The QueQue 

Water boarding the Council

Judge Hardberger’s impatience with the oft-glacial pace of City governance hasn’t scuffed his public reputation much, but the Mayor seems to sense that the issue is gaining steam as he prepares to leave office. Hardberger barely averted a PR disaster on April 16, when local environmental activists were prepared to blast him at the Council’s A Session for failing to conduct an open interview process to fill three SAWS board vacancies. `See the QueQue, April 22.` He simply presented the Council with three picks, ready for rubber-stamping.

The Mayor pre-empted the brewing controversy that day by pushing back the Council’s SAWS vote three weeks, and on April 23, he announced a “new process” for filling SAWS board positions. From now on, Hardberger’s office revealed, interested citizens can pick up applications at the City Clerk’s office (the deadline for the current openings is April 30) or apply via the City’s website (sanantonio.gov/clerk, under Boards and Commissions). Once that process is complete, Council members can each pick an applicant to interview by completing an interview request form (and getting at least one colleague to sign it). In truth, the “new process” works the way most observers assumed that the process already functioned, so this feels like a case of the mayor “fixing” something that wasn’t broken — till he broke it.

Council will interview SAWS board candidates May 6 and annoint their choices the following day.

Eco-welfare

If you thought it was hot at the King William Fair this weekend, it’s hotter yet in Washington as federal climate-change action is debated. For now, the best hope for energy consumers, and our atmosphere, is a little thing called cap-and-dividend.

The Waxman-Markey discussion draft (the earliest iteration of the evolving climate bill) calls for capping greenhouse-gas emissions at less than 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2050 — the least we can do, according to the current science. Now, our reps must address “dividends” — financial assistance all U.S. residents would receive from the pot of money raised from the auction of carbon credits to polluters. Whether we give away the credits or sell them will make a huge difference in the plan’s success.

Representative Charlie Gonzalez may have already found his way over to the most industry-friendly side of the issue. Bloomberg reporter Daniel Whitten last week suggested that Gonzalez had joined a group of Democrats who are arguing that pollution credits should be given away to industry instead of sold or auctioned.

click to enlarge news_nuclear_cmykjpg
“It’s all about the consumer,” Bloomberg quoted Gonzalez as saying. “It’s also the economic interests of a member’s district or region.”

Problem is, pollution-credit giveaways shaft consumers, because the government would use the proceeds from the sale of pollution credits to help consumers with their utility bills, which are expected to increase by an average of $120 per year from the proposed carbon caps. Funds could also be used to invest in those green energy technologies and energy-efficiency programs we’ve been talking up all these months.

The proposed pollution-credit giveaway appears to have been the focus of a letter from U.S. Representative Rick Boucher — with the support of Gonzalez, Bloomberg suggests — to U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, co-author of the climate legislation up for debate in D.C. So a small band of protestors took on Gonzalez in the midst of last Saturday’s King William Fair revelry, encouraging parade attendees to raise a stink over these early indications that he is pushing a polluter bailout.

But Ginette Magaña, spokesperson for Representative Gonzalez, said her boss had not committed to either side on the issue of carbon credits. What’s more, she said, the Bloomberg-reported letter doesn’t exist.

“There is no letter,” Magaña said. “He’s still looking at the bill and trying to find the best decision. I don’t have anything other than that right now … Charlie had never signed on to that letter … There is no letter.”

Still, they aren’t seeking a retraction from Bloomberg. Why became apparent with a follow-up call to Representative Boucher’s office.

Courtney Lamie, press secretary for Boucher, said the source of Bloomberg’s article was a “very early version that they put together, and it’s substantially changed as negotiations have progressed.”

Who is “they”?

“My boss.

Don’t worry about the details, folks.

“We’re just not releasing any details publicly,” Lamie added.

Paper chase

Several Texas groups, including the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last week to block the addition of two more reactors at the South Texas Project in Bay City. CPS Energy holds a 40-percent stake in the two reactors currently operating at the STP site and has invested more than $270 million in “exploring” the proposed expansion.

SEED was joined in the petition by Public Citizen and the South Texas Association for Responsible Energy. One of the most contentious issues surrounding the proposed expansion is the lack of a clear plan for the safe and economic disposal of radioactive waste, an issue which continues to dog the so-called national nuclear renaissance.

We don’t have Yucca Mountain and we don’t know what the costs of waste management are going to be,” said Dr. Arjun Makhijani in a conference call April 23. Makhijani, a SEED advisor from the Maryland-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, has estimated the costs of adding the two reactors at a whopping $12.5 -$17 billion.

Robert Eye, attorney for the petitioners, said that the application for the STP expansion has not addressed the enormous draw on groundwater resources that the new reactors would require. “We are asking a tremendous amount from the citizens of Texas to go along with this water requirement,” said Eye. `See the QueQue, March 22, for more detailed info on nuclear power’s unquenchable thirst, and a bill at the Texas lege that would fast-track nuke plants’ H20 applications.`

Lauren Ross, a civil engineer from Austin-based Glenrose Engineering, said that the application from CPS partner NRG Energy proposes to defer the issue of groundwater availability until the application is approved. Ross said groundwater availability is a “crucial safety factor” and that Texans should be wary of the NRC allowing new plants to operate under a discharge permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, because TCEQ’s permit does not address radionuclides or heavy metals other than iron and copper. ”So, essentially, the state of Texas is not regulating discharges from this facility,” said Ross. “It’s a huge loophole and there’s nothing in the permits that addresses this … You imagine that these power plants are going `to operate` in a regulatory environment where someone is paying attention to what’s going on, and that’s not the case.”

CPS and NRG have said that they hope to obtain a license from the NRC by 2012 and to have the new reactors running by 2016 or 2017. NRC spokesman Scott Burnell told the Express-News that it would probably take at least six weeks to determine if the petition merits a hearing. CPS officials say the utility’s legal department is studying the petition.


Candidate Issue of the Week

Read the full questionnaire answers online at sacurrent.com. District 8 Councilwoman Diane Cibrian and District 2 Councilwoman Sheila McNeil did not return questionnaires. Re: this week’s excerpts, McNeil engineered and is promoting the sale of a small Eastside park. Early voting is under way for the May 9 election. Visit bexar.org/elections/ for info.

Please briefly describe your philosophy toward the maintenance and funding of publicly owned and/or operated spaces such as golf courses, libraries, parks, and El Mercado. 

Julián Castro: We cannot measure the value of our public, cultural or historic spaces simply in dollars and cents. They have a value apart from, whether they make a profit for the City of San Antonio. The City should partner with private sector and non-profits to enhance their profitability but these community assets should not be sold. 

Trish DeBerry-Mejia: Public spaces serve a specific purpose.  They are intended to be used by the public for leisure activities.  The city has a commitment to make sure these spaces are in proper order for public use. Of the public spaces cited, I would take exception with golf courses.  These facilities, while meeting a public need, also require significant resources to maintain the grounds.  Golf courses consume many acres and require landscaping, watering, and general maintenance.  As such, I do believe they should be self-supporting. Parks are a different facility. Generally speaking, they provide open space – at times the occasional asphalt surface for a pick-up game of basketball – with minimal landscaping.  These are facilities which the city should maintain, and perhaps partner with non-profits in meeting maintenance needs. Other facilities, such as El Mercado, which have cultural significance, need to be protected.  They should not, however, generate profit for private individuals leasing land from the city, especially those who contribute to the campaigns of elected officials or people running for city council. When elected mayor, I shall ask that the city manager, if she has not done so already, take inventory of city-owned properties, assess market value/existing use, and present solutions to properly managing the asset to its full potential and best public use. 


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