Council Approves Gas Drilling Taskforce Members

Yesterday, the Dallas City Council approved the members of the city’s gas drilling taskforce, which will evaluate the environmental and safety concerns related to urban gas drilling and craft an ordinance to recommend to the Council.

Six months ago, it didn’t look like we were going to get a taskforce.  Luckily, after some discussion and persuasion, the Council agreed that a taskforce was necessary.  So after debate, we agreed on the composition:

  • 3 subject-matter experts;
  • 3 environmentalists OR citizens affected by the issue;
  • 3 representatives of the industry OR people with experience working in the industry such as oil & gas attorneys;
  • 1 chair (former councilmember Lois Finkelman);
  • 1 Park Board representative (unfortunately, much of the public land leased for gas drilling is parkland)

The selection committee was chaired by Linda Koop and included councilmembers Neumann, Natinsky, Medrano, Davis, Kadane, Margolin, and me.

Councilmember Koop did a great job ensuring the application and selection process was open and transparent — posting the application online and encouraging the public to apply (as opposed to a closed process where interviewees had to be nominated by councilmembers).

A little over a month ago, we had an open call for applications.  After receiving 68 applications, we narrowed down the field to 18 interviews.  At the request of then-councilmember-elect Scott Griggs and Councilmember Delia Jasso, we added John McCall, an Oak Cliff resident, to the list of interviewees, making it 19.

After interviewing everyone, each councilmember voted for their nine picks, and that was tallied to get the nine taskforce members.  There was a tie for one of the environmental/citizen positions (Louis McBee and John McCall), and at Scott Griggs’ request we selected John McCall.

Finally, the council had to vote to approve the taskforce.  The vote was originally scheduled for our last voting meeting of the council term (last week), but at the request of then-councilmember-elect Scott Griggs, we moved the vote to our Inaugural meeting so that he could participate.

Yesterday the Council voted to approve the recommendation of the selection committee.

Councilmember Griggs had proposed adding a person from the Mountain Creek area since it is most affected by this issue due to its place above the Barnett Shale natural gas formation.

I agree with that sentiment, and wish it had been made earlier in the process so they could have been included in our original 9-member selection rather than added as a proposed 10th at the end.  Unfortunately, there were not enough votes on the council to add only one person.  If we had added another citizen/environmentalist, the majority of the council also wanted to add another industry representative (“for balance”).  The selected taskforce is very well-balanced and isn’t too industry-heavy, and if we began deviating from the selection process that the council had agreed on for several months, we risked a pro-industry taskforce.

In the end, I’m very pleased with the members on the taskforce.  They are:

SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTS

  • Former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher, who now servers as executive director of Texas Business for Clean Air (they fought the region’s coal plants)
  • Terry Welch, an attorney who advises cities in drafting strong gas drilling ordinances
  • Dr. David Sterling, chairman of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of North Texas Health Science Center

BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY REPS

  • Professor Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University
  • David Biegler, chairman and CEO of Southcross Energy Group
  • Pat Shaw, an oil and gas attorney who has represented both landowners and gas drillers in crafting gas leases

ENVIRONMENTALISTS/CITIZENS

  • Cherelle Blazer, a Yale-educated scientist and director of the environmental group You Can’t Live in the Woods
  • John McCall, an Oak Cliff attorney and past president of the Oak Cliff Conservation League
  • Ramon Alvarez, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund
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A Blueprint for a Trinity Park We Can Use Today

The following op-ed originally appeared in the June 10, 2011 edition of The Dallas Morning News.

In 1998, Dallas voters embraced a bold, visionary plan to transform the Trinity River floodway into a vibrant urban park. But 13 years later, a torturous federal approval process combined with a significant funding gap have conspired to stop the project in its tracks. Add to that the recent revelations that local and federal officials were less than forthcoming about the Trinity toll road’s viability during the 2007 referendum, and it’s not an overstatement to say the public has lost faith in the Trinity River project.

We can reclaim this project and win back the public’s trust, but only if we’re willing to change the way we do things at Dallas City Hall. The grander, long-term vision for the Trinity park is incredible, but it’s still years away. We must give the public a Trinity park they can enjoy today, and we must do it as quickly and as inexpensively as possible. That means no high-paid consultants; no elaborate, full-scale models and enticing watercolor pictures; and — most importantly — no multiyear timelines. Continue reading

It’s Been a Bumper Crop Week for All Things Trinity

Ok.  This is like the fifth time I’ve sat down to write a blog about the Trinity River Project this week.  This is going to be a long one, so bear with me.  Lots of catching up to do.

First, I was going to blog about Michael Lindenberger’s well-written article in last Sunday’s paper, “Trinity toll road’s backers told only part of the story to win 2007 vote,”  contradicting claims made by toll road advocates during the 2007 toll road referendum that the feds had fully approved the road and it was fully funded.

Lindenberger cites documents (just released after his initial request two years ago) that showed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal officials were much less confident about the road than toll road advocates claimed publicly.

I took a couple of days to mull that over, but then DMN columnist Jackie Floyd weighed in, castigating Leppert for leading voters astray, especially those who might have been on the fence in such a close referendum.  “Voters in 2007 toll road referendum were shortchanged.”

Alright.  As I started to type a blog about these two items, a third item popped up — another article by Lindenberger getting Leppert’s reaction to the revelations that all was not as rosy with the toll road as he had painted it in 2007.  “Tom Leppert says he played fair with Dallas voters in 2007 Trinity toll road referendum.”

Ok, hands on keyboard, here I go….Nope, now The Dallas Morning News posted an editorial criticizing Leppert and others who misled voters in 2007, “Overblown optimism about toll road did voters a disservice“:

No doubt about it, then-Mayor Tom Leppert told folks. The corps says the route between the levees is safe. It can be done.

Well, not exactly.

What the corps said was “plausible,” Leppert and others portrayed as a slam dunk….

But their cocksure conviction did Dallas residents a disservice. Leppert and his allies offered a rose-colored, best-case scenario instead of allowing voters to make a fully informed decision about a significant and expensive project.

This newspaper — and likely plenty of voters — took leaders at their word when they proclaimed that the highway could be built in the floodway. While that may not be false, it wasn’t necessarily true. In the months leading up to the referendum, officials from the corps and other federal agencies wrote early and often that building within the levees would be difficult, that protecting the structural integrity of the levees was paramount, and that this had not been done before.

Proponents of the toll road, it seems, heard what they wanted to hear.

After that, I had to head over to Unfair Park to check out Jim Schutze’s take on all of this.  “Gosh, We’re Just Too Trusting, or: The Dallas Morning News’s Embarrassing Confession.”

The Trinity has been a hot potato this week.  So what’s a girl to do?  Well, I figured I might as well get in on the action, so I wrote my own op-ed.    I’ll include that in another blog, but here’s my take on all of these articles and columns and editorials:

I’m glad the truth has come out.  I wish this had come out in the DMN four years ago, but better late than never.  I’ll also say we’re very, very fortunate to have had guys like Schutze and Merten on the case, who dug into this issue during the referendum, who asked the tough questions (multiple times, if necessary), and who knew that just because the bigwigs were saying it, didn’t make it true.