With Rep. Warren Chisum and Sen. Buster Brown chairing the environmental committees in their respective chambers, it’s been a good session for “little bills” written by and for industries with nagging public image problems. The chairmen teamed up on behalf of Ingram Reddy-Mix, a Texas concrete manufacturer, for S.B. 1298, which passed the House May 12. Concrete batch plants generate large amounts of concrete dust, particulate matter known to cause serious respiratory problems. The small plants normally have standard exemptions from T.N.R.C.C. permit requirements, but nearby citizens can request a hearing. Ingram lost such a case two years ago, in part because citizens hired their own expert to do air-quality modeling. Ingram is currently embroiled in a similar case in Bulverde.
Enter Chiz & Buster’s 1298, which would prohibit citizens from offering their own air-quality modeling evidence and the T.N.R.C.C. from requiring company modeling. That leaves the evidence to the agency, which consistently relies on outdated data and methods that favor the licensee. Defending the bill, Chisum proclaimed, “You can come up with any set of numbers using this modeling procedure.” Hardly reassuring news to the people of Bulverde.
C.S.H.B. 1171 Buster Brown, R—Lake Jackson
In another riveting episode of Chiz & Buster at the Lege, Brown’s Natural Resources Committee abandoned Chisum’s pending nuke waste bill (H.B. 1910) in favor of his own hastily assembled committee substitute, almost certainly written directly by the nuke waste lobby. Chisum’s bill was already terrible – chiefly because of an amendment by Gary Walker (R— Plains/Waste Control Specialists) allowing the state to grant a disposal license to a private company – but Brown’s bill (nominally a rewrite of another bill, H.B. 1171) is a complete disaster. In his zeal to hand over West Texas to W.C.S. (the only company currently positioned to handle a nuke waste disposal contract), Brown would wipe out the entire section on nuclear waste disposal in the Health and Safety Code, along with what limited protections that chapter offered: contested-case hearings on siting and licensing, restrictions on shallow-land burial, retrievability provisions, use of concrete canisters, and other fundamental health and safety measures.
The grim issue underlying privatization – to be mandatory under Brown’s bill – is the growing specter of an unregulated Department of Energy waste stream pouring into a private dump in Texas. Brown’s bill alludes to potential waste limits, but the provision is meaningless because federal contracts will determine volume. Moreover, Brown provided his substitute bill only minutes before approval – and a day after a disgraceful, sham public hearing on 1910, attended by only Brown and Eddie Lucio. Asked if a substitute bill was in the works, Brown said only: “There could be.”
On the Senate floor, W.C.S. investors Harold Simmons and Kent Hance will get a chance to see how much support their $100,000 in campaign contributions buys from Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry.
UP UHER’S, BUSTER
H.B. 801 Tom Uher, D—Bay City
Here we go again. In February, Uher’s bill to gut the T.N.R.C.C.’s already weak contested-case hearing process topped the enviro Bad Bill charts. Public-interest backlash prompted Uher to bring everyone to the table, from the Chemical Council to the Sierra Club, for a compromise. Then Uher’s soufflé went to the Senate – where Buster Brown poured ketchup on it. Brown tacked four of his own bills onto H.B. 801, including S.B. 766, the “voluntary” grandfathered pollution hoax (allowing a chance to approve it without direct debate). Uher says he will try to get Buster’s amendments stripped in conference. It might be better if he can’t, since the whole deal might fall apart. The improved H.B. 801 would die, but it would take Buster’s boondoggles down with it. Bet on last-minute maneuvers to salvage both bills – meaning pollution will prevail, but we still get to complain about it. That’s what the Lege calls democracy.
EAT IT RAW
C.S.H.B. 1971 Zeb Zbranek, D—Winnie
H.B. 1971, with multiple coastal rep sponsors, began as a well-intended effort to bring some order into Galveston Bay oyster management, creating an oversight Oyster Council and requiring Department of Health measures to prevent the increasing numbers of illnesses related to eating virus-contaminated oysters. But as currently amended by Zbranek (who usually has more sense), the bill is now designed to prohibit the T.D.H. from closing suspected oyster fields to protect the public health – unless the agency can unequivocally prove that a specific virus caused a specific outbreak in a specific case. So flatworm lovers can continue to be among the several hundred people who lose each year at Texas Oyster Roulette, as they volunteer to become Lege-approved industry test animals.
H.B. 2545 Kim Brimer, R—Arlington
It’s grimly comical each session to watch the Lege diligently find new ways to constrict the rights of workers. Brimer’s latest insult would make it even more difficult for an employee to get a second medical opinion on a work-related injury or illness, requiring the Compensation Commission to determine “good cause” on any such request. Evidence that the first doctor has cleared the employee for work “creates a presumption” that the request should be denied. No doubt Brimer would be outraged were he required by law to treat a doctor’s word as gospel – but requiring the same of working people is just par for the legislative course.
If you would like to nominate a candidate for “Bad Bills,” please fax the Bad Bills Girl at (512) 474-1175, or e-mail “[email protected]”.