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Posts Tagged ‘coal plant’

wind_turbine_aalborgProbably not overall, but the City of Houston has made a historic commitment – to buy half its power from renewable sources.

Houston was built around the oil and gas industries and has long suffered the consequences of being home to many of the nation’s most polluting refining and chemical manufacturing facilities.  Purchasing clean energy for the City’s facilities won’t change all that, but it does represent a significant change in mindset.

In the absence of federal legislation to address the increasingly pressing problem of climate change, local action has become essential.  At the very least, the energy used in public buildings – that taxpayers pay for – should be clean energy.  Houston is taking a huge step in that direction.

Wind energy is already one of the cheaper energy sources in Texas and solar energy is becoming competitive, especially as prices increase with higher energy demand.  These trends will be helped by large-scale investments like the one Houston is making.

Moving away from energy from coal-fired power plants will also help keep jobs growing in Texas.  Luckily, this isn’t an issue of jobs vs. the environment.  It’s an easy choice of supporting both.  Kudos to Houston to for recognizing an opportunity to take a leadership role.

Talk to your local elected officials about using clean energy to power your public buildings.

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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No Bailout for Energy Future HoldingsEnergy Future Holdings, formerly TXU, of Dallas might be looking for a handout – from you.

Back in January, Moody’s changed Energy Future Holdings Corp’s rating outlook to negative and made it impossible to ignore what anyone who had been paying attention to the company’s quarterly reports already knew: Energy Future Holdings is on a path heading towards bankruptcy.  Now there are rumors floating around that the company may ask the Texas Legislature to approve a public or ratepayer-funded bailout.

Neither option would benefit majority of Texas citizens and we urge everyone to sign our petition in opposition to any bailout proposal for Energy Future Holdings

You might wonder how the profitable TXU end up as the failing Energy Future Holdings.  The answer is twofold.

First, in Texas, electricity prices are set based on the price of natural gas.  When natural gas prices were high, this meant that coal-fired power plants could reap additional profit.  This made TXU an attractive acquisition because the company owned many coal-fired power plants.  But now, natural gas prices have plummeted and those same coal-fired power plants, especially the oldest and most inefficient, are dragging Energy Future Holdings down.  The private equity investors made a big bet on the wrong energy source.

The second problem is that Energy Future Holdings was acquired in a leveraged buyout.  What that means is that instead of the investors paying the full amount to buy TXU, they financed the deal partially through loans to the company.  While the company has done a good job of staving off the day of reckoning by refinancing many of those loans, many are approaching maturity and additional refinancing options are limited by the negative prospects for the company.

So, while TXU was a profitable company with relatively low debt, Energy Future Holdings is an unprofitable company (because of low natural gas prices) with massive debt (because of the leveraged buyout) that is approaching maturity.  This isn’t a good combination and some people are going to lose money on the deal (many already have).  However, those losses shouldn’t be placed on Texas taxpayers or ratepayers.

Tell your state representatives and senators that you oppose bailing out failed corporations.

Most of us have to live with the consequences of our bad decisions.  Help us make sure that Wall Street and private equity firms must do the same.

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At LCRA’s Board of Directors meeting on June 15, 2011, they discussed a contract to sell up to 25,400 acre-feet of water a year to White Stallion Energy Center for a power plant in Matagorda County.  The LCRA Boardroom was filled with citizens against the contract, and the board heard public comments with 30 signing up to speak, only 2 of whom spoke for the contract.  Matagorda County Judge, Nate McDonald, asked the LCRA board to table the item and take more time to determine the impact a water contract of this size would have on the area.  Board members then voted to defer a decision on the contract until its meeting scheduled for August 10.

Because of the size of the request, LCRA staff has developed a proposal that will address the water supply of the entire lower Colorado River basin.  Read the proposed draft water contract and fact sheet.

A meeting has been scheduled in Bay City, on July 28th, we have no additional details about that meeting at this point.

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Lake Travis Levels Plummeted During 2009 Drought

Today the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) Board of Directors delayed a vote on providing water to the “White Stallion” coal plant proposed for Matagorda County. Though White Stallion’s Chief Operation Officer, Randy Bird, was expecting and asking for approval of a contract today, the board chose to delay action until August 10. This makes sense considering that they were confronted with more than 30 people who signed up to speak against the coal plant, some driving from as far away as the Gulf Coast (some taking off work) in order to be there. This delay is a victory for those opposing the coal plant and a step in the right direction in convincing the LCRA that this project is not a beneficial or responsible use of water from the Colorado River Basin.

Key concerns included the general aspect of this project and the negative effects it would have on the people, environment (and watershed) of the region. There were also, as expected, many concerns regarding the current drought and many agreements that the last thing LCRA should consider is adding more, firm water commitments particularly when LCRA is already asking customers to conserve and scale back their water use. Concerns about how global warming would further worsen dry conditions in the region over the next 55 years (the length of the proposed contract) were also voiced by many of the speakers.

“Even though they haven’t denied it yet, we’re glad they’re taking their time to look into the serious implications of this coal plant request” said Lydia Avila with Sierra Club.  “We’re confident that when they look at the facts they will realize this is a bad deal for Texans and reject it.”

Only one or two people spoke in favor of granting the contract, one of whom was Owen Bludau, Executive Director of the Matagorda County Economic Development Corporation – one of the original entities that worked to bring the White Stallion proposal to Bay City. Those speaking against the contract included Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald, Burnet County Judge Donna Klaeger, David Weinberg (Executive Director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters), Doctor Lauren Ross (who recently released this report on how White Stallion would affect water in the Colorado watershed), and many others including concerned residents throughout the LCRA region and landowners located right next to the proposed plant site.

Public Citizen applauds LCRA’s decision to table this vote. It shows that the LCRA takes the concerns of their stakeholders seriously. The next two months should prove to the LCRA that this coal plant is both unnecessary and a waste of our most precious and dwindling resource: our water.

Update and thank you!

Public Citizen wants to thank all of you who responded to our emails, blogs, tweets and phone calls and either called, mailed, or emailed comments in, and to those who showed up and packed the meeting room today.  This decision would probably have been very different if you had not made your concerns know to the board.  You are all awesome!

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Election season is imminent and advocates for environmental welfare and public health need not look very far for the hyper-political red tape and drawbacks to pollution legislation. Like many of her colleagues in the Democratic Party, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson has been campaigning nationwide for the regulation of toxins such as mercury from coal burners which, in effect, could prevent thousands of related deaths and stimulate the job market. Just two weeks ago, Jackson even made an appearance on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” encouraging viewers to exercise vigilance in the fight against toxic emissions and to demand personal protections for clean air and water.

Her sentiments were met with grand applause due to their pertinence in 2011 where it is estimated that 72% of all toxic mercury air pollution in the United States is attributable to coal plants in violation of the Clean Air Act. Just to add some perspective to this statistic, such a figure indicates that 386,000 tons of hazardous compounds are being emitted into the atmosphere per year at an unprecedented rate.

Jackson’s apparent support for tightened environmental regulations was short-lived however, when just one week following her Comedy Central interview the EPA halted essential protections for controlling exposure to air-borne mercury, arsenic, lead, and a plethora of acid gases. The basis for these laws were established in 1990 when President H.W. Bush signed Clean Air Act amendments into law thus making it the EPA’s responsibility to establish emission standards for industrial facilities. Originally, these plans operated on a permit system designed to pinpoint power plants, factories, and additional sources of ground level ozone that had exceeded allowable limits for what was deemed “requisite to protect the public welfare.”

One of these statutes created under H.W. Bush’s administration, called Boiler MACT, monitored emission caps from boilers that produced power sources specifically like those found in large to small coal plants. As of February 2011, under a court issued order, the EPA was also charged with the task of enforcing this body of legislative action. And now, a mere two years after the Obama administration vowed to protect the interests of public health and respect the law, this regulation is one of many that Jackson’s post at the EPA has indefinitely delayed.

Historically, the EPA has acted as an outspoken critic of the industrial “Powers that be” and their habits of ignoring Clean Air Act restrictions with economic impunity. In fact it was the EPA’s records that first indicated that more than 4,000 non-fatal heart attacks, 1,600 cases of acute bronchitis and an excess of 313,000 missed work and school days could be avoided if these laws were enacted properly- and this doesn’t even account for the upwards of 6,600 toxic related deaths. But the EPA strayed its course due to the fast-approaching 2012 elections. They managed to place re-election aspirations above environmental necessities on the hierarchy of political agendas, caved to industry pressures, and watered down many of their contingencies to begin with.

In lieu of this regressive blow to mandatory emission guidelines, Lisa Jackson and the EPA as a whole have endangered countless vulnerable Americans by casting a blind eye to the Boiler MACT legislation. Not only are these steps in reverse potentially (almost certainly) disastrous, people living near industrial giants and coal-fired power plants are now at serious odds with their own health and well-being.

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World News with Diane Sawyer is airing a segment tonight on the Bokoshe fly-ash dump in Oklahoma. Public Citizen first worked with the people of Bokoshe and others throughout Oklahoma back in 2008 to oppose the expansion of the Shady Point coal plant in Poteau, OK – the plant that dumps its coal ash in Bokoshe. In one of the swiftest coal plant battles in US history the expansion was defeated, but the people of Bokoshe continue to deal with the problem of toxic coal-ash from the existing coal plant.

The main problem is that coal ash is almost completely unregulated despite the fact that coal ash contains heavy, metallic neurotoxins like mercury and lead as well as other toxins like selenium, cadmium, arsenic, and can even contain radioactive isotopes. Though the EPA is attempting to initiate new, stricter regulations on this toxic and hazardous waste product there is a large push back from the coal industry to weaken these standards, and the implementation of those standards has been continually delayed. (more…)

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Joe Shirley Jr., President of the Navajo Nation

Joe Shirley Jr., President of the Navajo Nation

I’m not (by any stretch of the imagination) an expert on Native American affairs, but there is an interesting and rather sad drama playing out in the Navajo Nation (a semi-autonomous Native American homeland covering parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico). The Nation also encompasses the Hopi Reservation, represented by the Hopi Tribal Council. Here is a USA Today article of September 30, 2009, in part:

PHOENIX — The president of the Navajo Nation joined other Native American leaders this week in assailing environmentalists who have sought to block or shut down coal-fired power plants that provide vital jobs and revenue to tribes in northern Arizona. (more…)

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TCEQ is broken. It’s not working in the public’s interest, and there are direct costs that all of us in the state of Texas are paying as a result.  But there is an opportunity for us to fix some of the problems with this broken state agency by participating in the Texas Sunset process.

The Alliance for a Clean Texas kicked off a series of town hall meetings across the state on the sunset review of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality on September 15 th.  Last night in Corpus Christi, residents criticized the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, saying it holds too much power and ignores public concerns in the interest of business. (more…)

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The Administrative Law Judges (The Judges) who heard the case against the proposed Tenaska Coal Fired Power plant ruled Friday that Tenaska’s air permit should not be granted as it stands!

“The Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) have concluded, based on their review of the evidence and applicable law, that Tenaska failed to meet its burden of proof to demonstrate that the emissions limits proposed in its Draft Permit will meet the requirements for Best Available Control Technology (BACT) and Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT).  The ALJs recommend that the Commission adopt more stringent emissions limits as indicated below.  Alternatively, the ALJs recommend that the Commission deny the Application or remand the matter for further evidence regarding BACT and MACT.”

While we all know there is no such thing as “clean coal” Tenaska claims that they would be one of the cleanest around, yet the judges recommended lower limits for almost every pollutant that Tenaska would emit.

The proposed Tenaska coal plant, if built, would be a 900 MW coal plant that would emit:

Citizens pack a town hall in Abilene - the majority are against the proposed plant.

Sulfur Dioxide: 2,183 tons/year; Nitrogen Oxide (forms Ozone):1,819 tons/year;Particulate Matter:1,092 tons/year;Mercury: 124 lbs/year.

We commend the Judges for following the law and working to make sure the Clean Air Act is followed.  The important thing to remember, folks, is that this is a “recommendation” to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), not a binding ruling.  So when the TCEQ commissioners make the decision on the Tenaska air permit they will have the opportunity to do the right thing for the health of Texans and deny the air permit!

We don’t need another coal plant in Texas.  Instead we should be investing in renewable energy technology like wind and solar which Texas is so ripe for!

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We arePublic Citizen Texas.

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Today the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) continued their decades-long campaign of ineptitude and inadequacy as they approved the air quality permit for the White Stallion Coal Plant proposed for Matagorda County on the Texas Gulf Coast. Their ruling was unanimous despite the fact that the administrative law judges, who spent weeks presiding over and then deliberating the aspects of this case, recommended that this permit should not be issued. On top of that the TCEQ’s own staff at the Office of Public Interest Council (or OPIC) reiterated their position that this permit should be denied.

"Clean coal" is about as realistic and honest as this image.

It seems simple things like common sense and logic are completely absent from the regulatory fantasy world the TCEQ commissioners live in. It is their opinion that the thousands of tons of toxic pollution they have permitted this coal plant to emit are “acceptable,” even though they are likely to lead to the deaths of over 600 Matagorda County residents over the plant’s estimated lifetime, at a price tag of over $5.4 billion in health care costs (according to a report from MSB Energy Associates). Also “acceptable” to these TCEQ commissioners is an air monitor White Stallion used for their air modeling report (a vital part of the air permitting process), despite the fact that it is located outside of Corpus Christi, 100 miles downwind of the proposed site. They may as well have used a monitor in China, as the emissions from White Stallion would likely never head in that direction.

TCEQ commissioners have also completely ignored the fact that the EPA has set new standards for National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) and they are not requiring White Stallion to adhere to them, despite the fact that this plant would be on the doorstep of the existing Houston non-attainment region. In fact, once the new EPA ozone standards come into effect, Matagorda County is slated to be included in the Houston non-attainment region. By that time, however, thanks to the expedient and enthusiastic permitting approval by the TCEQ, White Stallion will be “grandfathered” and its effects on a non-attainment region will stand.

The most egregious assault on common sense and logic, however, is this plant is completely unnecessary and dangerous to all of Texas, and in fact the entire world. At a time when we need to be shifting our infrastructure and development to renewable and sustainable forms of energy generation, a CO2 and toxin-belching coal plant is the last thing we should be permitting in Texas. This plant represents not only an assault on the health of Matagorda County citizens, but a furthering of reliance upon these dirty, old methods of power generation. We have the technology now to be shifting to responsibly generated electricity. To fail in this is not just a failure by the TCEQ towards the people of Matagorda, but the failure of the state of Texas to lead this country in the direction we desperately need to go.

In the end, however, we can all take heart in the fact that the ultimate decision on whether this plant gets built or not is not only in the hands of the TCEQ.  That power lies in the hands of the people – both those who are opposing the project and those attempting to build it. This plant still requires a waste water permit from TCEQ, a water contract from LCRA, and another permit from the Army Corps of Engineers before it can operate. It is also expected that this decision from the TCEQ will be challenged at the state courts. Ultimately, as long as the people of Matagorda continue to say “NO” to this plant, and as more and more people rally to help them in their cause, this plant will be defeated.

Go to NoCoalCoalition.org for more information and to get involved in the fight against White Stallion.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Welcome sign posted at the Corpus Christi, Tex...

Image via Wikipedia

We’ve got an Action Alert! This week, hundreds of people from Corpus Christi and across Texas will be calling the Environmental Protection Agency to ask them to ensure that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is complying with the Federal Clean Air Act. To protect our air, our water, our earth, and our health, we are going to make our voices heard!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbWcTuvHwS8]

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the EPA has the power to intervene in any permitting process to make sure that polluters are complying with the law.

In the case of the Las Brisas Energy Center, the situation is critical and we need the EPA to step in. Pollution will increase by 82%, they’ll dump 220 pounds of mercury a year, the plant will use 3 million gallons of water a day, and Nueces and San Patricio Counties will almost certainly reach ozone non-attainment levels, which means pricey smog-checks for everybody and a rollback of production for local industries.

So, we’ve decided to call the EPA’s enforcement offices. We have two sample scripts for you to help you out, and remember: don’t be nervous! They are nice people, so don’t forget to smile (even though they can’t see you) and say thanks!

Call Gina McCarthy, head of enforcement at the EPA at 202-564-7404. If she’s not there, leave a message!

Script:

Concerned citizen (that’s you): “Hello Ms. McCarthy, my name is ___, and I’d like to bring an important issue to your attention.”

EPA: “Sure, go right ahead.”

Concerned Citizen:

1) “I am really concerned with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s permitting process on the Las Brisas Energy Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. I am worried about pollution in our air, our water, and our soil. I am calling to ask that the EPA intervene and ensure that the the permit complies with the Federal Clean Air Act. Thank you for your time.”

OR

2) “I have a real problem with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s permitting process as it considers whether to grant the Las Brisas Energy Center an air permit for its proposed petroleum coke plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. TCEQ officials have expressly stated that a case by case MACT analysis is not needed for this plant. I know that means that TCEQ is letting Las Brisas pollute at greater quantities into my area and with less oversight. I am calling to ask that the EPA intervene and ensure that the permit complies with the Federal Clean Air Act. Thank you for your time.”

You just did a good deed! Pat yourself on the back, email this to your friends, and stay tuned by checking out Public Citizen on Facebook, www.TexasGreenReport.org, Texas Sierra Club on Facebook, and @TexasSierraClub on Twitter.

By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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The Great Texas Cleanup: Outdoor Art & Music Festival

July 24th in Houston at Discovery Green

On July 24th, the Sierra Club and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (TEJAS) will host The Great Texas Cleanup: A Rally & Concert for Clean Energy and Clean Air. Environmental and community groups from Houston, Texas and around the country will join local, state, and national businesses in taking a stand to cleanup Texas now!

The concert is FREE to the public and welcomes all ages.

Local musicians will play an eclectic variety of music that will unite youth, students, young professionals, families, and different communities in the fight for a future we all share. Community leaders and distinguished speakers will talk about urgent issues that have culminated into our best opportunity to cleanup Texas now. Artists, businesses, and local nonprofits will share with you what they are doing to help and how you can get involved!

Hope to see ya’ll there! CleanupTexasNow.org


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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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After a several hour closed-door meeting between the two remaining candidates for Austin Energy’s General Manager position and some of Austin’s best environmental, energy, and consumer advocates, all of the groups represented came to the same conclusion: neither of these candidates was a right fit for Austin.

In fact, former City Councilwoman Brigid Shea told reporters that “Mr. Wright is wrong for Austin” and that they had hoped our nationwide search would produce “major league” candidates to fit with Austin’s leadership on energy and community issues.  “No offense, but these guys are more minor league.”

You can see the entire video here of their press conference, led by Public Citizen representative Cary Ferchill:

YouTube:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcXDk-fXEYk]

Vimeo:

[vimeo 13016093]

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas

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This footage is of the town hall event that was held in Bay City in April. Though invited, White Stallion representatives refused to show up to answer questions from the public. Some Bay City officials, including Mr. Owen Bludau of the Matagorda Economic Development Corporation and Judge Nate McDonald did attend to voice their positions and to answer questions that pertained to them. This footage is for public/educational use and may be duplicated and distributed freely by all.

[vimeo 11720643] (more…)

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