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Highlighting environmental concerns Experts cite potential impact of proposed liquefied natural gas plants in Port of Brownsville

Stefanie Herweck, an executive committee member for the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, spoke last Thursday night at the UTRGV Environmental Studies Symposium about the risks of having liquefied natural gas(LNG) plants in South Texas.

“Our impression of the most pressing issue that we think we are facing here in the Valley is the liquefied natural gas export and terminal complex proposed for near the Port of Brownsville,” she said. “It’s really important that we not underestimate the magnitude of these projects, and the way that they could profoundly affect our coastline and our communities.”

Rio Grande LNG, Texas LNG and Annova LNG are three of five proposed plants that are expected to begin construction if they pass the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review process. The FERC reviews a company’s impact on the environment and safety, which takes approximately two years to review.

“LNG is just natural gas at tremendous concentration, so it is flammable,” Herweck said. “When it spills, it can create a vapor cloud that at the right concentrations can be flammable. Scientific models have shown that that vapor cloud can travel as much as a mile away and still be at ignitable concentrations. And, keep in mind that this is colorless and odorless gas, so there is no way to know whether there is a flammable vapor cloud around you.”

Herweck said the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club is the largest and oldest environmental organization in the U.S., and the local group encompasses about 300. members across the Valley.

In an interview with The Rider after the symposium, Herweck said most people who travel to South Padre Island do it because of its pristine waters and natural habitats. She worries that if the LNG plants establish themselves near Port Isabel, it will diminish tourism on the island.

Environmental Studies Program Coordinator and UTRGV Associate Professor Amy Hay said one of the purposes of the symposium was to promote the program on both campuses.

“It really is to highlight the kind of issues that environmental studies is concerned about and what we bring to the table,” Hay said about the event. “I think that humanities really problematize things in the right way. We push to make sure that people’s voices get heard. … We’re committed to issues of social justice,environmental justice and trying to make sure that it’s a fair playing field, and that if this is gonna happen we’re gonna push them to make it as safe as possible.”

Rob Nixon, chairman of the Surfrider Foundation, South Texas Chapter, told the audience about his organization’s projects, which include dune restoration.

“South Padre Island, back in the ’80s, after Hurricane Allen, was pretty much wiped clean of all dunes,” Nixon said.

“The developers loved that because their first-story visitors could see the beach no matter what. Basically, back in 2008, after Hurricane Dolly and Hurricane Ike, everyone kind of decided, ‘OK, this is a bad idea, we have to get these dunes back.’”

Since then, the foundation has received funding from the City of South Padre Island and the state to restore the sand dunes.

Asked by fellow presenter James Frost, an associate professor in the Writing and Language Studies Department, what is the best thing one can do while visiting
the beach, Nixon replied: “The best thing you can do is pick up trash, take pictures. We’ve encountered, especially with the Texas General Land Office, the best evidence we’ve ever had is just users taking pictures. ”

Those interested in joining the Surfrider Foundation may visit www.southtexas.surfrider.org/get-involved. Kaitlynn Lavallee, president of the Environmental Awareness Club at UTRGV, talked about the multiple restoration and activism projects her organization has been a part of, including the Save RGV from LNG event last summer.

The Edinburg-based club is looking to expand to the Brownsville campus. For more information, email eac.org@gmail.com. For more information on the Lower Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, email lrgvsierraclub@gmail.com.

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