Updated below with data from National Weather Service
Folks in Wichita Falls don’t need a reminder that the Great Texas Drought is far from over.
The city of Wichita Falls on Tuesday officially announced unprecedented Stage 4 drought restrictions that ban almost all outdoor watering, ratchet up surcharges for over-consumption and prohibit golf courses from watering with city water, among other rules. The North Texas city joins a list of towns that have run into serious water shortages, including Robert Lee, Spicewood Beach and Barnhart
The new restrictions were triggered when the city’s two drinking-water lakes—Lake Arrowhead and Lake Kickapoo—fell to a combined 30 percent capacity. The lakes, like most reservoirs west of Interstate 35, have been in steady decline for years as drought’s handmaidens—heat, evaporation and heavy municipal demand—take their toll. Both are at historic lows and it doesn’t appear that the water restrictions so far have arrested the withering-away of the lakes.
At a press conference this morning, city officials were blunt in their assessment.
“Make no mistake, this is a crisis,” [City Manager Darron Leiker] said, then reinforcing weather conditions that led to the current drought stage. “It’s really nothing short of a natural disaster we’re dealing with.”
While rains the past few months have given much of Texas some relief, Wichita Falls is in a pocket of extreme conditions—the latest victim in a three-year drought that’s morphed and shifted around the state like lichen, here growing stronger, there slackening but persisting nonetheless.
“The city of Wichita Falls would typically see 28 days of 100-degree temperatures. In 2011, we saw 100 days over 100 degrees,” he said. “Think about that for a minute. That’s over three months of over 100 degrees.”
The director added that the city received just 13 inches of rain in 2011, less than half of the average rainfall of more than 28 inches. He said 2012 and 2013 have had similar results — above normal temperatures and below normal rainfall — and the result is the severe drought that has decimated the region.
Victor Murphy, climate service program manager at the National Weather Service, says 2011-2012 was the warmest consecutive two-year stretch on record for Wichita Falls and the driest two-year stretch. Going into 2013, the area had a 22-inch rainfall deficit. That combination was the “1-2 punch to the gut that floored the Wichita Falls area,” Murphy said.
And while 2013 has been somewhat kinder—temperatures have been near normal—Wichita Falls is running a seven-inch rainfall deficit for the year, bringing the total gap in precipitation over the past three years to an unbelievable 29 inches, about the amount Wichita Falls gets in a whole year.
Of course, climate change has nothing to do with any of this.
On Friday, Houston news station KHOU reported on the surprising election of Dave Wilson, a white anti-gay activist who beat a 24-year incumbent in a heavily Democratic and African-American district at least in part by pretending to be black. That story has blown up, but what few outlets are noting is that Wilson is a longtime and, heretofore, unsuccessful foe of the college system he has just joined.
During his run for District II trustee of the Houston Community College System, Wilson’s campaign materials never showed his face. Instead, they featured black families beside the words, “Please vote for our friend and neighbor Dave Wilson.” One mailer crowed, “Endorsed by Ron Wilson,” suggesting the support of a former state representative who is African American. But actually the endorsement came from Wilson’s cousin Ron, who lives in Iowa.
Wilson, an electrician known locally for nuisance lawsuits and homophobia, doesn’t deny his intent to mislead. “Every time a politician talks, he’s out there deceiving voters,” Wilson told KHOU.
But besides being non-representative of his district politically and racially, Wilson joins the ranks of conservative neophytes elected to political bodies they openly despise. At a tea party event in October of last year, Wilson delivered a 76-slide presentation on why voters should reject the $425 million bond proposal to fund HCC, the gist of which was that enrollment was down and money is expensive. Despite his heroic PowerPoint, that bond passed. In 2011, Wilson sued the HCC trustees to prevent the purchase of land Wilson claimed was overpriced. The suit was summarily dismissed with prejudice and Wilson had to pay court costs.
Most of Wilson’s 20 years of relapsing-remitting political activity in Houston has gone like that. But he has had one other taste of victory. Before turning his eye on HCC, Wilson fought homosexuality. In 2001, he gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot denying benefits to same-sex partners of city employees. That referendum passed. He followed up by running for mayor on an anti-gay platform, sending out tens of thousands of mailers saying Annise Parker, who is gay, should not be mayor because “homosexual behavior leads to extinction.”
In 2009, Wilson’s homophobia took a pitying stance. In one flier, he said, “I have nothing but compassion, respect, and sensitivity toward those trapped in homosexual behavior.” But by the time Parker won a second term, Wilson had gotten uglier. A capture of campaign website from December of 2011 features a Bible verse from Romans over an unsigned cartoon of Parker high-fiving Jerry Sandusky while saying, “You’re hired!”
The electorate that, perhaps inadvertently, elected Wilson last week also granted Parker a third mayoral term.
Wilson hinted at his new campaign strategy during his last failed run. Perhaps sensing that gay-bashing had lost its value as an electoral tool, Wilson released a statement two days before the 2011 election stating that he was not in the Ku Klux Klan, that Parker’s camp had spread a rumor to that effect, and that he had been a member of the NAACP for several years.
How much Wilson’s racial subterfuge helped him in last week’s election is unknown. The HCC system has been plagued by poor performance, and other trustees were forced into runoffs. But the effect could have been tiny and still decisive. Wilson beat incumbent Bruce Austin by only 26 votes in a race with more than 11,000 cast. Austin has asked for a recount, but with electronic voting, a reversal seems unlikely. An HCC trustee term is six years.
Election Day last week brought plenty of complaints at the polls about Texas’ new voter ID law, but it also brought one major complaint in Corpus Christi federal court, where nine voters joined La Unión Del Pueblo Entero in suing the state over its tough new voting requirements.
The plaintiffs are long-time voters from South Texas who lack the photo ID now required to vote in Texas since the 2011 law took effect. “The State knew or should have known,” the suit says, “that Hispanic and African-American Texans disproportionately lack the forms of photo ID required by SB 14.” (Read the full complaint below.)
There are, of course, many other legal challenges to Texas’ voter ID law, including from the U.S. Department of Justice, groups like MALC and NAACP, the Texas League of Young Voters and a group led by Congressman Marc Veasey. As recently as September, the Texas Association of Hispanic County Judges and County Commissioners joined in those suits, and True the Vote sought to join the state in defending the law.
The new complaint is focused specifically on the burden the law places on poor, rural voters, according to David Hall, executive director of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which is representing the new plaintiffs.
“What we were trying to do is fill in a niche that didn’t seem to be addressed much by the Justice Department suit or the other plaintiffs,” he told the Observer. “Most of our clients don’t have a handy certified copy of a birth certificate, so they’re going to be paying some money.”
That cost varies from $22—for the copy of a birth certificate you’d need in order to get a new state ID—to $345 for a copy of citizenship papers, according to the complaint. For residents of rural Willacy, Goliad or Karnes counties, getting that paperwork together can mean long, costly trips to the closest DPS office.
These are all familiar concerns to critics of the voter ID law—often raised by Democrats during the Legislature’s debate over the law, and dismissed by Republicans as abstract worries. Each of the nine plaintiffs in this suit demonstrate the very real problems Texas’ voter ID law created.
Eulalio Mendez, Jr., is an 82-year-old man living in Willacy County whose driver’s license expired in June 2012, and who has no way to travel to the DPS office in Harlingen that issues ID cards. Roxsanne Hernandez, in the Goliad County town of Berclair, had her state ID card stolen last year and doesn’t have a copy of her birth certificate. Estela Garcia Espinoza is a 69-year-old Raymondville woman who no longer drives, and whose license expired four years ago. She was born on a Starr County ranch in 1944 and her birth was never officially registered.
All the plaintiffs had voted regularly before this year, according to the complaint, and have incomes well below the poverty line.
They’re joined in the suit by La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, a group founded by Cesar Chavez, which advocates for immigrants and poor people in South Texas. Juanita Valdez-Cox, the group’s executive director, told the Observer that she has personal reasons for joining in the suit. She compared the new law to the poll tax her own father had to pay to vote until 1966, and said her 92-year-old mother lacks the ID now required to vote in person because her state ID is expired. Local officials suggested she vote by mail instead, but Valdez-Cox wasn’t satisfied with that solution. ”People make the choice, not the state, how they want to vote,” she said.
Valdez-Cox said she was frustrated by a news story in which the local elections administrator said the voter ID rollout went smoothly this year, and that nobody had been turned away at the polls. (That was a common report across the state.)
“She only speaks for the ones that showed up to vote,” Valdez-Cox said. “She doesn’t know how many stayed home because they already knew they didn’t have the required ID, they were already discouraged to show up. Those are the ones that we are concerned about.”
Dallas 1963 is devoid of conspiracy theories. It’s not a dry, brittle history text. And you won’t find any single person blamed for JFK’s assassination.
Instead, Observer contributor Bill Minutaglio and Wittliff Collections curator Steven L. Davis have resurrected the political climate that suffused Dallas in advance of Kennedy’s fateful visit, showing how businessmen, religious zealots, political leaders and moneyed tycoons all contributed to a complex atmosphere of intolerance and hate.
His experience working with the archives at Texas State University’s Wittliff Collections certainly gave co-author Davis a home-field advantage in researching the project. “Working in the archives means you know what questions to ask to find the right material,” Davis says. For Davis, much of that material lies in unprocessed primary sources—documents that have yet to be categorized and are therefore not open and accessible to the public. As a result, these primary sources have rarely—if ever—been reported on. “Going into the archives, you’re finding things that no one has ever really looked at,” Davis says. “That’s when you start doing something really exciting and groundbreaking.”
Take, for example, the Mink Coat Mob riot, organized by Republican U.S. Congressman Bruce Alger, which occurred in Dallas just days before Kennedy’s 1960 election. That attack on Lady Bird and Lyndon B. Johnson has long been relegated to a footnote in histories of the Kennedy campaign, but Davis says the event has been under-appreciated as a factor in Kennedy’s election. The attack inspired sympathy from, for instance, Richard Russell, a Democratic senator from Georgia who had refused to support Kennedy and Johnson because of their pro-civil rights plank. After the Mink Coat Mob accosted the Johnsons, however, Russell flew to Texas and stumped for the ticket, helping to bring “reluctant segregationist-minded voters back into the Democratic column,” according to Davis.
Further research into this overlooked event led Davis and Minutaglio to the Nixon presidential papers and recordings housed in California’s Nixon Presidential Library. One recording documents a frustrated Richard Nixon telling a staff member, “Well, we lost Texas in 1960 because of that asshole congressman [Alger] in Dallas.” Davis says the recording makes it clear that Nixon blamed Alger and the Mink Coat Mob incident for his loss, as he’d previously been leading the Texas polls.
“When you find something like this in the archives,” Davis says, “it puts a new light on this historical incident and proves our assertion of how consequential this event turned out to be.”
Minutaglio and Davis bring such historical nuance to light throughout Dallas 1963. The duo will be at Houston’s Brazos Bookstore on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. and at Austin’s BookPeople on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. to discuss their collaboration. For an excerpt of Dallas 1963, see the November issue of The Texas Observer.
Carlos Gutierrez rolled into Austin Saturday after a 701-mile bicycle ride from El Paso. Austin was the final destination on his 12-day ride across Texas to raise awareness about Mexican asylum seekers.
News cameras crowded around an exhausted and emotional Gutierrez as he carefully stepped off his bike and looked around, searching the crowd for his father’s face. For the next few minutes, family members and supporters took turns hugging the 35-year old cyclist.
Just two years ago a ride like this would have been unthinkable. A successful businessman in Chihuahua, Gutierrez was targeted by cartel members who demanded monthly extortion payments of $10,000. When Gutierrez could no longer pay, cartel members cut off his feet and left him to die as an example to other business owners.
Miraculously, Gutierrez survived. But to save his life his legs had to be amputated below the knees. Afterward, Gutierrez and his family fled Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. His asylum was neither granted nor denied. Instead, it was “administratively closed,” so that Gutierrez, while able to work, is in a sort of limbo until his case is reopened.
Typically, less than two percent of Mexican asylum cases are granted each year. Last year 9,206 Mexicans applied for political asylum in the U.S., and only 126 received asylum, according to U.S. Justice Department data. Carlos Spector, the El Paso immigration attorney who is representing Gutierrez, says the reason so few cases are approved is political. If the U.S. starts granting asylum to Mexicans, he says, it would be admitting that violence really does exist in Mexico and that the war on drugs has failed.
In exile in the United States, Gutierrez was struggling to adjust to life in a wheelchair. Then one day he met Eddie Zepeda, a prosthetic specialist, who pledged to help Gutierrez walk again with the help of prosthetic legs. Zepeda provided all of his services free of charge. Gutierrez refers to Zepeda as his guardian angel.
Gutierrez has come a long way since then, training for months to ride across Texas and raise awareness about the violence and impunity destroying the fabric of Mexican society. To bring attention to his situation and that of thousands of other Mexicans fleeing violence and seeking asylum here, he embarked on his Pedaling for Justice campaign in late October.
“I’m not here to point the finger at anyone; simply to alert the government as to what’s going on with the Mexican people,” Gutierrez said. “People from other countries are granted asylum as soon as they touch American soil, but not us Mexicans. Because even with the circumstances we’ve lived through – in my case the attempt on my life – it isn’t enough to get asylum. I don’t think it’s fair that it’s this way for Mexicans just because we are from a neighboring country.”
The war on drugs that started in 2006 has claimed thousands of Mexican lives and has forced thousands more to flee their homes. But Mexicans continue to be denied asylum because judges argue they are not fleeing political persecution, but are tortured, kidnapped or threatened in their home country only for economic gain. Thus, it isn’t the state that’s persecuting victims, but common criminals. Gutierrez’s lawyer Carlos Spector disagrees.
“Asylum law doesn’t reflect the Mexican reality, which is that much of the extortion is possible because of the relationship with the state. ‘Authorized crime’ really reflects reality much more than the concept of ‘organized crime.’ Organized crime implies that there are bad criminals on one side and good guys, like cops, on the other. In reality, authorized crime better describes what we’ve seen – that organized crime is not possible without the complicity of the municipal, state and federal police.”
Because the police is an extension of the state, Spector says, and because the police is often responsible for acts of violence or allows acts of violence to occur with impunity, the state is responsible for what happens to victims of organized crime. That, he says, makes it political persecution.
Spector, who started the nonprofit advocacy group Mexicanos en Exilio, or Mexicans in Exile, won the first-ever asylum case for a Mexican national in 1991. Since then, he’s been able to win political asylum for more than a dozen people, including victims of violence in the Juarez Valley and Mexican journalists who exposed organized crime.
Gutierrez joined Mexicanos en Exilio when he moved to El Paso two years ago, and later had the idea of cycling across Texas to educate U.S. lawmakers about the desperate situation so many Mexicans find themselves in in their home country. He’s trying to combat the misconception that some lawmakers have that asylum-seekers are trying to abuse the legal system in order to gain lawful status in the country.
“We’re not here because we wanted to be or because that was our inclination,” Gutierrez said. “The circumstances that led me to this country were that I had my feet mutilated. This isn’t a game, we’re not playing with the law, with justice, with the system at all – this is the reality.”
Gutierrez says he set out on this ride to help other people in the same situation he’s in. Now that his long journey is behind him, he wants to do something bigger to help more victims of drug violence, especially ones who like him have suffered a physical disability at the hands of organized crime.
“People keep asking me, ‘What’s next?’” he said at the press conference today in Austin. “Something big. It doesn’t stop here. I won’t stop until God stops me. No one else and nothing else can stop me, only God.”
President Obama was in Texas this week—Dallas, to be specific—defending Obamacare and encouraging Gov. Rick Perry to accept the basically-free Medicaid expansion deal that would save thousands of lives.
Texas Republicans used the opportunity to blast not just the rocky roll-out of the exchange website, but the whole idea of providing health care. Uncle Louie Gohmert, who I trust will be making regular WTF Friday appearances, naturally took things the furthest. Politicians are always accusing the press of “taking things out of context,” but in this instance Gohmert looks better out of context.
1) “When you know how dramatically people are adversely affected, do you want to let people suffer and potentially die, or do you do everything you can to try to put it off?”—U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
You’d almost think he was talking about the need for government intervention in the healthcare marketplace to avoid needless suffering and death. In fact, he was explaining why the House GOP thought it was worth shutting down the government and bringing the economy to the brink of disaster in a vain attempt to derail Obamacare.
The remainder of our WTF Friday quotes seem to point to a theme: creative policymaking.
Down at the Texas Supreme Court, tweetin’ maniac Justice Don Willett staked out a compassionate GOP position on LGBT rights. The court is considering whether same-sex couples, who legally married in another state, should be allowed to get divorced in Texas despite the state’s ban on gay marriage.
2) “It would seem to many that divorce would further the state’s public policy and not undermine the state’s public policy.”-@JusticeWillett
Logic: Gay marriage, bad. Straight marriage, good. Straight divorce, bad. Gay divorce, good.
Meanwhile, in the family values department, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, author of If Jesus Were an Investment Banker and apparent Quiverfull movement sympathizer Barry Smitherman settled on his anti-poverty plan:
3) “First get an education, then get a job, then get married, then have children – and you will not live at the poverty level.”—Barry Smitherman
Finally, we end with (who else?) Pastor Rafael Cruz—father of Ted, hero to millions. Pater Cruz took his Sunday school class on the road, speaking to a gun group in Oklahoma and producing enough WTF fodder to last WTF Friday for two weeks at least. But this is the gem that really stands out, policy-making according to the Old Testament God.
4) “You know, the Bible is so clear. Go to Genesis chapter nine and you will find the death penalty clearly stated in Genesis chapter nine … God ordains the death penalty!”—Rafael Cruz
In Genesis 9:4, God also admonishes Noah, who lived to 950 according to Genesis 9:28, to “not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it.” I hope the Cruzes don’t like their steak raw.
Roxanne Joganik moved into the Texan RV Park in Athens—the “black-eyed pea capital of the world,” halfway between Tyler and Corsicana—in April 2011. She was in her mid-50s, a Texas Army National Guard veteran living on Social Security in a trailer with her partner, Darlina Anthony. They had a happy, modest life in the park, enjoying the hillside scenery, grilling with neighbors and helping the owners, a couple who performed as a country gospel duo, fix the wireless Internet when it went out.
But when a man named George Toone bought the park in spring 2012, according to a federal lawsuit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, it was the end of Joganik’s good times in Athens—and the start of what could be a landmark civil rights case.
Trouble began, according to the Justice Department complaint, when Joganik explained to Toone that she’s a transgender woman and asked his permission to wear women’s clothes around the park. He refused, saying it would create the wrong atmosphere for the park. He worried about children seeing her at the pool.
Soon it became clear Toone wanted to force her out of the park altogether. As Joganik told the Rare Reporter blog in September, Toone circulated a new set of park rules that seemed aimed at her: a non-discrimination clause pointedly omitted any protections based on gender. Another clause outlawed killing wildlife on park grounds; Joganik sometimes killed turtles in the pond that stole bait off her hook.
Joganik says Toone refused to accept her rent. When Anthony, who is bisexual, offered to pay it instead, she says, Toone told her “he didn’t like my kind either.”
Within a month, Joganik and Anthony found an eviction notice posted on their trailer door. They insisted on a formal eviction hearing in a county justice of the peace court, and lost. In July, they were finally evicted by law enforcement.
“Fifteen deputies to evict two women,” Joganik told the Dallas Voice. “It was crazy.”
Joganik and Anthony filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which did its own investigation and decided their eviction violated the Fair Housing Act. The federal statute bars discrimination based on gender. Experts say it’s likely the first time the Justice Department has gone to court over housing discrimination against a transgender person.
Joganik’s case is the latest sign of HUD’s interest in protecting LGBT housing rights. In June 2012, the department banned any housing provider that receives HUD grants from asking questions about sexual orientation or gender identity. This summer, HUD released its first-ever estimate of discrimination against same-sex couples, showing LGBT couples were just as likely to face discrimination in states with laws against it.
A 2011 survey by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality shows the situation is more dire when the person is transgender: One in five transgender people reported being denied a home or apartment, one in five said they’d been homeless and one in 10 had been evicted. For non-white people, the numbers were even higher.
Now that the Justice Department suit has been filed, Joganik wouldn’t discuss her case with the Observer—except to say this: “Anybody, no matter who you are and how you are, you should be able to live how you want in this country.”
As Houston makes plans to expand its port, residents near the Houston Ship Channel are bracing themselves. The predominantly Hispanic and black East Houston neighborhoods bordering the port are already exposed to some of the worst air pollution in the country, and not without consequence. A recent survey, conducted by the Healthy Port Communities Coalition, found that residents of five neighborhoods surrounding the Ship Channel suffer from higher rates of cancer and respiratory illnesses than average Texans.
The findings reinforce what people in these neighborhoods have known or suspected for many years, but they also come at a critical time for the Port of Houston. Along with other port cities, Houston is preparing for the expansion of the Panama Canal, slated to be complete by 2015. Record-setting freight activity is already underway at the Port of Houston.
Los Angeles, Miami and Houston are among the many cities investing millions in huge dredging projects to make their channels deep enough for the “post-Panamax” ships that will soon sail into their harbors. But with more (and much larger) vessels come greater diesel emissions, and Ship Channel residents worry their hard-hit communities will only suffer more with increased air pollution. Diesel exhaust has been linked to respiratory and heart disease, and is a known carcinogen.
According to the report, which analyzed self-reported health data from nearly 400 people in Houston’s East End, Fifth Ward, Denver Harbor, Manchester and Pasadena neighborhoods, adults in those areas suffered from asthma and other respiratory diseases at more than twice the rate of other Texans. And while 3.69 percent of Texan adults have been diagnosed with cancer, the survey puts the cancer rate in the Ship Channel at 5.61 percent.
Last month, the World Health Organization officially added air pollution to the list of known carcinogens. According to the organization, air pollution was responsible for more than 220,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide in 2010, and also increases the risk of bladder cancer. Scientists have long known that air pollution can lead to or exacerbate heart disease and respiratory diseases such as asthma.
But because some pollutants have unclear and wide-ranging effects on human health, and because diseases like cancer can have a variety of causes, it’s difficult to trace specific medical conditions to particular pollutants. In Houston, people aren’t just exposed to one pollutant, but to a variety of potentially toxic emissions from a vast industrial complex that includes refineries and chemical plants. Despite recurring health problems, more than half of those surveyed said they didn’t have health insurance.
Elena Craft, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund of Texas, says although the study can’t pinpoint the sources of East Houston residents’ medical conditions, it sheds light on an alarming concentration of illness that requires immediate attention.
“We know there’s an increased risk [in the Ship Channel], but to pinpoint is more difficult, especially on self-reported data,” Craft says. “It would take further investigation to get a better handle on the extent of the issue and where there might be more serious problems.”
Craft, who was not involved with the study, says she hopes it will empower area residents to demand change. She says many sources contribute to Houston’s air problem, not just the port, but that residents could pressure the port authority to actually start addressing emissions, the way Southern California homeowners did in the early 2000s.
In 2006, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach together adopted a comprehensive clean air action plan to drastically reduce emissions and encourage the development of clean technologies. It was an unprecedented victory for both area residents and environmentalists, especially since the San Pedro Harbor was Southern California’s single biggest source of air pollution and Los Angeles has long been the nation’s smoggiest city.
Through cutting vessel emissions, replacing old diesel trucks with new or retrofitted trucks, and investing in initiatives like electrified docks that ships can plug into, the ports have exceeded their emissions reduction goals for some pollutants. By 2012, the two ports had cut their diesel particulate matter emissions by 77 percent (eliminating 645 tons) from 2005 levels, sulfur oxides by 88 percent (4,675 tons), and nitrogen oxides by 56 percent (9,154 tons). When seven terminal operators violated San Pedro Bay’s new diesel emissions standards, they each paid $1 million in cleanup costs as part of a settlement reached in 2011.
It’d be a rather monumental stretch to imagine the Port of Houston Authority adopting measures as aggressive as Los Angeles’, not to mention actually enforcing them to the point of fining companies for environmental violations. But in its report, the coalition does make some recommendations that could be a good starting point for cleaning up Texas’ biggest port and most polluted major city.
First, the coalition says the port authority needs to be a leader in reducing emissions, partly by giving preference during bidding to contractors with clean practices. It also recommends setting up emissions reduction goals and installing fence-line monitors to help enforce federal air-quality standards. Houston should follow the Los Angeles-Long Beach Ports’ example, the coalition suggests, by phasing out old diesel trucks and introducing electricity to ports so ships can conserve diesel fuel while docked.
The Port of Houston Authority came under scrutiny last year after a critical report by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. During the last session, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that set term limits for board commissioners and fired four of the seven commissioners. Two of the remaining three members had recently been appointed, so only one of the commissioners currently on the board has been there for more than a year.
Fresh blood could be a good sign, but Craft says so much change makes it to hard to predict what the board might do. The body says it values environmental stewardship and that it has taken measures to clean up the air. But Houston remains in non-attainment of federal air quality standards, and environmentalists say the port area has a long way to go.
“I think there’s all kinds of questions that this report can raise to the port authority,” Craft says. “If I were the port authority I would be incredibly concerned.”