A STAR IS BORN?
Word in the pews in San Antonio is that conservative Christian activist Anne Newman is planning a run for the state Senate seat vacated by Gregory Luna, whose deteriorating health has forced him to retire. Over the years, the indefatigable Newman has made education her bailiwick. Her one-woman organization, The Texas Family Research Council, provides ammunition for the conservative bloc on the State Board of Education, particularly her fellow Antonian Bob Offut, about such topics as “school to work,” “Goals 2000,” and other nefarious emanations from the Clinton administration. During the textbook review process, she’s been known to single-handedly review dozens of books for evidence of multiculturalism and social engineering (See Nate Blakeslee’s “McGraw-Hill Sees the Light,” April 30). Newman, a Republican, hasn’t a prayer in the central city district, one of the most Democratic in the state. Democrats who have announced include San Antonio State Representatives Leticia Van de Putte and Leo Alvarado, Jr. Newman’s ace in the hole might be conservative San Antonio magnate James Leininger, one of the state’s biggest supporters of right-wing causes and candidates. Best known for his decisive last-minute loans to statewide Republican candidates Rick Perry and Carole Keeton Rylander in 1998, Leininger’s radar tracks lower-level races as well, including the State Board of Education, where his money has helped build and maintain the strong minority of conservative Christians. Newman, considered a leading light among grassroots activists, could be the next passenger on the Leininger train.
Texans worried that Governor Bush’s campaign claims of environmental progress might threaten the states’ leadership in most categories of pollution can rest easy: Texas refineries are still pouring out more toxic pollution than any others in the country. That was the conclusion of a study by the Environmental Defense Fund, which compared states with four or more refineries, and reviewed toxic chemical release and transfer data from the U.S. E.P.A. 1997 Toxics Release inventory and related state/facility data.
Defenders of Texas industry like to suggest that the sheer size of the state and its petrochemical industry accounts for its leadership in pollution, but the E.D.F study found instead that the twenty-three refineries in Texas emit the greatest quantities of toxic pollution per barrel of crude oil processed – that is, they’re not just big, they’re dirty.
Of the twenty-eight worst refineries in the U.S. for overall pollution, seven are in Texas. They include Shell Odessa Refining Company; Lyondell Citgo Refining Company (Houston); Phillips 66 Company (Borger); Specified Fuels & Chemicals L.L.C. (Channelview); Coastal Refining & Marketing Incorporated (Corpus Christi); Mobil Oil Corporation (Beaumont); and Shell Deer Park Refining Company.
The facilities and states were ranked according to a weighted average of their emission of various pollutants per barrel of production per day. For example in New Jersey, which has strict reporting requirements on pollution, refineries accounted for 1.65 pounds of toxic release inventory pollutants per barrel per day, while Texas refineries were emitting 6.17 pounds per barrel per day. Among the 144 rankable refineries in the U.S., those in Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, and Wyoming performed worst overall.
“This analysis shows that Texans suffer a disproportionate share of refinery pollution due to the sheer number and generally poor performance of refineries in the state,” said Ram-n Alvarez, staff scientist for E.D.F. in Austin. “Cleaning up these refineries would afford significant benefits to the health of Texans.” The methodology and overall results of the study, along with detailed material about refinery processing, suggestions for community organizing, and related matters can be reviewed on the new E.D.F. Community Guides website: www.edf.org/communityguides.
LONE STAR HUNGER.
While Texas is Number One in pollution, we’re only Number Three in hunger. According to a report released October 13 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1998, 12.9 percent of Texas households were “food insecure” – that is, the families did not have access to enough food to meet their basic needs at all times. Food insecure households are further classified as “hungry” when at least one family member is forced to skip or cut meals due to inadequate resources for food. The percentages translate into daunting numbers of Texans: approximately 2.5 million people lived in food insecure households in 1998, including 987,000 suffering from outright hunger. Nationally, the U.S.D.A. estimates that in 1998, 10.2 percent of all households in the country were food insecure, and 6.1 million adults and 3.3 million children suffered from outright hunger. The research also shows that after a significant nationwide decline from 1995 to 1997, there was a sharp increase in hunger and food insecurity in 1998, with 3 million more adults and 2 million more children considered hungry or food insecure. The relative change in Texas numbers over the same period was unavailable.
The numbers were collected in an update of the U.S.D.A.’s Food Security Measurement Project, first produced in 1995. Texas had the third-highest level of food insecurity in the nation in 1998, below only New Mexico and Mississippi.
“The stories these numbers tell us about Texas,” said Celia Hagert of Austin’s Center for Public Policy Priorities, “is that in spite of our booming economy, millions of Texans still struggle to meet the most basic of needs – sufficient food to lead a healthy life or raise a healthy family.”
In related news, according to estimates released by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the percentage of Texans living in poverty – based on an annual income of $13,650 for a family of three – decreased slightly between 1997 and 1998. But at the same time, the number of people receiving assistance from state and federal programs has plummeted, far in excess of the drop in the poverty rate. According to Census estimates, the state poverty rate was 15 percent (3 million Texans), down from the 16.7 percent (3.2 million) in poverty in 1997. Yet Texans receiving food stamps have dropped 41.1 percent, from a high of 2.8 million people in 1994 to a current low of 1.5 million (the largest drop in the nation). Participation in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (the new name for the welfare check) is down 39.6 percent, and Medicaid usage is also down. Since these programs are administered through the same state welfare offices, it is likely that clients being discouraged from T.A.N.F. and directed toward job hunts are also not being informed that they are eligible for food stamps or Medicaid.
Of course, there’s more than one way to look at those numbers. If the current trends continue, in a year or two Texas should be able to add yet another category to its claims of Number One. Look out, Mississippi and New Mexico!
The Bush story that wouldn’t die – that is, the one not about cocaine – got more life pumped into it recently, with the launching of a new website chronicling the seamy underside of the Governor’s voluntary pollution reduction program for grandfathered plants in Texas. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a relatively new group that encourages public employees to blow the whistle on environmental crimes – especially those involving their own agencies – has chosen the grandfather issue as the first of many Texas environmental scandals to profile on their new site (www.txpeer.org).
The site documents the story (see “How a Bill Becomes a Law,” by Nate Blakeslee, June 11) of how the Governor secretly enlisted the state’s top polluters to craft a plan to their liking. The grandfathered history has already found its way onto another new website, www.TomPaine.com, which ballyhooed its October launching in an advertisement on the op-ed page of The New York Times.
Over on the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter website, meanwhile, Neil Carman and company have compiled a comprehensive list, titled “Texas Air Policy Issues,” which briefly documents (in semi-chronological order) eighty different policy decisions made by Bush and/or his T.N.R.C.C. commissioners, and their consequences for public health in Texas. Political Intelligence dubs it the Encyclopedia Carmana.
Apparently feeling the pressure, the Bush campaign released a three-page missive defending the Governor’s “reasonable and balanced approach” toward environmental regulation.