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Galveston: `Polluting Itself into Extinction’ Houston “Our visit to Galveston demonstrated an amazing situation an island city polluting itself into extinction by threatening its tourist industry and its own beaches,” the President’s Water Pollution Advisory Board stated in a release at the end of its hearings on the Texas Gulf Coast. Board members were shocked when representatives of the Galveston Chamber of Commerce, which is critical of the city’s sewage program, showed them where the city is dumping 1.5 million gallons of raw sewage daily into West Galveston Bay, an area popular for swimming and fishing. The unusually frank C of C members also took the board to a city dump where trash is simply thrown into the bay. Carl Klein, the hot-tempered assistant secretary of the interior, reacted by announcing that present and future federal water pollution control funds to Galveston would be withheld until the city. takes steps to stop dumping its untreated sewage into the bay. But to Klein’s embarrassment, he later learned that Galveston does not receive any federal water pollution funds. The order, however, will keep the island city from getting any in the future. Both Gordon Fulcher, chairman of the state water board, and Sen. Ralph Yarborough were angered by Klein’s decision to hold up federal funds, since it blocks the best possible money source for Galveston’s pollution ills. “I thought it was a thoroughly irresponsible act of shooting from the hip,” Fulcher said. Galveston city officials seemed surprised by the board’s disgust with their sanitary operations. Lind Nelson, director of city utilities, said, “I didn’t realize they thought we weren’t going fast enough in this pollution thing. Why, in five years we hope to be able to have all our sewage treated.” Nelson insisted the city cannot afford to do anything about its pollution situation, right now. Fulcher promised the federal board that the WQB will hold a show-cause hearing in Galveston first thing in February to ask the city why it should not be forced by the state to start immediate work on additional sewage treatment plants. 4 N. V I ‘14473 ” 7,;& _ A.A4V4 OK. I past two years it has received $4.3 million in state funds and about $600,000 in supplemental federal funds, a paltry amount to police water polluters throughout this vast state. Until very recently, the board concentrated its efforts on setting up pollution standards and issuing some 2,399 waste permits to release effluents into the state’s waterways. In addition to the regular permits, which conform to WQB pollution standards, there are 1,323 statutory permits loose in the state. These permits were issued before the Water Quality Act took effect and they allow higher rates of pollution than the regular permits. As part of Operation Clean Sweep, the water board will review many of the statutory permits. Texas’ clean air and water quality acts provide fines of up to $1,000 a day for polluting without a permit or variance. But to date, the WQB has officially asked the attorney general to initiate action under the water act against only three firms, and the legal agency has completed and won only one of the cases, that against ABC Rendering Co. of San Antonio. Vince Taylor of the attorney general’s office estimated that all told, Texas cities and counties have filed an additional half a dozen suits against water polluters under the Water Quality Act. He guessed that there have been so few legal actions because “local governments have not yet come to understand the act.” One obvious reason for the pollution boards’ reluctance to get tough with industrial polluters is that, often as not, industrialists have ruled the boards. Gov . John Connally got into trouble for appointing John Files, who owns the Merichem Company of Houston, to the Air Control Board. Files had been named “Polluter of the Month” by the Houston Post. Nor has Gov. Preston Smith been averse to appointing foxes to the henhouse. One of his Air Board appointees, H. B. Zachry, Jr., owns an asphalt plant that is now under fire from Dallas citizens for excessive dust. It is not the first time that Zachry cement and asphalt plant emissions have been cited as pollution hazards. UNDER A NEW board chairman, Gordon Fulcher of Atlanta, the WQB is showing a new aggressiveness. Soon after his election as chairman last October, F u 1 c her initiated “Operation Clean Sweep,” a review of chronic water polluters. His first step was to call together representatives of all the industries and municipalities along the Sabine River, which marks the eastern border of Texas. He warned them that the state plans rigorous enforcement of its anti-pollution laws. Fulcher plans similar meetings throughout the state. The federal board elicited a promise from him that Galveston will be the next area to be put under serious scrutiny. \(See box on the Galveston A day before President Nixon’s board arrived in Texas, the WQB held an emergency session and decided to initiate legal action against eight of twenty-seven cities and districts in the Clear Creek area which are dumping sewage into the Clear Creek basin. The fortutious timing of the WQB’s action made some persons cynical about the board’s true intentions, for pollution like everything else has become embroiled in politics. Gov . Preston Smith reportedly invited the Nixon group to visit Texas in hopes that he could convince the experts that the state is cleaning up its own mess and that there is no need for federal intervention. \(Under certain conditions, such as the endangering of commercial shellfish production by polluters, the federal government can impose its own anti-pollution standards on board is limiting its investigations almost exclusively to democratically controlled states, as the Johnson board did Republican states; so, ironically, a federal interest in pollution abatement is considered a political insult, no matter how desperately a state needs help. Although the federal group was far from impressed with the Texas’ pollution control attempts, its threats of taking control of the Ship Channel and the Galveston Bay area proved to be hollow. Chairman Klein admitted that the board’s strongest weapon is fighting pollution actually is publicity. Among the proliferation of water agencies to which the Nixon committee was referring is the State Health Department which has some independent pollution control duties of a public health nature and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department which is empowered to enforce provisions of the Water Quality Act when they affect acquatic life, birds, and animals. In addition, the Water Development Board investigates all water quality matters concerning groundwater in the state and plans for future water resources. The Railroad Commission is the sole pollution control agency to handle oil and gas leakage. \(Senator Harrington’s criticism of the commission is elsewhere in counties and water districts operate their own waste disposal plants and carry out water pollution control measures to protect their drinking water. And a number of federal agencies have at least statutory authority to control certain types of pollution. These include the Corps of Engineers \(which is responsible for controlling ships’ pollution, but actually relies on Coast Guard tips to spot pollution Fisheries, and the Bureau of Sports Fisheries. THE TEXAS AIR CONTROL Board mainly is responsible for keeping air February 6, 1970 3