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Postmaster: If undeliverable, send Form 3579 to The Texas Observer, 307 W. 7th St., Austin, Texas 78701 POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE FREEPORT WATCH. The controversy continues over the actions of multinational corporation Freeport-McMoRan, in Indonesia and in Austin. Freeport has been accused of despoiling the environment and harming the local people at its mining operation in Irian Jaya, and of environmental outrages at its FM Properties residential development site in the Barton Creek watershed, outside Austin. Stung by the criticism and by the cancellation of its Irian Jaya political risk insurance by the Overseas Private Insurance sponded with a self-justifying thirtyminute television advertisement and full page ads in The New York Times and elsewhere, calling the charges “lies” and insisting that the insurance cancellation was politically motivated. CEO Jim Bob Moffet described as “an atrocity” the accusation that his company was partly responsible for Indonesian military actions against the local people in Irian Jaya. The company particularly attacked coverage by reporter Ralph Haurwitz of The Austin AmericanStatesman, for his stories examining at length reports on human rights violations in the vicinity of Freeport’s Irian Jaya mining operations; the newspaper has strongly defended Haurwitz’ s stories. The controversy continues over the connections between Freeport, the University of Texas, and U.T. chancellor William Cunningham, who sits on Freeport’s Board of Directors. Faculty and students have called for Cunningham to resign, and asked President Robert Berdahl and the Board of Regents to sever U.T.’s ties with Freeportspecifically, to rescind the planned naming of the new molecular biology building after Moffet, and to reconsider Freeport-sponsored research in Irian Jaya by the Department of Geology. The U.T. researchers respond that their work is “pure research” only, and of no financial use to Freeport. \(See U.T. homepage onthe controversy on the World Wide Web: http://www .cs .0 Closer to home, FM Properties Inc., as expected, has received approval from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission for the developer’s “plan for protecting Barton Creek” from its thirtysix-hundred-acre residential and commercial development. The company had obtained state legislation last session allowing it to be regulated by the state rather than the city of Austin; the TNRCC plan \(according to a December 12 Statesman limit on impervious cover, and capture basins and vegetation to slow runoff. Environmental groups say the plan is inadequate to protect Barton Creek or Barton Springs. No word on whether the TNRCC will consult with Indonesia’s Suharto regime on how to protect citizens’ rights in Austin. IS TEXAS BURNING? At press time, the tire fire which began December 1 at the Midlothian site of Safe Tire Disposal Company, a tire recycling firm, was still burning. According to an Associated Press report, federal officials say it may cost four million dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund to put out the fire, which reportedly began by “spontaneous combustion.” When the fire first began, the huge black clouds of smoke could be seen for thirty miles. According to internal memos, the TNRCC measured “very high levels of particulate matter” and advised residents in the immediate area to evacuate temporarily, but did not expect long-term adverse effects from a “one-time exposure.” However, reactions from other observers were not so optimistic. Neal Carman, Clean Air Program Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that based on independent studies from similar fires elsewhere, the levels of particulate matter alonenot counting levels of other toxic pollutants”were sufficient to cause higher deaths [in the area] from respiratory and cardiovascular problems [heart attacks].” Carman cited an epidemiological study of pollution-related mortality in Philadelphia, Birmingham, St. Louis and elsewhere. Carman has asked Midlothianarea lawmakers to review the TNRCC’s handling of the tire fireaccording to Carman, Safe Tire Disposal had a poor record of compliance with state law, but the TNRCC had not acted strongly against themas well as the state agency’s recent study of the Midlothian area, which concluded that “emissions from industrial activity in Midlothian pose no health threat to area residents.” Carman and local residents have described the TNRCC study as “bad science, driven by politics,” and asked independent scientists and area lawmakers to intervene. Indeed, the TNRCC is under attack from citizens all over the state, who charge that under new George Bush-appointed commissioners, already lax environmental regulations are not being enforced, and that agency personnel are under direction to “back off industry” by giving advance notice of environmental compliance inspections and the easy granting of permits. Meanwhile in Washington, the House Commerce subcommittee co-chaired by Ennis Republican Joe Barton held hearings on Barton’s proposal to limit the enforcement powers of the Environmental Protection Agency. TNRCC Commissioner Ralph Marquez was among those testifying; according to reporters for Clean Air Bulletin, Barton happened to ask Marquez why the state agency used so few air quality monitors, and the commissioner responded they would “be a great risk”because they might find additional evidence of pollution. Barton quickly moved to other questions. Finally, Clean Air Network, a national alliance of more than eight hundred environmental and public health organizations, issued its state report cards, which grade state government efforts to implement the 1990 Clean Air Act. Texas was one of five states receiving the lowest grade, reflecting a “dismal record of protecting public health.” 24 DECEMBER 22, 1995