Political Intelligence

TEXAS IS TOPS.

Los Angeles can’t hold a candle to Houston – or at least we wouldn’t see it, on account of the smog. The Houston-Galveston area blew away L.A. this year on ozone smog, twice exceeding a phenomenal 200 parts per billion.

That’s a one-hour measure, for which the Environmental Protection Agency safety standard is 124 ppb. For the eight-hour measure Houston also took first place, averaging 143 ppb (the E.P.A. standard is 84 ppb).

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, which released the ozone smog report August 16, points a finger at weak state air pollution policies, specifically the Bush administration’s protection of the grandfathered facilities policy. While the T.N.R.C.C. boasts that Texas decreased its emissions more than any other state between 1995 and 1997, nitrogen oxide emissions from grandfathered plants increased by 26 percent from 1995 to 1998. “Texas’ industrial pollution, especially from hundreds of old grandfathered plants, is taking too long to clean up under Bush’s lax plan, and is a heavy burden worsening this summer’s severe smog,” said Peter Altman, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition.

The grandfathered loophole of the Texas Clean Air Act exempts from current permit requirements industrial plants that were in existence when the law took effect in 1971 – which means they don’t have to install costly pollution-control devices or submit to health-impact studies, among other things. When the T.N.R.C.C. tried to close the loophole in 1997, Bush pushed through his CARE (Clean Air Responsibility Enterprise) program instead. CARE invites polluters to voluntarily get permitted by T.N.R.C.C. without targets or deadlines and only weak penalties (even those were squeezed in by the House against Bush’s opposition).

So far the effectiveness of CARE – at protecting polluters – is clear, even if the air it purports to clean up isn’t. According to T.N.R.C.C. data (self-reported by the industries), grandfathered plants emitted 893,193 tons of air pollutants into Texas skies in 1997, accounting for 36 percent of the state’s total industrial air pollution. Grandfathered plant emissions accounted for a quarter of Houston area nitrogen oxide emissions, and for more nitrogen oxide emissions than from permitted plants in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Some highlights from the Sierra Club report:

Texas experienced fifteen of the nation’s Top 30 one-hour ozone concentrations for 1999.the Houston-Galveston area had seven of the Top 10 one-hour ozone peaks in the nation this year.Dallas-Fort Worth has exceeded its 1998 one-hour high five times already this summer, and boasts the third highest eight-hour ozone level in the country.Austin hit its highest eight-hour levels in four years, exceeding the E.P.A. standard at least four times.Tyler’s eight-hour high of 120 ppb was a full 21 ppb above its 1998 high.San Antonio, Longview and Beaumont surpassed the E.P.A. eight-hour standard of 84 ppb with 100, 114, and 94 ppb respectively.

TOXIC MONEY.

Ozone smog standards, not surprisingly, aren’t the only pollution tests that Texas flunks miserably. The Lone Star State led the nation in toxic emissions in 1996 (the most recent records available), accounting for a full 12 percent of total U.S. emissions. The E.P.A. reports that Texas, led by Harris County, topped national rankings in the industrial release of known and suspected carcinogens, with a whopping 15.6 million pounds (no other state reached 10 million pounds). Of those 15.6 million pounds, more than13 million were released by members of the Texas Chemical Council. The T.C.C., whose members include corporations like DuPont, Huntsman, Mobil, and BASF, also released $2.2 million through PACs in the 1996 and 1998 Texas elections, and poured more than $8 million into the powerful pockets of lobbyists.

These poisonous connections are itemized in a new study released August 11 by Texans for Public Justice and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund: Toxic Exposure: How Texas Chemical Council Members Pollute State Politics and the Environment. The full report is available on the web at www.tpj.org or www.pirg.org. “It is no coincidence that Texas has some of the weakest campaign finance laws and the worst toxic pollution in the country,” said Derek Cressman, spokesperson for U.S. PIRG. “With no limits on the political money polluters can spend, there is little political will to place limits on the toxins that they can discharge.” (See chart below.)

If you’ve never heard of the Chemical Council, it’s no accident. According to the campaign finance monitoring group, Texans for Public Justice, the Council boasts that its political action committee, known as FREEPAC, acts as a middleman for companies to donate money to politicians and lobbyists without risking direct, public support. The Council has served its members well, making friends with all the right people in Austin. FREEPAC and other TCC-affiliated PACs gave Governor Bush $115,871 between 1995 and 1998, and Senate Natural Resources Chair Buster Brown received $24,900 – more money than any other member of a House or Senate environmental committee. Is it any wonder, then, that Bush pushed hard for a voluntary emissions reduction program, and that Brown led the drive for support of Bush’s CARE plan first in the Senate and then in the conference committee in May?

DuPont alone – which leads Council members in Texas toxic emissions, with over 40 million pounds – hired $1.2 million of lobbying power this year. DuPont’s Jim Kennedy made explicit the cozy relationship between polluting companies and the Governor in a memo summarizing the 1997 meeting between Exxon, Marathon, and Bush’s men that resulted in Bush’s grandfathering plan: “Clearly, the ‘insiders’ from oil & gas,” Kennedy wrote, “believe that the Governor’s Office will ‘persuade’ the T.N.R.C.C. to accept whatever program is developed between the industry group and the Governor’s Office.” Even Kennedy thought that was chutzpah. In the end he was right. The politicians overruled the regulators – and Texas lungs.

Other big recipients of Council-affiliated PAC money include Attorney General John Cornyn, Comptroller Carole Rylander, Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry, Railroad Commissioner Tony Garza, Land Commissioner David Dewhurst, and Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs. Conspicuously shunned by the Chemical Council were representatives Zeb Zbranek, Robert Puente, and Dawnna Dukes, all of whom carried environmentally-friendly legislation in recent years.

Top Ten Chemical Council Members Trashing Texas (1)

A. Pounds of Onsite Toxic Releases in Texas (1996) (2) B. Money Spent Lobbying Legislature (1999) (3) C. Money Contributed to Political Action Committees (1995-1998)

Company

A. Toxic Releases

B. Lobby $$$

C. PAC $$$ DuPont 40,461,147 lbs $1.2 million $217,000 BASF 17,125,885 Unavailable Unavailable Hoechst Celanese 11,530,292 $10,000 $52,000 Huntsman 10,803,893 $50,000 Unavailable BP 10,747,778 $750,000 Unavailable Mobil 10,335,157 $760,000 $58,000 Sterling Chemicals 10,291,983 Unavailable Unavailable Amoco 8,199,480 $750,000 $116,000 Phillips Petroleum 5,995,419 $95,000 $79,000 Dow Chemical 5,243,024 $287,500 $216,000

1) From Toxic Exposure: How Texas Chemical Council Members Pollute State Politics and the Environment, produced by Texans for Public Justice and the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. 2) Toxic release data based on Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory. 3) Campaign contribution and lobbying expenditure data based on reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Out-of-state companies spending less than 20 percent of their national lobbying dollars in Texas are not required to file disclosures with the Ethics Commission. Indicated by “Unavailable.”

PCB EVIDENCE.

The Ottawa Citizen has reported the first scientific confirmation that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) cause breast cancer, as does the banned pesticide mirex. A July 21 article preceding the bi-annual World Conference on Breast Cancer, held in Ottawa, reported on two recent Canadian studies concerning the relationship between breast cancer and various organochlorines. “These two studies are beginning to say to us: maybe there are things out there in the environment that are causing cancer,” said Kristan Aronson of Queen’s University. “That’s what the women are dying to hear about. In one sense they’re not wanting to hear it. [But] they want to know.”

The subject “needs to be looked at a lot more,” Aronson said. “We’re looking at twenty-four organochlorines and there are 15,000 of them out there” in the environment. Because PCBs have spread so widely through spills and dumping since their invention in the 1930s, “it’s difficult to say how to avoid them.”

ROCKET DOCKET?

Attorneys who practice before the federal bench know Edith Hollan Jones, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judge who is easiest to recognize because she wears a black hood that completely covers her face when she rules on death penalty appeals. (Okay, the hood is a lawyer joke.) New York Times columnist Bob Herbert reports that Jones and other jurists recently retired to Chateau Elan, an upscale Georgia resort, complete with golf courses, tennis courts, and an equestrian center. “A great place to kick back…and compare notes on ways to speed up the process of sending human beings to their death.”

The party at Chateau Elan was a Capital Cases Symposium thrown by the Eleventh Circuit, which covers Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Judges there worry that it takes too long to execute condemned criminals. Who would they call but Judge Jones? Or, as Herbert described her, “the infamous Edith Hollan Jones. Ms. Jones was once very high on the list of judges considered for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court by former President George Bush. She is a death penalty champion who unabashedly favors curtailment of post-conviction review.”

Who else are you going to call? Mike McCormick, presiding judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. McCormick presides over a court known for its rocket docket death penalty cases. He is also an opponent of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 decision requiring states to provide lawyers for indigents accused of felonies.

R. Lanier Anderson, the chief justice on the Eleventh Circuit, denied that the purpose of the gathering was to help judges expedite executions. “On the other hand,” he added, “we are interested in resolving cases with what I call appropriate expedition.” He might mean “appropriate expediency,” but you get the point. Edith Jones understands expediency. During a last-ditch oral argument by an attorney trying to save a death row client on the eve of an execution, Judge Jones complained that the proceedings were keeping her from a birthday party for one of her children.

A Times editorial, warning that Texas’ execution process would be a terrible model to impose on other states, followed Herbert’s column

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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