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Bad Bills

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Nuking Democracy

House Bill 2721

Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van

One hardship of building potentially hazardous, ecosystem-altering nuclear facilities is that people can sometimes be downright unwelcoming.

Rep. Dan Flynn understands this. So he has proposed a bill that would keep people out of the picture altogether.

Flynn’s bill would streamline the process of obtaining the water rights permits needed to build nuclear power plants. Flynn wants the wait down to a year or less. “I’m in favor of affordable, clean energy in Texas,” says Flynn, who also favors wind power and “clean” coal. “If energy costs get so high that you can’t pay them, it won’t matter if you have a plant in your backyard or not.”

Environmentalists think speeding up the permitting process is dangerous enough. What’s worse is a section of the bill that would prevent affected parties-nearby landowners and folks who hold downstream water rights-from challenging in court permits issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

The impact of nuclear plants on water supplies needs careful consideration, environmentalists agree. According to one estimate, the proposed nuclear reactor at Comanche Peak would need 30,000 gallons of water a minute for each reactor. Engineer and water-flow expert Joseph Trungale says the demand would increase “the severity, frequency, and duration of ‘man-made’ drought conditions, potentially leading to an alteration in the ecosystem.”

“It’s hard to believe someone would bring up a bill like this at this time,” says Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition. In March, Gov. Rick Perry requested federal drought aid for all 254 Texas counties.

“Right now we are worried about people having enough water to drink and for ranchers to maintain their cattle,” says Hadden. “TCEQ seems to be on a warpath against democracy. They’re trying to jam nuclear down our throats whether we want it or not.”

Flynn’s bill reminds many environmentalists of the tussle a couple of years back over Perry’s executive order to fast-track permits for coal-fired power plants. In 2007, a judge found his order unconstitutional.

“This is a blatant attempt to curtail citizen rights,” says Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Given the chance to exercise those rights, citizens might well say they don’t want or need nuclear power. “This is all based on profit, not on need,” Hadden says. “For example, Dallas-Fort Worth can meet 100 percent of its growth in demand with efficiency and renewables.”

If that’s the case people are making, it’s no wonder the nuclear-power companies don’t want them involved.

Untraceable Taggers

House Bill 1234

Rep. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio

A good solution to costly problems with graffiti has long eluded Texas lawmakers. Judging from Rep. Jose Menendez’ House Bill 1234, it still does.

Menendez represents part of San Antonio, where the graffiti-cleanup budget has risen from $650,000 to $1.2 million in recent years. David Garza, director of the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Department, says city employees scrubbed away 3 million square feet of graffiti in 2008.

Menendez wants to let cities and counties require retailers to log identifying information about every spray-paint purchaser and the paint they purchase, and keep the records for two years. “Police officers often report that all they find at the scene is an empty can of spray paint with no way to trace it,” Menendez says.

If his bill becomes law, officers still would have no good way to trace paint to the buyer. Spray paint has no unique identifier that makes it traceable.

Pamela Clark, chair of the Texas Paint Council, says manufacturers make paint in batches as large as 5,000 gallons. Cans from each batch share a common number. Once paint is sold, Clark told members of the House State Affairs Committee during a hearing on the bill, “even though I might have taken information about a buyer, I have no way of discerning his can from the other 5,000 that might be in that particular lot.”

Menendez got his idea from Portland, Oregon, which since 2007 has required retailers to record details about spray-paint purchases. Portland hasn’t completed its official, one-year evaluation of the program. Robert Hills, executive director of the National Council to Prevent Delinquency, says preliminary information indicates “there has been no reduction in graffiti.”

Hills says Portland officials know there is no way to trace a paint can to a buyer. Their hope, he says, is that requiring the purchase information will make taggers afraid to buy paint. The problem is that taggers could find out at any time-say, through a viral video or an e-mail-that the policy is a sham. “Portland is one YouTube video away from being outed,” Hills says. “And then the registration process, even for intimidation purposes, is useless.”