges. So far, material borrowed from onions and dahlias have increased resistance but have not produced plantains or bananas acceptable to the market – sweet, seedless and bright yellow when ripe.

So, is there a moral to this story?

Beware of introduced crops.  Beware of mono-cropping and in the meanwhile, don’t be bashful, eat all the bananas you can.  They’re gon’a change or disappear!

R. B. Brown
MUREF / Centro INAH Chihuahua
Av. 16 de Septiembre y Av. Juárez
Centro Histórico, Ciudad Juárez
32000 Chihuahua, México


Since graduating from the University of Arizona, Dr. Brown has worked largely in northern Mexico. His projects have included archaeological investigation and conservation as well as paleontology.  For the last few years he's been focusing on the history of northern Mexico and is presently working on a biography of Cástulo Herrera, a little know revolutionary who died in Ciudad Juarez in 1957. He is, or has been, a  member of a wide range of international, national and local professional organizations such as INQUA, ARARA, the Society of American Archeology and the El Paso County Historical Society as well as a founding member and founding board member of CARTA, the Camino Real Trail Association.  He has organized a number of international symposia in the US, Mexico, Spain, Russia, and the UK. Dr. Brown maintains an active interest in paleoecology.  His thesis was entitled: The Paleoecology of the Northern Frontier of Mesoamerica.  One of his first historical studies focused on using changes in the wholesale prices of maize in Chihuahua as proxy data for the identification of droughts and drought cycles.  At the same time he maintained an interest in the archaeology of Australasia, the development of terrace agriculture in Australasia and the early domestication of bananas.  Needless to say, bananas are his favorite fruit!

He is presently based at the Museo de la Revolucion en la Frontera in Ciudad Juárez.

For further reading:

Banana market faces great change as monoculture threatens extinction of West’s most popular variety

We have no bananas today

Industrial Agriculture: The outdated, unsustainable system that dominates U.S. food production

Monoculture Farming


How the Growth of Monoculture Crops Is Destroying our Planet and Still Leaving us Hungry

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Solar Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels or Wind . . .

. . . in developing countries such as China, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, and India. Here are links for more information:

From Bloomberg Technology: World Energy Hits a Turning Point: Solar That's Cheaper Than Wind

From EcoWatch: It's Official: Solar Energy Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

It is not the case here in the United States - yet. Nor will it be for a long time. We are still heavily invested in coal and natural gas to generate energy. But there is good news: U.S. Solar Surges in Record-Breaking Quarter.

Here in El Paso we know that El Paso Electric will ask for a rate hike very soon in January. They will probably go after rooftop solar again perhaps next summer. I'm still in favor of some kind of subsidy for those who install solar - a break on their property tax or a refund. Maybe it is time to deregulate the energy industry in El Paso. Let EPEC go head to head with the solar industry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Faucet Design Will Conserve Water

Don't expect to find this faucet at Home Depot any time soon. A prototype will cost about $335. Since I am no manufacturing expert, I do not know exactly when we can buy one of these for our homes. It won't be long in the scheme of things and it certainly will be much less than the prototype cost.

A design student, Simon Qiu, has invented a faucet that creates a beautiful swirl pattern and uses 15% less water than current designs. The faucet's stream is gentler to the touch and comes out a bit faster than regular faucets. It helps conserve energy because temperature is pre-set.

Whenever this design is ready for the consumer market, I want a shower head too.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Shelving the Bicycle Plan?

Scott White and Mayor Oscar Leeser help to launch SunCycle Bike Share in September 2015.
(Picture stolen without permission from Scott's Facebook page.)

One wonders whether El Paso is really serious about its Bicycle Master Plan or if the plan was just window dressing like Tree El Paso. 

Recently the City announced that it was looking for a Bicycle Program Coordinator - someone to push the Bike Plan. Scott White applied. Scott is a leader in the bicycling community and the Policy Director of Velo Paso. He would have been the ideal person for the job. Unfortunately, after applying, Scott got this reply from the City:

"Thank you for your interest in the Bicycle Program Coordinator position with the City of El Paso. We appreciate your time and effort spent in completing the application and collecting the needed documents. Unfortunately, although this is an important position, the City has decided to cancel this recruitment and we invite you to apply for this position when it opens for recruitment, or other positions with the City as vacancies occur and are advertised. Please check our website weekly for new openings at

If you have any questions, please call us at 915-212-7321.

Hiring Department"

Hiring Department? How personal! The "City has decided to cancel this recruitment . . . " Probably it will be like the Veterans Officer that the City Manager also promised but is a position that doesn't seem to be going anywhere these days.

Scott emailed me that "canceling the recruitment" (great euphemism) "could spell the end of the Bike Program and lead to the shelving of the Bicycle Master Plan." Mr. White tells us that much time, energy and resources went into the plan.

El Paso is part of the important Southern Tier Bicycle Route. However, from city limit to city limit, bicyclers probably should do some praying.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Reduce Waste during the Holiday Season

Click image to enlarge.

Thank you, Ellen Smyth, Director of Environmental Services for the City of El Paso for sharing this infographic. Be sure to visit Recycle Right El Paso and Take Care of Texas

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Good News, Bad News?

It turns out that Trump did not pick McMorris Rodgers for Interior. Instead he turned to Ryan Zinke of Montana, a conservationist who has often voted with Democrats on conservation issues. That's the good news, we hope.

Bad news? Trump has picked former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head the Energy Department. Perry is tied at the hip with Big Oil. He is a Director of the Board of Energy Transfer Partners, the company that wants to plow up sacred native land in North Dakota, Texas and build pipelines through the Big Bend and San Elizario, Texas. However, the Daily Beast points out that the Energy Department should really be called the Department of Nuclear Weapons. Let's hope that Perry won't have an "oops" moment while in his new office.

Nevertheless, look for strong support by Perry in the Trump cabinet for the pipelines. Also remember that this is the time to be active not whiny.

So, how can you help fight the Dakota Access Pipeline even if you can't go to North Dakota? Here are 10 Ways, including supporting the protesters' GoFundMe account

Monday, December 12, 2016

Environmental Opportunities During the Time of Trump

We all know that, for the next four years, we won't have a "green" government. Far from it. For EPA Mr. Trump has chosen Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier and someone who is deep in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry. Trump has chosen Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers whose overall League of Conservation Voters scorecard is 4% and in 2015 it was 0% for the year. She is all in favor of selling off public land to the gas and oil people. It's better to say that she's selling out our natural heritage. That great Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt, is spinning in his grave. 

Bottom line: don't expect the federal government to champion the environment in the next few years. In fact, expect it to do exactly the opposite including supporting the nasty, dirty coal industry.

There are two things that we can do as "greens". We can moan and groan and whine which will do us no good. True, there will be protests. There will also be court challenges and it will be worthwhile to financially support those groups that are best able to take on the federal government in court. Still, that's just spectator environmentalism. What can each of us do to make a difference to help our earth and to hold off the hordes of anti-environmentalists?

The next four years gives each of us the opportunity to examine our own lifestyles and see what changes that we can make personally that are more environmentally friendly and ecologically and socially just. 

We live in a market economy. Period. When we buy things, when we consume, that means that we give a green light to suppliers. That's how it works. If I'm in the business to find, distribute or sell natural gas and people are demanding it, I'm going to find, distribute and sell natural gas. El Paso Electric Company is looking for a hike in the fuel fee - a hike that is justified because the cost of natural gas has gone up. By law, when it goes down, they have to decrease that fee. Want to know how to decrease the cost of natural gas: demand more and produce more. How many of us want to live in a world without electricity? If that sounds enticing, try Aleppo.

My point is this, as a consumer of electricity and, therefore, of natural gas, I contribute to the market that leads to global warming. If I buy jewelry, I contribute to the pollution of metals mining. Heck, if I type another word on this computer and eat some more bandwidth with this blog or an email, I am contributing to the pollution caused by mining the rare earths needed to make electronic parts for my computer, cell phone and smart TV.

Obviously we need to find more sustainable sources of energy - or use more. We just need to know what moves the market and that may mean paying more for an extended period of time in order to "show" the market that we are demanding something else. How many of us will either buy solar panels in the coming year or sign-up for El Paso Electric's Community Solar Program? I just signed up to get their updates.

The opportunity that we have now is to examine our lifestyles and patterns of consumption and to make changes. Big government is not going to do it for us. Also, in a free market economy the biggest vote we have is the one we make with our spending. Sure, we can protest and sue and bang drums - and we probably should do some of that with Pruitt and Rodgers in charge. We can also ask ourselves how we can change habits and purchases. So, for the next four years, let's say the serenity prayer a thousand times daily and then deal with those changes that are within our power to make. Changes that, if stuck to, can change the market freely.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Marshall Carter-Trip "Nature Matters" Collection Officially Unveiled

Marshall Carter-Tripp and Rep. Jim Tolbert after the unveiling of the Nature Matters Collection. 
Photo by Neysa Hardin.
The Marshall Carter-Tripp "Nature Matters" Collection was officially unveiled at the Memorial Park Branch Library (MAP) yesterday evening. This new special collection which focuses on the natural world is now a part of the City of El Paso Public Library. Topics range from trees to water to sustainable energy to wildlife conservation and anything else related to our natural world and the human role in it!

Two years ago Marshall Carter-Tripp contacted me with her vision for a "library" of books she wished to donate. She wanted a place where others could borrow these books about ecology and the environment and where people could add other books to the collection. We discussed different places where people might find the books. However, publicizing the collection and having an accessible place for the collection where people could easily come to borrow books proved to be difficult. For a while they were housed at the Frontera Land Alliance office. 

Not long after my election to City Council, I suggested that we talk to the City of El Paso Public Library. I spoke with Quality of Life Interim Director, Dionne Mack. She immediately began working with library staff to make Marshall's dream come to reality. As Representative of District 2, I asked that the collection be housed at the Memorial Park Branch Library, a very centrally located place for the books. With the help of Director of Libraries, Mark Pumphrey, and others, Marshall's collection was cataloged. Last night it was unveiled in a ceremony presided over by Mr. Pumphrey with Nicole Ferrini, myself and, of course, Marshall Carter-Tripp as the speakers.

The City Library plans future events highlighting the collection.

Poignantly, the unveiling occurred on the birth date of the late and beloved ecologist, Kevin von Finger, who contributed greatly to the protection of environmental treasures in El Paso.

Representative Tolbert and the El Paso Library encourage donations of books to the Nature Matters collection, on topics ranging from trees to water to sustainable energy to wildlife conservation, and anything else you have found interesting related to our natural world and the human role in it!  Donations can be made at any library branch, or the Main Library Downtown.  Please mark them for Nature Matters, and include your name for the book plate!

If you would like to make a monetary donation for this collection,  make your check to the El Paso Public Library with “Nature Matters” in the memo line. Send it to: Technical Services Dept., El Paso Public Library, 501 N. Oregon, El Paso, TX 79901.

Click on the title below to see the books donated by Marshall Carter-Tripp which currently make-up the collection:

Monday, December 5, 2016

Aren’t 1,500 ft walls enough?

This week the Dallas Morning News and many other news outlets across the US including the Washington Post and the Associated Press reported on growing concerns on how a border wall in Big Bend National Park would destroy the park’s scenic beauty and threaten wildlife, including the return of the black bear to Texas.

The Greater Big Bend Coalition is quoted in the story where coalition founder Rick LoBello states “A big wall in Big Bend would basically destroy the wilderness quality Big Bend has protected.”

Earlier this year GBBC called upon the US and Mexico governments to designate lands currently protected by the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife and Comisíon Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas as a Big Bend Rio Bravo Binational Natural Area to help to call attention to the importance of protecting the entire Big Bend and adjoining areas in Coahuila and Chihuahua, Mexico. The regions’ fragile environments need protection from development projects that could be harmful to the environment and ecotourism. Protecting this fragile desert mountain region and its wildlife and culture is important to people who live there and to our natural heritage and global ecotourism which is important to the economy of both countries and the world.

You can help support this effort by:
1. Sending a letter of support representing yourself, your business or organization to: Rick LoBello, Executive Committee, El Paso Sierra Club Group,
2. Signing the petition supporting the creation of Big Bend International Park.
3. Liking our facebook page at

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Friday Video: Interview with Janae' Reneaud Field and Judy Ackerman

This is a must see video of an interview of two people who have done much toward making Castner Range a National Monument. I asked Judy Ackerman what was next and she told me that people should keep sending in letters. The clock is ticking. Obama will leave office and Trump will become President. President Obama is the last great chance that we have. Now is the time to help make Castner Range a National Monument. Please help. Go HERE.

If you can't see the video on your device, go to

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

El Paso Needs Bike Lanes

Photo "Selfie" by Amaya Williams

I recently hosted Erik Schampion and Amaya Williams in my home. Over the last ten years they have bicycled through 102 countries on every continent of the world. They are now on a final trek across America and expect to be in New York City in April. From there they will travel to southern France to live for a couple of years and get some much needed rest. You can watch their adventures HERE. I am looking forward to the book and the movie.

While visiting, Amaya pointed out the huge economic benefits of bicycling tourism. Check out this page to see just how huge that impact is: $133 Billion annually in the United States. El Paso, which is on the Southern Tier Bicycle Route, could expect more business from bicyclers IF we had bicycle lanes. Erik and Amaya told me that El Paso was far behind other cities in this regard.

Fortunately, there is now a City Master Bike Plan which calls for 900 to 1,000 more miles to be added to the existing paltry 140 miles of lanes that we have. There is good news: Sun Metro accommodates bicyclists and the City's bicycle sharing program is a success - contrary to predictions by bloggers who saw bicycles streaming across the border. (Hasn't happened.)

Next step: Get aggressive about the bike plan.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Castner Range Public Meeting: A Must Attend Event

Courtesy of Mark Clune
elpasonaturally cannot emphasize enough the importance of tomorrow's public meeting to make Castner Range a National Monument. In order to become a National Monument, Castner will need the approval of Congress or the President. Do not count on Congress and, once Mr. Trump is inaugurated, do not count on the President. President Obama is our last, best hope. We must show his administration our overwhelming support. Please attend Rep. O'Rourke's meeeting tomorrow at EPCC Transmountain Campus Forum Theater. (MAP) Here is Rep. O'Rourke's message and more details: 

Castner Range is one of the cultural, historical, and ecological treasures of our region that should be protected for future generations.

I want to invite you to join me for a public meeting that I am hosting about the future of Castner Range on Saturday, November 19, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. 

The event will take place at the El Paso Community College Transmountain Campus Forum Theater (9570 Gateway N Blvd). There will be experts, public officials, music, and culture. 

This is your chance to make your voice heard. I hope to see you on November 19th! 

RSVP here: 

Thank you,


Congressman Beto O’Rourke announced he will hold a public meeting to discuss why the President should designate Castner Range a national monument. This public meeting will be the community’s chance to speak directly with public officials and experts about why this land should be protected in perpetuity. 

Join us Saturday, November 19, for a family friendly event to show your support for Castner Range as a National Monument! 
Enjoy music, performers, food trucks, kids free activities and much more!  Please do not forget to walk inside to view the beautiful art work by our local school children ranging in ages from pre-k to high school, all telling through their art why Castner Range should be forever.

Inside Venue (Forum Auditorium): 
9:00 to 9:50 a.m.: Castner Range Video, and Live Performances by Brass Quintet and Viva El Paso.
10:00 – 12:00: Public Meeting on Castner Range

Outside Venue: 
10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Live Entertainment, Music, Food Trucks, Free Activities (Obstacle Course, Rock Wall, Bouncy House)
11:30 a.m. Awards Ceremony Recognizing Participation of Schools

Let us hear your voice Saturday on why you want to see Castner Range as a National Monument!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Save the Date: A Special Plea from Frontera's Director

Click on image to enlarge.
The Director of Frontera Land Alliance, Janae' Reneaud Field, has sent out this plea to all of us who favor land conservation, especially the preservation of Castner Range:

Over 34,000 El Pasoans have signed the letter to make Castner Range a National Monument. Over 100 El Paso businesses also signed. The El Paso County Commissioners’ Court, the County Judge, the El Paso City Council, the Mayor, the City-affiliated Neighborhood Coalition, El Paso’s five Texas State Representatives and our State Senator have signed the Proclamation of Support, and the Times has published two dozen op-eds in support of a National Monument. And for the last 12 months, Congressman Beto O’Rourke and his staff have strongly backed our drive to conserve Castner Range, which began 50 years ago when the Range was closed down.

Yet Washington DC wants more. “Can we actually see the faces of these folks who say they support a Castner Range National Monument? Can you get these folks together so we can hear with our own ears that El Pasoans really want a Monument? Let’s see if you are up to that,” say the high-placed people in DC.

And so we’re going to do it! At 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19th a major Castner Range event will take place in the auditorium of the Transmountain Campus of the El Paso Community College, on the US 54 Freeway north of Diana Drive and just across from Castner Range itself. Viva El Paso and Ballet Folclórico will be on hand. Animals from the Zoo will howl upon command. The Brass Quartet will play to beat the band. A surprise VIP from old DC will be there to see us take a stand. And best of all (for the rest of the folks in DC) the event will be live-streamed.

But the biggest focus will be on you. The DC decision-makers need to hear why you want Castner Range to be a National Monument. They must hear why you support the drive to conserve the Range. So when you go to the open mic, you’ll have a chance to “speak Castner to power” and tell DC both loud and clear that the time for a Monument is now (and not another 50 years from now).

So let us know that you’ll be there at 10 a.m. on Sat., Nov. 19th. Please RSVP by emailing me at or by phoning me at 915.351.8352. Leave a message if you wish.

We really hope to see you on Saturday the 19th. We need to see you there.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Castner and Pipeline

Just want to catch you up on two stories: Castner Range and the pipeline to, through and under San Elizario.

Something big could be happening with Castner. Franklin Mountains Wilderness sent this plea to save Saturday, November 19th at 10 AM for a public meeting about Castner Range. When sending it, Secretary Judy Ackerman wrote: 

Dear Franklin Mountains Wilderness Coalition Organizational Members,

We need YOUR help NOW in order to make Castner Range a National Monument!

What:  !! Castner Range Public Meeting !!
Come so President Obama hears our community voice!
Date:  19 November, 2016
Time:  9:15 - noon
Location:  El Paso Community College, Transmountain Campus, 9570 Gateway N. Blvd

PLEASE share this event with your organization’s members and ask them to attend. 

We would dearly like to have an estimate of how many of your members will attend.

Individuals can RSVP via Facebook Event HERE, or directly to Janae' Reneaud Field, 915-351-8352.

Since 1978, we have been working to protect Castner Range from development. With the help of Congressman Beto O’Rourke, this is the closest we have ever been to conserving Castner. 

My inside sources tell me that an overflow crowd of 200, 300 or more people is hoped for. A grand poohpah from D.C. will be there and will be guaging support for preserving Castner Range. 

All of this year, Rep. O'Rourke's office has been driving a public relations campaign to convince one of the President's top advisers that Castner should be declared a National Monument. Convince this guy and you convince Obama.

I've also been told that it is a coin toss: a 50-50 chance that it can go either way. Expect an official White House decision before Christmas. So, elpasonaturally will continue to beat the drum between now and the 19th. Let's overflow the meeting hall.

There are two more events coming up:

A community forum in San Elizario tomorrow (Saturday, November 5th) at 2 PM will take on the issue of the pipeline going under and through San Elizario that is being built by the same company that is defiling Native American land in North Dakota. Thanks to activists such as Crystal Arrieta, Eric Stolz and others (some of whom I met at the Water Townhall Meeting on October 26th) more and more local active opposition to the San Elizario pipeline is forming.

The Academic Revival of Indigenous Studies & Education at UTEP is sponsoring another forum about the Comanche Pipeline in San Elizario on November 10th at 11:30 AM in Leech Grove on the campus.

What is encouraging is that there is now a strong grassroots movement by much younger people than you find in FMWC for example. They are far more savvy and activist than the older generations.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Very Important Water Town Hall Meeting

Click on image to enlarge

H2O4 Texas Statewide Water Tour Event - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

9:00 a.m. -- Region E Town Hall Meeting
(Open to public, everyone is welcome.  No RSVP required.)
Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, 10 Civic Center, El Paso, Texas  79901
9:00 a.m.       Welcome to El Paso and Region E – Members of the Legislature & Local Officials
9:15 a.m.       Goals of the H2O4TEXAS Statewide Tour – Heather Harward, Executive Director, H2O4TEXAS Coalition
9:30 a.m.       Why the State Water Plan matters to Texas’ economy – Justin Yancy, President, Texas Business Leadership Council
9:40 a.m.       El Paso, Energy and Water – Mary Kipp, Chief Executive Officer, El Paso Electric Co.
9:45 a.m.       Overview of water planning in Texas and the State Water Plan interactive map – Director Peter Lake, Board Member, Texas Water Development Board
10:15 a.m.     Highlights from the Region E Water Plan – Jesus “Chuy” Reyes, Chair, Region E Water Planning Group
10:30 a.m.     Water Supplies, Drought Cycles and the Rio Grande – John Balliew, President and Chief Executive Officer, El Paso Water
10:45 a.m.     Takeaways and future of the H2O4TEXAS Statewide Tour – Heather Harward, Executive Director, H2O4TEXAS Coalition

Friday, October 14, 2016

Fly in the Ointment

"Moi" next to El Paso Electric CEO, Mary Kipp

Back on September 15th I had the great honor to be invited to the celebration of El Paso Electric's new Montana Power Station. What a beauty - a work of masterful engineering and design. It made me proud to be an El Pasoan. This new and efficient power plant will emit 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide than coal burning generators. El Paso Electric had already severed its ties with coal. Bravo.

However, there may be a fly in the ointment. To be exact, there may be several.

I should preface my remarks. Technology - "clean" technology - is not without its tradeoffs. There are always consequences. There is nothing 100% clean. The production of solar panels is not without environmental consequences. Is a modern, efficient natural gas powered station good? Yes, for now. Ultimately to reduce carbon emissions, we will still need to switch to renewables.

Take a look at the infographic from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

You will have to click on the image to read it. You can also read the analysis at The Climate Risks of Natural Gas.

Switching to natural gas does reduce carbon emissions. However, if you take into account the increasing demand for electricity (and as I type this I am aware of the demand that I am making for energy), we are back to almost the same problem as we have had with coal. True, natural gas doesn't put nasty things "such as lead, mercury, nickel, tin, cadmium, antimony, and arsenic, as well as radio isotopes of thorium and strontium." Yum. (See Environmental Impacts of Coal.) It does, as far as I know, add some nitrous oxides to the atmosphere. 

Besides the bugs mentioned by the Concerned Scientists (I hope that occasionally they get out and have some fun), there is another fly: fracking. Fracking is reviving the Texas oil business. The cheap gas produced from fracking is great for the electric power industry. It makes good business sense to buy and use natural gas.

I asked EPEC's PR guy, Eddie Gutierrez, where they get their natural gas. His answer: "We purchase gas from a number of different suppliers through a competitive bid process so the actual suppliers will vary over time. We probably have at least 15 different suppliers, including Apache, Sequent, Shell, EDF, Freepoint, UET.  Gas that we purchase from these suppliers primarily originates in or around the Permian Basin and once purchased, we will ship to our plants using rights that we have on the Kinder Morgan (old El Paso natural gas pipeline) and Oneok pipelines."

So then I asked him what he thought about fracking and its environmental impact. He would get back to me, he said. He had to discuss it with the attorneys. To date, no response.

I asked the question because I doubt if much natural gas any longer comes from non-fracked wells. Besides, something tells me that you just can't call your distributor and tell her that you want all non-fracked natural gas. In buying and selling and distributing and burning, I don't think such distinctions are made; and, if they were, they would be terribly expensive - unsustainably expensive.

Still, the question remains and not just for EPEC - for the entire industry moving more and more to natural gas. Do they, will they take into consideration the environmental damage caused by fracking? EPEC says that they are a solar leader. Let's hope that they have a long range goal of 100% renewable energy.

To be sure I need to revisit the Montana Station. I didn't have the opportunity to take the tour after the ceremony. I'm sure that I can learn more.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Food Waste Prevention and Recovery

The remarkable presentation below was given by Nicole Ferrini, the Director of the Office of Resilience and Sustainability of the City of El Paso, at yesterday's City Council meeting. It is the result of a collaboration between El Paso Food and the ORS. 

El Paso Food is an initiative of a group of remarkable young people who want to solve the issue of food waste in El Paso. If you have ever wondered what grocers do with produce, for instance, that isn't bought but is still edible, your suspicions are correct: they throw the food away - food that could be used in homeless shelters and food banks. This remarkable group saw the problem and took the initiative. They see government as a tool and a resource, not as the initiator or the source of authorization. They represent grassroots democracy at its best.

The food waste or save the food movement has been growing recently in the United States. Read Craig Hanson is World Resources Institute for instance. Forbes addresses the issue from a business point of view. Of course, there are always the policy wonks with all of the stats.

See also;

Paso del Norte Institute for Healthy Living

El Paso True Food

La Semilla Food Center

Monday, October 3, 2016

EP Times Pays Attention to Elpasonaturally

Bill Addington

There have been many instances in the past when the El Paso Times finds a story from an elpasonaturally post. Yesterday's front page story Oil, Gas Plans Spark Protest by Marty Schladen is the newest example. Last week I posted Pay Attention: What's Happening in North Dakota is Happening Just South of El Paso

It's easy to see why so much attention is directed toward the protest in North Dakota. It is taking on epic proportions as a Native American act of independance with particiapation from tribes from as faraway as the Pacific Northwest. Big Bend too gets attention because it's Big Bend. El Paso activists continue to focus on N. Dakota. Only Bill Addington through his Facebook posts has shone a light on the pipeline going to San Elizario as well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Monday, September 26, 2016

An Animal Corridor? Really?

Do these pictures . . . 

look like this:

Unless there is some magic left for TxDOT to do, it isn't even remotely the same as the plans shown for an animal corridor.

Lois Balin, our Urban Wildlife Biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department had this to say after visiting the site:

"I inspected the wildlife crossing with Rick Bonart on Friday afternoon.  I am sincerely hoping that they are not finished with it yet.  Currently, there are many shortfalls.  It looks more like a new entrance to FMSP than a wildlife crossing.  There are wide graded roads along 375 on the south side as well as continuing on through the underpass into the park on the north side.  It currently does not look very wildlife friendly.  There is a very steep enormous drop off on the south side of the crossing that does not encourage the use of wildlife.  I see no significant difference in grades for the humans and wildlife.  I thought there would be a narrow surfaced section for the hikers and bikers and a wide natural and soft earthen section for the wildlife.  I had suggested using a barrier between the two sections.  I see no difference whatsoever at this point. The surface is hard and compacted.  Of course, they are not finished.  I can only hope they  will reduce the steep grade on the south and use natural surfaces and native vegetation to make it more attractive to wildlife.  Also, I didn’t see a funneling fence into the corridor as yet."

As to Ms. Balin's observation that "[i]t looks more like a new entrance to FMSP" - it does. I too have inspected it and the "road" not corridor ends where eastbound Transmountain is. Another entrance for vehicles to the park? Is it in anticipation of the new FMSP Visitor's Center? That Center was to have been built on the eastside of the mountain near the current Archaeological Museum. Concerns about water and electrical utilities have dictated a change to the opposite side near the entrance of the Tom Mays Unit.

Something is very wrong here.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Pay Attention: What's Happening in North Dakota is Happening Just South of El Paso

Presidio Chapel of San Elizario erected in 1877 on site of older Mexican mission. Photo by Jsweida

A little more than a 30 minute drive, just over 21 miles south of downtown El Paso is the City of San Elizario, Texas, a part of the historic mission trail. Its web site proudly claims that it was established in 1598 and incorporated in 2013. It was also ground zero of the Salt War of 1877-78 which didn't end up well for the people and common land but resulted in a land grab for "private property" advocates.

Comanche Pipeline Route from Waha to San Elizario

Today it is ground zero of yet another struggle - one that they have already lost. "The knife is halfway through the heart," is Mayor Maya Sanchez's metaphor. Both the pipeline through Big Bend and San Elizario to Mexico are being built by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, the exact same company that is building the Dakota Access Pipeline which is currently getting most of the press attention. The Trans-Pecos Pipeline is also getting some press due to the fact that resistance to it is well organized by the Big Bend Conservation Alliance. (See also No Trans-Pecos Pipeline on Facebook.) There have been no organized efforts to oppose the "Comanche" Pipeline through San Elizario.

Photo: El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1
San Elizario has barely received any attention especially from local El Paso activists who have concentrated on solidarity with Native Americans in North Dakota. However, the recent El Paso Times story about a canal collapse caused by pipeline construction has resulted in more calls to Mayor Sanchez. That collapse happened in Fabens, Texas just outside of San Elizario. 

Archeologist David Keller witnesses the destruction of ancient indian site Trap Springs in the Big Bend region of Texas. Photo by Jessica Lutz. From Censored News.

A canal collapse while boring a hole under the canal for the pipeline should be a wakeup call. The fact is that there are numerous gas and oil pipeline leaks, explosions and spills each year. Not only are lives and property endangered but so are water tables and aquifers. And, in the case of North Dakota and Big Bend, sacred Native American burial grounds and spiritual places are being desecrated.

So, if this battle is lost, what next. Mayor Sanchez is looking farther down the road. "My heart is broken," she says, "but we can focus on policy reform and what we can get to benefit the community." She wants Energy Transfer Partners to keep their word and provide more emergency equipment for San Elizario and build new libraries and parks. Beyond that, Sanchez argues for some key policy reforms:

  • Change the ways that energy companies are given permits.
  • Sunset or reform the Texas Railroad Commission which has never denied a permit to an energy company.
  • Do environmental studies. (None were done for the San Elizario or Big Bend projects.
  • Make new rules about negotiations with landowners. They will be paid a one-time pittance for right-of-way (ceased by eminent domain). Instead they should be compensated for the lifetime of the pipeline.
  • Stop desecrating sacred grounds.

Let's hope that there is a new Salt War - one that turns out better for the people and not the rich and privileged corporations.