paign manager Ed Franco said, although Franco added, “He does support the President and the President’s efforts to reform health care.” Environment under assault In a two-hour hearing before the state House Environmental Regulation Committee on April 6, development-minded legislators showed how to drive a wedge between minority communities and mainstream environmental groups, as they heard debate on two bills that would require cities to enforce ordinances uniformly and with the same methods citywide. Supporters of House bills 1305 and 1307 by Representative Ron Lewis of Mauriceville called them equal environmental protection bills, while environmentalists argued that requiring citywide enforcement of environmental ordinances makes it practically impossible to implement tough antipollution initiatives. Witnesses for the bills included Lee Flores, a Mexican-American city planning commissioner, and Travis County Commissioner Sam Biscoe and Representative Wilhelmina Delco; both African Americans who represent minority communities in East Austin. They called for equal protection against pollution, although Delco later said she was unaware that amendments offered to H.B. 1305 in committee would require the same methods used in undeveloped watersheds such as Barton Creek, which feeds the pristine Barton Springs, to be applied elsewhere in the city. Ken Kramer of the Sierra Club and other environmentalists endorsed the concept of equal environmental protection, but they said it would be impractical to demand the same anti-pollution methods in lightly developed watersheds and overbuilt downtown areas. “You should have specific ordinances that deal with specific environmental problems,” he said. William Bunch, an environmental attorney, called the bill is a ruse designed to tie the hands of Austin and other cities that take up environmental initiatives. “It makes no sense to take the same approach to methodology regardless of conditions,” he said. “We need something even stronger to clean up pollution caused by past development,” to which Lewis, a real estate developer, replied: “What you’re saying makes absolutely no sense. You’re saying, ‘We want to apply special rules in growth areas.’ … We’re looking out for all citizens here.” Representative Keith Oakley, a Terrell Democrat, recognized the dilemma and at one point wondered aloud if a vote for the environment was a vote against equity for minorities. In the end, he joined the unanimous committee in sending the bills to the full House. Antonio Diaz, co-chair of Austin-based People Organized in Defense of Earth and its Resources, played down the perception of a division in the environmental movement between whites and people of color. “In my mind the question isn’t so much of environmental equity and ensuring that certain regulations and ordinances are enforced throughout the municipality … Our organization is an environmental justice organization and it isn’t a question of equity but of justice…. I think we need to look at how some communities and some areas need more stringent regulation enforcement [because of historic neglect that has taken place] and I don’t think Lewis’ bill addresses that.” Diaz also criticized a bill by Representative Warren Chisum, a Pampa Democrat and chairman of the environmental committee, that would strip county attorneys of the authority to pursue polluters either through civil or criminal cases. Instead, the Texas Water Commission and the Texas Air Control Board would be given civil prosecution authority and district attorneys would be given power to pursue criminal cases only upon request of a state agency. Oil companies and trade groups supported the bill, which Chisum admitted was prompted by Travis County Attorney Ken Oden’ s successful campaign to relocate gasoline tank farms from East Austin under threat of criminal charges against six oil companies. Oden said 75 counties, including Travis and Harris, currently use their power to enforce pollution laws. At a later press conference, Kramer raised the alarm that the environment is under attack as he listed 34 bills, many with companion measures, and proposed constitutional amendments to gut environmental protections, including the following: Six bills would preempt local government actions or popular initiatives to protect public health and/or the environment. Ken Armbrister’s S.B. 609 to preempt local governments from adopting and enforcing pesticide regulations passed the Senate. His S.B. 1029 to prevent the enforcement of ordinances limiting development was awaiting a Senate vote at this writing. Four bills would restrict the authority of state agencies to manage natural resources and protect the environment. All were in committees. Nine bills have been introduced to take away environmental protections and resource management safeguards currently granted under state law. All were in committees. Five bills would inappropriately influence state agency permit proceedings. Kramer noted H.B 880 by Chisum, approved by the House Environmental Regulation Committee, which would continue the Legislative Natural Resources Board until the year 2005. The board was supposed to go out of business at the end of the year and has been sued by citizen groups for allegedly interfering in permit proceedings on behalf of politically connected applicants. H.B. 2130 by John Smithee would set up a Rapid Action Council composed of the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the House Speaker and two other legislators and would require the council to grant permits for new industries within 30 days of application. Kramer warned that state agencies would be unable to examine permit applications adequately with such a time frame. Two bills would replace biologically based wildlife and natural resource management decisions with political decisions: S.B. 179 by Carl Parker, which would authorize recreational hunting in state parks, has passed the Senate while Steve Holzheauser’ s H.B. 716, to eliminate the cap on bounties for predators, passed the House. In addition, a resolution already has passed the House urging Congress to weaken the Endangered Species Act; the House Agriculture and Wildlife Management Committee approved H.B. 2494 by Bob Turner that would allow agricultural interests to sue anyone who disparages the state’s food products or pesticides used on those products; the Senate Natural Resources Committee has approved S.B. 1206 by Bill Sims that authorizes the state to contract with New England states to receive their “low-level” radioactive wastes. Reggie James of Consumers Union criticized bills that would exempt governments, Schools and apartment owners from requirements that only trained and certified personnel apply pesticides in areas where people would be exposed. Kramer said environmentalists face a challenge because the major legislative committees that deal with environmental matters “are chaired and largely composed of legislators who come from fairly conservative and/or rural districts where they are subject to pressure from agricultural interest groups that seem to have a definite agenda for this session.” Those interest groups, such as the Farm Bureau, appear to be concentrating on curbing state and local agencies that might limit property rights, Kramer said, particularly since they can expect less help from President Bill Clinton than they received in the past dozen years under Republican presidents Reagan and Bush. J.C. ERRATUM In the March 26 issue a fact-checking question was incorrectly entered into a letter to the editor. In “Speak for the Haitians,” the phrase “at Bayside in South Texas” did not occur in the original text. Charlotte McCann, the Refugee Legal Support Coordinator at the Documentation Exchange in Austin, has advised us that had she answered our question the sentence would have read: “Haitians, some of whom are held at Bayview in South Texas, have no voice.” We regret the error. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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