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POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE DANGEROUS BOUILLABAISSE. Characterizing the air in the Houston region as an “urban toxic soup,” the Galveston-Houston last month issued a breath-suspending report on air toxics, Danger In the Air: Toxic Air Pollution in the Houston-Galveston Corridor. The report, which bases its analydata from EPA, notes that the Houston area is responsible for 45 percent of the state’s toxic air emissions, most of that from large industrial sources. \(Texas, meanwhile, is the heaviest air-polluting state in the nation, releasing 200 million tons of air toxics each year, according to the Sustainable Energy chemicals and metals released by industrial polluters put children in particular at risk, and the report links Houston’s toxic air to rising rates of children’s asthma deaths and brain cancer. Danger in the Air criticizes the current system of industry self-reporting and the lack of public information about toxic air emissions. Its authors recommend more monitoring, more research, and tighter TRI reporting regulations, as well as increased public involvement in the monitoring process and permit-granting. According to GHASP Projects Coordinator Jane Elioseff, the group will be participating in a mayor’s working group for clean air in the coming months. For more information, contact GHASP: 713-528-3779, or check out the full text of the report* on the Internet DATELINE UNION. Over 500 workers laid off from Tyler Pipe, Inc. were effectively abandoned last year by the Texas Workforce Commission, the agency assigned to help laid-off workers look for new jobs. That was the gist of a November ruling by State Administrative Law Judge Sarah Ramos, who found for the United Steel Workers Local 1157 in a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor. In her 24-page opinion, the judge found that “the needs of the Tyler workers were ignored for so many months”the layoffs began in December 1995, while the TWC didn’t provide “rapid response” assistance until . last September, after the complaint was filed. In light of TWC’s creative interpretation of “rapid,” Ramos has recommended the agency revise its procedures. In Ennis, factory workers at Ennis Automotive voted to unionize last month. United Steelworkers ran a campaign there two years ago, which ended when the company pledged to improve working conditions. After the promised improvements never materialized, workers voted 236-204 to join the Union of Needletrades, IndusHEY, THAT’S NOT RAIN. In 1995 some of Governor Bush’s doowop girls at the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission decided that they would grant Exxon a permit to discharge untreated wastewater from its Baytown plant into Galveston Bay, even though the TNRCC had previously declared the same discharges illegal. But EPA officials sang a different tune last month, when they proposed that Exxon be denied a federal permit to operate the discharge point, singling out the company’s practice of mingling untreated wastewater with its storm water discharge as impermis sible. The EPA decision, if it is upheld over any Exxon challenge, would invalidate the state permit. The Environmental group Texans United and Baytown residents had sued Exxon over the discharge issue in March. DEREGULATION SWEEPING THE NATION. To judge from accounts of last month’s Austin city council debates over the city’s utility budget, retail competition for electric utilities is just around the corner. That assumption underlay the council’s agenda: to streamline, the utility operation in preparation for market competition. Councilmembers struck a compromise with the city’s electric utility staff, cutting the utility’s subsidies of city services and energy conservation programsbut not as deeply as the staff originally proposed. Across the country, states are beginning to experiment with competition among energy providers, a movement that is likely to hurt small consumers and the environment while favoring industry. According to economist Roger Colton, writing in the latest issue of Dollars and Sense, once utilities are forced to compete, energy providers make concessions to large industrial customers at the expense of small users. In Michigan, one state that has experimented with electric competition, Consumers Power Company raised rates for residential users by 8.2 percent and lowered rates for industrial users by an average of 4.2 percent in 1995. And with its bottom line emphasis, market competition doesn’t exactly look out for the interests of low-income customers or the environment. Competitive utilities, writes Colton, have little incentive to make power affordable and a sizable incentive to increase output at old, inexpensive, highlypolluting coal plants. In this year’s legislature, friends of industry will be working to make competition happen. Look for Republican Senator Jerry for deregulation. VOTE FOR ME, I’VE GOT A GUN. Following the passage of the right-to-carry bill in 1995, eleven state legislators have taken the illogical next step. Eight representatives and three senators now have permits to carry a concealed handgun, according to Department of Public Safety records obtained by the Dallas Morning News. Heat-packing lawmakers include Republican Representatives Ray Allen, who in 1995 opened a gun range in Grand Prairie offering training courses for the permit, and Luby’s massacre survivor who has campaigned around the country for right-tocarry laws. But there are licensed legislators in both parties: if the Republicans get feisty, licensed Democratic Senators Mike MonSan 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JANUARY 17, 1997