Saturday, February 6, 2010

Texas' Largest Private Clean Air Fund Suspends Funding Natural Gas Projects, Supports Moratorium on New Drilling

Says "facts on the ground" in Barnett Shale
belie greener image of natural gas

For Immediate Release:

February 4th, 2010
For More information:
Jim Schermbeck 806-787-6567

(Dallas--) Stating that "it's become impossible to ignore the incongruity of the claims of a 'cleaner' natural gas industry, versus the facts on the ground in our own backyard," the grassroots directors of the largest private clean air fund in Texas have voted to suspend consideration of any further anti-pollution grants promoting the use of the increasingly controversial fuel and voiced support for a regional moratorium on new gas drilling.

It's believed to be the first time a Texas charity devoted to environmental goals has turned its back on an energy source that only a few years ago was being touted as a green alternative to coal and oil.

Totaling $2.3 million, the Sue Pope Fund is a creation of a legal settlement between Holcim Cement and Downwinders at Risk after the company's Midlothian cement plant violated its permit for ozone-forming Nitrogen Oxide emissions. Monies in the Fund can only be spent on projects that have the potential to reduce ozone pollution in North Texas. It's named after Downwinders at Risk founder and Midlothian rancher Sue Pope, and is operated by the board of Downwinders.

Since it initiated funding in 2007, the Fund has awarded grants to small start-ups as well as large, precedent-setting projects. It paid for the air-conditioning of the McKinney Avenue Trolley so more people will ride in the summertime as well as invested in a South Dallas neighborhood photovoltaic solar venture to reduce emissions from coal plants.

Two of the projects it's funded use natural gas: A CNG-powered bus ferrying workday commuters from Arlington to the TRE station in Ft. Worth, and the conversion of approximately 20 gasoline-powered taxis to natural gas. Those projects will be fully funded, but no new projects centered on gas will be approved.

In unanimously voting for the suspension and moratorium at its January meeting, the Downwinders board cited four specific problems with the way natural gas is being obtained and processed in the Barnett Shale field: exemptions from national environmental laws, increasing local air pollution problems, the consumption of large amounts of water and the lack of property rights for surface landowners.
In a statement it said would be posted on the Pope Fund website as well as distributed to other North Texas foundations, the Downwinders board stated that "Natural gas could play an important and constructive role in the transition from coal and oil to more sustainable energy sources. But for it to do so, it must be extracted and processed with less waste and pollution."

The Fund's decision is only the latest example of a re-examination of natural gas occurring in the local and national environmental communities. Just last week a nationwide coalition of green investor groups announced they were targeting natural gas companies using "fracking" technology in their drilling operations.
According to Downwinders at Risk Director Jim Schermbeck, his group of volunteer clean air activists saw "too many bad similarities" between the state's response to the public health threats posed by gas operations and their own 16-year old battle with authorities.

"Our small effort won't make anyone in the industry tremble, but maybe our stand will influence others to do the same thing. We appreciate the value of small stuff adding up - it's how we've won all our own battles", said Schermbeck.

To continue reading, including the full statement adopted by the Downwinders At Risk board, CLICK HERE.


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