What Wednesday’s Vote Means for Dallas, the Shale, and the Rest of the Universe

Dallas and the UniverseWednesday's vote on the Trinity East permits was not only an historic one. It's a long overdue turning point.

The bloody knuckle political fight over urban gas drilling in Dallas in 2013 is the fight local environmentalists owed Fort Worth in 2006.  Our collective failure in Cowtown gave the gas industry a too-friendly template for every other DFW city that's come after Fort Worth's gas rush.

Wednesday that template got tossed. A clearly frustrated Trinity East lobbyist complained that the company wouldn't even have had to participate in a Council hearing like this one if the same permits were being sought in Fort Worth. Welcome to Big D.

We can't undo old wrongs, but we can start changing the pattern of behavior that keeps churning out new ones. Wednesday's vote by the Dallas City Council was, by far, the highest-profile rebuke of the gas industry in a region it thinks its owns lock, stock and barrel. As he Dallas Morning News put it, "the defeat could be the death knell for natural gas drilling in a city known around the world for its ties to the petroleum industry." Politically, we aren't in Fort Worth anymore.

So what else is new after yesterday? From micro to macro:

From just a basic civics perspective, it's hard not to be impressed with the job that residents did in mobilizing themselves into a persistent and contentious force for change. This wasn't just an environmental victory. It was a victory for grassroots organizing. Residents had to fight not only the gas industry, but Dallas City Hall staff and the Mayor, who were all doing their best to rig the process in Trinity East's favor. Moreover, they had to fight on multiple fronts at the same time, both within the regulatory process to deny the permits outright, and in the Spring's city council elections to make sure they had the votes once the permits got to the horseshoe on Marilla. And oh yeah, they've had to put together and lobby for the toughest regulations to be included in a new ordinance being written, also at the same time.

That said, the last nine months have seen the biggest show of green political muscle in the city's history. If you total up the numbers of people involved, throw in a scandalous secret memo that brings down a City Manager, add triumphs in half the council elections you enter, and pile on winning-over the local conservative daily newspaper, then there's just no comparison. The momentum carried into Wednesday's meeting when opponents got two more votes than the four that were needed to block the permits, for a total of six. That's a far cry from the two or three everyone was sure about when this started last winter. We've seen the Dallas environmental movement grow up right before our eyes into something nobody, including environmentalists, thought it was capable of being when this started.

The fruit of this new growth was on display at City Hall (Coverge from the DMN, KERA, CultureMap and the Observer). There's no precedent for the kind of coalition that turned-out, except maybe the anti-Trinity Tollroad coalition that almost upended the Citizens Council's plans for solar-powered water taxis and riverside freeways in the 1990's. There were West Dallas residents from La Bajada, Oak Cliff dwellers, North and East Dallas homeowners association presidents, Students, teachers, professionals, gas lease owners, environmentalists, neighborhood activists, an Irving city council member, young mothers, young grandmothers and everything in between. Reflecting this diversity was a Council coalition that included both Hispanic Council members, Adam Medrano and Monica Alonzo, African-American Carolyn Davis, newcomer Philip Kingston, and stalwarts Sandy Greyson and Scott Griggs. If this alliance of interests holds together, it stands a very good chance of getting a strong new ordinance in the coming months.

And what about that new ordinance? With the old business of Trinity East now concluded, all attention is directed at Dallas writing and passing the most protective gas drilling ordinance in the Barnett Shale by the end of the year. The chances of that happening went up dramatically with Wednesday's vote.

One of the most unexpected results coming out of the confrontation was Mayor Rawlings' seemingly blunt declaration that he was four-square against urban drilling in Dallas. Saying the city could afford to be picky about the kind of development it seeks, he stated he didn't think gas drilling was a good match for Dallas and looked forward to passing a strong new ordinance. We'll see. Actions speak louder than words, and so far the Mayor's actions on this issue have all been in service to approving the Trinity East permits. With that fight resolved, can he be trusted to embrace a new philosophy? We'll be able to tell soon enough with a draft ordinance due to be delivered by the Plan Commission to the Council in late September. At any rate, his public confession on Wednesday is another sign of how far the Dallas movement has come. It's impossible to imagine Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price uttering the same words.

It also gives the new members of the City Council some cover to vote for tougher regulations as well. Rumor has it that Jennifer Staubach-Gates was agonizing over the Trinity East vote even as she entered the Council Chambers. She eventually voted with the Mayor but as an ex- school nurse who's dealt with asthmatic kids firsthand, she's concerned about air pollution and other public health consequences of fracking. The Mayor's coming out against drilling in Dallas may embolden her and others to get on the band wagon. Rawlings' statement also sets a high bar for the slew of Mayoral candidates coming up in the next election cycle.

Residents now must focus on the last two Plan Commission meetings and hearings that are deciding what kind of new gas drilling ordinance Dallas will write. And they represent very full plates of issues indeed:

On Thursday, September 12th, at 8:30 am the Commission will begin work on the topics of "Air Quality," "Water," "Pipelines" and "Compressor Stations" in their morning workshop. At 1:30 pm that same day they'll get around to holding another one of their unique (anti-public) public hearings at City Hall on those same subjects. It's vital that residents remain plugged into this process and show up to speak on these incredibly important issues.

Just as opponents all got behind the idea of 1,500 foot setbacks and made it a mantra, we no need to coalesce around three or four central and simple concepts for the 12th including: 1) Air Pollution Off-sets, 2) Special Zoning Districts for Compressors,  and 3) much higher water rates for taking water permanently out of the hydrological cycle.

 – Off-sets would require that gas operators estimate how much new greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution they'll emit into the air every year based on EPA numbers and their own self-reporting, and then off-set those increases in air pollution by paying for pre-approved air pollution control projects in Dallas that would reduce pollution. If you expect to release 5 tons of emissions from your gas operations, you will have to pay for reducing five tons of air pollution in the city by electrifying a car fleet, improving energy efficiency measures in homes and buildings, putting more bikes on the street and so forth. In this way, off-sets also act as a strong incentive to decrease emissions as much as possible at the sources themselves. The less you pollute i nthe first place, the less you have to pay to off-set that pollution.

Unlike every other heavy industry that does business in a smog "non-attainment" area such as DFW, the gas industry is exempt from having to do this at the federal level. So we want Dallas to be the first city in the nation to fix that loophole by requiring local off-sets. This would be a precedent-setting piece of policy-making that citizens could then take to other Barnett Shale cities and counties. A grassroots regional policy could grow out of the Dallas template – much like it did when Dallas passed the first "green cement" procurement policy in 2007. That campaign lead to the eventual closing of all seven old wet kilns in Midlothian and millions of pounds of air pollution permanently eliminated. It forced the cement industry to clean up. We want to do the same thing with the gas industry and offsets.

This new policy could be the beginning of a tool that we can use to significantly reduce gas industry air pollution, not only in DFW, but in smoggy metro areas throughout the U.S. that now also host gas drilling, like Denver, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.

 – Compressor Stations are the big league polluters of the natural gas fuel cycle, running 24/7 365 days a year and emitting voluminous amounts of air pollution. Some compressor stations release more Volatile Organic Compounds than the Midlothian cement plants and they're huge greenhouse gas polluters. A recent study from the Houston Advanced Research Center found that a single flare or compressor could raise downwind smog levels by 3-5 parts per billion or more within five miles. Compressors should be required to get their own Special Zoning District with strict rules on sound, pollution and setbacks.

– Water is precious in NorthTexas and industries that take it permanently out of the hydrological cycle should pay more than those that don't. A lot more, because it means we have to go out and find that water anew. Likewise, during drought conditions, water should be for drinking, not fracking. It's critical we make the industry pay for the real costs of using so much of this absolutely necessary resource and then throwing it away for good down a hole.

On Thursday September 26th the Plan Commission will hold its final public hearing on the new gas ordinance. Then it will vote on a draft to send the City Council. Again, citizens need a good turnout for sending this document off, whether it has everything in it we want, or it's lacking in some important way. We need to be there.

We are only these two September hearings away from showing up at the Dallas City Council with the most protective gas drilling ordinance in the Barnett Shale and providing the region and the country a new alternative for the obsolete Fort Worth model.

If you came down to City Hall, if you e-mailed, or phoned or wrote – Thank you for your contribution to the fight. It took exactly the amount of effort you and everyone else gave to make Wednesday's victory happen. It will take it again to pass a great ordinance.

But stick with us. We're making history.

The Trinity East Deal IS Done…Now.

tombstone 2 Trinity EastA secret back room deal between City Hall and gas driller Trintiy East that was once described as "a done deal" by City Council members is indeed finally done. As in done-in. As in dead as a door nail. As in exploding zombie-permit head dead.

Thanks to an organizing campaign by the most successful citizens coalition in recent Dallas civic memory, the deal that Dallas City Hall could not possibly be stopped, was. Cold.

Wednesday afternoon the Dallas City Council could not find the votes to override the City Plan Commission and so gas drilling leases thst were signed in 2008 will now go unexploited in Northwest Dallas along the banks of the Trintity River.

It only took nine months of breathtakingly hard work, two Plan Commisison votes on either side of a "reconsideration" vote, a city election, disclosure of a secret memo, a city Manager resigning, a short film, fighting off a staff that wanted to steamroll us, hundreds of residents showing up month after month in person at multiple hearings, even more residents sending in letters, e-mails and phone calls to the members of the Plan Commission and Council, and a funky piece of butcher paper that turned into one of the most iconic images of the fight.


Come to Dallas City Hall Today and Kill Zombies

Zombie permit killersWith any luck, this will be the last reminder from us about how you can make sure the Trinity East just-won't-stay-dead "zombie" gas permits in parklands and floodplains are never approved by the City of Dallas. Because today, Wednesday, August 28th, we're going down to City Hall. line up to take our turn at the podium, and watch them get buried for good. 

We're gathering at 12:30 pm on the 6th floor of City Hall just outside the Council Chambers to pick up last minute materials. Join us then or as soon as you can make it down. Mayor Rawlings could decide to take up the three Trinity East permits right after lunch or put it off until after other business. Likewise he could allow everyone that wants to speak on the issue 2 minutes a piece to do so, or he could limit both sides to 15 minutes a piece, os something in between. So be prepared to improvise.

This is an historic vote. It's the first time the Dallas City Council has actually been asked to give a thumbs up or down on a gas well permit.  It comes after nine months of contentious debate that made gas drilling in Dallas the most important civic battle in recent memory and hastened the departure of former City Manager Mary Suhm after discovery of her infamous secret agreement to work with Trinity East to subvert current city policy in order to win approval of the permits.

Time and again, Suhm and Mayor Rawlings contorted the system to try and get the permits through. First, they scheduled the Plan Commission hearing and vote on the permits on December 22nd of last year hoping no citizens would show-up. That didn't work and the permits were denied by a narrow margin. So then the vote to deny was subject to an unusual "reconsideration" vote by the Plan Commission with no public hearing. That attempt to roll the denial back also failed when the Plan Commission voted for a second time to deny the permits.

That denial is why we don't even need a majority of the 15 council members to agree with us . We only need four opponents to the permits to block the super-majority needed to override the Plan Commission. It looks like we have them, but we still need you front and center speaking out and filling up the council chambers.

In just a month, this same city council will be getting the final draft of a new gas drilling ordinance from the Plan Commission and considering what to do with it. Give them a show of force today that will stick with them as they consider their course of action.

And after today's vote, come on over to Lee Harvey's and celebrate with us. And we promise you'll never have to read another alert about these thing again.

Morning News Takes Strong Stand Against Trinity East Permits; Only 24 Hours to Send Your E-Mails of Opposition

bad-idea-signIt's become so common place these days that you're likely to take it for granted, but if you'd ask activists three years ago whether we'd end up carrying the Dallas Morning News on the issue of urban gas drilling, you would have been considered a dreamy-eyed do-gooder.

But in fact, across the board, from Trinity East to the new ordinance, from compressors to setbacks, the News editorial page has been leading public opinion in favor of common sense, transparency and caution ever since the City's Task Force began meeting in 2011.

That leadership continues with today's blunt recommendation to deny the Trinity East permits. Below is the entire editorial in its entirety, which contains as good a synopsis and talking points about the situation as you'll find.

Meanwhile we only have 24 more hours to fill-up the City Council's mail boxes with your messages of opposition to these awful permits. Please click here to take you to our automatic e-mail system or see this alert for the Council's e-mail addresses.  Then join us downtown at City Hall tomorrow afternoon at 12:30 pm for the historic vote and come celebrate with us at Lee Harvey's afterwards.

Editorial: Dallas City Council, vote no on gas drilling plan

After months of sidestepping the issue, the Dallas City Council now must do the right thing Wednesday — deny Trinity East’s application for permits to drill on parkland and flood plains around the Elm Fork of the Trinity River.

This shouldn’t be a difficult vote. The Dallas Plan Commission twice considered and rejected the permit application — the correct vote because existing city policy bars drilling on the surface of parkland. Now the City Council should step up and also reject Trinity East’s proposal.

In 2008, the city sold lease rights to drill on city-owned land to Trinity East for $19 million and used the money to help balance the budget. It was an ill-conceived decision, prematurely pushed through for budgetary reasons before city officials had decided how they would regulate drilling within city limits.

Due to low prices for natural gas, the project remained dormant until Trinity East revealed plans late last year to build a compressor station and drill on the surface of parkland. The controversy heightened this spring when news broke that former City Manager Mary Suhm had privately told Trinity East she would help it win the right to drill on parkland at the same time she was publicly assuring the council that she would not support drilling on city parkland. The proposal became such a tangled mess that this editorial board sharply criticized City Hall for lack of transparency and due diligence and urged denial of Trinity East’s application.

Trinity East needs 12 of the 15 council votes to override the Plan Commission decision and grant the drilling permits. Council members Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston, Sandy Greyson and Adam Medrano are solidly on record against the proposal, and at least two others, Carolyn Davis and Monica Alonzo, indicated in The Dallas Morning News Voter Guide last spring that they opposed gas drilling.

We hope the council has learned from this debacle and will deliver a “no” vote Wednesday.

The Trinity East proposal is the wrong plan at the wrong time. Before City Hall considers another drilling proposal from any company, officials must transparently develop a tough new drilling ordinance that protects Dallas neighborhoods. The Plan Commission is in the process of writing an ordinance that, among other things, we hope provides safe setback distances from homes and schools, addresses water use in droughts and continues the ban on gas drilling on the surface of parkland.

Gas drilling can be done safely in an urban area if the proper safeguards and setbacks are adopted. Dallas needs to deny the Trinity East plan and then take the time to write rules that are in the best interest of all residents.

Final Trinity East Gas Permit Showdown: Send an e-mail Now, Testify on Wednesday, and Then Celebrate After the Historic Vote

showdownThis Wednesday, August 28th, sometime after lunch, the Dallas City Council will finally decide the fate of the three Trinity East gas permits that have refused to die since they were foisted on residents by Mayor Rawlings just after Thanksgiving. This looks to the definitive last nail in the coffin of the "Zombie Permits" that are so bad, even the considerable contorting of the permitting process by the Powers-That-Be could not save them from not one, but two denials by the City Plan Commission.

Council members Adam Medrano, Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston, and Sandy Greyson have all committed to voting against the permits. Normally that would mean defeat in a 15-member Council, but since the Plan Commission voted to deny, the rules say it takes a super-majority of 3/4 of the Council to overturn such a denial. With these four council members on our side, we have exactly the number to prevent a super majority of approval, with no room to spare.

So we need your help again to make sure this happens and that this is the last time we call folks out to fight these very bad permits. We're asking you to do three things:

1) Spend 30 seconds sending an e-mail to all 15 Dallas City Council members that urges them to vote against the permits on Wednesday. Since we only have about 24 hours left before the vote, please do this now by stopping by our "Featured Citizen Action" page here.

This form e-mail has some good talking points for Wednesday but you can also add your own comments at the end if you like.

If you don't want to use that system, please feel free to compose your own e-mails and send them to the council at these addresses:

jerry.allen@dallascityhall.com, District11@dallascityhall.com, jennifer.gates@dallascityhall.com, monica.alonzo@dallascityhall.com, tennell.atkins@dallascityhall.com, dwaine.caraway@dallascityhall.com, carolyn.davis@dallascityhall.com, sandy.greyson@dallascityhall.com, scott.griggs@dallascityhall.com, vonciel.hill@dallascityhall.com, sheffield.kadane@dallascityhall.com, adam.medrano@dallascityhall.com, rick.callahan@dallascityhall.com mike.rawlings@dallascityhall.com, philip.kingston@dallascityhall.com,

But time is of the essence. Please do this right now. Let's make sure they know we're still watching them.

2) Come down to City Hall at 12:30 pm and be prepared to tell the City Council why these permits should be denied. Since the permits are regular agenda items, anyone can can sign-up and speak about them for 2 minutes each. We need a lot of speakers to balance out what we expect to be another attempt to turn out folks from the industry. It's late-breaking concern over what Dallas is doing is the highest compliment to the effectiveness of your work so far. Don't let it go for naught by taking this last piece of action for granted. This is the first vote by a Dallas City Council on gas permits. It's the first time any of these Council members will have voted on anything to do with gas drilling. It's a landmark vote. We need you to be there to demonstrate not only your widespread opposition to the Trinity East permits, but your support for a much stronger gas ordinance. This is the same council that will be receiving the final draft of the new gas drilling ordinance in just a month.

With these Trinity East permits, there is always the chance of last-minute skullduggery by the Mayor and staff to try and win approval by applying heavy pressure about lawsuit threats etc. We need you there in numbers to prevent such a last-minute move from being successful, or as a last-resort, to raise Holy Hell if it does.

3) Come Celebrate a Citizens Victory. After what we hope will be a victorious vote Wednesday afternoon, you're invited to drive a few blocks down from City Hall to a nice little bar and restaurant called Lee Harvey's (1807 Gould St  Dallas, TX 75215 214-428-1555) to celebrate. Our fight against these permits has seen the modern maturation of the Dallas environmental movement as a force to be reckoned with. We've created the most successful citizens coalition in recent memory. This has been, as the Morning News stated, one of the most important zoning fights in Dallas history, not to mention public health and safety. These kinds of victories are too few and far between not to be officially recognized. We know you've spent a lot of time fighting these permits, now please come spend an hour or so reveling in your success. You deserve it.

However, If something unexpected does occur and somehow the permits are still alive on Wednesday afternoon, we'll need a watering hole close by to debrief and plan, so come on over and plot with us win, lose or draw.

To recap, three easy steps to killing the TrinityEast zombie gas permits:

1) Send an e-mail to the Council right now.

2) Bring your butt down to the 6th floor Council chambers at City Hall again at 12:30 pm Wednesday and show this City Council these permits and their scandal still matters to you. Don't let industry out-organize you now.

3) Bring you butt over to Lee Harvey's after the Council's vote to celebrate or commiserate.

See you on Wednesday. Thanks for all your effort on this issue.

Dallas Gas Wars: Residents 1, Joe Barton 0

Suffergette VictoryCan we just admit up front that we're disappointed The Man himself didn't show up to personally lead the Charge of the Light Crude Brigade at yesterday's Dallas Plan Commission public hearing on a new gas drilling ordinance? We thought after Wednesday's passionate personal pleas for turnout at the Society of Petroleum Engineers' monthly meeting, Ol' Smokey Joe would surely have the courage of his convictions. Sadly, no.

Instead, he left the righteous fight against radical environmentalists to seven or eight heavily-outnumbered industry engineers and attorneys who showed-up and told the Commission that a 1,500 foot setback was tantamount to a ban on drilling in Dallas. Almost to a man, (for they were all men) they accused the extremists of persecuting a trouble-free, non-polluting industry that was guilty of none of the awful things being said about it by their opponents. In particular, they sought to tag the environmentalists as uninformed, as out of touch with research and the facts, as hypnotized disciples of Josh Fox. In doing all this however, they could muster no science of their own.

Given over 20 minutes of time to make their industry's case, not one engineer or attorney working within the industry cited even one peer-reviewed, journal-published health study to support their claim of benign impact on public health or the environment. Not a one.

For some time, and through many a fight, we've seen a common thread of industry criticism of the uninformed civilian. It has its roots deep in the pat-them-on-their-well-meaning-head sexism that greeted women like Rachel Carson and Lois Gibbs. It's grown to include anyone that challenges the industry's own cost-benefit analysis. It accuses residents of being "emotional" instead of rational when they disagree with that analysis by asking too many good questions.

And yet…when it comes down to the crunch, it's the industry representatives who appeal to the emotions the most when they raise the flags of jobs and growth and try to get everyone else to salute. It's the industry reps who do the most name-calling and make the most personal charges characterizing their opponents. Call it the Foxifying of industry rhetoric. And it was on full display at the Plan Commission on Thursday. Dallas was denying itself untold riches by effectively sealing off thousands of acres to fracking. It would be a devastating to job growth. No actual studies to prove that mind you, but industry assertions should be treated as facts, especially when they're assertion about economic growth – no matter how self-serving.

There was testimony that parks "are some of the best places to drill." That "there was no way" the industry would ever pollute the air or water. The language was absolutist and, dare we say, non-rational and not supported by the facts. At least, they didn't cite any facts to support those assertions yesterday.

And those radical environmentalists Smokey Joe warned about?

As usual, they included Dallas homeowners association members and presidents, people who owned wells themselves or or leased land for drilling, cancer patients, asthma sufferers, 25 year-olds, 81-year olds, Sierra Club members, Downwinders' board members, long-time Dallas residents and people who just moved here, plus a sprinkling of folks from Farmers Branch, Ft. Worth, Garland and Irving (30 of 35 speakers in favor of a 1,500 foot or more setback gave Dallas addresses) and a lot of women. One of the starkest contrasts between the two sides during the hearing was gender.

And, again, as usual, their representatives did cite studies. Lots of them. Because we've been through this before, because we know we'll be accused of being uninformed civilians, we know what's coming and we load for bear. The most comprehensive epidemiological study in a gas field to date showing increased cancer risks. Check. The most recent CDC study on silica pollution at well pad sites showing ever site tested exceeding federal limits by magnitudes. Check. USGS studies of the small earthquakes caused by fracking and the large ones caused by injection wells. Check and check. Proximity to benzene sources raises Leukemia risks. Check. NOAA study on actual methane releases from gas field being twice industry estimates. Check.

Were there appeals to preserve a good quality of life, clean water and cleaner air? Of course. But in most instances these were backed up by specific facts about fracking that challenged those goals. So that at the end of the day, not only was the Light Crude Brigade outnumbered, they were out-researched by the very bunch of know-nothings they were charging with the crime of misinformation. Most of them women.

That sweetly ironic resonance was the anti-climatic capping of a full day's worth of work for the Commission that included an affirmation of the 1500 foot setback originally agreed to back in June by lunchtime. All of the rhetoric back and forth in the public hearing was over an issue that had been argued and decided behind closed doors in Executive Session some five or so hours before. (You can follow the blow-by-blow live blogging of the Commission's morning meeting at our group Facebook site here, and read accounts of the decision in the DMN, Business Journal, & Observer,)

Winning the second affirmation of the 1500-foot setback at the Commission level now is no small accomplishment, especially since we had staff working against us. Dallas would be the largest city, by far, in the Barnett Shale to adopt such a lengthy setback (Fort Worth has only a 600-foot requirement, with variances even lower than that). As our Vice President might say, it's a BFD.

So if you sent an e-mail to the Commissioners this last week, we thank you very much, because that was the only direct advocacy they saw on this issue from our side before yesterday's decision to stick with 1500 feet was made.

But we've only won this provision as long as we can protect it. That's why it was good to come down to City Hall yesterday and support it anyway. Many of the speakers brought up the example of the last-minute Task Force rollbacks that occurred almost two years ago. With the same staff people who tried to scuttle the 1500 foot agreement still in charge of the ordinance-drafting process and rumors of some vague land swap with Trinity East still floating around, we all need to stay vigilant. And of course, if it reaches the City Council as an official recommendation there's no doubt it will come under fresh attack. But if we can hold it at the CPC, it will make it hard for the Council to change it. That's why it was important to show up yesterday afternoon. Thanks very much to everyone who did.

Another Commission public hearing on the new gas ordinance is scheduled for September 12th in the afternoon – but once again, it's scheduled after the regular zoning cases are heard so no certain start time will be available other than 1:30 pm.  It will concentrate on Air and Water Quality issues, as well as compressors – a subject never broached by the Task Force. We'll be working with our allies in the Dallas Residents at Risk alliance to get information on these issue areas to you, so that you'll once again be able to talk circles around the industry. Stay tuned.

And of course next Wednesday, August 28th will see a final vote on the Trinity East permits we've been battling since right after Thanksgiving. Thanks to the work of council members Scott Griggs, and Philip Kingston, who stopped by and gave a good pep talk to the troops before the hearing began, we believe we have the four council votes it will take to uphold the Commission's denial, but we need your help in bringing other, more reluctant members on board the band wagon. Beginning Monday, Downwinders' featured Citizen Action will be e-mails to the Council, urging them to vote to deny the permits.

After Wednesday's expected final Trinity East permit denial at Dallas City Hall, we're going to have a party to celebrate what is among the most important victories for public health and the environment in Dallas history. We don't know where and we don't know when, but such victories are too few and far between not to officially recognize. Please keep your calendar that night open.

Yesterday's Commission vote was a skirmish, inside a battle, inside a larger war with many fronts. But it was a critical skirmish. And residents won. Next week, we'll bury very bad and unethical gas permits that were "a done deal" as recently as March. Then we'll only have the new ordinance on which to focus.

Slowly but surely, we're doing what we said we would – drawing a line in the Shale in Dallas and stopping the steamroller of industry favoritism that's resulted in so much bad policy and public health harm elsewhere in the region. Dallas is becoming the place where the bad stuff stops rolling east and the good-thinking begins rolling back west.  See you on Wednesday.

Joe Barton Rallies Gas Industry for Today’s Dallas Public Hearing on New Ordinance; Councilman Kingston to Address Citizens at 1pm

photo-30Well lookey here, Ol' Smokey Joe himself was out trying to fire-up the troops in the oil and gas industry yesterday at the monthly meeting of the Dallas chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

The theme of the talk was "Hydraulic Fracturing: Shattering the Radical Environmental Lobby, Unlocking America's Energy Future" and a lot of the time was spent trying to convince the audience they needed to show-up at today's Dallas Plan Commission public hearing on a new gas ordinance  to counter those wacky citizens who think living immediately next door to a billowing plume of diesel smoke and dust is a bad idea. Of course, having not attended any of the commission meetings for the past year or so when the topic has come up more than once or twice, their slide show didn't have any real pics of Dallas residents, so they had to use pics from demonstrations elsewhere, like the one above. Tsk, tsk,

It's also a big stretch to tie the "Radical Environmental Lobby" to what's been going on in Dallas, where there's been no serious mention of a moratorium or ban on drilling, and leading opponents have been members of the Dallas Homeowners Association. But for Joe Barton, the World Wildlife Fund is a Radical Environmental Group.

Audience members were told to come to the hearing at 1:30 pm, but to make sure they spoke last, and "were not polite."

Apparently, citizens have been doing such a good job in Dallas that the industry is now concerned about setting "bad precedents" that won't allow for any drilling in Dallas at all, like the 1500-foot setback that is one of the major issues in contention today.

bartonvadarsmYou should always use your opponents reactions to events to judge how well you're doing. From the pleas coming from Barton and others yesterday, it's clear Trinity East is out trying to portray itself as some kind of corporate martyr for the cause. They're trying to elevate the Dallas debate over new gas regulations into a proxy for the national fight over fracking. It's a good sign when your opponent begins to panic like this, but it's also a warning that your effectiveness is now under attack.

And if Smokey Joe's entreaties aren't enough to get you down to City Hall this afternoon, what about the official debut of new Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston at the 1:00 pm citizens press conference planned right before the hearing's start? Kingston was elected with the help of many of the same citizens that will be showing up today to testify and has pledged to help write a much stronger gas drilling ordinance.  He joins Scott Griggs as leading critics of the Trinity East deal and attempts by the Mayor and Industry to soften the new ordinance.

Industry is getting organized, shouldn't you too? Meet us downtown at City Hall today at 1pm for the press conference and then stick around to say a few words to the Plan Commission on what you want to see in a new gas drilling ordinance.  If you can't join us in person, follow the Plan Commission meeting and hearing on the Downwinders' FaceBook site, where we'll be live-blogging the day's events.

Yawn. Another of Exide’s Fake Public Meetings Tonight in Frisco

haz mat suitsWe haven't said anything about it until now because the expectations have become so very low for these things, but the bankrupt Exide Technologies Corporation is holding another public information meeting on its clean-up of its former smelter site in Frisco at The Depot behind Babe's in downtown, starting at 6:30 pm tonight.

That will be about 1500 miles from where all the action is really taking place concerning the clean-up – in Connecticut state bankruptcy court. Filings have been flying back and forth between the company, the City of Frisco, and the EPA about how much money should be set aside for cleaning-up acres of lead, arsenic and cadmium waste sitting in the middle of town along Stewart Creek.

There's a September 6th deadline for comments on the company's plan to rehabilitate its still-active hazardous waste dump into a non-hazardous waste dump and leaving it in Frisco for the next umpteen years. This will be the first time Frisco has had an opportunity to respond to the company's plans to leave landfills behind since Exide went belly up. It's also the first time for the City to comment since its own consultant laid out the "Kia vs Caddy" approach to the site's clean-up – one low-ball estimate for leaving everything in the ground and building a 40 acre waste site with a mile-long surry wall, and a much higher bill for complete removal of all wastes so the land can be developed.

Despite the recruitment of the Cowboys training facility to town, Frisco has not yet declared itself in favor of he Caddy approach, although its hard to imagine how the Chamber of Commerce folks are going to sell the advantages of moving to a town with the most recent Superfund site in Texas.

Tonights "meeting" is actually just another open house where Exide employees and consultants will be forced to staff a ring of tables, and be prepared to answer evasively answer questions about any topic concerning the clean-up. Since no new information is offered, citizens have to guess at the right questions to ask, assuming any show up. Tonight is also the Frisco School District's open house, so most parents will be checking out their kids' teachers rather than showing up to another useless Exide meeting. All in all another massive PR fail by a company that's rapidly specializing in such things

Canadian Government to Disclose Risk Assessments of New Chemicals BEFORE They Sit on Your Shelf

lab_microscopeIt's a baby step, but a imminently logical one that could pave the way for more precautionary principle-type regulatory measures in the future.

Beginning this fall, the Canadian environmental agency will start releasing risk assessment summaries of new chemicals when they're first proposed for use by industry, as opposed to after they hit the marketplace and potentially already causing problems. It's not a huge difference but it's one that realizes it's better to be transparent with chemical exposure risks before the chemicals are in wide use.

The government has previously not made public any details of its risk assessments of new substances. It has issued notices requiring notification of significant new activity or imposing conditions on the use of new substances, but without identifying them as new substances or indicating on what basis the requirements were being applied.

For existing chemicals, the government publishes draft versions of their screening assessment reviews for public comment, including details of how the substances are used, what risks they pose to the environment or human health, and how environmental and human exposure might occur. If a substance is deemed to pose a potential risk, the draft assessment is often accompanied by a proposed risk management approach. After the comment period ends, a final assessment is published, along with a finalized risk management approach and any regulatory or other control instruments deemed necessary.

Environment Canada said it will publish summaries of completed risk assessments for new chemicals and polymers for which the government has received notification from industry as of Jan. 1, 2013, and for which a Canada Gazette notice has been issued to impose restrictions–whether ministerial conditions on their use or requirements for notification of significant new manufacture, import, or use of the substance.

Of course, the risk assessments being released are those based on an increasingly obsolete model of human physiology that don't take into account the numerous subtle harms inflicted by even small levels of exposure that were previously believed to be "safe." Substances like endocrine disrupters are not tested for their possible epigenetic harm. Even less exotic chemicals are not rigorously tested for their potential to cause birth defects, immune system damage, or other health problems on their way to the grocery store shelves.

There's also the familiar problem of disclosure of "trade secrets" to the public. Even with this new provision, there will be exemptions granted.

Still it's a good idea to look closely at the harm a substance might do to public health before its unleashed on the public. Too bad it's also still too novel.