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bT N1 TIXAS server MAY 17, 1991 VOLUME 83, No. 10 FEATURES Plastic Peril By David Armstrong 4 Treasure Island By Scott Henson 8 Razing History By Scott Henson 9 Greening of the Legislature By Brett Campbell 15 A Toxic Tour of Texas By Sharon Stewart 16 Rainbow Warriors By Kent Patterson 28 DEPARTMENTS Dialogue 2 Editorial 3 Environmental Intelligence 27 Las Americas 31 Cover photo by Sharon Stewart Clarifications “Prison Sell,” the May 3 cover story, mentioned that former Criminal Justice Board member Charles Terrell said he was interested in N-Group Securities’ $6 million insurance contract for the six prison units, as first reported by the Dallas Morning News. The $6 million figure refers to the limit of general liability for the contract, not the contract’s value. Terrell said he didn’t know how much the contract might be worth. Also, our April 19 cover story was titled “No Company is an Island.” In light of the name of the company examined in the story that begins on page 4, we are reconsidering that sentiment. EVEN MORE THAN other Americans, we Texans come from a tra dition in which nature was less a companion to be cherished than an adversary to be subdued. Even after Spindletop, the Railroad Commission’s oil-patch socialism was designed to manage a resource for higher prices and more efficient consumption, not to protect it. Our state’s business culture has been based on exploitation, not preservation. It’s a hard philosophy to change, yet change it must. Consider these facts: Texas leads the nation in dubious categories like greenhousegas and carcinogen emissions, fossil-fuel consumption, and hazardous-waste production. In fact, Texas produces 20 percent of the nation’s hazardous waste over 50 million tons worth per year with half of that coming from the Houston area. It ranks 40th among the states in environmental and environmental-health-protection policies. We’re the owners of the dirtiest beach in the. country, enjoy four of the top 10 polluting industrial sites, and rank in the top three in air, land, and water toxics. Perhaps because of this record, Texans have been receptive to the environmental concerns that recently gained. national prominence, culminating in the Earth Day celebrations last year. Skeptics were pleasantly surprised to find the inchoate public concern translated into concrete campaign proposals and then, specific legislation. This was due in part to campaign help provided by environmental public interest groups, in part to recognition of a powerful campaign issue, and in part to sincere belief in environmental protection by some candidates for state office. The result: the unprecedentedly active role on environmental issues played by Gov. Ann Richards, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, Land Commissioner Garry Mauro and Attorney General Dan Morales. They’ve proposed progressive legislation and worked behind the scenes to push it through. Environmental activists have been given better access to negotiations over the shape of legislation than ever before, a place at the table with their adversaries from business groups, and regular meetings with Bullock and Richards staffers. As the legislative session has progressed legislation has begun to turn brown. Some bills are withering on the vine in committee, others have been chopped down by the chemical lobby. The business lobby, outsmarted last session when some of their pet projects were shot down on procedural grounds, is more sophisticated than ever. Morales and Bullock have compromised on a few key issues, probably because they felt that stronger legislation couldn’t pass. As the MATT WUERKER story beginning on page 15 indicates, the records of the legislative committee chairmen with the most clout on environmental issues have been bad and mixed, respectively.. It’s common, of course, for public-interest bills to be substantially weakened as they proceed through the legislative wringer, but it could be that the green advocates are compromising too much. Issues like the environment are powerful only to the extent that they capture public attention. Once the fickle media and public turn their gaze elsewhere, the power and money boys crawl up from the crannies and go to work. \(The best example is the fate of campaign finance reform after the glare from the Watergate and Sharpstown tal awareness is a lasting phenomenon let us hope so, anyway but it may also be quite awhile before the window for progressive change through legislation will be open quite so wide again. We can only hope our lawmakers will be willing to push as much through that opening as possible and put the spotlight on those to blame if valuable ideas don’t make it through. This issue of the Observer will be, we hope, a contribution to the public awareness of good guys and bad guys, good bills and bad bills. Scott Henson’s and Dave Armstrong’s sto ries reveal frightening information about companies that put private profits above en See Ecology page 29 EDITORIAL Political Ecology THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3