Political Intelligence

STILL TONE DEAF.

The early epitaphs are not flattering. One day after U.T. Chancellor William Cunningham announced that he will leave his position in August of next year, the university’s student newspaper, the Daily Texan, editorialized, “Whatever accomplishments Cunningham may list after his name, the Freeport-McMoRan debacle deserves just as prominent a place in the University’s history books.” The Austin American-Statesman, which has been critical of the ethically-challenged chancellor, said that while Cunningham will be remembered for several accomplishments, he will also “be remembered for his controversial corporate ties and fundraising for new buildings and athletic facilities at a time when U.T. staff salaries were abysmally low.” The Statesman’s editorial went on to recommend that the U.T. Board of Regents find a replacement who has the “ethical judgment to separate his or her corporate ties and professional duties.”

During a June 10 press conference, Cunningham was clearly uncomfortable talking about his relationship with Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, the New Orleans-based mining company that operates the world’s richest copper and gold mine in Irian Jaya, Indonesia. In 1995, the company threatened to sue three U.T. professors, two activists, and two journalists for speaking out about human rights and environmental problems at the company’s mine. At the time, Cunningham was serving on the company’s board of directors. Caught in the crossfire, Cunningham resigned from that position. When asked about his connections with Freeport and his decision to name a U.T. building after Jim Bob Moffett, Freeport’s C.E.O., at the same time that he served on the company’s board, Cunningham demonstrated the same tone deafness that he has displayed throughout his tenure. “I have been very proud of my relationship with Jim Bob Moffett. He’s a great man, a great Texan. He’s done a lot of great things for the University of Texas and higher education,” he said.

Cunningham says he’s leaving to pursue jobs in the private sector. But there have been persistent rumors over the past two months that Cunningham was forced out. One source close to the situation said, “No one was surprised by this.” The source added that Cunningham had repeatedly irritated the regents with his abrasive management style and that he wasn’t effective enough at the Legislature. Donald Evans, the chairman of the Board of Regents, told reporters that the decision to leave was made solely by Cunningham and added, “I hate to see him leave.” Maybe Evans does. But there are a legion of others who can’t wait until “Dollar Bill” leaves U.T. once and for all.

BACK TO NORMAL AT T.N.R.C.C.

In 1997, under considerable duress, the T.N.R.C.C. for the first time required companies to report how much of their air pollution emissions fell in the grandfathered category, allowing legislators and the general public to finally get a handle on how big the problem of unpermitted pollution in Texas really is. The results were shocking. So shocking it seems, that the agency declined to collect the numbers for 1998 grandfathered releases. When the results of the agency’s 1998 survey were released, only plant-wide summaries of pollutants were included; no separate totals for grandfathered and non-grandfathered were reported.

“They don’t want to see the numbers,” explained Neil Carman, the Sierra Club’s Clean Air Director. “The whole thing has been nothing but an embarrassment to industry and the Governor.” By failing to require separate reporting of grandfathered emissions, the agency has made it impossible to evaluate the success of the Governor’s voluntary emissions reduction program for grandfathered facilities, which got underway – with great fanfare – in late 1997. They have the baseline data, but nothing to compare it to.

In response to criticism from the Sierra Club, T.N.R.C.C. Commissioner Robert Huston cited the need to minimize the “resource impacts on the agency and the regulated community.” It was too much work, in other words. Instead of using the emissions release inventory process to obtain the data, Huston said the agency planned to query each grandfathered facility individually to determine what reductions, if any, have been made.

It sounds like a workable plan in theory, according to Carman, but what about the numbers for 1998? The agency is going to do a breakdown for 1998, according to spokesperson Patrick Shaughnessy. How and when? “That is being developed,” was all Shaughnessy could report. In time for the New Hampshire primary? Don’t hold your breath.

DIRTY OLD MEN.

The Governor proudly lists the Crown Petroleum refinery in Pasadena as one of the first industrial sites that agreed to join his voluntary permitting program for “grandfathered” facilities – that is, plants that don’t have to comply with the Texas Clean Air Act of 1971. (The Governor’s two-year-old program was officially made into law this session with passage of S.B. 766.) The company has become something of a black eye on the program, after receiving the largest air pollution fine ($1.1 million) ever levied by the T.N.R.C.C. last August, for repeated – almost daily – violations of emissions limits. In addition to the fine, the state ordered Crown to hire consultants to study, among other things, whether the company ought to install a second Sulfur Recovery Unit (S.R.U.) to protect public health in the area. The results are in, and the consultants – supposedly neutral observers, although Crown pays their bills – have determined that the benefits don’t justify the expense to Crown. The Harris County Pollution Control Division reviewed the report and came to a different conclusion. “Our review confirms our long-standing recommendation: to install and operate a second S.R.U. is valid and is absolutely necessary to minimize the impact of emissions on area homes, businesses, schools and the environment,” the county agency wrote in a letter to the T.N.R.C.C.

The whole question might have been moot, of course, if the company had been forced to obtain a normal air pollution permit for the facility in question. Such permits mandate that companies use a pollution control standard known as Best Available Control Technology (B.A.C.T.), which probably would have required the S.R.U. upgrade. The company’s alacrity in jumping on the Governor’s voluntary train stems from the much more lenient standard in his program: ten-year-old B.A.C.T., that is, the best available technology in 1989. Thus the company has its permit, the Governor has a feather in his cap, and the state and the county still have no tool to force compliance from one of the worst pollution outlaws in Texas.

STILL NOT THE WHITE HOUSE.

While Governor Bush was urging tax relief and cost-cutting measures during the just-ended legislative session, closer to home his administration was more lavish. As the Lege finished work last month, the renovation of the Texas Governor’s Mansion was also being completed – and the final bill is almost 50 percent over budget.

Renovations of the 143-year-old mansion began last winter with a $1.2 million allocation. Included was money for security improvements (the Governor, as son of a former president, is entitled to Secret Service bodyguards, but so far has opted only for protection by the state’s own Department of Public Safety), heating and air-conditioning improvements, and a new porch. The final bill for the work came in at $579,000 over the original estimate.

The General Services Commission, which oversaw the project and has recently been criticized by the State Auditor for time delays and cost overruns in other state construction, defends the work done at the Mansion. The extra expenses were necessitated by the fragility of the Mansion itself, officials claim. “These [overruns] are mainly change orders due to the age of the building,” explained Bobby Houston, the G.S.C. official in charge of the renovation. “When they [contractors] got into [the project] they found more problems than they first visualized.”

Coincidentally, the final cost, around $1.8 million, is roughly the same amount the Commission originally requested for the project two years ago, but the Legislature would only agree to appropriate $1.2 million. Extra money for the overruns was pulled from delayed-maintenance funds taken from accounts intended for upkeep of other state buildings.

ONE CORPSE TO GO.

As Bill Clinton understood, execution can be useful to presidential campaigns. George W. Bush’s springtime Rickey Ray Rector will be Joseph Stanley Faulder, the Canadian citizen scheduled to die June 17 for the 1975 murder of Inez Phillips. At a schoolhouse press conference, the Governor recalled the Faulder case and reminded reporters of his defiance of Canadian protests last year, when he said “would not be intimidated” by outsiders. A Canadian delegation in Austin seeking clemency for Faulder was harangued by Victor Rodriguez, chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles, and then thrown out of his office.

At press time (June 16), the Canadian government was lobbying on behalf of Faulder, who was denied his consular rights at the time of his arrest, in violation of the Vienna Convention. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has formally complained to the state of Texas, but the Governor responded that Canadians “shouldn’t kill anybody” here. Faulder was sentenced to death as a consequence of the “future dangerousness” testimony of psychologist Dr. James Grigson, the notorious “Dr. Death,” who regularly testified on behalf of prosecutors until he was stripped of his credentials by the American Psychiatric Association for unethical methods.

Faulder’s attorney, Sandra Babcock, has filed a petition on the treaty matter with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and had other last-minute appeals pending in the Fifth Circuit.

In other death penalty news, Thenjiwe Mtintso, Deputy Secretary General for the African National Congress, will be in Houston July 9—10, attending events sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild at Texas Southern University and the University of Houston. She will also visit death-row inmates in Huntsville. For more information, contact Nora Dwyer at (713) 528-1817; email: [email protected]

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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