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INTERVIEWEE: Billie Woods (BW)


DATE:  October 17, 2003

LOCATION:  Rosanky, Texas

TRANSCRIBERS:  Dave Gumpertz and Robin Johnson

REELS: 2263 and 2264

Please see the Real Media video record
of reels 2263 and 2264 from our full interview with Ms Woods.  Please note that the recording
includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for
technical settings at the outset of the recordings.

Note:  boldfaced numbers refer to time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. "Misc." refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.


DT:     My name is David Todd.  I’m here for he Conservation History Association of Texas.  It’s October 17, 2003.  We’re near a small town called Rosanky, which is about ten miles south of Bastrop.  And we have the good fortune to be interviewing Billie Woods who has been a co-founder and leader of the group called Neighbors for Neighbors, which has been very active in trying to protect the—resources of Bastrop and Lee County and—and Milam County from some of the lignite mining and smelting and—and utility pollution that’s been happening there over the past number of years.  And I wanted to thank her for taking the time to talk to us. 

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BW:    My pleasure.

DT:     Billie, I was hoping that you might tell us how you first got acquainted with the outdoors and interested in its protection, if there’s a—a time in your youth that you could point to. 

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BW:    I would just say that my parents were both—liked to spend time outdoors.  We never went camping or did anything like that.  But my dad had squirrels that would eat out of his hand.  We always had pets.  My dad was very big into sciences really, into astronomy, and he—he was an optometrist and so, you know, obviously he was interested in various sciences, but he also like subscribed to National Geographic from before I was born right up until he died.  And so I think I was exposed just a lot to different ideas even though despite the fact that I grew up in a very conservative town, and household really, in Northeast Texas, a little town called Henderson, ten thousand people.  My dad had the

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only telescope in town.  He was the only optometrist in town.  But we traveled a fair amount.  We went to Japan.  We went to various places.  The Philippines.  So I think I just had a lot of exposure to different ways of life, to sciences, even though it wasn’t my thing.  They were both very concerned about doing the right thing by animals, and by people.  And, you know, other than that I cannot really say that there was a—some kind of turning point where I had this awakening about the outdoors or the environment or—or trying to protect things.  It just seemed liked that’s the way it was in my household.  I mean my mother to this day, she’s eighty-years-old and she recycles, you know.  So I think the more that they became aware of things it—it wasn’t kept a secret, you know.  And they would participate.  So, you know, I think it just rubbed off.

DT:     So there’s no definite epiphany but just…

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BW:    No.

DT:     …something that, I guess, by osmosis you picked up and…

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BW:    I think so.  I think I—you know, they were very religious Baptist, and the Texas Baptist—this is probably contrary to what most people think, but I think the Texas Baptist in general had more of a belief and separation of church and State and being stewards—being stewards of the land.  It wasn’t talked about as environmentalism, you know, back then.  It was—it was taking care of nature and taking care of what God has given you kind of thing.  These are all gifts and—and we were put here to—to take care of them.  And so I think that was the attitude in my home as I was growing up, and—and, you know, here’s how I turned out.  I don’t know.

DT:     You turned out to be a very accomplished pianist and harpist, and I’m curious how somebody of your training and background then becomes an expert and certainly a very a concerned person about mining and air pollution and ground water extraction and pumping.  How did you first become acquainted with the problems at Alcoa?

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BW:    Well, I’m ashamed to say that it’s because it ended up on my doorstep, you know.  I wish I could say that I just really kept up and was aware and—and was environmentally active, you know, all along.  I did, you know, pay my dues to the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense and Worldwide Life Fund, you know.  I would send them money and I recycled and all of that, but I was not an activist, you know.  I did not go out and talk to people.  I did not try to participate in any kind of protest or anything like that anywhere.  So it literally wasn’t until it ended up on my doorstep that—there’s the epiphany, is, you know, it has to hit you in the face, I guess, for most people which is kind of sad, but I—but I think that’s probably reality.  And that’s what happened.  Alcoa and San Antonio drew up a contract saying that San Antonio would lease their lands to

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Alcoa for mining purposes essentially in exchange for water because San Antonio was, you know, very—very thirsty.  And it was announced in the papers January of 1999 that this contract was signed the very last day of 1998, which is interesting because it—they sort of rushed that through to beat the convening of the legislature because they, I think, knew there was going to be a lot of discussion on the water legislation and I think they wanted to have a so-called grandfather contract and—and hoped to not be affected by any regulations that would come down on how much you might be able to pump or—or what have you.  So it was—you know, that just slapped us in the face and I one day went out to my mailbox and there was a flier that some neighbor of mine, I don’t even know who, had put on there, and it wasn’t very well done, and it wasn’t very fancy, it was all black and white, you couldn’t even tell what the picture was.  But it said, you know, “Have you heard?” you know, “This is awful happening right here in our backyard,” you know, “Please come to a public meeting to learn,” you know, “about this and what we can do about it.”  And that was my introduction. 

DT:     Maybe you could give us a little context and background.  You said that San Antonio is thirsty for water.  What’s going on down there? 

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BW:    Well, my understanding about what’s happening in San Antonio is that they’ve been getting their water all these years from the Edwards Aquifer, and the Edwards Aquifer Authority is starting to cut them back so that they are—are essentially in search of water from other places to replace their loss from the Edwards Aquifer.  So they’ve literally been going, you know, all over the state, particularly the Central Texas area, looking for other sources of water.  And this happens to be one of them because the City of San Antonio owns about eleven thousand acres—contiguous acres, about a mile from my house.  So—and Alcoa is running out of Lignite over at Sandow and so, wow, you know, how convenient.  And they have to—during their mining operations they have to depressurize the aquifer which means they have to pump tens of thousands of acre feet to

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relieve the pressure coming from underneath the hole that they dig because otherwise it would cause the—the walls to cave in and the floor to heave and—and—and flood the mine and obviously anyone working there would be in peril.  So they have to engage in this de-watering and depressurization practice to safely get to the lignite.  What has happened in this case is not so much that oh, well this mining water is just going to go down the creek unless somebody takes it, but that San Antonio wants a whole lot more.  So for example, the proposed Three Oaks Mine would only need to pump only ten thousand acre feet a year for mining purposes, but San Antonio wants anywhere from fifty thousand to a hundred and twenty thousand or more acre feet a year.  And so their contract was very open-ended and allowed them to get as much water as they wanted for fifty years.  So it was a pretty big deal.  Our aquifer only can sustain itself—well, let

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me—let me restate that.  Its recharge from rainfall is only something like sixty-two thousand or sixty-eight thousand-acre feet a year.  The current usage is, I don’t know, twelve or fourteen thousand.  Bastrop County is growing by leaps and bounds, so the—the projections of water needs in the future at least double that.  And then if you add, you know, the San Antonio water on top of it plus the mining water, very quickly we exceed what the aquifer can sustain.  So that’s—that’s been the—the real driving force I would say in that—of the interest in the community and why this got so much attention, I think fewer people are as concerned about mining as they are about losing their water and probably rightly so, even though mining is just a horrible practice in and of itself.  It’s environmentally devastating. 

DT:     Why don’t we talk a little bit about the history of mining in this area and what you can say brought us to this point.  You mentioned the Sandow Mine and—and Alcoa and, I guess, TXU and some other operators have been interested in this issue for a while.

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BW:    Well, there is a lignite belt that runs right along with the aquifer—the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer, kind of across—diagonally across the state of Texas.  We’re sort of in the middle of it.  And—so that’s, you know, if you go up—follow it up into East Texas you’ll—TXU in particular has several lignite mines up there, and one of them actually right outside my hometown.  And then of course Alcoa has had the Sandow mine over there, gosh, since the mid ‘50s and actually there was lignite mining there prior to Alcoa but it was not strip mining.  It was the underground shafts, you know, the mineshafts.  And—and I believe that that was started by a man whose last name was Sandow, and—his first name escapes me right now.  So mining has been going on in Milam County around Rockdale for—for, you know, decades and decades and decades, before Alcoa ever even existed over there. 

DT:     What exactly is lignite?  It’s a type of coal, is that right?

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BW:    Yeah.  Lignite is a very soft, brown coal.  It is just in between the stage of peat and hard, you know, what you would think of as hard coal.  So it’s very soft.  It’s very crumbly.  It’s not real stable.  It takes a whole lot of it to get a sufficient number of BTUs to produce, you know, a good amount of electricity for them to operate with.  And that’s all they use it for.  They—they have three power units over there that this was how they generated their electricity in order to power the smelter where they smelt aluminum and make atomized aluminum that fuels the space shuttle, for example.  They have—that used to be the largest smelter in North America.  It is now I think second, and will be ever less than that within the next few years.  They’re cutting back.  But they have had

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the Sandow Strip Mine and, I believe that that strip mine all in all is about twenty thousand acres roughly.  It is linked to the—the proposed Three Oaks Mine, and the Three Oaks Mine would be sixteen thousand acres.  Now their mine plan currently only calls for actually mining of about five to six thousand acres, but they would have the option of extending that throughout that sixteen thousand acres.  So—it—it’s enormous.  I mean, it’s—the sixteen thousand acres itself is like seven miles—seven or eight miles long and it’s sort of a—an oval shape and, I don’t know, five or six miles wide.

DT:     And this is a strip mine.  Can you describe what a strip mine is…

BW:    Sure.

DT:     …and what sort of machinery they’re talking about?

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BW:    Well, it requires a whole lot of very heavy equipment.  The thing that stands out the most are the drag lines.  They have two of them.  The drag lines are—the boom alone is three hundred and sixty feet.  It stands about twenty stories tall.  I forget how many hundreds of cubic yards the bucket digs out.  And the drag line is by and large used not so much to dig the lignite but to remove what they call the over-burden, which is just the earth—the dirt—the layers of dirt.  So it is the machine that takes, you know, just these huge chunks of—of dirt out of the ground and dumps it aside, and they can dig down to two hundred—two hundred fifty feet with this machine.  And over at Sandow some of the lignite is a couple hundred feet deep.  So they—it’s—it’s an enormous pit.  I mean it is just—it’s enormous.  It’ll be, you know, five hundred yards long and I don’t know how

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many hundreds of yards wide, but I’ve—I’ve seen it and it is—it’s just mind-boggling.  It’s really mind-boggling.  Then they have, you know, the other equipment—bulldozers and such.  They have somewhat like eighty pieces of—of heavy equipment in addition to those drag lines that actually remove the lignite, dump it onto a conveyer belt, it goes to a little thing—facility called a crusher, so it, you know, processes it, and then it goes onto the conveyer belt right to the plant where they then have some stockpiles of it.  But by and large they have to use it fairly quickly because when it sits out it—it degrades and it just takes more and more and more of it to burn.  It is the dirtiest source of fuel available—lignite.  It—it burns about as well as burning dirt.  So they’d be better burning cow patties. 

DT:     There’s not a lot of BTUs coming out of it…

BW:    No.

DT:     …per ton.

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BW:    It’s not at all like western coal.  Western coal is dirty enough.  But it takes—I have heard—I’ve heard, and I have not confirmed this—I have heard that it takes one-seventh of the amount of western coal to generate the same amount of electricity as it does lignite.  So you can imagine.  You know, you have to mine seven times as much, you know, if that figure is right.  But…

DT:     Is there a reason they use such an inefficient source of fuel?

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BW:    It’s what’s here.  It’s simply because it’s here.  And I think they just have a mentality of well, you know, it’s a resource that’s available and it’s our responsibility to make use of it, you know.  We’re just letting it go to waste if we don’t we don’t tap into it.  I don’t—I can’t figure that part out myself. 

DT:     You—you said it’s not only inefficient but that it’s a pretty dirty fuel.  Can you talk about some of the coal combustion waste problems you’ve seen?

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BW:    Sure.  It’s dirty—it—it burns—as it burns it’s very dirty so the emissions from it are worse than emissions from western coal or natural gas or even oil.  As they burn the lignite, you know, there’s just—just as though you were burning wood in your fireplace, you know, you have ash afterwards.  It doesn’t all combust, right?  So it’s the same thing with the lignite.  They—they burn it in the boilers and there ends up to be a big pile of ash on the bottom.  There’s various kinds of ash.  There’s bottom ash.  There’s fly ash.  If there are scrubbers on a unit then they have the sludge from the scrubbers that—that sort of trap some of the emissions that also is—is a waste product.  Fly ash, they tend to take that and do what they call recycling which simply means they take it and send it to someone else to make other things out of it like bricks, drywall, shingles for roofs, they

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use it on roads, etc.  So they like for people to believe that, “Oh,” you know, “this is so harmless that we even put it right out on the road.  You drive on it everyday.”  And—and I don’t know that it’s harmless, you know.  But bottom ash for sure contains heavy metals.  We did some testing over at Sandow as part of a contested case hearing.  We—we had a court order that allowed to go and take some samples—soil samples, surface water samples, ground water samples, and test them for various things.  And bottom ash, we were able to—to take bottom ash samples and test those.  And we found various things that were not pleasant.  Dioxins and thallium were the two major constituents that we found.  Thallium is similar in toxicity to something like mercury.  Dioxin—if you say PCBs to somebody they go, “Oh!” you know.  Well dioxin is like that, you know.  It’s kind of like PCBs where it just kind of hangs around and doesn’t really dissipate.  And

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it’s highly toxic, particularly the wildlife, but it’s toxic to humans, too.  And has been associated with some infertility problems, endometriosis in women, things like that.  So anyway, all that stuff is contained in the bottom ash.  Alcoa’s practice of dealing with their bottom ash is to just simply go and dump it into the mine pits.  And believe it or not that’s legal for them to do.  Simply because they own that property the law states that you can dispose of your own industrial waste on your own property within fifty miles of where it’s generated.  And the plant—their power plant in their Sandow Mine is, you know, connected so it’s definitely within that legal limit provided that they have classified the waste properly, and that’s in question.  We don’t know about that. They have claimed that it is inert, which means it’s as harmless as dirt.  We have—if—if—we have reason to believe because we’ve found dioxin that that is a misclassification.  And if

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that’s true then they cannot or should not have ever been just dumping into the open pits.  That’s called “open dumping” and that would be illegal.  But the main problem is really not so much the Alcoa units because they don’t have any pollution controls for their air emissions on those units.  So most of the pollution goes up the stacks and into the air, so that’s not a good thing either but it’s not a waste issue.  But TXU also has a fourth unit over there and they do have scrubbers—pollution controls on that unit and they do not own any of the surrounding property.  They only own the property that their boiler sits on.  So Alcoa is taking their waste, which is much more toxic, and disposing of that as well into those open mine pits.

DT:     The scrubber sludge…

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BW:    The scrubber sludge, TXU’s bottom ash.  I am not at all sure of what they’re doing with the smelter waste.  That’s a whole—whole 'nother issue that we’re not even real clear about what’s happening.  I mean that’s where they have asbestos lining the pots in the pot rooms, and those get old and occasionally they have to break the as—asbestos out of those pots and reline them and, you know, that’s just a horrible process.  And they have exposed many, many, many people over the years to asbestos.  Many of them have asbestosis that—or mesothelioma, which is a lung cancer that can only come from exposure to asbestos.  And it’s not just the people that work there.  They take it home on their clothes.  Their wives do the laundry.  And their wives are dying from it because

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they’re inhaling those fibers off the—off their husband’s clothes.  So it’s—you know, it’s just a nasty process over there.  I don’t care how you look at it, whether you’re looking at the waste issue, the smelting process, the burning of the lignite, the mining of the lignite, what’s happening to the ground water.  And that’s the other thing with the waste issues is that because it’s going—being dumped into those mine pits—if you remember, I said those pits can be two hundred feet deep and that they have to de-water the aquifer.  There are water lenses throughout that mining area as well as the water table underneath, and those water lenses are also part of the aquifer, and when they dump that in there it’s going right, you know, into that.  So…

DT:     Have you found any leachate…

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BW:    Yes we did—we found thallium in our ground water testing.  We—we chose one well that was in the vicinity of where we believed that they were burying some combustion waste.  And there was a stockpile of something on the ground near it that we never did really understand what that was.  It wasn’t lignite.  It could have been some kind of waste.  We don’t know.  But at any rate the test from that particular well came back with thallium anywhere from fifty to a hundred times the—the drinking water

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standards.  And that was not the only well that we—that we found—found that in.  So indeed the ground water is being contaminated by this practice.  So, you know, it’s just—as far as environmental issues go this is like all of them wrapped into—into one.  It’s been very difficult to deal with, very difficult to get the word out in a way that people could understand because there’s so many facets and it’s so complicated.  It’s hard to put it in a sound bite, you know, for the media when you’re trying to—to let people know what’s going on, so it’s been difficult. 

DT:     And you’ve mentioned that there were at least a couple forms of contamination that the solid waste, the fly ash, scrubber waste, the bottom ash, and then the contamination that goes into the ground water, but one form that seems to have gotten a lot of attention is the air pollution…

BW:    Right.

DT:     …and what’s been going up the stack, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the air quality issues that Alcoa has been involved with.

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BW:    Sure.  The—the air pollution from Alcoa’s three boilers, and I need to make sure that I specify that it’s Alcoa’s three boilers because I’ve mentioned the TXU unit and it does not involve that unit—hey were and are emitting over a hundred thousand tons of criteria air pollutants each year.  That includes sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds which people refer to as V-O-C’s or VOC’s—oh my goodness, it’s all just left me.  What’s the other—what are the other two?  Particulate matter—and I’m losing the last one for some reason. 

DT:     (Inaudible) heavy metal?

BW:    Carbon monoxide. 

DT:     Oh, carbon monoxide.

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BW:    And, yeah, there are heavy metals but those are not criteria air pollutants.  Those are toxins, you know, so—so they’re classified differently, so the hundred—over a hundred—about a hundred and four thousands tons annually are these criteria air pollutants.  Particulate matter, especially the very fine particulates are—go into the lungs.  They have been associated with all kinds of lung disease: asthma, COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease], emphysema.  Particulate matter has also been associated with heart disease, particularly fibrillations and that kind of thing, or just heart failure.  Sulfur dioxide, also just horrible for—for asthma and triggering all kinds of—of lung diseases.  And of course VOCs and nitrogen oxide is what forms ozone when it gets up into the atmosphere, and so, you know, everybody knows how horrible ozone is and—and all that.  Their pollution is the

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equivalent to a million—over a million cars.  So that’s one way that you can sort of get a handle on how bad that is, so…  We discovered this really because we were—we—because we got into it because of the mining and the water issues and—and trying to convince people that the right thing for them to do would be to not burn lignite because it was so dirty, and so we needed to understand how dirty it was when it was burned and—and what effects that would have.  And—and as it turns Alcoa engages in some pretty bad habits, and their bad habits tend to include skirting around the law at times.  The Clean Air Act has a—a piece to it called NSR—New Source Review, you know, which says that—it—it was a way when the Clean Air Act was passed for all the older facilities to have some time to come up to modern-day pollution standards to try to reduce, you

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know, their emissions.  Unfortunately, many of these companies including Alcoa sort of took advantage of that.  The idea was that as long as they were operating as they were and they didn’t make any major enhancements to the facility, that all they were doing was just some routine maintenance, just to, you know, kind of keep it going on par.  They really expected that by attrition these old plants would shut down and when new ones were built they would be clean—cleaner.  Well, Alcoa claimed that they were doing routine maintenance when in fact they were rebuilding their boilers.  We have documentation from folks who were in management positions over there at the time who were quoted as saying, “We’ve done everything but build it new from the ground up,” you know.  “We’ve replaced everything,” you know.  So anyway, they did in fact spend

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over sixty million dollars in the ‘80s—mid ‘80s to pretty much rebuild all three of those units.  They were—should have, because they did that, should have gone and gotten permits and installed the appropriate pollution controls at that time.  They did not because they claimed that it was routine maintenance.  So that’s what we found.  We found all the documentation that supported the notion that they broke the law—the Clean Air Act, and that’s when we filed our citizen’s suit. 

DT:     Can you explain how you tracked down this evidence?  I mean the detective sleuth work that was involved?

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BW:    Sure.  We had—we had a friend of one of our board members who—a young man who was a former power plant inspector.  And he was very good friends with our—our—one of our board members.  And he came down.  His name is Adam Chambers.  He came down to visit and we put him to work and said, “You know, we’ve been getting all this information from what was the TNRCC then, now the TCEQ, on—on this and we don’t really don’t know how to interpret it, and oh by the way, we’ve also gotten this information from the EPA in Dallas and we just, you know, we think there’s something here but, you know, can you help us with it?”  He spent a week working on it like twelve to fourteen hours a day going up to Dallas, going to the—the TNRCC office in Waco,

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which Rockdale is in that region, and also the—the Austin, you know, office, and pulled all together, essentially wrote up a dossier on what they had done, that they had indeed broken the law, how many millions of dollars they had spent, all the parts that they had replaced.  We went and met with the attorneys while he was here and he explained it to them and our attorney was like “Wow!  Yeah.  You’re right.”  So now it’s a matter of how do we put the case together.  And to find someone who would take it because it was too big for just one person to handle.  It was just—it was a huge, huge case.  We realized we weren’t going to have the, you know, hundreds of thousands that it was going to take to prosecute it, to bring it to fruition.  So what we started doing then was taking it and presenting it back to the TNRCC and the EPA in hopes that they would pursue it and they

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would file Notices of Violations and—and hold them accountable.  Well, it went on and it went on and it went on, and we waited and we waited and we waited, and it didn’t happen.  And in the mean time…

DT:     Well, when is the (inaudible)…

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BW:    That was in March…

DT:     …general range…

00:36:46  - 2263

BW:    When we were meeting the TCEQ and EPA, that was in March.  We did our formal presentation to them in March of—let’s see—I think 2001.  In June of that year we were contacted by Environmental Defense who said they thought we had a case and that they wanted to pursue it and they wanted to file the citizen’s suit with us.  And they had the funding to do it.  Public Citizen was the third party that became involved with it as well.  So we joined forces with them and in October of 2001 we filed our Notice of Intent.  You have to give sixty days notice to TCEQ, EPA and to Alcoa that if they don’t do something that you will indeed file a suit.  So we gave our sixty days notice in October, sixty days was up December 26, 2001, and we filed suit.  So…

DT:     Maybe this would be a good time to just speculate, or maybe you can help us understand why and TNRCC, or TCAQ at this point were not able to identify these violations when they occurred, and when you presented it them they didn’t find it persuasive to file suit do an agency prosecution.

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BW:    Well, with regards to your last point there about that they didn’t find it persuasive, actually they did.  They told us they thought we were right.  I don’t know why they drug their feet.  I don’t—I’m—I’m glad that they did because if they hadn’t of we would’ve never had a citizen’s suit, and there’re some things that because of our involvement were better in the settlement than they otherwise would have been.  So I’m glad they drug their feet, not that that was the right thing for them to do but from our perspective it worked out better.  And I—you know, I don’t.  Things just are slow down there, not to mention that the politics were probably not in our favor.  At this point we have, you know, the Bush Administration and the White House, the Secretary of the Treasury was Paul O’Neil who was Alcoa’s CEO who retired from Alcoa and became Secretary of the Treasury, the three commissioners—state commissioners for the TCEQ were all industry folks from

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Monsanto and—I can’t remember.  Anyway, the—the—the politics of the situation were certainly not conducive to having the agency—the agencies, either state or federal, to go after Alcoa contributed through their attorneys a whole lot of money to the Bush Presidential Campaign, you know.  I’ve heard numbers anywhere from eighty-seven thousand to over two hundred thousand.  It’s hard to pinpoint because they did it through their attorneys, Vinson & Elkins , who represent many clients, not the least of which was ENRON.  So—so conditions I think politically were such that unless they were just—they really had their back to the wall, they were not going to go after it, and I don’t think they ever would have had it not been for us filing that suit.  As far as why they didn’t find this in the first place, they have a horrible record keeping system.  I mean it—it’s—you know, it was spread out all the way from Austin up to Dallas and back, and—and frankly,

00:41:04  - 2263

I just don’t they look at things very—very much.  I think they’re more in the business of giving rather than enforcement, I’m sorry to say.  But I think that is—I think that is how the—the deck is stacked.  It’s—everything is geared much more in favor of the industry than as a policing situation to protect the people, and that again goes back to politics, But, you know, we were fortunate in that after we filed suit on December 26, that on January 9th of 2002 both TCEQ and the EPA issued Notices of Violation to Alcoa for these exact same violations.  And so it—it definitely gave us the credibility that would—that which was really a good thing. Alcoa had all along been say, you know, we were just these little, you know, fly-by-night, we didn’t really have any members to speak of, and essentially tried to say that we were lying about—our—our base of support.  And it suddenly—they couldn’t really say that anymore.  They really couldn’t say that we were not credible, that we were a bunch of environmental wackos out here in the middle of

00:42:35  - 2263

nowhere just trying to, you know, go out and hug every tree, which was certainly not the case.  I mean we’re by and large a group of farmers, ranchers, teachers, executives, data processing folks, lawyers, doctors, scientists.  We’re not at all the tie-dyed T-shirt—not to say that I don’t have a tie-dyed T-shirt.  Certainly I do.  But we’re not at all the kind of group that they were constantly trying to make us out to be.  And in fact we’ve never considered ourselves an environmental group because, frankly, a lot of our farmers and ranchers are not environmentalists at all.  And if they thought that we were going to team up with some group like the Sierra Club, they would just be, you know, appalled at this.  But you know, when it’s in your backyard, even when you’ve been against it—against environmental issues, suddenly you become environmentalists.  It’s—it’s—it’s very interesting the dynamics, you know, of what has happened in the community as a result of this.  So anyway, we were back to the air.  We were—we were fortunate in that we were validated by government agencies even during a political time that normally,

00:44:11  - 2263

probably would have never occurred.  So—and then, you know, we went through months and months and months and months of—of depositions, discovery, that whole thing, going into court, having continuances.  You know, the whole bureaucratic game that you play once you get into court.  And once EPA and TCEQ came along behind us and did that, suddenly Alcoa wanted to negotiate with them.  They—they’re attorney said it would be a cold day in hell before they would sit across the table from Neighbors for Neighbors, and that we were not to be allowed in a—in any discussions.  And now to EPA’s credit, not to TCEQ’s credit, but to EPA’s credit, they pushed very hard to have us included from the get go.  They didn’t have much backbone in enforcing it from the get go.  They waited until they had an agreement in principal before they really put their foot down.  And they came down here to meet with us and pretty much issued Alcoa an ultimatum that they would be at this meeting and they would talk to us and we would be included from that point forward.  And we were.  So we have now a settlement that has

00:45:48  - 2263

been executed. Alcoa had to pay a civil penalty to the government of one point five million dollars, which is puny considering they—we’ve figured out that they probably profited by as much as seven hundred and fifty million dollars.  But they also had to invest two and a half million in environmental mitigation projects.  That directly affect this County of Bastrop, the County of Lee and the County of Milam.  So that’s a good thing.  I think—I think that it is reprehensible that they were not penalized more because it certainly sends a message of, “Well, it’s more profitable to break the law by far than to comply.”  I don’t really think that’s a message the government should be sending but that’s definitely the message.

DT:     And there was not criminal prosecution?

00:46:57  - 2263

BW:    None.  No.  Because we had a settlement.  I think the EPA was really hungry for a settlement.  They really wanted to have an NSR settlement under their belt.  And they hadn’t had one in two years.  And out of all the twenty to forty cases they had pending, only two were in talks, and Alcoa was one of them.  And they weren’t making much progress on the other one.  So this was really going to be a, you know, a shining jewel in their crown, you know, that they could say, “See?”  You know, “NSR works.”  And the people who were working on this I think really were committed to getting emissions out of the air, just reducing the emissions, that that was more of what this was about than having them pay a certain amount of money, and I could agree with that.  And I don’t

00:47:57  - 2263

think that the people who were working on it were at all supportive of the Bush Administration’s, you know, Clear Skies Initiative or their essentially rolling back of the NSR provision, and I think this was going to be, hopefully a tool that they could say, “Yes, NSR works and it is effective.”

DT:     Could you talk a little about the Clear Skies Initiative and this effort to change or phase out NSR? 

[End of Reel 2263]

[Start of Reel 2264]

DT:     Billie, when we left off on the last tape you were talking about some of the effects of the Alcoa controversy and it’s resolution settlement, at least it’s phasing towards that, on how the community treats each other and how they know one another.  And I was wondering if you could help us focus on the part of the community that works for or contracts with Alcoa.  I understand that over a thousand people work at the Alcoa plant out at the Rockdale facility and have worked there for many years, and that the Alcoa provides something like thirty-five percent of the tax base for the county.  So you’re dealing with really a major company in the community.  How have you managed to deal with such a large presence?

00:02:43  - 2264

BW:    Well, where I am in Elgin, which is Bastrop County, and Elgin’s economy is not tied to any one employer, certainly not tied to Alcoa at all. Milam County, on the other hand, which is two counties away, which is where the Alcoa facility is, is pretty much a single industry economy, and that would be Alcoa.  It’s quite divisive.  The issue is quite divisive.  Of course, naturally the people who work there see it as, you know, it’s their livelihood.  It’s their job.  And Alcoa has made quite clear to them rightly or wrongly that if they don’t get to have Three Oaks Mine, if they don’t—if—if they have to upgrade their facilities or any of these things that require major money outlay, that they’ll just have to shut it down, you know.  And so all those people will be out of work.  So consequently, you know, all of the worker bees have come out in full support of Alcoa.  And in fact they’re often times in—in complete denial about the negative impact that

00:04:09 - 2264

Alcoa has had, either on their health or their economy or their family or whatever it is.  So it has—we do not see eye to eye, Neighbors for Neighbors and the community, primarily of Bastrop and—and Lee County—Southern Lee County—to the folks in Milam County.  However, there have been some folks in Milam County, some who are employed by Alcoa, some who are retired from Alcoa, some who are small business people there who—whose businesses depend on the existence of Alcoa who have come forward and have communicated with us and met with us and—and told us many, many things and have gotten us interested in the air pollution in particular, and what life is really like.  So it’s—it’s very divisive between the two communities and because of Alcoa’s—they do pay a lot of taxes.  There’s—there’s no question that they do.  And because of that, even in Bastrop County it’s been really, really difficult with the people like the commissioners and the City Council of Elgin in particular, and the school

00:05:37- 2264

districts there because that’s where the money would go, to actually come out and say they didn’t want them there, you know, or that they were going to take a stand on behalf of the city or on behalf of the county or whatever to say, “No, we don’t want Alcoa’s business here.”  Even though they may not have any legal jurisdiction to prevent them from coming they didn’t even want them to take that—that stand to do that.  They’ve wanted to remain, in their eyes, neutral.  And I can only imagine how things could be different had—had the City of Elgin and the County of Bastrop come together behind Neighbors for Neighbors to take the stand that we’ve taken in the same way that the City of Rockdale in Milam County came behind Alcoa and took a stand in their favor.  You know, it’s—it’s—it’s been a very big difference politically, community-wide, you know.  The people in our community are very much against it.  The—most of the people in the Rockdale community are pro Alcoa because they either work there or they have small businesses like, you know, Sonics and what have you, that are dependent on Alcoa’s

00:07:06 - 2264

existence because they’re the only major ploy—employer there.  So, yeah, it’s—it’s—I mean it’s—it’s the classic debate.  Environment versus jobs, you know.  That’s the way they see it.  I think that’s wrong.  I don’t think that it has to be that way at all.  But that’s the way Alcoa is approaching it and they have a lot of money to put towards it.  They have all the power to decide what to do with that facility over there regardless of what we do.  And in fact they—they have essentially won the fight about getting permits.  They’ve got all their permits.  But even so, they are still laying people off, reducing the jobs, reducing the scale of the operation, bill-investing huge, enormous sums of money in expanding overseas, particularly in Iceland and in Canada and Australia, China.  They’re going into—to partnerships with China and—and Russia.  And yet they won’t spend the money to do the right thing here.  So I think many of their employees are becoming, I don’t know, pretty disgusted with the situation.  I think they would like to blame us, and certainly we’re part of the—the puzzle, but we’re not the key piece, I don’t think.

DT:     Maybe you can tell me a little bit about the employees or the contractors that have come around, that have had somehow—had their minds changed by the information you’ve developed about Alcoa’s operation.

00:09:10 - 2264

BW:    Well, I think it’s very—you know, they won’t speak out publicly generally.  We can’t get them to talk to a reporter, for example.  We can’t even get them to—to come to our meetings.  They don’t really want to be seen with us, you know, because they—they feel threatened.  They feel that their jobs are at stake.  And even just saying something would—would put their livelihood at risk. 

DT:     But there’s been threats through retaliation that if you do speak out then you’ll likely lose your job or get demoted?

00:09:50 - 2264

BW:    I don’t know if they’ve been told that directly.  I know that they all who have spoken to us said that that was the case, but they’ve—but I don’t—I don’t know if some higher up at Alcoa has gone to them and said, you know, “You associate with those Neighbors for Neighbors people, or if you don’t speak out,” you know—what they have done is paid them a day’s salary to come to the hearing and to speak.  You know, we’ve seen them.  They get off the busses, they go and they sign in, you know, as though they’re clocking in to get—to get their day’s pay for being at a hearing and for speaking out.

DT:     Well, what do they typically say?

00:10:30  - 2264

BW:    We’ve got to have this permit.  You—I’m—I’m in favor of Alcoa getting this permit.  They’ve got to have this permit because—because I got to have the job.  You know, that we’re—we’re dependent on—on these jobs.  And it’s pretty ironic.  I can remember several of them getting up and saying, you know, “My kids have asthma and if I can’t keep this job then I won’t have my health insurance to be able to take my kids the doctor and have them treated for their asthma.”  You know, and it’s just—you know, we just want to run screaming, you know, “Don’t you get it?  Don’t you get it?”  You know, “They all have asthma because of Alcoa’s emissions,” you know.  “Come on!  Come on!  Wake up!”  So there’s an awful lot of denial just because, you know, they’ve got their walls up to protect themselves.  Excuse me. 

DT:     Have there been any whistle blowers that have talked to you confidentially about what goes on at the plant and why there might be problems? 

00:11:35 - 2264

BW:    Yeah, there was one—one man.  He’s very, very ill.  He doesn’t work there anymore.  And he was there during the days when they were making their, you know, major changes to their boilers, and literally had blueprints of what they were doing, and met with us and gave us those.  

DT:     What do you think motivated him to come and talk to you and…

00:12:01 - 2264

BW:    He was quite angry because his illness is directly related to his employment at Alcoa.  He—he has asbestosis.  So I—you know, he felt cheated.  I don’t even know if he’s still alive.  I would be surprised if he is.  I know that he felt very cheated out of his life because they knew about the exposure and didn’t tell them.  And, you know, he as a result is very ill and—and will die a very premature death. 

DT:     Can you tell us a little bit about your dealing with the executives at Alcoa or the public relations people or the lobbyists, and how they presented their case either to you or to the employees out there?

00:13:01 - 2264

BW:    I have literally been told by some of Alcoa’s executives and lawyers that I’m going to love the mine.  It’s going to be like a park.  We’re going to have walking trails and scenic overlooks, and you are just absolutely going to love it.  The mine is teaming with wildlife, I’m told. 

[There is a break in the recording]

DT:     When we broke earlier we were talking about your dealings with Alcoa and some of the their representatives and the kind of pitch that they might make to you.  And I was wondering if you could explain more about that.

00:13:50 - 2264

BW:    Sure.  Well, I think I said a minute ago that they told me that I was going to absolutely love the mine.  I was going to love it because it was going to be like having a park, you know.  And, you know, we were going to have walking trails and, you know, water sites and scenic overlooks so people could come and observe the mining operations, and—and oh, by the way, the mine is just teaming with wildlife.  And this is always—I’ve just found this astonishing because it just seems to me that that can’t be anything more than a boldfaced lie because how could you have wildlife in a completely desolated environment, you know, completely devoid of trees and top soil and grass and—and anything that could remotely pass for habitat.  You know, it’s just not there.  I’ve been over there.  I’ve seen the mine.  I know what it looks like.  Even reclaimed I know what it looks like.  And—and to say that it’s teaming with wildlife.  The only thing

00:15:02 - 2264

I can figure is what they’re doing—what they’re seeing is the wildlife making a mad dash to get out of there so that they don’t get crushed by the equipment, you know.  I—I can’t envision anything else other than that.  But, you know, they’re just quite arrogant, just—just very arrogant.  Every meeting we get into them with, if we ask—when we ask a question, you know.  So for example, why do you say you’re only going to send San Antonio forty thousand acre feet of water when the contract clearly says—leaves it open ended and they could ask for any amount they wanted and—and you’ve also reserved the right to—to ship it to other third parties and so on and so forth.  And we get this “Yes, there has been some confusion about that.  Let me explain it to you.”  Those are literally the words that the mine manager comes back at us with, you know, as though we’re

00:16:09 - 2264

stupid, you know, kindergartners.  It does nothing but just, you know, anger everybody and you just want to slap him silly.  But that’s the way they treat us and—and—it—it’s, you know, very, very condescending, very, you know, I can almost see them coming up and patting me on the head and saying, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it.”  I mean, that’s the attitude. 

DT:     (Inaudible) kind of disregard the (?), is it because you’re not a technician or an engineer but a layperson, or is it because you don’t work for the company or—why do you think they treat you like that?

00:16:59 - 2264

BW:    I think it’s just simply the way they have operated in Milam County for fifty years.  They’ve essentially had their way with everything.  They’ve been able to go in and soothe the ruffled feathers and—and sort of, you know, swipe people out of the way as though they were gnats and go on about their business and do it any way they choose, and—and—they have some pretty bad behavior and bad habits.  And I think they thought that those tactics that work over there will work with us, and—because we are not employees and we are not dependent on that facility being in existence, it doesn’t work with us.  You know, we don’t want to hear that stuff.  We—we don’t want you to tell us just what you think we want to hear, you know.  We want you to stop.  We want you to go away and get out of our neighborhood.  You want to stay in Milam County?  That’s your business.  If those people want you there, that’s fine.  That’s their business.  That’s not what we want.  And we expect you to listen to us.  And they don’t know how to deal

00:18:11 - 2264

with us really.  They—they totally dismissed us for a while and—and then, you know, we—we caught them breaking the law with the—the air stuff and—and they just suddenly had to—to realize that—that we could hurt them in some way.  You know, talk about the—the—the arrogance, when we went to Travis County—to the commissioner’s court in Travis County to—to get them to pass a resolution saying that Alcoa needed to clean up because Travis County is, you know, possibly going to go into non-attainment, they had the gall to testify that they were in compliance with all state and federal laws.  Well, turned out that just simply was not true.  So they had to quit saying that.  So we’ve caused them some image problems.  And they need to have much worse image problems than we—than we’ve been able to—to—to cause, because they really are bad players.  They—they really, really are. 

DT:     Have you developed snappy comebacks to these kinds of people when they treat you in that insulting and patronizing way, that sort of become your kind of sound bites?

00:19:35 - 2264

BW:    No.  As a matter of fact we have committed to taking the high road, that we just don’t do that.  We don’t engage them in this.  We let them say whatever they’re going to say and then we don’t—we don’t go spew that out, you know, and say, “Oh, well, but Alcoa said it’s fine because of this.”  We take what they have to say.  We listen.  We take it in.  We go back and we say, “Here’s what they say.  Where is our documentation to show that this is incorrect?”  And that’s how we’ve done it.  We’ve just said, “Here’s what Alcoa says.  Here’s what we have as documentation to show that that’s either correct or not, whatever it is.” 

DT:     How do they deal with it now that, you know, you’ve shown that through these inconsistencies and patterns of deception, have they sort of eaten humble pie or has their attitude changed in any way?

00:20:40- 2264

BW:    No.  I don’t think their attitude has changed at all.  I—I think that—I mean they had to quit saying that they were in compliance with all the laws.  But if you ask them if they broke the law they still claim that they did not and that it was routine maintenance.  And they just only settled this suit in order not to have to incur the expense of litigation.  You know, that’s—that’s their line and it—it’s the same line that I think you hear all over the country whenever there’s a settlement by industry or big business with—with citizens.  “Oh well, we’re just doing this to, you know, cut our losses” kind of thing.  But no, they still treat us the same way. 

DT:     I think you said before that they’d had some success in Milam County in swiping away opposition.  Can you give some examples of their pattern going back before Neighbors for Neighbors was so successful in sort of bringing them to task?

00:22:45 - 2264

BW:    Sure.  One of the things that happens in all counties—there’s a gnat—sorry—is that business, you know—tax assessor periodically has to raise property tax rates.  Each time that Alcoa has been faced with having to pay higher property taxes they have protested that.  And each time they have used, you know, the same old excuse.  “We can’t afford to pay more money.  We’re just barely scraping by over here.  If we have to do that then we’re just going to have to lay people or shut the place down and, you know, we just can’t afford that.”  And consequently, you know, the—the tax office just, “Oh, oh, okay, okay, oh my gosh.”  You know.  “We can’t have you leaving here because the whole town would fold,” you know.  So they’ve gotten their way every single time.  Even recently.  I think it was last year, or maybe the year before, the hospital in Rockdale was going bankrupt.  And so what was happening is that they were trying to enlarge the

00:23:09 - 2264

taxing district for the hospital, and unbelievably Alcoa was not included in the taxing district.  So they thought, “Well, boy, we can include Alcoa in the taxing district and that will—that will cure it,” you know. “It’ll—it’ll solve the problem.  We’ll get enough tax money from them to put the hospital back in the black.”  Well, Alcoa once again vehemently protested same excuse, “We’ll have to shut the plant down.  Can’t afford it.”  And that they got their way.  And the hospital went bankrupt.  So this is what they do.  You know, it’s always “We’re going to shut down.  We’re going to shut down.  We’re going to shut down.”  There was one incidence where a citizen actually won.  And it was an individual who—whose road, which was a state road, was his access to his property.  Now there was another dirt road—county road that came up behind that could also get

00:24:18 - 2264

there but he had to go twelve miles around the mine in order to—to get to his place through that entrance.  So his main entrance was on this state highway.  Well, Alcoa bought up all the land that surrounded that highway and declared that they were going to close that highway.  Luckily, this man had political connections, and made his connections, got his—I think it was—I can’t remember if it was the senator or state rep, and I—his name escapes me right now, too—out there and on his side, and when they went to the Highway Commission to testify Alcoa, as they always do, bust in their two hundred folks, had them stand up and say, “You can’t make them build him a new road.  It’s going to cost a million dollars and Alcoa says they’re going to shut the plant down and I have to have this job.”  So they were threatening to shut the plant down over a

00:25:24 - 2264

million-dollar road.  It was just unbelievable, but that’s what they were doing.  But the Highway Commission went to them and said, “You’re not going to win this.  You need to give this man a road so I suggest you go over and talk to him and find out what he wants because we’re going to rule against you.”  And I think it one—the one and only time in Milam County that they have actually had a ruling from a state agency against them for anything.  And it was only because this man had the right political connections who was a friend and who had a lot of pull.  And—and that’s how it happened.  And it seems to be the only way you can get anything to happen that…

DT:     Billie, you’ve helped us understand some of your dealings with the Texas Commission, Environmental Quality, and EPA, and some of your neighbors in Elgin, and those in Rockdale, and some of your counterparts at Alcoa, I was wondering if you could talk somewhat about how you managed to bring in people who weren’t intimately involved in this, whether it was other non-profit groups such as Environmental Defense, Trust for Public Lands, Public Citizen, and also you brought the media, and in that sense people who might live in Britain.  I mean I understand that you had the—a London paper come.  Perhaps you could discuss that.

00:27:04 - 2264

BW:    Well, we’ve had a really good Communications Outreach Committee chaired by Ron Giles, who—oh, and—and Travis Brown.  I don’t want to forget Travis.  Both of them have been instrumental, I think, in—and—and helping us with media outreach.  And then almost all of the local environmental groups—Texas Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Defense, Public Citizen, Sierra Club—many of them have been watching and keeping up with Alcoa’s doings for years, so they weren’t—it wasn’t like a totally new issue for them.  So really all we had to do was just call them up and say, “Oh my gosh!  Do you know anything about this, and what do we do?”  And, you know, so that—that’s kind of how that happened.  I think Environmental Defense and Public Citizen in particular got involved because Environmental Defense was watching very closely what was happening with our finding on the air pollution and knew that we

00:28:29 - 2264

had a strong case and chose that to be one of the things that they decided to pursue.  As part of the settlement in the air suit, we had to come up with environmental mitigation projects that were acceptable to Alcoa, and EPA, and all the citizens group.  Any one could veto an idea.  So we wanted specifically to have some land set aside because goodness knows if they were going to come in and demolish sixteen thousand acres we thought, well to offset that, you know, we would have some land set aside.  And that’s how it—it became involved with the land trust.  And the local land trust here is Pines and Prairies Land Trust.  Well, Alcoa would not agree to go with them because they were local and had only been in existence for two years, and I think it was really just a stall tactic.  But anyway, they claim that they had to be a national organization so we quickly

00:29:48 - 2264

did some shopping around for lack of a better word to find a national trust that would operate and—and coordinate with the local Pines and Prairies Land Trust.  And that’s how we got the—the Trust Republic Land involved.  So really, you know, all these groups that have gotten involved have—have either been because they sort of already knew about it and—and wanted to help us because they knew we were going to focus on it, and they couldn’t focus on just that one issue, so they wanted to help us.  So they’ve stayed with us.  Or it has something to do with—with the settlement that—that, you know, that was involved.  As far as the media goes, you know, one thing that was quite helpful was that we came from Texas and our governor was running for president much during the time that a lot of our—our findings about the air pollution were coming to light.  The rest of the world is—was very interested in—in what that was all about

00:31:04 - 2264

because not long after Bush took office in the White House he announced that he would not support the Kyoto Protocol.  Well, that created quite a furor in Britain and in Europe and in Japan.  And so our communications committee knew that that was the case and they were actually quite good and intelligent about how to put out their news releases and how to capture the attention.  Unbelievably, we could not really get much national attention other than The Rolling Stone and The Dallas Morning News, but beyond that we had a couple of bites from Sixty Minutes, but it never—never panned out.  But the international media was just all over it.  We had two BBC programs send reporters and

00:32:06 - 2264

camera people.  One I picked up at the Rockdale airport in a private plane.  Greg Palast was who it was.  And he did a story for NewsNightThe Money Program, which is sort of like a Nightline, came and did a thirty minute segment on it, so—they interviewed me along with the CEO of Peabody Coal and the CEO of British Petroleum and the CEO of Exxon, and it was sort of weird, you know, to see the video.  Here’s all these, you know, CEOs and then there’s me, and it was just kind of unusual.  But you know, the—the—the British media in particular were—were just really hot about the Kyoto Protocol thing, and—and wanted to say, “Look, this is how it didn’t work in the state of Texas,” you know, “And now,” you know, “this guy wants to do it for the whole United States and the United States pollutes more than any other country in the world, and yet they don’t want to participate in this Kyoto Protocol.”  And so it was—it was a big international issue that

00:33:22 - 2264

we were able to capitalize on.  We were very lucky in that regard that the timing of it was such that—that we could do that.  And so that happened.  We had Japanese media here.  We had media from Belgium.  And then of course The Rolling Stone and Dallas Morning News did a really get—great story about it.  And the Austin American Statesman has been wonderful.  Channel Thirty-six has been really good, locally, about covering this story.  They keep—really keep on top of it better than any of the other local TV stations. 

[There was an interruption at this point.]

DT:     Billie, through your work with Neighbors for Neighbors you’ve managed to bring the Alcoa situation tot he attention of media, to the attention of agencies both from the federal and state level, and to the attention of the nonprofit community, but I’m curious if you could discuss a little bit about how it’s affected you in the last four years or so that you’ve been involved in this.

00:35:52 - 2264

BW:    Well, it’s affected me in a lot of ways, not the least of which is just—just stress of—of dealing with it because it—it’s so big, and it—it—it’s very heavy to deal with, and so I’ve had a lot of health impacts actually that are all stress related.  I’ve developed high blood pressure, for example.  Every time I’ve had to go over to Rockdale, every single time no matter where I went I would come home ill in one form or the other, either just with a horrible headache from—that’s primarily from the sulfur dioxide emissions, but to the point of—when we were there for two days I had to be there all day on two days for—for taking the soil samples and stuff that—that I spoke about earlier, all of us who went on those two days and were there in the mine pits and around the plant all day were ill both evenings when we got home.  Either headaches, nausea or just feeling completely drained of all energy.  And I think—I think the first day we all just thought well, you know, it’s from being out in the sun, you know, too much that day.  But you

00:36:28 - 2264

know, the second when it happened and it wasn’t as long of a day, and it wasn’t as stressful of a day, and when we still—we just felt awful, and then how long it took us all to recover from it is once we all recovered and looked back we kind of went “Wow!” you know.  That was not your usual, “Oh, I just spent too much time in the sun that day” kind of a feeling, you know.  It was—it was something else entirely.  And I don’t know honestly know how the people living or working over there function normally.  And maybe they don't.  I know there are an awful lot of sick people over there.  But, you know, just the day to day going to work and doing your job, I don’t really know how they do that.  But it’s, you know, it’s—it definitely has a personal impact on your life, on your health.  You can’t escape it, whether you’re working over there or whether you’re trying to prevent them from, you know, becoming your next door neighbor.  I don’t know anyone who’s been involved with this who hasn’t had some form of either health or stress related problem—and financial problem.  It’s taken an awful lot of money to—to mount

00:37:58- 2264

this campaign and to try to—to keep this from happening.  And so, you know, there have been a lot of job issues because of people, you know, either having to take time off of work.  One person I know absolutely has no vacation time.  Every—every second of vacation time that he had in four years is gone.  And he hasn’t gone anywhere.  It’s all been time taken off to deal with this issue.  And it has a huge impact on your life.  There’s been relationship problems.  I—I don’t know any married couple who’s been really engaged with it who hasn’t suffered some anguish at home because of the stress of it.  You know, it’s—it’s been a really big deal.  And, you know, particularly during times, for example, when we were contesting their mining permit at the Railroad Commission, and they were particularly ugly.  And I think primarily because they—they knew that the Railroad Commission would pretty much let them do whatever they wanted to do.  But they were particularly ugly.  They requested as part of the discovery process that they be able to have our membership list with criminal backgrounds, social security numbers,

00:39:29 - 2264

driver’s license numbers for every member that we have.  They also requested to come on any member’s property that they chose and videotape both outside of their property and inside their home.  It—it was outrageous so you can imagine the—the personal impact that that had on all of us.  We took a stand and said I don’t care if the court says you can do this or not.  We will not allow you inside our homes.  We will not allow you to have our membership list.  And I made a very public statement saying I would go to jail before I would turn over a membership list, that we had a fiduciary responsibility to our membership to protect them and their privacy, and we would not turn over any membership list.  Now luckily the hearings examiner said, “No, you can’t go in their houses and you can’t have their membership list.”  I’m sure because we had made it very, very public.  It was front page, you know, news and we’re willing to go to jail over the issue.  And of course they didn’t want us to do that because, you know, that would make for way too good of a story that—that was on the side of Neighbors for Neighbors and

00:40:55 - 2264

would make Alcoa look just horrible.  So that did not happen.  And I’m—I’m thankful that it didn’t.  But—but that just shows you how they deal with people on a personal level and—and how someone like me who just, you know, was minding my own business ended up in the middle of—of something where I could have gone to jail, you know.  It’s—it’s kind of mind boggling to think about, but—but that’s what—that’s—that’s the way this works. 

DT:     Are there things that you think you’ve learned from the experience?

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BW:    I think the biggest lesson for me has been about participating and being in community, because when I moved out to the country it was to not be involved in community, and not participate in community, and to be able to do whatever I wanted out in the middle of nowhere that didn’t bother anybody.  And I think the biggest lesson has been it doesn’t matter how isolated you think you are, you’re not.  That somehow you have to participate.  You can’t stick your head in the sand.  You absolutely must participate because when good people don’t participate bad things happen, you know.  They really do.  And even when good people do participate, sometimes you can’t prevent.  But if you don’t participate it’s all over.  And I really think that the survival of the species, of humans, depends on the survival of the planet and on the protection of the

00:42:56 - 2264

environment and other species.  And I—I can’t imagine a more devastating process to the planet than strip mining.  And so to me that’s threatening to the survival of the human race.  So, you know, that’s been it for me.  It’s been, “Okay, don’t go stick your head in the sand somewhere.  Get involved.  Participate.  Vote.  I’ve always voted, but you know, it just brought home why all those things are important, and that we must in this country do that.  We have to do that.  We have to preserve our right to do that, and because we have the right to do it, I think it’s our responsibility to do it. 

DT:     You’ve talked about how devastating this mine has been and could be.  Maybe you could tell us a little bit about a place that brings you—of other feelings besides this sense of devastation.  Maybe a place that gives you feelings of solace that makes this all worth while.

00:44:20 - 2264

BW:    Bastrop State Park.  I love Bastrop State Park.  And Buescher State Park.  The trees, the pines.  I grew up in East Texas in the piney woods so when I go into Bastrop State Park it’s like eating comfort food, you know.  You feel like you’re home.  I feel like I’m home.  I feel like I’m being nestled into a fantastic place.  And I love walking the trails there.  I love swimming in the pool there.  I just really, really enjoy that park a lot.  So in this area, in the local area here, that’s it.  I mean that’s my favorite place and I’ve enjoyed it ever since I moved here in 1972 to Austin to go to school at UT and I learned

00:45:17 - 2264

about Bastrop State Park.  It was the place that I could go in thirty minutes and feel at home.  So I really love that.  Other—another place that I feel that, and I don’t know how anyone couldn’t feel it there is in Big Bend National Park in—in the Davis Mountains.  I mean my goodness, if you can’t feel solace there I don’t know where on earth you could do it.  But I really love it out there—really love it out there, too.  I don’t get out there very often but I think it’s just remarkable and peaceful and—you definitely can get out in the middle of nowhere and—it’s a respite. 

DT:     Anything you’d like to add?

BW:    Not really.  I can’t think of anything. 

DT:     Well, you’ve taught us a lot.  Thanks very much.

BW:    You’re welcome.  It’s really been my pleasure.

DT:     Thank you.

BW:    Thanks.

[End of Reel 2264]

[End of interview with Billie Woods]


Conservation History Association of Texas
Texas Legacy Project

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