by John Byrne Barry
When Fran Sage retired and moved with her husband from Austin to rural Brewster County
in West Texas, she never expected to become a leader in a fight against air pollution.
After all, people moved to West Texas because it was clean.
Much to her surprise, some days she can't see the mountains 10 miles away. In Big Bend
National Park, 70 miles south of her home, visibility, which is 150 miles on clear days,
has plummeted to as low as 20.
Two years ago, Sage and eight others formed a new Sierra Club group, which today has 80
The new Big Bend Group assumed the sulfur dioxide and particulates were coming from the
coal-fired Carbon I and II power plants south of Piedras Negras, Mexico, which supply the
burgeoning maquiladoras export zone. The second of those plants had just begun operating
at full capacity.
The plants, which have no smokestack scrubbers, do not meet U.S. air-quality standards,
but comply with Mexican law. Under NAFTA's weak environmental provisions, that's good
The visibility problems were becoming markedly more severe, says Sage. Are Carbon I and
II the culprits? Not entirely, according to preliminary results of an April 1997 study by
the National Park Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its Mexican
counterpart. Some pollution may be coming from power plants in northeast Texas, which have
been "grandfathered" - that is, exempted from current clean-air laws because
they were built before the laws were passed.
"The next step," says Sage, "is a tracer study to discover how many
pollutants are coming from which sources. We can't very well point the finger at these
Mexican plants if we don't clean up our own act."
The group, which has been receiving technical and legal support from Mary Kelly and the
Texas Center for Policy Studies, is also asking for studies of the health impact of this
For more information: Contact Fran Sage at (915) 364-2362; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Go on to the next article, "Tijuana
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